Final Fantasy XIII is coming out in Japan this yea —this December, actually. At the Tokyo Game Show, Square Enix will have a playable demo, which is most likely the final demo before FFXIII hits retail.
I got some hands on time with the TGS demo build.
What Is It? Final Fantasy XIII is Square Enix's latest entry in the Final Fantasy franchise. The eagerly anticipated role-playing-game is a PS3 exclusive in Japan (the demo was running off of PS3 Slims), but is a multi-platform release abroad.
What We Saw The TGS demo allows players to choice from two different characters: Lightning or Snow. Because players play these characters are different points in the game, the demo differs depending on which character you pick. So if you choose Lightning, you will explore outside the palace. But picking Snow takes players inside what looks like inside palace ruins.
This gives players at TGS reason to play through the demo twice.
In the previous demo bundled with Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Complete, it seemed like players spent a good chunk of time running down hallways. In the TGS 2009 demo, there are summons, which go into the Gestalt Mode (transformation) — something that players have not been able to check out first hand.
How Far Along Is It? The game is out this December, so while this demo is mostly likely the final playable pre-release build, we do expect Square Enix to make tweaks here and there.
What Needs Improvement? The animation and frame rate for the PS3 version are incredibly smooth. The graphics are crisp. And the game looks great. However, there were a very nit-picky items like the cutscene for when Odin glides into the frame in Gestalt Mode. The horsey version of Odin looks like a cardboard cutout moving through air — a few flourishes or even a vapor trail would remedy this. Also, in the demo, there are areas at the top of staircases that are blocked to players. However, the debris does not occupy the entire staircase, creating an invisible wall. Throw a few more rocks around so it doesn't look like a game convention. (These are very picky complaints, mind you!)
What Should Stay The Same? The game's time-based battle system is likely to divide fans: Some are bound to love it — love how the ticking clock gets you thinking fast on your feet. Others will not respond to it, perhaps feeling pressured by the ticking clock and prefer a more traditional turn based-system. Regardless, the game is hinged on the battle system (that, and of course, the story), so it's not so much a matter of what should stay the same, but rather, accepting that this is the mechanic that FFXIII is built around. If you dig it, great. If not, so be it.
Final Thoughts It's been the end of a long road for Square Enix, and Final Fantasy XIII appears to be a big, meaty RPG. As I mentioned above, some will not respond to the game's battle system, which only lets players control one character, instead of having great command over your party. Square Enix does appear to be trying new things out and trying to make the title more welcoming for new players — both of which should be applauded. However, it remains to be seen how the title will hold up over extended play. The cutscenes for the Gestalt Mode are impressive, and the way the Gestalt Mode lets players enter pre-determinded combos is fulfilling. But that's the first time. Will we still feel like a badass, say, the 50th time we do that? We'd like to see how those cutscenes and combos hold up over extended play. Finally, like with any FF game, the story is a substantial draw. We've got an interesting cast of characters, and we can't wait to see how they interact with each other.