I have played 25 hours of the Japanese version of FFXIII-2. Unfortunately I couldn't play much of it in the last 10 days because I was visiting the US for the holidays(I usually live in Japan). Some discussion happened about what the game was like, and I didn't realize how little information there still was on the internet despite the Japanese version being out. I thought for sure there would be people like me on every forum that could give information.
Apparently this isn't the case, and so here's a condensed version of some of my impression posts from another forum. I'll edit this to make it prettier as we go, but if you wanted to know a lot of stuff about the game design of FFXIII then here it is. There may be some mild spoilers.
TL;DR this game is Chrono Cross meets Chrono Trigger meets FFXII meets FFXIII meets FFX-2.
I have explored areas, done something the game refers to as a "quest," and spent a lot a time beating my moogle.
The game so far is delivering on its promises in spades, and I'm really really liking the direction the story is going in. The kind of vibes its putting off and some of the things I'm noticing in the character design are making me really excited. Specifically(very early game spoilers, and probably already revealed in trailers):
The main dude sidekick appear to be based on Serge from Chrono Cross. There's also a dude in the starting beach village that looks to be designed exactly like Wakka from FF10. The story notes are putting off a Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, FFX-2, and Quantum Leap kind of vibe. I think the homages to past characters are intentional. I mean the Serge-looking dude even fights with two knives and with the same battle stance.
I hope the game continues to deliver on that kind of madness. It appears to be doing so pretty well so far. The design of the story and game world appear to be specifically constructed in the service of the game mechanics rather than how FF13 was with the game mechanics being a slave to the story the game was forcing down your throat.
A good example of that is the new random battle system. When you're running around the world the game randomly spawns enemies, and then a big timer pops up on the screen. You have about 10 seconds to try to get the jump on the enemy by hitting it with your sword. The way the game justifies this is by saying these monsters are randomly bleeding over from other universes, and the timer is your pet moogle warning you of this occurrence. So they've gone to great lengths it seems to make the game better, but also make these changes diegetic.
These battles can pretty easily be escaped, though, by just continuing to go on your merry way. Some stuff will chase you more than others, and it can get kind of hairy if the timer runs out. If that happens the game locks you into combat with that encounter, and you no longer get the option of escaping. This seems like it could get annoying if they abuse it later, but who knows how that will shake out in the end game.
I just got the ability to have monsters in my party in the last 20 minutes, and the amount of customization options in this game is kind of daunting. You can customize the appearance of your battle monsters and change their names. They also have their own crystaliums and levels of their own. There also seems to be a kind of personality or type mechanic or something. The monsters work pretty much the same as regular characters in battle except they can't change paradigms. You set specific monsters as part of your paradigms, and then your monsters swap in and out as you change paradigms.
So in my brute force assault paradigm I have one monster, but when I change to my defensive healing paradigm I have a different monster come in. I believe you can use up to 3 different monsters as part of your paradigms. The end result of all this monster business is that it functions like you have a character in your party that's infinitely customizable.
The game also made a smart decision in how it handles character progression in the new crystalium. There don't appear to be any more branching paths or anything in the new crystarium. Instead it works like a flat skill tree where you're purchasing new levels in the class you want to improve. The nice thing about this is that characters no longer have innate roles. You can do whatever you want with your characters.
However, your decisions about character progression appear to be permanent, and the price of a level-up increases across the board every time you do it. It would cost exactly the same amount of crystal points to advance from level 20 to 21 in Attacker as it would for me to advance from level 1 to 2 in Blaster. This basically ends up making it function a lot like skill point systems from other games.
I'm excited to play more, but I have to finish my studying for today. I'll be able to play all evening, though, and post more about it. I can also answer questions if people have them. I may end up writing a lengthy review of this like I did for FF13, but I'm not sure yet.
They've also put little sidequests in the game that allow you to make bosses a bit easier sometimes if you want. So you can kind of choose multiple ways to go about progressing the story based on what tickles your fancy. It's like they heard the complaints about the lack of choices in the first game, and their response was, "Okay, fuck it, next time they get all choices for everything all the time from the beginning."
Anybody worried about the monster stuff should probably stop, in my opinion. Those fuckers are a forced to be reckoned with if you manage them properly. I had a monster doing 3x the damage of the main characters only about 20 minutes after they introduced the system. There's also a pretty significantly detailed system for breeding them in order to min/max their stats and abilities.
The other thing about the music complaints is that a lot of the music you guys are complaining about is ambient stuff they have going so low that the game sound effects overshadow it. You're not really supposed to listen to a lot of this music at full volume with headphones. I'm not going to say all the music is a symphonic masterpiece that gives me an aural orgasm, but it just isn't as crazy as a lot of you are fearing.
The way they've paced the game now it feels weird to ever stop playing because there really aren't very many good stopping points. You can save anywhere now, and so you just have to force yourself to stop. The more I play this game the more I want to play more of it. It's like they combined the open worldiness of FF12 with the gameplay and story stylings of FF13 and FFX-2.
