Final Fantasy XIII-2: The First Three Hours - Story Preview

Does FINAL FANTASY XIII really need a sequel? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself ever since the game was revealed back in January of this year. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to preview the game on several occasions, but each time I was left with more questions than answers.

That being said, I was recently invited to visit the game again by Square Enix. Much to my surprise, we were allowed to sample a full three hours of FINAL FANTASY XIII-2, starting fresh with a new game. I've split this into two halves - this part covers what happens in the story's first three hours (up to what Square Enix allow us to tell you), whilst the second part focuses on the gameplay mechanics and my impressions of them.

Being a story preview, this article contains many early game spoilers, so head over to our gameplay preview if you just want gameplay information. If you're cool with that, head on past the Lightning image.

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FINAL FANTASY XIII-2’s story is shrouded mostly in mystery despite being a mere month away from its Japanese launch. The game begins with a beautiful pre-rendered sequence that highlights the technical prowess of Square’s Visual Works Studio. Muted purples and greens clash as an armor-clad Lightning battles a mysterious man named Caius Ballad. The video of this sequence has since been released online.

With the ability to transform into Chaos Bahamut, Caius pursues Lightning across the land of Valhalla throughout this playable sequence that serves as the game's opener. Riding atop the familiar Odin, a super-powerful Lightning strikes back with a series of snipes and large scale attacks. Eventually the two make their way into the city, in which a choice-driven QTE battle ensues.

It's here this sequence ended in previous demos, but in the full game new character Noel Kreiss is seen suddenly falling from the heavens. Lightning summons her own Bahamut in an attempt to save him, only to face Caius once again before the game cuts to another CG sequence.

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Lightning battles atop Odin in Valhalla.

Seemingly safe for now, Lightning asks the young Noel to search for her sister, Serah. We get our first glimpse of an FF icon for the first time in this game here, with Lightning calling upon a strange Moogle; one that has the ability to transform into a large bow. Caius reappears, despite being crushed by Lightning. He’s returned to launch a new attack, but not before she urges Noel to jump into the gate that has appeared within the world.

With that, players lose control of Lightning and Episode I begins - FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 is separated into chapters like its predecessor - although the total has not yet been revealed.

We’re now focused on the game’s main heroine, Serah Farron. Lightning’s sister lies asleep in her New Bodhum home. A disturbance has occurred in the timeline, likely due to Noel’s forthcoming, and as a result, Serah’s clothing has magically altered in appearance.

This is Final Fantasy, so the story setup doesn't end there. A mysterious meteorite has fallen without warning, and the village is soon under attack by unknown monsters. Familiar faces from the opening segments of FFXIII, Team NORA, are seen fighting back amongst the fray, but the amount of enemies is almost endless.

Noel appears from above in a scene glimpsed in some older trailers to come to Serah’s rescue. With no time to panic, Noel hands her the bow, asking that she save her questions for later. After several battles within the village, Noel tells Serah that he was sent to her by Lightning. He explains that her sister, presumed dead after the events of FFXIII, is in fact not - she’s alive in the land of Valhalla. Intrigued, Serah agrees to follow this mysterious person, despite interjection from her friends.

It's here that the real adventure begins. Noel and Serah spend some time exploring the beach of New Bodhum, gathering information which eventually leads them to investigate the meteorite that fell nearby. Throughout New Bodhum, strange things are happening—the meteorite from Valhalla is causing time alterations. Realities are overlapping in Serah’s world.

Suddenly, Cocoon vanishes and the monster Gogmagog appears through an anomaly. By restoring said anomalies, fragments can be obtained - 160 in total. Noel reveals that Cocoon is missing in his era.  He tells Serah that he is from 700 years in the future and is the last of humanity. He makes a promise to Serah that he can bring her to Lightning. She just has to trust him. It’s revealed that the meteorite is actually a Time Gate, and that Light is waiting on the other side.

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Familiar faces from FFXIII show up in New Bodhum.

