PREVIEW: Final Fantasy XIII-2 [PS3/X360]

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a do-over, a second chance for Square to get things right. So far, it looks like the devs have mostly figured it out. The game’s due out in February, so here’s a sneaky peek at what’s in store.

Firstly – the action picks up precisely where FFXIII finished off, making it pretty tricky to talk about what happens without the risk of spoilers hanging overhead. And when we say “action”, we mean it. Unlike its predecessor, XIII-2 drops you right in the middle of it from the first scene, with a pretty impressive, rather challenging boss battle. It’s an example of Square starting out the way it intends to continue – righting a number of wrongs.

This time around, we’re spending some quality time with Lightning’s younger sister Serah, who – shall we say – suffered a “tumultuous fate” throughout FFXIII. She’s on a quest to find her sister, who’s been on the receiving end of her own twists and turns.

Serah is joined by a new character – Noel – with his two unique blades and his melee fighting style. His past is a mystery, but his heart’s in the right place.

[img_big]center,7399,2011-12-16/7017111215_event_US_03_RGB.jpg,Final Fantasy XIII-2[/img_big]

A few elements of XIII-2 give away the fact that Square has been paying attention to gamer feedback. The new game is less linear, features more NPCs and towns to check out, a merchant or two, and – wait for it – Moogles are back, thanks to Serah’s fuzzy travelling companion, Mog.

Taking things to extremes, the gamer feedback didn’t all come from message boards and website comments, either. Square invited gamers to the company’s Tokyo headquarters and sat down for some one-on-one time to gather real opinions and genuine thoughts from players and fans. As with everything crowd-sourced though, this runs the risk of too many cooks spoiling the fantasy RPG broth.

Sure, there’s more space, more people and fewer corridors, but that doesn’t seem to quite translate to more content. Houses are empty, NPCs respond with one-liners, and while you can take alternate storyline branches, most still seem to loop back to the same point.

Sometimes, though, it takes an interesting turn to get there. XIII-2 dips its toes in the murky waters of time travel, using a model popularised by the Chrono Trigger franchise. Pop in and out of the time-space continuum, changing the course of history, meeting new people and catching up with some familiar faces (hello, Hope!). This is all incorporated via the new Historia Crux system, which has the potential to make things really interesting – if not also really confusing.

Basically, if you face up against a giant enemy that you can’t quite overcome, there’s the ability to go back in time, change the single element which makes the enemy so giant, head back again and easily dispatch the now normal-sized foe. Seriously.

[img_big]center,7399,2011-12-16/7030ultima_arrow_US_PS3_01.jpg,Final Fantasy XIII-2[/img_big]

Considered a true sequel to FFXIII, XIII-2 is a marked improvement on the throwaway offerings we’ve seen in the past, and it’s got the potential to bring fans back to the franchise who may have abandoned earlier releases.

After all the changes, this still really does feel like a Final Fantasy game – and that’s both a good and a bad thing. If you like the crazy hairstyles, androgynous characters, occasionally clunky dialogue and some of the world’s least-flowing animations, you’ll like this one. If you’re not a fan, this one’s probably not even on your radar so it doesn’t matter.

A demo version of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is out right now for download, with the full version following on February 2nd for Xbox 360 and PS3. Keep an eye out for some fairly impressive pre-order deals!

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