Final Fantasy XIII-2 Demo Coverage

Ok so yes, this is about my 5th or 6th Final Fantasy 13-2 blog post and it's also the 2nd one within a week; however since 13-2 is coming out in a few weeks I figure I might as well cover the demo. Now with that being said, let's get started!

A few days ago the FF13-2 demo was finally released on Xbox Live and Playstation Network for free. If you are interested in the game I recommend checking it out RIGHT NOW, but if you're only somewhat interested, read on. (Note: The Xbox Live Demo requires XBL Gold)

Ok so after turning on the demo for the first time you will find yourself looking at a brand new Final Fantasy Xiii-2 title screen which features a new "theme song" as well as a brand new logo featuring Lighting and a brand new character named Caius. The title screen doesn't have much to look at but the new song sounds really nice, and really sets the mood.

Now before actually starting the demo we have a chance to open up the settings. Here you can change the camera settings, the sensitivity of the camera, the brightness level, font size settings, sub title settings, target selection settings, and you can even change the map and mini map's settings. There's also a setting that allows you to change the "default battle command" from "auto attack" to the "abilities" list. I myself rather pick attacks on my own, as I did all throughout FF13, and I also inverted the camera angle so it would be just like most other RPGs I've played. So anyway, after all the settings are, well, set, it's finally time to start the demo!
When the demo first starts it will actually create "auto save data" which is a brand new feature. I can't really say how well this new system will work since you can't actually SAVE during the demo, but it does help remember check points for when you die. Also if you have played the demo before in the past, it will ask you to rewrite your old data.

With the game finally being set up, you'll find yourself watching a cutscene from the start of "Episode 2." In the cutscene Lightning talks about the world and basically asks the question of "what will Serah choose." As you may know FF13-2 does revolve around time travel and changing history, so I'm sure this little scene is foreshadowing something. Actually, I'll flat out tell you, it IS foreshadowing something. Anyway the scene soon changes to Serah and the new character Noel being shot out of a portal into a new time era. Apparently the characters have landed on Cacoon, and Noel is very excited. Apparently it's his first time, but now is no time for sight seeing. Soon a huge robotic like arm reaches out of the ground and attacks our heroes. Noel then knocks Serah out of the way, pulls her to her feet. After a Noel's bad pun about it not wanting to shake hands with them, the battle begins against the giant half invisible enemy. If you're completely new to the game you can watch a tutorial here, but there's a skip option as well; no need to worry if you're a fan.

The first thing you'll notice about this battle is that the camera seems to be a bit more dynamic than before, you can actually freely move it, and that the music actually has lyrics to it. Now other songs like this are not included in the demo, but after seeing the final game I can tell you that there are MANY songs in this game that are the same way. Sure this could be a turn off to some, but I actually thought they sounded nice.
On the left side of the screen you'll see your menu system. Since this is one of the first battles in the game not many options are unlocked, but you can still select from Auto Battle, Abilities, and Items. Auto Battle pretty much picks moves that the game feels you should be using, and Abilities is the list of all your abilities built into your current "role." Other words, they are all of your attacks and you can chain them together freely. As for items, I'm sure I don't need to explain.

When it comes to attacking everything is time based. Above your menu will be a bar that will slowly, or quickly, fill up. This bar starts with 3 sections in the demo, but can also be upgraded farther, and these sections are what you actually use to attack. Every single one of your abilities takes up so much of the bar, which pretty much leaves you to figuring out how you should chain your attacks together. Your normal attack will only take up 1 section, but stronger attacks such as your Blitz will take up two. Normally you will be spending time creating chains, but if you want to do a simple single attack without waiting for the bar to fill up, you can also hit the Y button or Triangle button (depending on your system) to use the attacks the bar has already filled up for. Ifi there's a monster that's going to die in 1 hit and you really don't want to wait another few seconds for the bar to fill up to attack, just hit Y/Triangle and you'll be done. Also keep in mind that the entire battle system revolves around this bar, and that includes items.

This battle is just to get you somewhat used to the game so not all the options are unlocked, but you can also hit your L button to bring up your "role decks." These are pretty much little "team set ups" that you pre set before you go into battle that allow you to change your characters role. The game has already pre set a few roles for you, but you can always change them in the menu later. I'm not going to go into the roles too much, but here are the basics.

