Final Fantasy XIII Premiere Party #4: two great hands-on articles about the event, demo version and trailer

This is my last post about the premiere event until now. Don’t worry I still have some other news 🙂

In this post I’ll summarize everything we know about the impressive Premiere Party with the help of 2 great hands-on articles.

Please read further

1) IGN hands-on and new trailer preview:

Tonight (or yesterday, depending on your current location in the world), Square Enix held its Final Fantasy XIII Premiere Party, which delivered a number of exciting bits of news to Final Fantasy fans across the globe. As covered in my live blog of the event, Square Enix officially unveiled the release date and price point for the game, as well as the news that Japan will be bestowed with a Final Fantasy XIII PS3 Slim bundle. Unfortunately, no details were given on whether or not this bundle would make it to the United States, but I imagine there’s at least a slight possibility that it will.

But there were even more intriguing things on display at the party than these formal announcements. Shortly after the event began, curtains were pulled back to reveal playable builds of the game, which I had the pleasure of trying out. The last two events I attended (E3 and Gamescom) both had Final Fantasy XIII sessions, but neither session was playable. This was the first time I had played the game since my initial impressions of the Advent Children Blu-ray demo, so it was great to finally get my hands on the controller again.

The demo on display was actually divided into two separate missions that occur at different points in the game. The first mission places you in control of Lightning, the fierce main character, with silver-haired boy Hope along for the ride. Set in Palumpolum, the Capital of Commerce, this short mission finds Lighting and Hope sneaking through a government-controlled area in a massive harbor town. Before the demo began, I was treated to a stunning cinematic that depicted the government soldiers and ships deployed at the capital and on a mission to hunt down the L’Cie. The forces were being controlled by the oddly named Yaag Rosch, who can be seen shouting out orders into a sleek headset.

At the start of the playable section, players must guide Lightning and Hope through the dangerous territory towards some sort of drainage pipe they can covertly crawl through. Of course, seeing as how my time with the game was incredibly short, I opted to charge into battle head-first and kick ass as loudly and flamboyantly as possible. To hell with stealth — that’s what Metal Gear Solid is for.

I was glad to play this portion of the demo because the environment was not only stellar looking for an RPG, but also much more open than the bridge environment used in previous demos. Although the path was ultimately linear (I didn’t have much time to explore), there were a lot of different smaller paths you could take towards your goal, which is hopefully a recurring trend with the rest of the game.

Palumpolum immediately reminded me of Junon from Final Fantasy VII, which brought back quite a few fond memories. Perhaps more striking then the vistas, however, are the game’s character models, which really do look phenomenal. When the camera gets up close and personal, a huge amount of detail comes out in those models, like the intricate textures of the clothing to the superbly detailed hair. Regardless of how you feel about Final Fantasy XIII’s gameplay, there’s no getting around the fact that this is a very pretty RPG.

Nothing overly dramatic took place during my play time, but the few short battles I participated in ran smoothly. Players can queue up a number of actions (depending on how many action points are available) and then can execute these custom combos all at once. Although I’ve been pleased with the battle system so far, I worry about only being able to directly control one character at a time, which I found a bit disappointing. In fact, it sounds like players will have little choice about the characters they use, as certain portions of the game must be played through as one particular character.

After a few uneventful battles, I personally used Lightning’s summon, Odin, for the first time. I must say I’ve always been a big fan of Final Fantasy summons and Final Fantasy XIII is no exception. The incredible summoning sequences are only outdone by the grand spectacle of seeing Odin stomp into battle alongside Lighting and lay waste to dozens of soldiers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to give Odin’s Gestalt mode a try, so I made it a special point to give it a go during the Snow mission. This was met with hilarious results.

But before I describe those hilarious results to you, let’s set the stage. Snow was joined by Sazh and Vanille during the demo, and the three characters were fighting their way through what looked to be ancient stone ruins. I didn’t have nearly as much context for this portion of the demo as I did for Lightning’s portion, but all you need to know is that Snow and Co. are seriously invested in roughing up the masked soldiers of the government.

It was during the first few Snow battles that I took notice of the “Optima Change” system, or “Paradigm Shift” system here in the United States. This allows you to set the AI routines of your teammates on the fly in combat, which is a nice little layer of strategy to consider. In the Japanese build at the event, some of the classes included Healer, Enhancer and Blaster. Women have called me all three of those things on various occasions.

But as I mentioned before, I wanted to experiment with the Gestalt system for at least one of the summons, so my only chance was with Snow, as my time with the demo was running short. After summoning Snow’s semi-robotic version of Shiva onto the screen, I activated Gestalt mode. This essentially combines the summoned creature with the character in question, increasing their powers and making them a formidable force overall. So after sitting through two incredibly elaborate cutscenes (one depicting the initial Shiva summon and the other showcasing the flashy transformation) and eagerly awaiting my chance to ride around on the Shiva motorcycle, the battle instantly ended.

Yes, I never got the chance to drive the Shiva-cycle. Apparently, one of my teammates landed a killing blow on the last remaining enemy right as I pressed the Gestalt mode button. So close, yet so far…

Following my session with Final Fantasy XIII, the event ended with the premier of the newest trailer, which was one of the most spectacular trailers I’ve seen in a long time (I’m sure the dizzyingly massive HD screen and reverberating sound system helped the viewing experience quite a bit). As taking video or pictures of the trailer was strictly prohibited, the best I can do is describe the surprisingly long video for those interested.

