Microsoft's press conference, the first of several throughout the week of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, kicked off with an impressive display of games across multiple genres. Last year, Square Enix stunned the audience by announcing that Final Fantasy XIII will also be released on the Xbox 360, marking the first time that a major new installment in the series would be available on the console. This time around, Motomu Toriyama, director of Final Fantasy XIII, and producer Yoshinori Kitase stepped out onto the stage with a translator to give the world a first look at the highly anticipated role-playing game running on Microsoft's console.
The gameplay footage was something that we've seen before in the Japanese demo that was released along with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete on Blu-ray a few months ago. Two rebels, Lightning and Sazh, were introduced as they jumped gracefully from one falling platform to another. Lightning, the strawberry-blond heroine, is far more graceful than her counterpart, the goofy Sazh, who has a baby chocobo that resides in his giant afro. After their acrobatic routine, they landed and came face to face with a giant robot scorpion. English subtitles and voice acting were included, but there wasn't a ton of dialogue to give you much of a hint in terms of story. However, everything seems to be running smoothly at this point.
The boss battle initiated quickly, a seamless transition in order to not disrupt the flow. The active time bar is back, but with slight adjustments. The time bar is split into segments that fill relatively quickly. Each spell or ability, including a straightforward attack, costs points that correlate with the segments. What's new this time is that we see four segments of the time bar instead of three from the demo, letting you chain more attacks and execute more-powerful spells and skills. This makes us wonder how much longer the active time bar can get, and what kind of abilities the characters will have or acquire over time. The ability to chain attacks one after another keeps the gameplay flowing; it's like watching a well-choreographed battle sequence in which the fun never stops.
To finish the fight with a flourish, Lightning tossed a bright red ball in the air--one that looked strangely like materia--and summoned Odin, a powerful knight to fight by her side. We were told that summons weren't available this early in the game, but Toriyama wanted to show off at least one impressive creature. In a short but beautiful sequence--laced with rose petals--Lightning called the knight to her side and finished the mechboss without any difficulty.
The demonstration quickly came to an end, and a projected release date was announced. Square Enix is hoping to release Final Fantasy XIII in the spring of 2010. We'll have more updates on the game as E3 continues, so check back soon for more details.