I really hope that a lot of people who hated the first game will pick this up. It pretty much fixes every single complaint I ever saw about FFXIII save for it being "the most anime." It's still pretty anime, but I like it fine. The way the game opens makes it feel like you're about to play a PS3 version of Dissidia or something.
I've maxed 2 jobs for both characters, maxed the ATB bar, unlocked every role for both characters, and maxed the number of accessory points. At this point when the Crystalium levels up the only option that seems decent is to buff the stats for the main job.
My monsters seem to be doing alright, but I'm using exactly the same ones as when I first started breeding them. I've been leveling them when I can, but I'm no longer finding the resources to upgrade them with. My characters have finally caught up to them in terms of stats and damage, though. I just wish I had more of a reason to utilize a variety of them.
Right now I'm spending 99% of my time in a Blaster-Attacker-Blaster paradigm while mashing the O button. This is giving me 5 stars in pretty much every battle, including boss ones. I just finished a chapter, and I hope maybe I'm at a bit of a turning point. It looks like some heavy shit is about to go down. It appears I've locked myself out of some abilities for some of the jobs. The game is saying my Enhancer role is maxed in terms of skills, but I don't even have Haste.
I wonder if the game is artificially limiting me a little bit based on my place in the story. It feels like this can't be the end of the character progression, and something should happen soon.
To be clear I'm still enjoying the game a lot, but I just hope some more of the strategery I remember being the fun part of FFXIII starts making itself more apparent in this game.
I'm sticking to the main path right now mostly because I want to see the story, and I also want to see if any story developments are going to shake up some of the gameplay stuff I was worrid about. There is side quest stuff open to me that's a lot harder. I'm just choosing not to do it right this second. Doing a bunch of that stuff early on is kind of how I become overpowered.
FFXIII-2 is designed kind of like the modern Mario games have been where the main path is a bit shallow, but all the other optional stuff is where a lot of veteran players are going to find what they want out of the game.
It seems like this time they've tried to be very mindful of not wanting people to get stuck, and also informing you when new areas open to you. The game spends a lot of time reminding you, "Hey! There's more stuff open over there you can go do. It's cool if you want to go do that. You have freedom unlike that last game."
When you first start the game it gives you a big fat choice between Easy Mode and Normal Mode that is also switchable in game at any time I think as a response to the handful of points in FF13 where the game was trying to force you to use more strategy. That game was really inconsistent in whether or not you could just mash the confirm button or were forced to try something else. This led a lot of people to get really frustrated at certain boss battles.
So, yes, I would say they have learned from their mistakes. In FFXIII there was so much linearity that your only option ever was really to mash that button. In FF13-2 it's a lot less linear so you can go get into other stuff literally whenever you want. I do mean whenever you want. The only time I've been locked down a path for a little while was the very beginning of the game. Since about 2 hours in I've had multiple branching areas open with complete freedom to go between them.
The overarching design goal of this game appears to be, "we don't want to force players to ever be stuck," and that applies to both the game locking you in areas and also not being able to progress due to difficulty.
The story in FF13-2 is a lot less one note. The mystery elements are keeping things interesting to me. I also think the predicament of the main characters is more interesting in FF13-2.
It's hard to explain, but I really like what they've done with the characters and how they're choosing to use the characters from the original game. The story elements they've decided to use this time have given them a lot more freedom to explore the kind of stuff you're describing.
The codex stuff in the first game annoyed me too, but I also kind of appreciated it. I hate the trope in games/movies/TV shows of people explaining shit to each other they already know about it like the player is stupid. I understand writers walk a fine line when they start planning out stories trying to assume what the person experiencing it is going to know or understand at certain points.
FF13-2 integrates this better by using the conversation system, and also having a character introduced that's a complete outsider to everything that sometimes needs to have things explained to him. This character isn't really a player insert, but at times I think they use him as one.
I didn't remember very much about FF13 besides the Fal'cie, L'cie, and curses. Until this game reminded me of the ultimate ending to that game I had forgotten about it entirely.
Below this line in my post are big fat story spoilers about why I think the story in this game is more interesting than FF13.
The game uses the events of the first game as a backdrop and prime motivation for the main characters. However the mystery elements of the plot are what's driving it. The setup to the game is that after the end of FF13 happens a bunch of raw inexplicable shit starts happening concerning the space time fabric. People start having memories of the future, memories that are different from how everyone else remembers them, start finding objects like diaries spontaneously update themselves 5 years ahead of what they perceive to be the modern day, and also realize that they are currently alive in a universe where they get to stare at their own grave.
Serah's search for Lightning across space and time at the guidance of a sidekick, who is ultimately in the dark almost as much as she is, is the core that the game is built around. The time travel thing allows them to explore a lot of character relationships in ways they kind of wouldn't be able to. There's a few sidequests and things I found to be really in the way that only science fiction makes possible. The game is kind of pulpy about it, but I like the kinds of ramifications of its plot that it's exploring. There's a lot of neat stories they can tell with those story conceits.
Right now, at least, there isn't really a great evil that must be stopped. It's mostly running around trying to figure out what the fuck is going on with people, and also correct shit so people aren't finding themselves existing in a time they shouldn't be in.
There's a big theme of "this shouldn't exist," "that couldn't have happened," "this isn't how I remember it."
