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Final Fantasy XIII: TGS 2009 Hands-on

By Janelle | September 28, 2009 at 9:49 am

Final Fantasy XIII was clearly one of the most anticipated games at the Tokyo Game Show (likely the most anticipated RPG), and writing an impression of the demo hasn’t been easy. If I could describe the experience in one word, that word would be “overloaded.” In the end, I feel much the same about this demo as I did about Tales of Graces: that is, the battle system seemed to have complexities, but it wasn’t clear what they were, and every battle was simply won with a few presses of the circle button and a confusing fanfare of colored explosions.

The demo kiosks had two different scenarios available to choose from: Lightning’s (which included Hope) or Snow’s (which included Sazh and Vanille). I started with Lightning’s, which was straightforward: Lightning and Hope wanted to sneak into a city, but Yaag and his PSICOM soldiers are heavily patrolling the area. Luckily, Hope knows a secret way into the city (that only children know, apparently), through a series of cleverly undisguised and open sewers and drains. On gaining control of Lightning, I could follow Hope, who took a roundabout path that avoided the guards’ path, or just kind of barrel around running in plain sight. The latter option was a dumb idea, since the soldiers had a pretty large radius of detection, so I steered Lightning after Hope, to a drain entrance marked by a glowing blue circle on the ground. The circle was called an Action Point, and seemed to merely indicate a place where the environment could be traversed in a slightly unusual manner. I was reminded of the green triangles from Final Fantasy VII that pointed out ladders. Approaching this blue circle, Lightning would leap down into the sewers after Hope.

After a few times of hopping in and out of sewers, I ran into my first battle with PSICOM soldiers. The screen transitioned without too much of a hitch into a battle screen based on the surrounding environment, and chaos ensued. There was so much flashing going on, I actually felt a bit disoriented. Knowing how the system was theoretically supposed to work still didn’t help me feel much of a degree of control in battle. Hope would queue up actions automatically, and it seemed like I couldn’t switch to him or manage his actions, so he happily hurled Thunder spells at the slow soldiers while I explored the menus a little. Lightning was assigned the role of Attacker, and Hope was a Blaster (the equivalent of some sort of mage), and their roles enabled them to use different abilities, though they could be changed in battle. A sort of ATB gauge was in place that had four slots. Some actions occupied two, others just one, and abilities could be queued up before the gauge had filled. Lightning could attack, use items, use some skills like Ruin, and summon.

Each battle played out much the same way. I filled up Lightning’s gauge with whatever I pleased, trying out different things, but the battle system seemed to almost have visual ADD. I found it hard to keep track of which attacks were going off as they played out, who they were targeting, or even how much damage they were doing, because damage was popping up all over the screen. There was surely a consequence for using more powerful skills like Ruin, but it either wasn’t easily visible, or went unnoticed by me because of all the flashing, leaping and dramaticism. At the conclusion of battles, a summary would appear with experience, time it took to defeat the enemies, and a rating out of five stars. I was winning, and easily, but I didn’t feel in control. It was more like I was being pulled along for a wild visual ride. The fights got even crazier when I tried Summoning Odin and switching to Ride mode. It seemed like I could use abilities as time ticked down with different button combinations, similar to Mist Knacks from Final Fantasy XII, and I’m sure they did a lot of damage, but it was hard to notice.

What I played of the Snow scenario seemed similar. The out of battle environments were beautiful and peaceful to explore, but as soon as an enemy approached, all hell broke loose. There was never any danger in these battles, but playing them was stressful. As time ran out and I was ushered away from the kiosk, I felt completely overloaded, trying to comprehend exactly what had happened. Where was the strategy? Battles seemed winnable no matter what I selected, and since characters were healed to max HP after each battle, the manner in which I won the battle seemed to matter even less. Outside of battle, the game looks like it’ll be intriguing and beautiful, but I feel like when Final Fantasy XIII comes out, its battles are a drug that I’ll have to adjust to gradually, since the flashiness was confusing, frustrating, and really seemed to obscure the system.

Topics: Final Fantasy XIII, Previews, Square Enix, Tokyo Game Show 2009