Commandos are pretty much the attacking role in this game. They focus on "stronger" attacks, and it'll be the main role that you'll be using. It's a pretty good role to use overall, but it builds up the "stagger bar" (as I like to call it) very slowly. If you want to do massive damage to the enemies, you'll have to stagger them and that's why I really recommend using the next role as well.

Ravagers is the "magic" role of FF13 and 13-2. Basically all your magic elemental attacks will be found here, but it's also a role that will build up the stagger bar very quickly; however it will also fall just as quickly as you built it up. Ravager will be one of your main roles in the game, but sometimes it's best to use it along side the commando role. The Ravager role builds up the stagger bar quickly and causes it to drop quickly, however the Commando role builds it up slowly and causes it to drop just as slow. In other words, build it up with a Ravager, throw in a few good hits with the Commando, and that bar will drop nice and slow.
There's also another feature I'd like to point out here. If you switch roles as soon as your character lands their last attack, your bar will be fixed to max. This is a VERY usefull trick, and makes switching between Commando to Ravager fast and easy. It's the perfect chance to get some extra damage in. The only down side to this is that it cannot happen twice in a row. You use your attacks, you switch, your bar is full, you use your attacks, you switch again, your bar wont be full. Sure once your bar refills up and you attack again the cycle will be reset, but you can't just do it over and over again.

A Medic is what the name implies. The medic role allows you to heal your characters as well as cure them of any status effect. This is a VERY important role, and one you'll be using almost just as much as Commando and Ravager. (Especially since there's no MP limit to worry about! Save them items people!)

Sentinel is basically your "tanker" role. When you use saboteur your character will be able to buff themselves up, and taunt your enemies into attacking them. To sum it up, it turns your character into a human shield that takes all the damage while the rest of your party kills the target. This was a MAJOR role in Final Fantasy 13, and was almost required if you want to beat the game. You can make this game a lot harder than it really is if you fail to use this role. It also works really well when your 3rd party member is a healer!
Saboteur isn't there for you right at the start of the demo, but it is a part of the game. Saboteur is pretty much your debuffer and status damage role. Debuff your enemies to make them weaker, then nail them with something such as poison. It's a pretty useful role, but it may not be one of your mains. Then again everyone does have their own play stile.

Synergist might have been one of my favorite roles in 13. To sum it up, this is your buff role! Boost your physical and magical defense, boost your attack speed with hate, and make your attack power stronger! It's a VERY helpful role.

Really everything about the battle system comes right from Final Fantasy 13, except for two major changes. First of all a "switch party leader" button has been added to the bottom of your list. It's not accessable during this fight, but it'll allow you to change who you control at any time. Also the 3rd party member has now been replaced with monsters that you can capture throughout the game! These monsters all have their own set roles as well as special attacks you can freely use, which require you to hit different buttons in a set order, and they can also be freely switched in and out of battle. In short they're all great improvements, but the biggest of all is the fact that when your party leader dies the battle doesn't end! Yep, unlike in 13 you can actually revive the party leader; it's a normal RPG set up, but it was also one I really missed.

Anyway after you get a few hits in on the boss fight you'll soon find yourself watching a mini cutscene that asks has button promps. Noel asks Serah if she's all right, he dashes for the huge monster (that's apparently called Atlas), and he begins his attacks. By hitting the buttons that appear on the screen you'll be able to do more damage to him during these cutscenes, but I didn't notice any difference when I failed the scene. Apparently either way the cutscene will play out, but you will get a bonus if you ace it. Really some people may hate the addition of these scenes to boss fights, but really I felt it was a nice break in the action and it showed off some really cool flashy moves. After finishing the "cutscene" choppers will show up and begin shooting at Atlas in hopes of taking him down. Once again you'll find yourself hitting buttons as the chopper guns Atlas down, and then the boss fight will finally be over. In other words, it looks like these "live" cutscenes are not just limited to your party. You will then see a ranking screen based on how well you did. (Since I was actually typing this up as I played, I ended up only scoring 3 stars out of 5 this time...)

