Final Fantasy XIII-2: The First Eight Hours

In the opening scene of Final Fantasy XIII-2, when protagonist of the previous episode Lightning rode in her new divine outfit carrying a silver shiny shield, I was in tears.  I could not breath and my emotion ran high.  This is the pinnacle of video gaming when audience are fully immersed into the story, or rather, a series of stories.  International fans have played through part one.  We were moved and we want more.  For a moment, perhaps a brief moment, we could forgive and forget how the game developer Square Enix destroys the franchise by releasing the disastrous Final Fantasy XIV Online.  So, time for a rewind.  We move forward from episode thirteen to episode fourteen and now back to thirteen part two.

I sincerely hope that the genre Japanese Role Playing Game remains as it is.  Trying to please the West too much may lose this genre’s unique flavor – beautiful animation, deep dialogues, and wild imagination in all possible dimensions.  Not to say that I do not enjoy Western RPG.  I do.  But the two should have distinct flavors.

In some ways though, the inevitable influence is there.  This new installment has been improved upon based on international fans’ feedback.  The story is less linear.  Many cut scenes you could choose not to trigger if you prefer action to sit back and enjoy a good anime clip.  Even the cinematic clips now demand your full attention.  Some of these moments play like action games such as God of War III.  The English version of Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3) is a new game released last week and I have spent eight hours so far with it.  Two chapters I have completed.  Barely scratching the surface, for sure.  If you have played or heard of the previous installment and wish to know what improvements or changes have been made, look no further.  Here is a breakdown for you.  I will write another post once I arrive at the next milestone.

Does Time Travel Make the Game Less Linear?

What a coincident that the two games – FF13-2 and WoW – use the same concept of time traveling in roughly the same development period.  Both looks upon end time on how the future may have been and both stories send ripples to the worlds by allowing the heroes to change the events in the past.  In FF13-2, Lightning the new Goddess of Warrior reined over a mystery world called Valhalla, which seems to be constantly under siege by evil forces.  Noel, the last of the humanity, goes through the time portal hoping to change the past, meets Lightning.  Lightning sends him back to the past to find her sister Serah.  In Serah‘s reality, Lightning has disappeared after the fall of Cocoon.  In the previous episode, it was Lightning who searches for her sister.  In this episode, it is the other way round

In FF13, we pretty much follow a linear story that is filled with lengthy cut scenes.  In between the thirteen chapters, there is an open world called Gran Pulse for us to quest and grind.  In FF13-2, each chapter is separated in time and place.  There is a main story that we can go back and forth.  And there are branches to other side stories too.  It may appear that there are choices to be made.  We get to decide how the story is consumed.

Another point to note is that unlike FF13, FF13-2’s map has more options for exploration.  You could of course head from one story trigger to another.  Or you could spend some time to explore and be rewarded with extra items and more side quests.

Where are the Quests?

It seems to me that in FF13-2, we are encouraged to talk to people who are wandering around the area.  It gives you a good sense of where the story is heading.  More importantly, some are quest givers who you would not have known had you not talked to them.  This is old school.  We are so used to newer role playing games that feed us with the question marks on top of the quest givers.  In a strange way, I enjoy this aspect of exploration.

Where are the Monsters?

Vanished.  You hear right.  Unlike FF13 and other role playing games, the monsters in FF13-2 are invisible.  They ambush you instead.  As you walk, all of a sudden, the monsters may appear.  You then have a few second to turn around, move to the monsters, and attempt to hit them before they sense you.  That is the new Preemptive Strike mechanism.  If you remember FF13, this mechanic requires you to go behind a moving monster, which can be a bit frustrating.  I quite like this new mechanism in FF13-2.  Also, it seems more interesting not to see a world populated with groups of monsters that pace around a fix location.

Thank God there are breadcrumbs on the mini map.  I would have been disoriented by the change in direction, all the time.

Where are the Other Members?

