There’s almost a month left to go until the inevitable sequel to Final Fantasy XIII will hit shelves in North America and Europe. Final Fantasy XIII-2 has seen a lot of trailers and gameplay footage this past month to hype up the (un)anticipated arrival of a game that many fans of the series have mixed feelings about.

Due to some extraordinary new features and gameplay videos, we’ve find ourselves more optimistic, although this sentiment is not shared in Japan where first week sales of FFXIII-2 have proven very weak. Up until now, not much has been seen or heard about the characters of the game, but a new trailer we have today includes all of the main cast and returning stars.

Square Enix has been listening to fans and may perhaps deliver a title that could bring some life back into the Final Fantasy franchise. The recent “Master of Monsters” trailer showcased an interesting and fun addition to the series — pulling for the Pokémon crowd, and any gamer who is still on the fence about Final Fantasy XIII-2 should take a look at the very expansive “Guided Tour” trailer that goes into detail about all of the new changes and improvements XIII-2 will offer.

Yoshinori Kitase, producer at Square Enix, has been taking criticism of FFXIII to heart and is listening to the fans to help guide the direction of its sequel/spin-off.

“The overall theme for the development of FFXIII-2 was to address all of the points that were criticised in FFXIII and the most complained about aspect was the linear story progression. The original idea for FFXIII was to make it very much a story-driven experience with the game itself progressing through the narrative, and this led to a linear design. For FFXIII-2 we changed to a player-driven concept where the story progresses through the player making different choices and exploring different situations. We believe that these alterations have greatly deepened and enhanced the enjoyment to be had from the gameplay.”

Final Fantasy 13-2 Characters Trailer

Shining the spotlight on all of the characters, the fourth in a series of new trailers, Lightning, Caius, Noel, Serah, Snow and Hope can all be seen throughout the “Characters” trailer seen below. Although Lightning is not the main character to this story — she will make a few playable appearances — it is her sister, Serah, who will be taking the lead right after the events of FFXIII. But don’t feel as though Lightning will be completely left out, Kitase reassures:

“In FFXIII-2 Lightning is still a very important figurehead character for the series. It is Serah and Noel who players will actually be controlling for most of the time during the game, but throughout the whole adventure they will still be able to feel the presence of Lightning; she watches over their time travelling journey, so fans of the original need not worry that she has been left out.”

Watch the characters trailer below to get a better visual picture of what is in-store for Final Fantasy XIII-2:

So who is this Noel character? After saving Cocoon, Lightning has magically vanished and it is up to Serah to find her. Noel, the male protagonist, appears to tell Serah that he can help find her as they travel through space and time, which can be achieved through the new feature known as the Historia Crux. Kitase speaks on behalf of Noel and adding a character more age-appropriate for the main character:

“In the original FFXIII we aimed to have a selection of main characters with a broad range of ages, but when we decided on having Serah as a main character in the sequel we thought we would need a male character of a similar age as a counterpoint. This was why we created Noel and made him not too far removed from Serah in terms of age. “However, the world which Noel and his kind inhabit is a far tougher and more dangerous environment than our modern day world, so he is also a protagonist experienced beyond his years, which adds to his appeal.”

Although the turnaround time is much much quicker for FFXIII — one year for FFXIII-2 and five years for FFXIII — Kitase ensures that this game is an improvement on they have already built:

“When we started making FFXIII we had to create a development environment for the new generation of high end consoles pretty much from scratch, and this had a big effect on lengthening the development time. For FFXIII-2, however, we could start by simply improving on the existing FFXIII engine, and this played a large part in cutting down the development period. This also allowed us to spend the time we would have had to use sorting out the environment and core system on constructing a good game.”

On a side note, an exclusive Xbox 360 DLC will become available on January 10, taking the form of Serah’s “Azrael” weapon that can up the player’s chain bonus stat. This weapon will cost players 80 MSP and will be available in the Chocolina Shop. Also, new downloadable content from the “Fight In Style” content pack has also been made available after the lackluster first week of sales in Japan. [Click on the images to enlarge.]

There have been many doubts about the unwelcomed sequel, especially after suffering disappointment at the hands of the previous two releases in the franchise, but from everything that has been showcased thus far, it may just be the underdog Square Enix needs to win back fans. A perfect score set by Famitsu also helps. Has Final Fantasy XIII-2 earned your interest yet?

Final Fantasy XIII-2 releases January 31, 2012 in North America and February 3 in Europe on the PS3 and Xbox 360.

Sources: VG247Andriasang

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