After the boss battle you'll find yourself looking at a little information screen that pretty much sums up the events that have just happened. Since this is a demo of chapter 2 and not the full chapter, it skips right ahead to the dungeon. Now during this chapter a few key characters are introduced but luckally the "Data Log" from  the original game is still included! By checking the data log you can read up on the characters you meet, events that have happened (including events from FF13), and you can even read up on the world. The Data Log is pretty much the Final Fantasy 13 version of wiki. You can also refresh your memory on the controls if you really need to.

Now that you're actually able to play the game again you'll quickly notice the world is set up a LOT different than 13's world. First of all the camera angle is now a "normal" camera angle where your character is in the center. If you're a fan of the original game's "movie camera," sorry but it's gone. The second thing you'll notice is that the map is HUGE, even in this small little demo. There are many paths to explore, and is a lot more open. One of the complaints about the original game was that it was very linear, but it's very clear that that will no longer be a problem in this game. Sadly the demo does have quite a few areas blocked off, but there's still quite a lot of room for you to explore. The third and final thing you'll notice, but most likely not right away, is the fact that you now have the ability to jump! Yep by pressing the O or B button your character will now leap into the air allowing you to get over objects in your way, and it will also allow you to walk on higher up ledges. The "super jumps" that were automatic in the original game are still there, but they do require you to hit the jump button.

"A world filled with life"

Before I go on I would like to take the time to talk about the new "world" in 13-2, which also seems to be something most reviewers forget to mention. Back when 13-2 was first announced Square said that they wanted to create a world filled with life. Originally most people thought that it simply meant they'd be throwing in towns with NPCs like most RPGs do, but the truth is they took it farther than that.
Although the demo is an old demo from almost half a year ago, and even though the graphics have been compressed to save space resulting in lower quality, the game still looks great. Not only has Square created a world with really good graphics, they have also spent the time to make it feel like a living world, just as they said they would. NPCs are now a part of the world like most of us expected, but they aren't quite normal NPCs. Sure you can walk up to each NPC and talk to them by hitting the A/X button, but there's actually something quite shocking. Every single NPC HAS A VOICE ACTOR! Yep, NPCs actually talk to you for once, and they say more than one simple line! You'll actually have to talk to each NPC about 3-4 times between each break in the story if you really want to hear everything they can say in that point in time. Sure other RPGs have done this, but not many actually take the time to add that many lines of dialog yet alone give the NPC a voice actor!

Another major change to the whole NPC system is the fact that there are a lot of them and they interact with eachother. When you're not actually talking to a NPC they will walk around and talk to OTHER NPCs from time to time. In other words if you wanted to hear everything a single NPC has to say before the next story event, you'll have to stalk the NPC around town/whatever area you're in, listen to the things they say to you when you're not actually talking to them, and you'll have to listen to what they have to say to others. I myself actually spent about 2 hours walking around the town just to hear every single thing each NPC had to say, and sometimes I did get different messages when playing as another character. Really if you're one of them 100%ers who like to see everything a game has to offer, you're going to spend a lot of time following these NPCS, and that's not counting all the time loops/alternate worlds you can create as you play through the game.

The NPC who plays as your other party member, either Noel or Serah based on who you're playing as, also acts a lot like the other NPCS in the game. Both characters interact with the world around them, and they will both state what they have on their mind (even if you're playing as them). Put the controller down and leave the room for awhile, you might just come back to find that your party member is sitting on a bench in town somewhere, or maybe you'll even see them talking to other NPCs. Your other party member doesn't just simply stand there doing nothing, they will walk around, and they will try to act like a "real" person.
The map in the demo also includes some weather effects which will apparently also be in other parts of the game as well. The demo only includes a rain effect, but a trailer video at the end does show snow as well. Really I didn't notice too much with the rain effect at first, but as I began to write this blog post I decided to check it out a little bit more, just to see if there was anything I over looked. Well, actually I completely over looked it!

From time to time you will notice rain drops hitting your camera. It really wasn't that big of a deal but that's also what made me decide to check out how the rain effects other parts of the game as well. Well, apparently Square actually put a LOT of work into this rain effect, and it looks nice. The first thing I really noticed was that you can see the rain drops hitting the ground, and you can also see the splashes of water as you step in it. The splash effect looks really nice and sounds realistic, but that's not the only other special effect that they added in. Apparently every single rain drop actually hits, and everything in the world takes notice. NPCs will complain about getting wet and take shelter, rain can be seen running off of almost EVERY object that's getting wet, and it also effects the character's as well!