Gone.  That’s correct.  Gone are the days when we get to pick which main characters we wish to bring along for a party of three.  In FF13-2, we have Serah.  And we have Noel.  In FF13, from the role playing perspective, if we do not like certain characters, no problem.  We can swap them out.  Not so for this new episode.  We better love Serah and Noel because we are stuck with these two.

I do not think Serah has the well loved character of Lightning.  She does not have the ever so positive personality of Vanille either. As for Noel, he is not as demanding as Hope (phew).  But he does not have the strong personality as Serah‘s now disappeared boyfriend Snow.  Maybe it is still early in the game.  I am hoping to see more from the duo.

Now, to compensate for the lack of playable main characters, we can tame monsters.  Almost every monster out there can be tamed and can join the party.  Each monster is preassigned with one role.  They can be leveled up with raw materials, very much like how weapons in FF13 can be upgraded.  The whole monster management business is in fact pretty complex.  You will need a good guidebook to take you through.  I happen to use one (see the advertisement below).

What the Mog?

Mog is a stuffed toy that flies.  A creature sent by Lightning to Serah through Noel.  And Mog is now Serah‘s companion.  Its job (so far) is to hunt for near invisible items.  Yes, keep your eyes wide opened when playing FF13-2 and look out for those near invisible objects.

How cute is the Mog?  Check out the trailer below.

Action Cinematic and Dialogue Choices

Cinematic clips now require us to pay attention on the screen and press a combination of control buttons.  Very much like Heavy Rain.  Failing to execute the combo will lose extra rewards.  However, you will be rewarded with an alternative clip.  The end result is the same (I think).

This same action feature also becomes a must during battle, when your party’s controlled monster charges up a full bar of Feral Link.

Some dialogues now have four options.  I am unsure if it matters which option I pick.  It plays a different clip though.  Long time ago, I debated on why a linear game may not be bad because we get to see all the contents in one run.  Now, we may need to play it multiple times to see the different dialogue clips.  If you are a completionist, that is.

Paradigms, Roles, and Crystarium

The concept of paradigms and roles do not change much, although FF13-2 seems to reward us for shifting paradigms often during battle (ATB fully charged every other turn when shifted to another paradigm).  Crystarium has undergone a revamp.  Instead of the three dimensional “talent tree” that gives you options of which non-mandatory point to pick, FF13-2 flattens the entire Crystarium into one linear scale.  We now pick which role we level.  Crystarium expands once we reach a certain cumulative level and allows us to pick a bonus (such as ATB+1 or a new role).  It does not affect me too much.  Perhaps simplification is good, much like what WoW is going to do with the talent tree in Mists of Pandaria.

Optimization of Serah and Noel‘s Crystarium is not easy.  I use a guidebook that comes with tables and charts.  I do not think I have time to play a second run in near future.  So I prefer to do it right on first try.

Do We Need to Grind?

I don’t mind grinding.  But I know some do.  If you don’t read the guidebook and play the game as you like, you would probably grind less.  I follow the guidebook’s recommendation to tame certain monsters.  And taming takes time because not every battle yields a crystal.  I ended up going back and forth trying to encounter a particular type of monster and hope to tame one.

This takes time.  But I am not complaining (yet) because I am rewarded with in-game currency and raw materials that can be used to level up the tamed monster.

A Guidebook, Recommended?

I bought the official FF13 guidebook after I have finished the game.  I wish I had one during my initial play through.  This time, I invested on the official FF13-2 guidebook upfront.  I have the Collector’s Edition.  It is beautifully bound and contains tons of useful information presented in eye pleasing colored format.  To get the best out of the game, I would strongly recommend you to get the official guidebook.

Strongly recommended.

Too Long Didn’t Read

Are you a fan?  If you are, buy FF13-2 and play.  You won’t regret it.  The changes are mostly good.  It still plays like the game you have adored a year ago.  Be ready to commit time if you wish to see every aspect of it.

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