Games of 2012: Final Fantasy XIII-2
27th Dec 2011 | 15:00
Developers never find it easy to admit they got something wrong, especially when the game in question is arguably the biggest title in their studio's roster.
Final Fantasy XIII may have packed a startling visual punch, with its baroque architecture and candyfloss coiffures, but it suffered from a stifling linearity that killed any sense of the drama, pace and wonder usually associated with the series.
It's a flaw that director of upcoming sequel FFXIII-2, Motomu Toriyama, has accepted. "We took the criticism on board. So, in FFXIII-2, every single part of the game will develop as a result of the player making his or her choices along the way."
That's good to hear - but just how does this influence FFXIII-2's design? As soon as you step into new starlet Serah's pint-sized shoes, you're introduced to the key feature that demonstrates Toriyama's new player-driven mantra: time travel.
In the three years since FFXIII's finale, the world of Gran Pulse has become plagued with time rifts, causing things that shouldn't be happening to happen. Things such as previous hero Lightning's disappearance. Now, it's up to younger sister Serah (and her new, strictly platonic friend Noel) to locate these time paradoxes and sort them out.
In gameplay terms, this means you're free to explore different areas, searching for giant crystals that act as portals to further levels set in separate time zones - all of which can be unlocked in an order entirely dependent on how you discover the gates. During a recent hands-on event, we experienced for ourselves what it was like to be let off the leash.
We rode snow-covered chocobos around the frozen architecture of Bresha Ruins. We brought supplies to villagers stranded in grassy, wind-swept plains. We ran into a de-hatted Snow, who was exchanging fisticuffs with a humongous blob in the middle of a deliciously autumnal forest. It genuinely was exhilarating to explore at our own pace, especially as we were free to enjoy the simply beautiful world Square Enix has created.
Not all levels are specifically tied to the storyline either, meaning we spent plenty of time diving into sidequests
(a feature missing from FFXIII), talking to NPCs (also missing) and purchasing loot from eccentric merchant Chocolina (yup, missing). They may seem like small touches, but these features make FFXIII-2 feel more alive than FFXIII's shiny, empty corridors.
Better still, the new protagonist actually feels like a proper enemy - something absent in recent series entries. FFXIII's baddie - crazy priest god Barthandelous - was a wishy-washy waste of pixellated space. His rare appearances meant he lacked any sort of presence or threat.
Purple-haired Caius, however, oozes menace. His self-infatuated sneer is the first thing you encounter upon beginning FFXIII-2's adventure, as he engages in all-out war against Lightning. It's a relief to encounter a bad-ass warrior, especially one with such a proficiency in swords and spells - when we squared up against him later there was a genuine feeling we were in over our heads.
If there is one oddity, it comes with the new Live Trigger system. Occasionally, context-sensitive dialogues pop up, allowing you to choose how to steer the conversation. While the outcome of some of these debates will change the storyline (for instance, you can choose to take on gigantic boss Atlus as soon as you meet him, or opt to search nearby ruins for a switch that'll bring down his shields), the vast majority has no impact whatsoever.
So what's the point? "The Live Trigger system is more for instant fun," says Toriyama. "So you can enjoy how characters react to what you say. Some exchanges can be quite comical."
Okay, it's nice to see that FFXIII-2 has a sense of humour, but it would have been preferable if our answers actually drove the storyline. Regardless, it's great to see that Square Enix really has listened to the (largely negative) feedback, and acted by incorporating essential fixes.
Ones that have brought FFXIII-2 back to what it should be - a gorgeous world that promises exploration and adventure. Welcome home, Final Fantasy. We missed you.