When walking around characters will sometimes shield their faces as the water poors down, but it also actually GETS them wet. At first when I went to check on the characters I was playing as Noel and I really didn't notice anything other than a few drops running down his face, but that's when I decided to switch to Serah. Since more of Serah's skin is showing you could actually see the rain drop hitting her on the sholders, and you could actually see them run down her body, on top of that it also becomes clear with Serah that their cloths get wet as well. Noel wears all darker colors, but with the white in Serah's shirt, it makes it very easy to tell that their cloths are in fact wet. It's also clear that Serah wears a black bra... Even so, it's really not that big of a deal so please don't let features like this turn you off if you're the type of person who completely hates fan service. Serah's cloths are thick so you don't have to worry about seeing anything you don't want to see. Same goes for just about every other character.

Normally I don't notice this kind of thing with games, but I actually thought it was pretty impressive, especially for a Final Fantasy game.

Back to Gameplay

Ok so let's get back on track here. Apparently the main characters are now trying to find a way to stop Atlas, and it's now time for you to go and take it down. There are quite a few side quests that can be taken from some of the NPCs walking around, but really they're not that big of a deal; at least not in the demo. (I myself took a mini boss type side quest which can be fought right before the true boss.) Once you're done talking to the NPCs here and you're ready to move out, that's what you do.

As you move through the tunnels to the "!" icon located on your map you'll find that this game has a completely new "random encounter" type battle system. In FF13 monsters were always visible on the map, and battles were started by running into them, but this time around they're some what random. As you walk around your moggle, Mog, will sometimes create a circle around your party which will also bring up a count down clock. In this circle the monsters that you'll be fighting will be walking around, and now its up to you to decide if you actually want to fight them. Since you get to see every monster that'll be in the fight it makes it a lot easier to judge if you really want to go through with the fight, and if you decide to start the fight and you attack them while the clock is still in the green area you'll start the match with a bonus. Your party will land the first strikes, all of the enemies stagger bars will be almost filled to max, and you're most likely going to score a higher ranking at the end with better rewards; however this is a double edge sword. Attack too slow or fail to run away fast enough, then you'll be sorry.

As I said before, the game does not feature a true 3rd party member, but if you fight special mobs of monsters you can actually recruit them to your party! Monsters will fill up the 3rd slot and you can set which monsters that can be called out by putting them in a type of quick menu slot. Monster roles are already chosen for you so you really can't do much with them, but you can level them up by giving them special items. Monsters also have special attacks which charge up over time, but when you use them they do require you to hit buttons in the order they show up on the screen. Really I didn't find them worth it in the demo, and in the real game you'll be finding stronger monsters later on that are actually WORTH leveling up, and they actually have useful special attacks. In the demo I just threw a medic into the 3rd slot and never messed with it again.

Besides randomly finding enemies Mog can also be used to scan the area for hidden treasure which he'll clue you in on by a glowing light on his head. If you really don't understand what's happening, just think of this whole set up as some kind of time space deal. Mog can see what's hidden in other time lines, and he can bring them to yours.

As you fight battles and gain money and CP, you can then go to the "Crazy Chocobo Lady" to buy equipment/other items, and you can level up your characters by going to the crystarium. Like in FF13 you spend points to move onto the next "node" which unlocks power ups and stat boosts, but this time there is a major change to the system. Instead of spending points to MOVE to the node in each role, you actually spend points on leveling up your roles which moves you onto the next node. Here let me give you an example.

Say you have 300 CP to spend and the next node only requires 200 CP, you can easily click "level up" and move onto it, but that node could also give you different abilities based on how you decide to move onto it.
If you decide to level up the Commando role to move onto that node you'll most likely get an attack boost and a HP boost, but if you level up Ravager to move on you'll get a boost in magic. On top of that, that node may also have special skills that can be learned when you level it up with a different role as well.
So in other words, when you're moving on to each node you sometimes have to decide between skills as well. Leveling up the Commando role may give you a special Commando skill, but if you level up Ravager you may unlock Thunder magic. The game really makes you makes some tough choices sometimes, so be ready for them.