While no one seems to remember Lightning, Serah does. Has history changed? In order to find an artefact to access the gate and an answer Noel and Serah search New Bodhum, asking the locals for help. This section even has you chasing a kitten and some children in order to find out what you need to. Serah discovers that her necklace has been stolen by one such kid. Upon retrieving it, she reminisces of Snow, and how he promised to find Lightning. Before he took off, he gave to her his own necklace, vowing to return.

With information gathered, the pair make their way back to Serah's house. While there, Serah notices that a strange mirror has appeared in her bedroom, another strange ripple through the time line. Touching it reveals the mysterious artefact they need to change the future. Noel explains to Serah that he just wants a future with people still in it.

The two take off again toward the Time Gate, only to once again come face to face with Gogmagog. When the final game hits, be sure to pay attention to the music that plays during this battle… it’s interesting. After this battle, Chocobos make their appearance in the game. By feeding them gysahl greens, you can coerce them into letting you ride them.

With the gate finally open Noel and Serah take their departure. They enter the Historia Crux - the time traveling gate that could be compared in concept to Chrono Trigger's 'End of Time' - and make their way toward Bresha Ruins in the year 005 AF - 2 years in the future from their current timeline. This kicks off Episode 2.

It's here that another familiar area hits - the battle against Paradox Alpha, covered in our Tokyo Game Show Hands-On. Two years have passed and Serah and Noel find themselves immediately surrounded by the soldiers in the ruins. They’re forced to surrender, and ultimately locked up. Fortunately, a young girl named Alyssa Zaidelle comes to their rescue, claiming them both to be a part of her research team.

Through her they learn about the anomaly known as Atlas. It seems the monster has been disrupting the ruins, and Noel and Serah have been tasked to find out why. Exploring the rain soaked town leads the two to eventually discover and fight the beast, defeating him by destroying the crystal on his head.

Post-battle, Bresha's rains cease and the area is restored to its daytime splendor, leaving Noel and Serah are free to search for even more artefacts to open more gates in time to more areas future and past.

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In the end, it's all about trying to change the future through time manipulation... so far.

Episode 3 begins on the other side of the second trip through the Historia Crux after your time in the Bresha Ruins. The year is now 300 AF, and Noel and Serah find themselves in an autumn themed Sunleth Waterscape. Immediately it seems like something is amiss, a familiar face appears before Serah and Noel… we're sure you can guess who that is.

Sadly, we're not allowed to talk in too much detail about the contents of the ensuing section, and shortly after that, a little way into Episode 3, our demo time came to a close.

The story on offer showed off a few things, but more than anything it left me intrigued to see where it all goes. Part of the reason it left me that way is because after three hours everything all still felt a little confusing. Fears about Noel being a cardboard cut-out appear unfounded, as he seems to be genuinely interesting and has good motivation as the last remaining human, but Serah seems shallow and disappointing by comparison.

Many fans are wondering if Lightning will be playable more in the back-end of the game, and the distinct impression given by the first few hours is that if she is, it'll be for a very short period of time. The early sections of the game past the cold open with Lightning seem to be deliberately designed to drive home that this game is the story of Noel and Serah, and Lightning is primarily a plot device used to initiate their journey. This will disappoint some people, but isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The use of the world and cast of FFXIII seems looser than expected in those first three hours, but that is something I'd anticipate might integrate more tightly later on. The concept of the Time Travel and its execution so far is interesting, but it has given a way for more confusion to creep in.

The story of FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 has great potential, but three hours is way too little to draw a full conclusion off. I'm reserving judgement, but it's difficult to get properly excited as this is penned by Motomu Toriyama, the man also behind the extremely disappointing plot of The 3rd Birthday - which also had time travel and sisters.

The gameplay left me with a much nicer impression and left me wanting for more, and might well end up being the reason you should play this game. Be sure to check out our gameplay hands-on preview through this link.

If you want to read more about FFXIII-2, be sure to head to the game page for interviews, previews, news and more and the Media Vault for Screenshots, Videos and Artwork from the game.

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