Thursday 23 January 2014

Review: DEMO Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Spoiler details: Nothing that isn't already in the trailer. :)

So last night, I was casually checking the recent new games on PSN and there was the Lightning Returns demo, innocently in the top row of new games. I've been stashing pennies away for the last few weeks in a panicked attempt to make sure I can pay off my pre-order on the day and every little bit of money I save, the keener I've gotten to play this game. But money is boring to talk about, so how about I just tell you about the demo? :)

The download is about 2GB which I think is due to the crisp graphics rather than the length of the demo. To complete the demo took me about 30 minutes to an hour to complete and there really wasn't much for a completionist to stretch that time out, which kinda weirded me out considering their marketing since after the first installment of the XIII series was criticised for being linear. It was a very linear demo, which was the biggest criticism with Final Fantasy XIII. I played the XIII-2 demo and was impressed to see that even though I had a goal for the area I was in, I was free to digress and talk to the townspeople, meet Choccobocolina (note to self: check the spelling on that one) if I wanted to and look for treasure. The Lightning Returns demo offered more social options than exploration, which I can see being criticised by closed minded reviewers/haters very quickly.

While the linear approach seen in this demo hasn't tainted my view of the game - Square Enix and the Final Fantasy team have been busy making it known that the game is the most open world of the console series (expect for the online series I'm assuming), I thought it was a weird move because that is the biggest criticism the series has gotten and I know I personally was hoping for a little more exploration.

From the beginning, the demo does brilliantly highlight the awesome new battle system. Lightning Returns introduces a menu free battle system which is quick, simple to use and a lot of fun as your X, circle, square and triangle buttons are linked to your attacks, making it easy to cycle between moves and makes battles feel faster and more exciting. It also introduces garbs, which will instantly be compared to the dress sphere system of Final Fantasy X-2 but is far from it. The garbs system is a costume chance that also changes the set of attacks you have to use and the way you use them eg. Switching from one garb may have you using one gauge of attack points where another garb may switch to using a different gauge like magic points. This makes for strategic use of your time and set of attacks and keeps you thinking of your toes.

The story throws in two familiar characters instantly - Snow and Hope and a new character called Lumina who looks suspiciously like Serah. I'm excited to see what has happened to the old characters, but Lumina looks like a great character. She comes off with a cheeky kind of evil which I feel is needed in an environment of very serious characters and with the right character development could be a stand-out of this series in the full game release. In this first cut scene (which is done in Square Enix's most gorgeous graphics yet) we are introduced to the main themes of the story - religion, Chaos, mourning, life and death, saviors and the end of the world. Heavy themes for the first five minutes, but I'm not complaining! Also, once the scene ends, you will notice in the top right hand corner (along with the map) a clock with the time and a number of days which you will influence the change of in the game. This theme wasn't explored overly in the demo (there was a brief referencing of it towards the end of the demo, but by that time, it didn't matter if time was running out, I had finished the demo) but is still what I'm most interested in. How will this clock affect the game and it's story and how much can we effect it?

For players that are new to the Lightning saga/Final Fantasy, there may be a tiny bit of confusion to the events, but it felt more like the beginning of any story - characters always come in with things that have happened pre-story, so I don' think you're missing out on too much in the last few games. This may be the game that will make players play the last two for the story and not the gameplay...which while I enjoyed both games, is probably for the best. The story of this series has been to highlight so far, but it looks like in Lightning Returns, they are having a good crack at giving us some awesome gameplay.

This demo is only a very small indication of what will come, but I will say - I'm excited. A standout new battle system, solid story and the promise of new and larger worlds makes gives a small taste with just the right length to have you wanting more.

Watching the official trailer from E3 for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII below and see you next time!

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