Final Fantasy XIII-2 - Preview

Fighting back

Relatively speaking, Final Fantasy has had a tough time over the last few years. Having debuted in 1987, the series hit 100 million worldwide sales in 2011. As one of the longest running, best known and most popular gaming series of all time, Japanese creator Square Enix should have been celebrating the milestone, but that wasn't the case...

In 2010, a somewhat mixed reaction to Final Fantasy XIII for PS3 and Xbox 360, and an awful reception for Final Fantasy XIV Online on PC soured its mood, with company CEO Yoichi Wada going as far as to say that the latter had "greatly damaged" the brand. Enter Final Fantasy XIII-2, a direct sequel to FFXIII with a lot riding on it - one that has been designed to show the world that the role playing powerhouse Square Enix is back on top of its game.

Thankfully, we're pleased to report that FFXIII-2 looks set to address a number of the issues critics had with the last console game. In some people's eyes, FFXIII's key flaw was its linearity, which saw players spend the bulk of their time battling from A to B through corridor-like environments alongside an uninspired cast, stifling the drama and pace of proceedings.

Open world

In response to fan feedback, FFXIII-2 returns to the series' traditional open, town-based structure. Take a look at the game's map and, while it's clear there's a main route to journey along to reach your ultimate goals, there are plenty of branching paths to explore for hidden treasures and new adventures to uncover in a bid to level up your characters.

The environments are packed with chatty residents, many of whom offer short sound bites as you pass, have floating speech bubbles next to them and can be talked to for information, or offer you side-quests, something that makes the game feel far more alive than FFXIII did.

Set three years after the events of its predecessor, the sequel depicts the story of heroine Serah's journey across time and space alongside main male protagonist Noel. They are on a mission to prevent the end of the world at the hands of bloodthirsty monsters and to locate Serah's missing sister Lightning, the hero of the previous game.

With the world plagued with time rifts causing all manner of unwelcome events, players have to explore each fractured timeline, resolve the paradox and locate the gates to the next broken rift. It's a structure which sees players seeking out giant crystals that act as portals to further levels set in alternative time zones, which can be located in multiple orders, ensuring a different experience for each player.

Freedom of choice

In FFXIII-2, project director Motomu Toriyama has said "every part of the game will develop as a result of the player's choices". Player choice has been a popular design feature over recent years with western role playing game developers like BioWare, Obsidian and Bethesda, and now Square Enix is also attempting to embrace it with FFXIII-2's 'Live Trigger Events'. These allow players to choose their reactions to characters during conversations in moments that influence the course of progression, although it's unclear to what extent they actually impact on gameplay.

One thing that's largely unchanged from the previous game is Final Fantasy XIII-2's battle mechanics. The Paradigm system, which sees players only directly controlling one character during fights, allows users to shift their character's tactics between offensive, defensive and support roles mid-battle, therefore guiding the tactical flow of proceedings as they wield elemental attacks, magic spells, items and summons moves. Battles do however introduce little cinematic cutscenes featuring quick time events, which require players to perform actions shortly after the appearance of on-screen prompts, an addition that makes combat even more engaging.

From what we've seen of the game, Square Enix appears to be travelling along a very promising looking path by reacting to fan feedback and further developing strong existing gameplay systems. Alongside sumptuous visuals and audio work, the developer's decision to grant players more freedom in how they progress appears to be a wise one that could well pay off when the game arrives next month.

Is Final Fantasy XIII-2 any good? Final Fantasy 13-2 Preview
SKU: Previews-162293
Release Date: 17/01/2012