Previews

Final Fantasy XIII-2: Has Square Enix finally cracked it?

RPG powerhouse moves to fix previous game's mistakes

"We've added a jump button", we're told during our hands-on demo with Final Fantasy XIII-2. A jump button? Automated jumping was the least of the last game's problems.

Beyond the nomenclature, jingles, visual design sensibilities and the Final Fantasy moniker, FFXIII was a game with only the most tenuous links to the series. Even Square Enix admitted its failings, tarnishing the franchise's status as gaming royalty by conceding to critics and humbly promising to get its act together in this sequel.

Although there's undoubtedly an air of desperation in these promises, it's an unusual response from a normally well-armoured and proud Japanese company. If anything it gives us some confidence that the development team were able to identify the original game's failings - other than the lack of jumping - and are working hard to address them.

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A short play session later and we came away far more optimistic than when we entered...

SINS OF OUR FATHERS
Our hands-on demo picks up some way into the game: Serah, the pink haired sister of Lightning, and newcomer Noel stumble through a magic-powered warp gate and find themselves in the ruins of a town called Bresha.

Serah instinctively recognises her surroundings and proclaims it as Cocoon, however Noel's slightly bewildered response reveals the young, spunky hero has never ventured outside his home world of Pulse. A handy character wrinkle for those who might not have played the previous game or - like many - stopped caring very quickly

Since our hands-on picked up in the middle of the game, we didn't get to see what fortuitous circumstances brought the tween duo together, but we're told that somewhere along the way they held palaver and now have the shared quest of tracking down Lightning, who's been missing for some time now following the events of the previous game.

In typical Final Fantasy fashion we quickly find ourselves blindsided by a large floating hand belonging to a weapon known as Atlas. Built by humans for some undisclosed reason, it's now laying waste to the already decrepit ruins of the city. Although an outline of Atlas' monolithic frame can be seen, its body is cloaked with some sort of stealth camouflage leaving the rampaging hand as our primary concern.

Leaping into battle Noel arms himself with dual-blades while a Moogle (yes, Moogles are back) accompanying the duo transforms into a bow for Serah.

The battle mechanics in Final Fantasy XIII-2 are largely unchanged from the previous game with the paradigm system - one of its few strong points - making a welcome return. One addition however comes in the form of cinematic flourishes within the battles. In our demo Atlas thrusts his hands towards our heroes, but before it can reduce them to stains on the pavement a couple of on-screen prompts propel Noel onto the goliath's arm and he sprints up it to deliver a damaging blow to the beastie's head.

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While Final Fantasy XIII's battle system certainly had depth to it and allowed room for players to develop their own style, the moment-to-moment execution usually ended up being detached button spamming with the occasional strategic paradigm shift or item usage thrown in for good measure.

These quick-time events aren't anything revolutionary, but they certainly help in making the battles more engaging. If proper execution is rewarded with huge damage boosts they could become important to surviving tougher battles.

During a short cinematic battleships advance on the towering behemoth, and another QTE places us in control of a turret, with on-screen prompts asking us to mash a button to fire off an artillery strike. The salvo is enough to deter Atlas and it decides to retreat.

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