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TGS 09: Final Fantasy XIII – hands-on

The Tokyo Game Show is Square-Enix’s last chance to wow the Japanese public with Final Fantasy XIII before the game’s release later this year. The company showed off two separate demos of the game at its booth this year. The first focused on Lightning, FFXIII’s female protagonist. The second allowed show attendees to play as Snow, the game’s rough and masculine character, who was designed, apparently, to appeal to western gamers.

The Lightning demo began with a massive gathering of mechs and airships but quickly narrowed its focus down to Lightning and Hope (a 14-year old boy) sneaking through a military installation located in Palumpolum, the Capital of Commerce in the game’s world. Once in control of the two characters, the player had the choice of engaging enemies directly or sneaking past them. There was not much depth to the stealth. In fact, it’s not even apparent that the game was designed to give players that option. Enemies patrolled their assigned routes but only deviated from them to attack if they saw Lightning in their line of sight at very close range. Whether intentional or not, sneaking or running past the guards was a quick and easy option. Sneaking around, however, was a bit boring.

The combat in the demo was filled with an impressive number of options, even though the only playable character was Lightning. Hope was controlled, directly at least, by the game’s AI. The partner’s actions were modifiable at any time by hitting the Paradigm Shift button and then selecting the appropriate role for the AI-controlled character to fill.

Once through the initial part of the installation, Lightning and Hope found themselves in a sewer battling Flans, a familiar enemy to fans of the series. It was at this time that the demo ended due to time restrictions at the Square-Enix booth.

The Snow demo was a little more complex. The player character had two AI companions rather than the Lightning demo’s one, including Sazh, a gun wielding, afro sporting pilot. Snow (who was conspicuously absent during his demo’s cutscenes) and his partners fought a couple of guards in what appeared to be an abandoned, snow-filled castle. No sooner did the party defeat the guards than they were attacked by a dragon-like enemy. The characters in the demo were of sufficient strength to easily kill this grotesque dragon boss, which looked like a combination of an Evangelion and a dragon from Sega’s Panzer Dragoon with a second mouth on its rear-end. Snow’s demo ended on a cliffhanger as the party found an airship of some kind and was chased through the sky and into canyons.

While too short to draw firm conclusions about the depth of FFXIII’s combat mechanics, the demo did highlight the game’s presentation and characterization, both of which were fantastic. The in-game graphics looked just as good as the cutscenes. The characters, while probably not the deepest in the world, were original and presented in such a way that their personality was understandable from the moment they appeared on screen. This is especially impressive, given that JRPGs tend to be a genre that often resorts to telling instead of showing. The time and money that Square-Enix has invested into the game were apparent in the demo.

Final Fantasy XIII is scheduled for a spring 2010 release in North America.

Sep 24, 2009