by Josh Butler
previewed on PS3
There’s No Place Like Home
It all starts with another forgotten Final Fantasy staple: the hub town. A little hamlet known as Historia Crux acts as your base camp. Here you can not only shop from actual vendors, but also open time gates to visit times and places in an order of your choosing. Once familiar locations from the previous game have been ‘altered’ by the events of XIII, and while details are currently slim in relation to the effect time and place will have on each other, there is certainly promise in the idea of returning to a particularly challenging time-period once you are suitably levelled.
‘Effect’ is an appropriate term when describing XIII-2, not least because of the looming presence of a certain Shepard, and the assurance is that this is a world where your choices matter. Key battles will occasionally present QTEs where the options are more often: ‘choose A or B’ rather than ‘ press X to not die’. Conversation with NPCs presents dialogue options which are designated to each face button in a pared-down Mass Effect style. Your current party leader will also be a significant factor, as each character will have a different approach to interrogation, allowing new directions to be taken.
Gotta Catch ‘em All
Your party will rarely consist of just Serah and Noel. More often the third party slot will be filled by a monster you have chosen to train as an ally. These pocket monsters (if you will) are recruited when a defeated enemy presents the option to take it on as a kind of warrior pet. These will then level and gain new abilities like any other member of your party, and will even be customisable with a wide range of hats and accessories.
It may be that Final Fantasy as a series has lost its way, but one has to wonder whether cribbing from Chrono Trigger and Pokémon is to misunderstand the problem. Enough fuss has already been made of the ‘Ezio costume in XIII-2!’ furore that we won’t stir the pot here. Suffice to say, if fans are concerned the series is losing its wilful individuality, these developments may do little to settle their minds.
Everything Old Is New Again
The less noteworthy tweaks such as a more active battle system, added weather effects where rain dampens fire attacks, and a new ‘wounded’ status that cuts max HP during battle; all suggest XIII-2 has within it the potential to be a nuanced and unique entry in the series’ illustrious canon. The only concern is whether the addition of unnecessary ‘jump’ buttons and Poké-pals becoming the new Dresspheres, might derail what is currently being billed as a darker, more sincere game than its predecessor.
‘Time will tell’ goes the phrase, and it’s doubly true here. If Square Enix can make time travel work in a way that makes sense for XIII-2 they could have on their hands the most freely adventurous Final Fantasy ever. Handle it poorly and for all their bluster of time gates and branching paths the result could be just another type of corridor to meander down. If anything’s constant in the games industry it’s this: it never pays to underestimate Square Enix. Whatever the future holds, XIII-2 will doubtlessly be worth your attention in 2012.