Another interesting new feature is the ability to capture and tame wild enemies. Defeating monsters in battle can occasionally yield chrystals that allow you to use the beasts as part of your three-man squad.
Each monster can be assigned to a specific paradigm and comes with a set of normal attacks as well as a more powerful feral state that dishes out higher damage, think of it as an Overdrive or Limit Break.
According to Square Enix, barring the bosses and mini-bosses if you can kill it you can capture it. From the little we played it looks like the monsters replace the third party member, which means they can be healed when hurt and revived when knocked out of battle.
Eventually we find the "weird machine", but before we can put it to use Atlas' hand bursts through the floor and grabs hold of us. Instead of squishing us into pulp we find ourselves in 'The Void Beyond', a temporal rift where we must solve a trial to escape. The puzzle involves collecting a whole load of crystals, but since the floor tiles disappear once stepped on, snagging them requires some forward-planning.
The rifts seem like they could be a great way to break up the combat and traversal aspects of the game, and more than that we found that they tweaked the nostalgia bone by reminding us of the excellent temple trials from Final Fantasy X.
Our hours spent playing both Super Mario Galaxy games to completion make this particular puzzle a cakewalk and soon we're back in the real world. Noel's interaction with the machine seems to power down Atlas' shield and the giant finally shows his true colours.
We fight our way to him, accruing experience and racking up the levels as usual and begin our battle. Fast forward a few minutes later and Atlas basically kerb stomped us to death. It looks like we'll have to do a little more grinding before we can think about toppling this giant. Some things will never change...
From what we've played Square Enix gets it, it knows what it did wrong and is doing what it can to right wrongs. The return to the town structure, larger dungeons and emphasis on player choice have gone a long way in taking the edge off the wounds of disappointment left by previous game.
Our concern is that those who might not have warmed to the story, world or the characters of Final Fantasy XIII might find this direct-sequel a bit too familiar for their liking. They already know the milk's gone bad, and aren't likely to take another sip from the same bottle. Time will tell.