Each role can be leveled up to a max of 99, and everytime you reach the end of a section of nodes you will be able to pick between a few different bonuses. In the demo I noticed most of the nodes in the first section were already leveled up so I was able to max out a section in no time, and the game then gave me a few bonus options to chose from. I ended up extending my ATB bar so I could chain more attacks, but I could have also learned some special skills for my Commando and Ravager role, I could have increased my accessories inventory, or I could have unlocked a new role. Really though, since this is the demo, I really didn't have much of a need for any other option.

The equipment set up in FF13-2 has also completely changed from FF13 and has now taken on a more normal route. Back in FF13 you spend a lot of the game buying material to upgrade your weapons and leveling them, but apparently a lot of people complained and they decided to switch back to the normal "buy/find" set up. Bascially you go to a shop, buy a weapon, use it for awhile, then get a better one later on. Same goes for your accessoreis which will provide you with an extra boost to your stats.

Another thing I noticed about the battle system was that they also added a lot more detail to it as well. Mog transforms into a sword and a bow so Serah has both melee and ranged attacks, and Noel uses twin blades and sphears that he can summon. Both characters have melee and ranged attacks, and the game REALLY loves to mix these up with many different animations. Sometimes when I used "attack, attack, attack, attack" as Serah she would dash in, land a few hits, jump into the air then blash the monster over the head with her sword, but other times she would slash away, do a back flip and kick them while doing so. There's quite a few different attack animations for each attack, and it's a lot nicer to look at. (I'll take more animations over seeing Lighting do 3 slashes followed by a jump gun shot over and over again any day.)

When you finally get close to the end of the level you'll get a call from a brand new character, who the characters apparently met during the time skip after the boss, and you'll learn that they found a strange object. Now it's time for the player to actually decide what to do. You can ask other characters for their opinions if you want, but I decided to "live in the moment" and do things my way. Since I already knew ahead of time that you couldn't just fight Altas head on, at least not until you play the real game and you're much stronger, I decided to head for that strage device to see what it did.

Well after touching the device Serah, Noel, and Mog find themself in a strange virtual world with strange objects on different floating panels. This right here is a classic example of old style RPG puzzles, such as the ones you would have seen in Pokemon. Basically each time you step on a panel it vanishes, and you have to find a way to collect every strange object and make it to the goal. Really if you just stop and think about it, it's not that hard, but I can tell you for a fact that they do get much harder in the real game. Especially when different type of elements are added to it. Anyway after solving a few puzzles, you are then sent back to the "real world" and you're now ready to fight Atlas.

It turns out the strange device cut Atlas down to about 1/10th of his health, and it's now time for a real boss fight. Now just because Altas is a LOT weaker, it doesn't mean he will still be an easy boss. Even with new weapons for both Noel and Serah, this fight still can prove to be a challenge for you; well it'll take awhile at least. The fight is pretty much just like the first fight, but now you'll have to make sure you stagger him, and you'll also have to watch your health. The good news is bosses are ALWAYS check points so if you lose you'll just respawn in front of them, but the bad news is that you'll just waste a lot of time if that does happen.
After staggering Atlas and hitting him with everything you got, Noel and Serah will almost get smashed, only to be somehow "magically" teleported on top of Atlas, and they will then bothaim for his weak point. Once again this whole "cutscene" is a "live" scene that will require you to press different buttons on the screen, and then you'll finally take him down.

NOW YOU'RE PLAYING AS LIGHTING! Hit them buttons as fast as you can! Now the scene changes to another Light scene! Hit them bu......... Wait.... It's a trailer. Yep now just put the controller down, and watch it as you feel stupid for not noticing the demo had ended.

Well there you have it people! That's the FF13-2 demo! I have to say that I'm really looking forward to the game now, and I really can't wait till I get to mess around with all the customization this game has to offer! FF13 was pretty much a straight path from start to finish, but this one brings it back to it's roots. FF13 + classic FF = one of the best JPRGs I've played in a long time... Maybe. Guess I'll have to wait for the real game to know for sure!

Now if you haven't tried out the demo for yourself I really recommend it, but if you were one of them people who just flat out hated FF13 for it's battle system, characters, and story, then you might want to stay away from it. If you really didn't like it that much, I don't think a demo will change your mind. (Then again, you never know!) Still, it looks like a great game in my eyes.

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