E3 2011 Performance Review: Final Fantasy XIII-2 doesn’t inspire hope

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Abandon all HOPE

At first glance, I wasn’t even aware I was looking at Final Fantasy XIII-2. The incredibly bland character design of Serah and Noel, the new character who tags along with Lightning’s sister, made me think I was looking at some B-tier Tales game, not a AAA Final Fantasy title. But it ain’t the’ 90s anymore, so Final Fantasy probably belongs with the rest of the second stringers at this point. I doubt XIII-2, which now has More Stuff to Do than its predecessor, will change that.

To make the game more appealing to old-time fans there’s now a moogle named Mog who follows Serah and Noel around. He functions as a hidden treasure detector, and he also appears to transform into Serah’s bow and arrow weapon that she uses in battle. Go figure.

There’s also a Mog Clock now, which appears at the bottom of the screen when monsters are around. It acts as an indicator for battle initiation — smack the enemy while the Mog Clock’s still green and you’ll enter battle with advantages, like the enemies’ Stagger gauge will be filled from the start. Smack the enemy while the Mog Clock’s yellow and battles will proceed normally without any changes, and when the Mog Clock’s in the red, the enemy will have the advantage. Seems like it’s just more bells and whistles for something that Persona 3 summed up with hit enemy, enter battle with initiative, don’t hit enemy, lose initiative. It just feels like More Stuff to Do.

For some reason, monsters like Flans and Behemoths tag along in the party now, though you don’t have any actual direct control over them. In the demo, it was unclear how they actually joined, or why for that matter. The Beastmaster class in Final Fantasy V and Tactics allowed the capture of monsters. Maybe it’s like that, but it didn’t look like there was any special technique involved. They just showed up.

In battle, a gauge will fill up once in a while, making it possible to activate some powerful monster attack via Quick Time Event button presses. There were QTEs all over the place. At one point, I don’t know how it was activated, but Noel ran up a giant’s arm in a God of War fashion and unleashed a bunch of lengthy attacks thanks to the timed button presses. At another point, airships showed up and attacked the giant thanks to more QTEs. It didn’t really impress, it just felt like … More Stuff to Do.

Otherwise, the battle system’s the exact same as XIII‘s, though I barely had to change Paradigms at all in the demo. The good thing about XIII was how fast battles flowed. They were over in seconds in most cases, and the game rewarded you on how quickly you won. I don’t think dopey QTEs are really the answer for the “mash X to win” complaints the first game received. So now we get to mash more buttons besides X?

And finally, the world has opened up a bit, with town-like hubs scattered with NPCs to talk to. The map is no longer a single straight line either. There are branching paths, places conducive to exploring. It’s nice to have that back, I guess, so long as the places to explore are interesting. In the demo, it was more hallways. The curious addition of jumping — the first time the mainline series allows such an action — didn’t enhance the experience in any notable way. Just More Stuff to Do.

Yes, someone at Square Enix has been taking notes about what people want — less linearity, more to do in battle, more “player choice”, more fanservice, etc. — but it still feels shallow, like “improvements” for improvement’s sake, regardless of whether they work well or are any fun. Just More Stuff to Do. And all of that stuff was done better in other games, some of those games Square Enix made. Unless leaps and bounds are made until its release I consider the fantasy finally finished.

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