A sequel to the 13th sequel. What could go wrong?
A direct sequel to the critically controversial Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2 picks up right where we left off. Blending some familiar characters with some new, the first demonstration focused on XIII's Serah (Lightning's little sister), and a new male main character named Noel. These two travel together accompanied by a flying moogle companion.
Your moogle serves multiple purposes, some yet to be revealed. Here's what I do know: If you pay attention to it while exploring, you may notice your moogle change color. When he does, follow him and you'll be led to secret treasures underground that you'd not have seen without him. Also, when approaching an enemy, or enemies, you'll be presented with a "Moogle Clock" which looks like a dial. Stop the hand within the green slice of the dial and you'll receive bonuses in the ensuing battle. Preemptive Strike, for example. The last moogle surprise was a transformation, during battle, from adorable moogle to Serah's weapon. For long range fights he becomes a bow, and in close combat he's your sword. What a helpful little guy, right?
The Noel character is a young, handsome and optimistic fellow, skilled in melee combat. He carries two swords on his back, and brings new Paradigm Shifts to the table. I'm not sure where he comes in, or his connection to Serah, but he's very useful with his blades.
Speaking of combat, it's pretty similar to its predecessor. The Paradigm Shifts are back, as well as the star grading system and the general layout. New to the series, we have Cinematic Action. Think Summoning, but without the Summon. When you pull off a cinematic action you get to watch a cut scene of the attack. However, in an attempt to merge the cut-scenes Square is so famous for with interactive gameplay, they've added quick time events during the cut to make sure you don't go cook dinner while they work on the pretty. If you successfully execute the QTE you get bonus stuff, like paradigms that you can switch up during battle on the fly. Your cutscenes outside of battle are interactive as well. This time, success or failure determines the end of the cinematic. The enemy wreaks havoc on the environment, or he leaves it alone.
Another addition to combat is the recruitment of monsters. As a bonus in battle you can gain a monster crystal that turns your enemy into your assistant, aiding you in future battles, and fighting for your cause. The attacks they used against you in battle remain the same when they join your team, but they're given a Feral ability, which is essentially a super move they use whenever its ready.
I mentioned above that the moogle was helpful during exploration. That means there will actually be exploration. Color me happy. Wide open worlds with NPCs you can interact with. I like XIII just fine, but it was too claustrophobic. I'm excited to be walking around aimlessly through little towns again. You get a map, also, that starts dim and shades in with a brighter grey as you traverse through the different areas. Thank goodness for open space. Guess what else ... you can jump! There's an actual jump button. It blew my mind.
The demo itself was a playthrough of an early chapter of the game in which you're being chased by a very large elemental looking arm, This arm was the first visible representation of a very large, and formidable foe named Atlas. As the level progressed, and he continued stalking, he could pull you randomly into a temporal rift. The demonstrator described these side quests as "palate cleansing puzzles." In these segments you are presented with a red tile walkway. Some of the tiles have crystals on them, and all of the tiles disappeared when you stepped off. The goal was to reach the end of the walkway after having collected each of the crystals. If you fail, you can just start over. When you complete a few stages of this you go back to the main game.
Eventually the party encounters a device that your friend Alyssa explains may help you control Atlas. You're given the option to ignore it and fight him as is, or use the device and possibly subdue him. Another option at this juncture is to ask Alyssa for advice. We did that, and she suggested using the device. So, we did. Atlas changed color and slowed down, we had to fight him anyway, but it made the battle significantly easier. I just wonder whether or not Alyssa is always right ...
An exclusive presentation after the floor demo was completely Lightning's journey. Having reigned supreme over the events of Final Fantasy XIII, she is now dressed as a hero in beautiful intricately detailed armor. The scene shows her riding her trusty steed Odin, while fleeing Chaos Bahamut. The battle that ensued showed off her significantly higher HP and attack power than her little sister, and was grander in both scale and drama. Lightning is not a girl to mess with, and I'm looking forward to battling with her again.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is supposed to hit shelves in early 2012, for both the Xbox 360, and the Playstation 3.