GC In-Depth: New Final Fantasy XIII demo shown for press and media.

I know I promised to do a GC  In-Depth article every day but because of the daily news updates I thought to wait a bit (You really need to now how it was in 2006-2007, you could do In-Depth articles for 4 months until you got an update with 2 or 3 new screens 🙂

As you all know, Final Fantasy XIII was demoed at GamesCom in a private room for press only. Today I stumbled across articles from Kotaku and One Last Continue who were very amazed with what they saw.

The demo was short and took place in the big lake scene seen a lot in past trailers and screens. The place is called Lake Bilge and seems to be pretty impressive (as always from Square Enix).

Kotaku:

We’re just a few months away from Final Fantasy XIII‘s release—in Japan anyway—giving Square Enixgood reason to reveal more about the role-playing game’s battle system. We got a look at FF XIII’s goods this week at Gamescom.Final Fantasy XIII producer Yoshinori Kitase and director Motomu Toriyama walked us through a brief demo of the game running on the PlayStation 3, a mix of in-game cinematic moments and battles in a frosty zone dubbed Lake Bilge. Before Toriyama engaged one of the monsters in a fight to the death, he made sure to give us a good look at our heroes’ surroundings, a frozen cave peppered with blue and white icy spires, something the developers seemed quite proud of.

Toriyama explained that the FFXIII team exerted a great deal of effort to get the transparent and translucent properties of those materials just right, which might help explain the game’s extremely long development time—or at least some portion of it.

Once in battle, Toriyama showed off the game’s Active Time Battle system, which lets players queue up commands for more action oriented combat. Expect the numbers of ATB commands Lightning, Snow, Vanille and crew can put in the queue to expand as the game progresses.

We also got a look at the Paradigm Shift system, which lets the player assign class roles to each character, putting them in offensive, defensive and healing roles with names like Commando, Medic, Sentinel, and Peacemaker. It appeared that Final Fantasy XIII will let players combine the Paradigm Shift option and the Active Time Battle command queuing, letting them cruise through battles.

We also got to see Final Fantasy XIII’s “Gestalt” mode in action, after protagonist Lightning summoned the giant Odin to her side. All summons will have two formations, their normal state and the action-oriented Gestalt version which, in Odin’s case, was that of an ornately armored horse. The normal version of Odin will fight alongside your party, but in Gestalt, Lightning hops on and the two attack as a pair. Toriyama said that Gestalt attacks will make use of “real-time simple button commands” to help mix up the action.

You’ve likely already seen Snow and his paired summon Shiva’s combined Gestalt mode, which features fancy girl-on-girl motorcycle tricks.

The developers said that part of their focus is to offer a game that is “new user friendly” but maintains a balance with the complex leveling and upgrade options that Final Fantasy fans have come to expect. Toriyama said we won’t be asked to dive into the deep end with XIII, as the game will offer ample tutorials on how the game’s battle system works. And don’t expect to be Paradigm Shifting right away, as access to that system will be unlocked over time.

Final Fantasy XIII looked spectacular during our hands-off demo at Gamescom. Toriyama said that the subtitles and voice over work are almost complete, which hopefully means that Square Enix will make its dates of Q4 2009 in Japan and Q2 2010 elsewhere.

One Last Continue:

Today here at Gamescom we were lucky enough to be able to sit in a nicely lit room and watch a new demonstration of Final Fantasy XIII. Then we got to ask questions!Sitting down with the producer Yoshinori Kitase, and director Motomu Toriyama of Final Fantasy XIII, we were treated to a preview of an entirely new region called Lake Bilge: The Waters Stilled, which is located beneath a large crystal which we can surmise as existing in the lower-world area of Pulse.  To me, the scenery was very reminiscent of a mixture of Mount Gagazet and Lake Macalania from Final Fantasy X, albeit in high definition and with incredibly detailed textures with C’leth Terrors meandering around.  In this section, demonstrated by Toriyama himself, Lightning was leading her team across the terrain towards a set boss battle taking out various enemies along the way.  The real news to be discussed today however are a couple of previously unseen features called the Symbol Encounter System and the Paradigm Shift function.

The Symbol Encounter System highlights enemies on the field with symbols, displaying their strength in relation to your party which means no more random encounters, and the ability to avoid a fight you know that you would lose.  In fact its due to this new system that the development team have removed the option to escape from battle.  Yes, that is correct – you will no longer be able to escape from a battle if you find yourself suddenly over-matched!  There are ways however to counter getting into fights where you aren’t likely to survive – such as using certain items which will prevent the enemy locking onto you on the field, meaning you can live to fight another day.  If you do happen to be defeated in battle I was told that you have the option of restarting the fight in order to succeed, whether or not you are penalized for this wasn’t mentioned but it was implied that the only other alternative to restarting the battle is defeat and returning to an earlier save-point.

The Paradigm Shift system was shown during the battle scenes in which you are able to modify your character’s stance in order to gain a tactical advantage over your enemies.  Whilst it wasn’t displayed for very long, options for this mode include Overwhelm, Peacemaker and Aggression.  You can assign these to your party members and they then act out the role of defender, offensive or healer and so on and can be changed in real time during the battle.  A further note to be added here is that this system was implemented later in the development of Final Fantasy XIII due to the team feeling there was a lack of depth to the battles – before you would just chain up attacks, and now you would adjust the battlefield with your tactical knowledge of how enemies react in combat scenarios, and of course based upon your characters skills and weaknesses.  Another thing to note regarding this system is that it is separate from the Active Time Battle system, which itself has evolved More has been promised regarding this system over the coming months, more than likely at Tokyo Game Show next month in Japan.

