Can’t Always Get What You Want
Square Enix have never excelled at giving gamers what they want. Sure, they’ve often displayed a preternatural ability to deliver features players didn’t even know they were waiting for, but for every one of their runaway successes there’s always been a contentious next move – an X-2 for every X.
This reputation is complicated by the lack of consensus on what exactly their false moves have been. Few would argue that we are enjoying a Final Fantasy golden age, but whether the series’ current plateau began when they released an MMO as a numbered entry in the series (XI), a game that straddled action RPG and management sim (XII), an endless corridor served as an epic adventure (XIII), or… Final Fantasy XIV - well, the jury is still out on that one. The fact is Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a game with a lot to prove to a lot of demanding fans, and the biggest surprise is that Square Enix - perhaps, for the first time ever - are intent on giving players exactly what they want.
Playing Fast And Loose
The first thing to go is XIII’s linearity. The notorious infinite hallway of the previous game may have lent itself well to cinematic action and pacing the player experience, but many called foul on abolishing the exploration and side quests that had long been a series staple. XIII-2 acknowledges this complaint and promises to reinstate Final Fantasy as an exploration experience, with deviations from the designated path to wander down, secret areas to discover and even the ability to bend time and plot to your will.
The injection of a bit of the old wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey is possibly best explained once you know the two core party members in this adventure. The first is Serah Farron; three years older since she appeared in XIII as Lightning’s younger sister and sibling-in-distress, now inverting their roles as she searches for a way to retrieve her sister from the alternative dimension of Valhalla. The second is the time-travelling adolescent, Noel Kreiss; is a mysterious boy from the future, who may well know how to find Serah’s missing sister.
It may come as little surprise in a JRPG where the protagonist is looking to rescue her sister from another dimension with the help of a boy 700 years her junior, but things soon take a turn for the time-paradoxical. Dimensional portals and time-travel are par-for-the-course for a Final Fantasy by now, yet XIII-2 looks to boldly go where no single-player Final Fantasy has gone before and make it an actual game mechanic. In other words: those who complained about XIII’s levels following a straight line will be pleased to hear that, in XIII-2, even time is non-linear.