Things didn’t look good for Final Fantasy XIII-2 back in E3 when I wrote the game off as kaput after a lackluster demo that showed little change since the divisive original. After spending time with the new demo at CES (also available to download on PSN and XBLA) I gotta say… I thought I was going to hate it, but I couldn’t. Goes to show, sometimes strides can be made between a demo and the final product, or uh, the second demo in this case. With the game only a couple of weeks away I think it’s safe to say it’s representative of the final game. And strides were made here. Final Fantasy XIII-2 may have potential to bring burned players back to the fold.
Here are the improvements that ought to make us believe again:
The graphics I moaned about before are drastically improved. Most likely in response to complaints that the characters look too androgynous, main character Noel has a more masculine angular face. He still wears a dress and his boots make no sense, but that’s okay, at least he got a testosterone boost. Other special effects like raindrops that slide across the screen during rainfall do a lot to build atmosphere.
Chocolina the Chocobo Chick, a traveling merchant who may be a girl dressed as a chocobo or a real half-woman half-chocobo, replaces the standard shops found in most RPGs. I appreciate the “mystery” that surrounds her, and I really appreciate the return of the traveling merchant. More games need to remind me of Neko from Secret of Mana.
NPCs now give out side-quests, and it’s not obvious which NPCs do, so it’s encouraged to talk to all of them. I was pleased to see a log of accepted quests are kept in order on the map screen.
There are now 150 monsters to collect and recruit in battle, and you can grow them with specialized items and customize them with hats and glasses and things. Even some powerful bosses can be caught and added to the party.
Downloadable content means new monsters, quests, items and who knows what else? DLC usually makes me cringe (especially when it’s for costumes already on the disc), but this is the first Final Fantasy to offer it, so it should be interesting to see how Square Enix handles the situation.
The Paradox Puzzles, where you have to navigate mini-mazes, can be skipped but you won’t get the reward at the end. For impatient puzzlers, this is a good thing. Options, typically, are a good thing.
Quick Time Events during battle have been optimized to be faster and they are possible to fail. I almost missed a few myself. Enemies now give wound damage that decrease Serah’s and Noel’s (and monsters’) maximum HP for increased difficulty. Paradigms can now be fine-tuned to hit specific enemies or wide areas of a battlefield. It seems battles now require a lot more finesse.
Chocobo racing returns and there is a sure-to-be-a-time-siphoning casino in the game. Although these two things weren’t in the demo they were in the post-demo trailer, and they look great.
There are also alternate endings and time travel plays a major part in the plot and the game. It will be possible to revisit parts of the game and actually affect change, and not only that, maps are actual environments now with various routes and areas to explore, not to mention accessories, weapons and towns — what do you know, turns out they can be made in HD! — and all that stuff you expect in RPGs come back. This is a player-driven game, not an on-the-leash “cinematic experience.”
In short, the demo hints at a ton of content and it made me hungry for more. Square Enix had a herculean task to win back all the good will lost last year. They just might do it. Find out for sure in our upcoming review and find out for yourselves on January 31st when Final Fantasy XIII-2 hits shelves for PS3 and Xbox 360.