Gamescom was also the first time we were able to look at Odin’s Gestalt mode in which he transforms into a horse.  What we didn’t know is that when you select your summon they appear in their upright form, as seen above, and fight along by your side. Depending on how well you do in the battle before you trigger Gestalt mode determines how long the transformed mode will last.  Whilst the demo wasn’t long enough for me to get a great look at Odin’s commands in this form we did notice that he has a tail attack so we can only imagine what Bahamut will look like… Oh yeah, we did also ask whether or not we can expect to see other classic summons such as Ifrit and cryptically Kitase told me that we will indeed be seeing other familiar faces appearing as summons, alongside some new ones.

Unfortunately for legacy Final Fantasy fans the limit breaks which have featured in every title since Final Fantasy VII won’t be returning in this installment.  The reason we was given for this is that the Summoned Creatures are so powerful and so integral to your success within the game that it felt like adding limit breaks was ‘too much’.  It’s slightly disappointing but as the two gentlemen explained there was no need to have two powerful, and very different, modes for the characters to use when one would suffice.  In my view we can understand as already when you consider the Paradigm Shift system, alongside the Symbol Encounter System, there wouldn’t actually need to have another system, sometimes too much can be…too much, you know?

We were also given a sneak preview at two brand new characters in the game and are due to be revealed in Japan next month, likely in the Famitsu immediately before Tokyo Game Show.  The first is what Kitase believes to be the cutest character of Final Fantasy XIII, and she comes complete with platinum blond hair tied in a ponytail, dressed in a red pleated skirt, leggings and brown/white boots with a white top and approximately eighteen years old-ish….maybe.  Nothing we could say to our translator would entice either Kitase or Toriyama into revealing her name (Serah?) or any more details except he did tell us we have seen her previously in the trailers already around the internet so more news on when we get it.

The second new character to be unveiled was Sazh’s gentle son, and he comes with his own little afro and childish smile – never mind the fact that he looks like he belongs on Diff’rent Strokes.  I believe that this little one may end up being a driving force for Sazh, as the producer then informed us that the theme of the game this time is the “determination to fight against your own destiny.”  This leads me to believe that the characters within FFXIII are doomed to fight a losing battle, until the inevitable conclusion – but as always with Final Fantasy, when has anything been that final?

When Advent Children Complete shipped in Japan there were many folks who imported the title in order to avail of the Final Fantasy XIII pack-in demo, one that was not announced for any other region.  Kitase then informed us that if they are able to put out a demo overseas, then it would in fact be a new demo and not just a converted version of the Japan only release.  We also asked whether or not the title would follow the same format as Lost Odyssey with regards to the number of discs the Xbox 360 version will ship on.  The answer we were given was surprising in that they are aiming for, and on course, to deploy the title on three DVD format discs – which I’m perfectly fine with as Final Fantasy VII shipped on three discs and it was hailed as a classic with no such complaints so lets wait and see on that note.  Development on the Xbox 360 version is roughly 70% complete with the team still aiming for a Spring 2010 simultaneous release in both the United States and Europe.

With regards to localization the European subtitles are complete for France, Germany and so on as is the English voice-recording, and the final game will be lip-synced for both Japanese and English speaking markets.  When asked about whether or not the Japanese voice track will be available for download via DLC, Kitase explained that they had underestimated the popularity of such a feature in the game for English speaking players.  Square-Enix are aware of the desire by many fans for this feature and are considering it for post-release.  Toriyama asked us hypothetically if we would actually want to pay for that, and a show of hands confirmed what we all felt in our hearts in that small room.  The answer was ‘yes’ of course 😉

After the previous games the development team wanted to create a world which was as far into the future as possible so they ended up designing their own custom built engine Crystal Tools, formerly known as the White Engine.  Toriyama told us that whilst it was a painful experience to create the engine from scratch, it was worth the effort as should they have required any tweaks it was easier to get the internal development team to make the necessary adjustments needed, rather than trying to figure out the idioms of another externally developed engine.  It was time consuming he added – but the game itself appears more polished for the efforts, which we can attest to as the game itself was stunning whilst running off a PlayStation 3.  Battle scenes smoothly transition back to event scenes with little to no loading times, and the details and facial expressions are expressive and therefore impressive as a result.  Here at OneLastContinue we can only praise the power of Crystal Tools, and the development team for making a robust engine that by far outshines the Unreal Engine 3.

Another short point to note is that in the future they would like to look at western RPG’s and possibly tackle that genre head on, but only if they feel they can ‘wow’ the potential audience with the best of both worlds in terms of western and eastern concepts.  That’s certainly an interesting concept, and going by what I have seen of Nier – Square Enix seem to be spreading their wings a lot more than they have in the past!

Kitase also revealed to us what he felt would be a good way to approach downloadable content with Final Fantasy XIII.  He feels that personally he would conceive a way to deliver new enemies, dungeons and areas. There are ideas on his mind so whilst he can’t confirm anything officially this would seem like a certainty in the future from what we could read between the lines.

Finally we touched upon the success of Final Fantasy VII on PSN and Chrono Trigger on DS, and whether or not the success of these titles surprised him.  As there have been many people interested in the past in the FFVII compilation he felt that the PSN release was always going to be an audience for the product, however the success of the DS release of Chrono Trigger came as something of a shock and therefore it can be surmised that they could very well be considering making another entry in the series.  Nothing was implied of course with regards to a sequel but money talks doesn’t it?

There’s a high chance we might see this demo at TGS or even on the September 8th event. Check back for another in-depth article about GamesCom tomorrow!

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