We just passed 4 p.m. EST on January 28, so I guess I can talk about this now.
First, bear in mind that our review is forthcoming; this isn't it. Second, I must clarify the headline- I'm not saying Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an overall better game than its predecessor. I'm merely here to let fans know about the changes, enhancements and upgrades to the gameplay that, in the view of many, might make FFXIII-2 appear better.
Let's do it.
— Progression: As everyone knows, the first 20 hours of FFXIII were extremely linear; i.e., one path, although we were split into multiple parties. Within the first hour of FFXIII-2, you're running back and forth in a decent-sized area, and within two hours, you will enter the Historia Flux and realize that jumping between times and sections can be done whenever you wish. Certain Gates – which lead to sections in time – can even be closed so you can replay them, and possibly have different results.
— Freedom of speech: Which leads me to this- when you see "Live" in the upper left, it means you will be presented with a choice during the course of conversation. This is standard fare in RPGs these days, but a first for Final Fantasy . There is no right or wrong choice, but events can change depending on what you choose. You'll also learn more about the story if you take advantage of each Live segment.
— Interaction: The freedom to walk up to anyone with a (…) dialogue bubble over their heads has been added, which, coupled with the freedom of running around good-sized areas at will, makes it feel much more open. Talking to people will also unlock side-quests, through which you can earn Fragments, which can then be used to bolster your characters (more on that in the Depth part below).
— Changes people wanted to see: When the party leader dies in battle, it isn't automatically over; you simply switch to the surviving character. Also, you can switch your character in battle by selecting Change Party Leader in the battle menu.
— The Mog Clock: When enemies first appear, you will be given a certain amount of time to hit X and strike them. If you can do it while the Mog Clock is still green (which isn't hard), you will be given the upper hand in battle. If it goes to yellow, it'll be a neutral battlefield. You can also run out of the circle in which there are monsters, as denoted by the Clock, if you don't want to fight.
— Cinematic Actions: The RPG purists won't like them, but they do add some intensity and flashiness to boss battles. You will be given button prompts during cinematic sequences and hitting the correct buttons in time will allow the character to perform the required action. Button prompts also appear for the Feral Link ability for your Monsters.
— Monsters: The Monsters may be the single biggest addition, as they essentially become your party's third character. They can be upgraded in a Crystarium all their own (by using special items), and they each have their own set of skills and abilities. Monsters can even be fused together to create more powerful allies; i.e., one monster will absorb another and get stronger. Three monsters at a time can be added to your Paradigm Pack, and you can customize which monster is involved in each Paradigm.
— Fixed Paradigm Shifts: Paradigm Shifts are much faster, so they don't interfere with the combat as they initially did in FFXIII (i.e., the first Shift required an animation, in which enemies could hit you). They can also be customized even further, as you can Tune each Paradigm so the characters act in one of three ways: according to their role, Cross (all attack one enemy), or Wide (attack multiple enemies).
— Equipping: You can't just put on any Accessory you wish, as Noel and Serah each have a certain allotment of points for Accessories. For example, they start off with 50 points, and the Iron Bangle is 30, so that can be equipped. However, the Rune Bangle, which is another 30, can't be equipped because that would exceed your maximum of 50. Also, you can bring materials to Chocolina to create enhancements for your equipment.
— Skill Fragments: The side-quests allow you to search for Fragments, of which there are 160 in the game. Once you get enough of them, you can visit Serendipity (kinda like the Golden Saucer in FFVII), where there are not only Chocobo Races, but a mystic who will grant you extra bonuses for your Fragments. Also, because you can jump around at will, you sort of get that completionist mentality; i.e., "I wanna get all the Fragments; I don't care how long it takes."
— Environment Interaction: This has been amped up. Mog can be used to bring treasures to you by aiming and throwing him at out-of-reach spots, and he can also use special magic to reverse time rips and bring items and treasures into view, so you can nab them.
— Temporal Rifts: These breaks in time offer a new puzzle-based mechanic. For instance, the first has you follow a specific path of tiles; you have to grab all the crystals without retracing your steps. They get more varied and difficult as time goes on, of course.
— Streamlined Crystarium: It's different and upon first glance, it seems simplified because you only follow one path. You just go from node to node, rather than having multiple Crystariums for different jobs. However, as you advance, you'll be given the opportunity to expand in a variety of ways: when the Crystarium expands, it will ask if you want to add another ATB bar, learn a new job (like Saboteur, Synergist or Medic), get a boost for one of the current jobs, or something else. Plus, you choose which class you wish to increase at each node on the Crystarium, so it's like all the Crystariums of FFXIII blended into one.
No, I'm not passing judgment yet. There are definite problems with the game that RPG and FF fans won't like, I'm sure. But I think some of the aforementioned should be made plain, because I'm afraid too many reviews won't mention it all and if they do, they might gloss over it. And being a hardcore FF fan, I believe in supporting my peeps. 😉
Related Game(s): Final Fantasy XIII-2