In conclusion, if you enjoyed Chrono Cross or even maybe then you should probably play this game.
It's weird. I like the conversation system fine, but I think some people are going to hate it.
The game doesn't really have a conversation system so much as character-conversation-related quick time events. At certain points in certain conversations the game pops up a wheel of things you can say. There's always four choices. The video game element of it is that you're sometimes trying to choose the most appropriate response and sometimes the game is giving you a legitimate choice to guide the conversation towards a topic you would like to know more about.
When the wheel pops up the screen goes black, and there's usually 2-3 sentences of explanation of that conversation event. Here, have an example. "Noel is telling you he is riddled with herpes. What's the best response?"
X - Wow, that's tough.
O - Does that mean I have it too?
Triangle - How's the weather been lately?
Square - Do you think you could infect the villain with it?
How this kind of thing works is that there's usually one or two appropriate choices that are varying levels of appropriate. So one of the appropriate choices would be good, and then the other would be what the game considers perfect. There's usually a non-sequitur kind of answer that's flat out wrong that your conversation partner will complain doesn't make sense. Then there's the non-sequitur non-sequitur answer where it's not even concerning anything to do with anything anyone was talking about.
Here's how it would shake out for that example:
X - Perfect
O - Would lead to the response, "That doesn't make any sense! We haven't even fucked. You are dumb."
Triangle - Umm....
Square - Good response, but would lead to, "That's kind of a dumb idea."
The game changes this up quite a bit from conversation to conversation, though. It's kind of puzzley. Sometimes you're rewarded for choosing the first perfect correct answers, and other times you're rewarded for beating around the bush, taking someone's feelings into account, or getting as much information as possible out of another character. There's also a sidequest or two where you're answering riddles using the conversation system.
I like the variety this system allows them to get away with, but I think it's going to make people paranoid they're missing out on in-game rewards. The game also doesn't do a great job explaining that there's kind of a different goal every time the conversation option pops up. You have to make sure to read the 2-3 sentences at the top in order to know what kind of response the game wants from you. If you're dozing off not paying attention it would be easy to get burned by it.
I would kind of like to see ultimately what kind of rewards are possible if you do everything perfect, but most of the time I've aced these things the reward has been a decoration for my pokemob.
Dungeon and Overall Game Design
There's exploration, and hidden items you can discover with your moogle. Most of the random stuff you find around the environment isn't that important. Most of it's packs of potions or things to upgrade your weapons/monsters. The real value to exploration is talking to people to find quests. The game gives you a [...] icon that tells you who has dialogue, but not everyone has a quest. So there's no WoW-style [!] quest markers. Quests can take you to new places in the levels and sometimes have good rewards. I was using a weapon I found on an early sidequest for most of the early game because I wasn't finding anything better from a merchant just yet.
The exploration aspect comes from finding those people to get quests from, doing their quest in the environment, and finding the hidden items. If you liked the way FFXII handled exploration more, and that's what you're thinking of, then I think you'll be disappointed. It's not quite like that. I like it. I think it's a good way to handle exploration in fairly static environments, and the way the game is set up there's some interesting things.
For instance, there's a quest to give a woman a map of an area. Basically this means she wants you to have a map where it's 100% explored. It's impossible to give her this in the version of the area she exists in. You have to compile that 100% by going to different versions of that area, and exploring different pieces of it. Then you can go back to her, and give her the map.
There's not a quest like this for every area, but I'm sure there's some achievement for getting 100% map completion on every area. That quest, though, gives you an idea of what the developers were thinking when it came to exploration.
Spoilery Thoughts on the Leaked Game Ending
I find people complaining about the ending to be pretty funny. Here's some context for that ending:
There can never be a satisfying ending to this game because of the world this game takes place in. None of the endings you unlock in the game are the "true" ending. They never can be. They're just the way things shake out based on choices you've made or different circumstances. Exploring that is kind of the entire fucking point of the game. You're time traveling and dealing with parallel universes. Which one of these threads is the "true" history or the proper way things should go is a fairly big theme in the game. It's discussed a lot by the characters. It's a prime motivation for the characters on both sides of the conflict. It causes a lot of characters to do a lot of really dumb selfish shit that's easy to sympathize with until you realize their actions are causing a lot of bad shit to happen to lots of people in multiple universes.
I don't think there's a scenario where people don't die based on the choices that have been made. Unless they wanted to pull an arbitrary deus ex machina at the end of the game to put a lid on all the time travelling and universal jet-setting you have to live with the fact that you kind of pick your favorite ending or you take all of them holistically as the story of the game.
This game isn't linear in any sense of the word, and that has ramifications for the story. The people complaining in this thread seem to want a completely non-linear game with a 100% linear story that has a great ending with lots of finality. I don't think that game can ever exist. I like the choices they've made with FFXIII-2. I think they're interesting, and exploring that kind of stuff is what makes me want to continue playing the game.
I like this game for a lot of the same reasons I liked Chrono Cross.
I should note that I have not finished the game yet, but the manual mentions many different endings. The game is also very explicit about hunting fragments, and always has a big counter available for you to check your progress.