Was Final Fantasy XIII too linear for you? Square Enix has heard the complaints, and answers them with a mechanic that's about as non-linear as they come: Time travel. How does it work? Director Motomu Toriyama has the answers.
At the heart of Final Fantasy XIII-2's story and gameplay progression is the Historia Crux, a mechanic that allows players to travel back and forth through time, experiencing events in the future or redoing choices they've made in the past. Game director Motomu Toriyama likens it to a webpage filled with links the player can pick and choose as they please. Players yearning for more depth can plumb the darkest reaches of the system, unlocking hidden endings, priceless treasures, and hours of play time.
It sounds complicated, but Toriyama says it's had some likening the new game to Chrono Trigger, which is a horrible thing to say to fans that have been waiting for a new sequel to that classic for years. You don't get to say that name unless you've got more on the way!
Flip through the gallery for a look at the Q&A session Square Enix provided with Toriyama in the hopes of explaining the new system. It doesn't help much, but the pictures are pretty.
Q: Could you give us an overview of what the Historia Crux is and how it works?
A: The Historia Crux is a new gameplay system that functions like a compass for time travel. As the portal which allows the player to select areas and time periods to go to, it functions a bit like a home menu and is at the heart of the story and gameplay progression of FINAL FANTASY XIII-2. The player can enjoy travelling through time by freely choosing between all the time-space locations where gates have been opened up. Although these locations proceed onwards into the future, you also have the option of rewinding time so it will be possible to experience many different historical possibilities.
Q: What specific fan feedback are you trying to respond to with the Historia Crux?
A: The original game, FINAL FANTASY XIII, was primarily story driven and progressed in a very linear manner. For the sequel, FINAL FANTASY XIII-2, we are going for a much more player driven concept, so this time around the gameplay and story itself will alter to fit the player's choices. You will be able to freely come and go between all the areas; the game will provide not just simple environmental exploration, but also a multi-layered exploration of history through the Historia Crux.
Q: How does the Historia Crux affect the gameplay in FINAL FANTASY XIII-2?
A: The Historia Crux branches off into multiple different routes depending on the player's choices. You will be able to take a detour into areas that have branched off of the route you have taken, perform side missions and turn back time in each of the areas to experiment with all possibilities. It is of course also possible to progress simply following the main story, like in the original FINAL FANTASY XIII. The flow of areas accessible via Historia Crux has been structured so that all of the player's actions and decisions will influence the gameplay. Casual players will be able to use the Historia Crux in a similar manner to browsing a favourite website – picking and choosing between all the different links available. It also contains elements aimed at more dedicated gamers, allowing for more challenging play through encouraging exploration of all the different times and places; to find additional secrets including the multiple endings that are hidden in the different routes.
Q: Many fans have been longing for an explorable World Map for a while. Do you feel that the Historia Crux is a good alternative?
A: The Historia Crux divides the world into multiple layers, overlapping with the different time periods that can be played with the feeling of jumping freely around several world maps. This is a completely new system and experience, so it cannot be unconditionally compared with other options; however, when considering the key concept of "player freedom", I believe it to be an optimal system for combining the best parts of open-world style games with the story-driven aspects of FINAL FANTASY XIII. The player can adjust their play style to either delve deeply into everything available and be engrossed, or just make more straightforward choices while going along their adventure.
Q: Is it possible to share more information on how the Historia Crux allows for sidequests and hidden objects to feature in the game?
A: In the original game, the sidequests were only unlocked in the second half of the story in Gran Pulse, but in the sequel we have put in many different sidequests right from the start. Due to the overwhelming demand from players of the original, we have also included many strong and colourful mini games, a tradition of the FINAL FANTASY series. You will be able to return to any of the times and places whenever you like from the Historia Crux, so it is completely up to the player in what way they choose to play these.
Q: Is it possible to change events that happen in the future depending on your actions in the past?
A: Depending on the player's actions, new turning points to new futures will appear in time, and these will certainly form the basis for the multiple endings.
Q: This is the first time time travel has featured so prominently in a FINAL FANTASY game, is this something you'd like to explore more in future games?
A: For the FINAL FANTASY series, each game has its own new game system, so it is not as if we are intending on making time travel key to all future instalments. We want fans to look forward to each FINAL FANTASY having its own unique system. For FINAL FANTASY XIII-2, we are experimenting with carrying out repeated large scale user tests to reflect the opinions of users in the game itself. We really have received a lot of feedback about the game, but among the voices there are those who say it reminds them of the classic RPG, CHRONO TRIGGER. For FINAL FANTASY XIII-2, we are aiming to make time travel a major thematic direction, and be able to express this on high-end game machines.
Q: Will we be meeting older/younger versions of FINAL FANTASY XIII characters as we travel through time?
A: The main characters from the original FINAL FANTASY XIII will show up in this journey through time, so we will see them in many different situations and guises. I am sure that the fans of the original will be looking forward to seeing them again and how they have changed over the years!
Q: Is it possible to return to time periods you've already visited and replay them as if it's your first time you have visited the area?
A: It will be possible to wind back time in each of the areas you visit and replay them. Character levels and equipment etc will be carried over so it will be possible to play the game as if doing a "New Game+" for each of the areas at different times. It will be possible to play through from the start using your levelled up characters, once you have completed the game. We have taken care to put a number of elements into the game system to make replays more exciting and user-friendly.