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Final Fantasy XIII-2

Hands-On With Monster Collecting In Final Fantasy XIII-2
by Joe Juba on Dec 26, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Platform PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher Square Enix
Developer Square Enix
Rating Teen

Next month, gamers in North America will finally get their hands on Final Fantasy XIII-2. Japanese gamers, on the other hand, have been playing since the game released across the Pacific on December 15. To get an early sample of what this sequel has to offer, I spent several hours with an imported copy. Though many elements will be familiar to fans of FF XIII, one new mechanic stood out to me: monster collection.

Leading up to the game’s release, I was aware that taming monsters and having them fight with you was a part of Final Fantasy XIII-2, but I didn’t know how significant a factor it would be. Now I know that it is a much larger part of the game than I had thought. Here’s what I figured out.

Note: Because the imported copy isn’t in English, I’m going to hold off on any story commentary until I get to play through the localized version.

The Basics
Serah and Noel are your only two controllable characters in battle, while the third slot is occupied by a monster. Essentially, monsters become fully functional party members once combat starts – they aren’t like summons, since they are always present. Each one has an assigned role (like Ravager or Commando) used to create three-person paradigms with Serah and Noel. If you switch paradigms, the monster switches instantly (assuming your new paradigm requires a monster with a new role). The monsters even have unique upgrade paths on the Crystarium, and a special attack you can use by filling up a Feral Link meter. It may seem intimidating at first, but it’s easy to get started.

Step One: Get A Monster
Capturing a monster is practically automatic. As far as I can tell, you don’t need to use any special items or tactics. You just fight enemies, and sometimes they turn into crystals at the end of battle. Once that happens, the monster is added to your menagerie and you’re free to use it in battle, upgrade it, etc. Every time you get a new area, you will almost certainly gain a bunch of new monsters just through the normal course of the story and encounters. You won’t always capture a monster the first time you fight it, and there may be some kind of restriction on low-level characters capturing high-level monsters, but the whole process seems balanced. Some players are reporting that using one monster’s Feral Link ability to finish off an untamed opponent increases your odds of catching the new creature, but the odds for capture already seem pretty high normally.

Step Two: Customize
Before you even step onto the battlefield, you have a few options for customizing your new allies. First of all, you can change any monster’s name, but with restrictions. You can’t just type in text – you must select the name from a predetermined list. There are plenty of different options, but odds are that none of them are exactly what you had in mind. From a different menu, you can also add cosmetic accessories like tattoos or stupid hats. All of the accessories I found were either too subtle to stand out or too cutesy; instead of making my monsters look cool, these additions just made them look ridiculous. It's tough to look awesome when you're wearing a puffy orange-striped hat. Thankfully, the monster designs are good even when unadorned, and the cosmetic stuff doesn’t matter as long as your beast delivers in combat.

Step Three: Fight!
While fighting, you can’t control the monsters directly, though they behave predictably according to their roles in your paradigms. For instance, I got a floating cat creature that was a medic, so I set up a paradigm where Serah and the cat were medics, and Noel was a sentinel. As soon as I switched to that paradigm, the cat started healing just as expected, leaving me free to change between Serah and Noel as party leader. While you can have unlimited monsters (one of each type) in reserve, you can only have three set up to be potential party members at once, and only one active at a time. That means that you can’t just call any monster whenever its convenient – you need to consider Serah and Noel’s strengths and arrange your companion monsters accordingly.

Step Four: Level Up
You’ll pick up various items (usually as spoils after battle) that are used to improve your monsters’ abilities. Instead of gaining stats through experience, you spend these items in the menu to unlock Crystarium nodes. Some items appear to focus on magic power, others on attack power, and another one boosts them both. These items also have different grades, and higher-quality items are required to advance your monsters past certain levels. Monsters also appear to have different growth patterns; some of them hit their max level early, and gain power quickly. Others don’t seem to have a cap, but gain power more slowly (and therefore require a greater resource investment over time). Even though I’m sure there are monsters that are objectively awesome, many of them seem equivalent early in the game, so which ones you choose to focus on is partially an aesthetic choice.

Step Five: Fine Tuning
Monsters don’t have the versatility of Serah and Noel since they can’t switch among multiple roles, but they have the potential to excel within their assigned role since they can basically consume other monsters. As monsters level up, they learn new passive abilities through the Crystarium, and those abilities can be passed on to other creatures if you sacrifice the original. For instance, let’s say that you’ve got a Pulsework robot that you’ve chosen to be your commando, but another monster has a passive Strength +10% bonus. That strength bonus can be passed on to your robot, enhancing its utility as a commando, but you lose the monster that had the bonus in the first place (though another one can be re-captured through normal means). This function allows you optimize the monsters you want to use the most often and do something with those creatures that would otherwise just sit in reserve the whole game.

I’m sure there are more layers to the system than I was able to explore, and I can’t speak to how it holds up as the game progresses. However, after several hours of monster killing, collecting, and tweaking, I’m excited to see how this feature contributes to the overall experience.

Now that you know that details, you should have a better idea what’s going on in this trailer Square Enix released highlighting the monster collection mechanic.

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Final Fantasy XIII-2cover

Final Fantasy XIII-2

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
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