Final Fantasy XIII Hands-On and Trailer Impressions

We get a chance to play the Tokyo Game Show demo of Final Fantasy XIII two weeks before the actual event.

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Today at the Final Fantasy XIII premiere party, Square Enix gave us a brief chance to spend some time with a playable demo of Final Fantasy XIII. This was basically a sneak peek at what's coming up at the Tokyo Game Show floor later this month. It gave us a chance to play as both protagonists, Lightning and Snow, in different areas. The publisher also showed us a new trailer, which will be displayed to the general public at TGS.

Lightning and Snow; our two protagonists.
Lightning and Snow; our two protagonists.

The Lightning demo took place in a vibrant harbor town with a strong military presence. Futuristic-looking trucks were parked around, and there were PSICOM soldiers lurking and searching. It felt almost a bit like a Metal Gear game, except with a more colorful, fantasy atmosphere. There were places where we could walk through drained pipes to explore the area. This was a special demo, so our character had buffed-up stats and didn't have any trouble fighting through the enemies as we made our way forward. It could have gone very differently because Lightning only had one other member in her party. She had a blond boy named Hope Estheim with her who was previously seen in the cutscenes of the FFXIII trial disc from April.

The Lightning demo gave us the first chance to actually play around with the summons in FFXIII, which are quite a bit different from anything in past FF games. First and foremost, each character in FFXIII is partnered with a particular summon. For instance, Snow has the power to summon Shiva, while Lightning can summon Odin. This apparently has to do with the storyline where summons are a power that gets handed only to those who are chosen.

The summons in FFXIII function a bit like a limit break, except with more flexibility. There's a new bar called the TP meter added to the bottom of the screen where your party's life bars are displayed, and you'll need to build it up to a certain amount to call your summon. The TP meter rises bit by bit when you attack your enemies, and you can also replenish it by using recovery items like an elixir. We've also been told that the TP meter has to do with your summon's life when you call it out, which can be done normally from the command menu, just like selecting a magic.

Lightning's demo allowed us to summon Odin, which began with an extravagant summoning sequence. Lightning would take out a pink crystal, break it, and a rain of rose pedals would fill the screen. As the rose pedals fell, the mighty Odin appeared as an imposing figure standing on foot.

Odin in FFXIII looked a bit different from previous games due to a huge design overhaul. He now looks more like a huge mech robot than an ancient Celtic warrior, though it kind of fits in with the look of the game. He was also missing his old horse Sleipnir, so he was standing on his own and running around while attacking.

When you call out your summon, it'll temporarily trade places with all your other party members. So in the case of Lightning, it'll be Lightning and Odin against all the enemies, which isn't anything to fret about because of the strength of the summons.

Say hi to Vanille and Hope.
Say hi to Vanille and Hope.

As you fight with your summon and do chain attacks, you'll build up a bar at the bottom of the screen called the Gestalt meter, which is used for the new feature called Gestalt mode. By pressing the square button at any time while your summon is called out, your summon changes into a vehicle and you ride around on it, beating up on the enemies on screen. Shiva changes into a motorbike, and in the case of the aforementioned Odin, it turns out that he doesn't have his horse because, well, he transforms into it.

During Gestalt mode, the menu at the bottom of the screen switches to something that resembles a car speedometer, and you use the analog stick and buttons to select various attack commands. You can't control your character around the screen like in an action game (or at least in the current stage of development). The Gestalt mode is pretty powerful, but it can only be executed for a limited time, which is determined by the buildup of your Gestalt meter.

Snow's demo gave us another glimpse into FFXIII's game system and took place in an area that looked like a beautiful large ruin with giant pillars. He was teamed up with Sazh and Vanille, and we got a chance to try out the new paradigm shift system.

The paradigm shift system is basically a fancy name for changing the way that your party member acts during the battle. The system lets you pick from a number of "roles" that you can set to your party member, such as an offensive role, a defensive role, or a healing role. You can change your character's role freely in the middle of the battle by pressing L1. If that sounds a bit too convenient, it's because the paradigm shift is a core part of FFXIII's battle system, and you'll need to make good use of it to beat your enemies strategically.

The Snow demo featured three selectable roles, which were called attacker, blaster, and healer. It was essential to make good use of them to beat some of the tougher enemies, especially the boss (unless you played through the game using elixirs and summons). For example, a character assigned as a blaster would perform attacks that raised the enemy's break meter on the screen's upper-right-hand side. However, the meter would start to fall again, and that's where the attacker would come in--moves performed by an attacker would stop the meter from draining. Needless to say, you need to make sure you don't die by switching some of your characters to healers every so often.

The battle menu in today's demo was full of features, and it didn't seem to be missing anything. Aside from summoning and using magic, we could also use such familiar items as potions and elixirs. Also, on the field, we found a phoenix down in a treasure box while exploring through the ruins, so that's another traditional item confirmed in FFXIII.

If you're not too good at fighting in role-playing games, there's a new system in FFXIII called field items. Field items are power-ups that you can select with the L1 button during the field screen, and using them will give you a boost for your next battle. For instance, you can have support magic cast on your characters before starting. Field items can be obtained after battles, and you'll have a higher chance of getting them if you're not playing very well.

At the end of today's event, Square Enix showed off a fresh trailer that gave some new insight into the game's storyline. The trailer started out with a young strawberry-blond girl named Serah, and she turns out to be the young sister of Lightning. What's more, it's a romantic scene at nighttime with fireworks in the background, and she's together with Snow. We find out that they're engaged. However, things are not all as happy as they seem, as we also find out that Serah is cursed to be chosen as a L'Cie--an enemy of mankind just like Lightning and Snow himself.

After a brief cutscene with the blue-haired lieutenant Yaag Rosch and his army, we saw a landscape view of the vast wilderness of Pulse and its huge dinosaur-like creatures.

Combat is looking sweet so far.
Combat is looking sweet so far.

A quick montage of in-game scenes were then shown, many of which have never been presented before, such as Sazh Katzroy's Ifrit summon, which turned into a red-hot race car in its Gestalt mode.

A slew of dramatic movie scenes followed. There was a scene where the main character reveals that she became "Lighting" to protect her sister Serah. We watched as Sazh gets captured by the holy government and caught a glimpse of the blond lieutenant Jihl Nabaat. An air-combat scene followed, where Snow and Serah were flying away from Yaag.

A long scene where Snow is half naked with bandages around his body followed. He shouts at Yaag that he wants to save the Cocoon as well, but Yaag shouts back, telling Snow that his existence simply brings millions of civilians into danger.

The scene changed to an icy landscape. Snow is being taken away by soldiers, and we see a new girl with tanned skin who's apparently a L'Cie. But unlike other L'Cies, she's working for the holy government.

The trailer ended with a scene where Serah is being hugged by Lightning on the ground. Lighting accuses Snow of not being able to protect Serah, but Serah asks that they save the Cocoon. As she closed her eyes, the screen faded.

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