The trailer began with an extended CG sequence following Snow and newly announced Serah, the vibrant, schoolgirl-esque beauty that apparently has a romantic connection with the bandanna-wearing brawler. In the scene, the two rode a small hover ship around a spectacular egg-shaped structure, the walls of which were clear enough to see the dazzling fireworks show going on inside. Snow and Serah talked for a time as they drifted through the night sky, showered in the glow of the lights, before leaning in to give each other a gentle kiss. When they pull apart, Serah’s face was definitely colored with a certain amount of melancholy. Could this foreshadow the character’s untimely death, which seems to be hinted at throughout the trailer? Am I just being overly sensitive again?

The scene eventually transitioned to a lengthy mix of CG cutscenes and in-game footage, most of which was entirely new. Highlights include a colorful festival environment (which could be connected to the egg structure), a green field populated by lumbering stone creatures, Serah and Snow talking on a dock that’s bathed in the light of a sunset, the bespectacled villain Jihl tormenting Sazh with what appeared to be disturbing news (perhaps a threat against Sazh’s son, or worse), Vanille falling to her knees in front of Serah on what appears to be the same dock (Foreshadowing!), and Sazh frantically pointing a gun at Vanille. This assortment of scenes shows just how dialogue-heavy the trailer was, but the emotional payload was still very noticeable. On top of all the excellent direction of these segments, the Final Fantasy XIII’s engine still continues to amaze me.

There were two other notable sections of the trailer. The first was a gameplay clip that revealed Sazh’s summon: a creature whose fiery skin could only be Ifrit. The level of “badass” is exponentially raised when Ifrit transforms into a ridiculous hotrod with side-mounted machine guns. This leads me to believe that Sazh has the most over-the-top Gestalt summon yet.

The last section worthy of note introduced a new character, though there was little context surrounding her appearance. Sporting dark brown/black hair and a number of tattoos, this woman was definitely on the “cool looking” side, though she might be working against our heroes in some capacity.

So, to summarize: enjoyable demo and an amazingly sweet trailer. I’d call that a “successful event.”

2) Hands-on impression from Andriasang:

The finest non Mona Yamamoto and Sayuri Sugiwara related moment of yesterday’s Final Fantasy XIII Premiere Party was the time I spent not playing Final Fantasy XIII.

Wait… let me rephrase that. What I mean to say is that I spent a lot of time in the immediate vicinity of people playing Final Fantasy XIII. I was standing right next to them, discussing the game with them and with the Square Enix reps who were leading the demo sessions. It’s just that, due to time constraints, I didn’t actually get to put my hands on a controller.

That hands off time was a total blast. Just think how much more fun I’ll have when I’m actually pressing buttons!

 

Prior to the start of the demo time, FFXIII director Motomu Toriyama described the version we’d be playing — actually the version of the game that will be shown at the Tokyo Game Show in a couple of weeks. (I’m pulling some quotes here from a Famitsu.com recap.) Snow and Lightning’s stories form the pillars of FF13, explained Toriyama. The demo, he said, would allow players to sample combat with the two characters, with such bonuses as unlimited use of summon spells Shiva and Odin.

The Shiva and Odin stuff are, of course, new additions, but didn’t we already get to play separate Snow and Lightning sequences in the Advent Children demo back in April? Upon starting up the demo, you can see the big difference here. Whereas Lightning and Snow’s parts took place one after the other in the Advent Children demo, here they appear to be totally different sequences, set in different areas of the game. You select the part you want to play from the title screen.

 

I was able to “sample” both parts. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we had to skip past all the cinematic stuff and get right to the gameplay. But Famitsu.com‘s impressions included some story details, so I’ll be mixing in some of their recap here.

Lightning’s part of the demo puts the heroine with the more recently unveiled Hope. Their goal, according to the Famitsu.com report, is to board a train bound for “Eden.” The two appear to be sneaking through a harbor area (which IGN’s writeup refers to as Palumpolum).

Snow’s part is set in a stone ruins area and puts the tough hero with Vanille and Szah. I didn’t notice this, but Famitsu says that there are fire-like crystals dotting the area. The Famitsu report also makes note of some sort of tribal-like embroidery on Snow’s back, although it’s not sure of the meaning of this.

 

The Advent Children demo drew some criticism for putting players on strictly linear paths, with both Snow and Lightning running across what was basically the same long corridor. The new demo opens things up a bit. While not the open Pulse expanses that were shown in the latest trailer (see below for details), there was some hint at exploration. But things were still, on the whole, tight, so getting into battle was pretty easy.

I didn’t get to see too much of the standard combat, as everyone seemed to be summon crazy. The Famitsu.com report notes one major change from the Advent Children demo in this area. In the Advent Children demo, once you’d reached a break state, you were able to select a “launch” command from your move list in order to send your opponent flying into the air and begin chaining together flashier, more powerful attacks. The launch command is now gone. The game automatically determines when to launch the enemy up and when to perform followup attacks.

 

Summon spells appeared to be the main point of the demo. As Toriyama said, the demo had been set up so that players could use the summons as much as they want (of course, you have to build up your TP between calls, but you have Elixir items in your item stock which max your stats out for you). When players reached the bosses of each demo, the Square Enix reps were quick to suggest that we call out either Odin or Shiva, depending on which player you were using. In both cases, once you’ve called out the summon, you’re left with Lighting or Snow on their own alongside the summon, who fights independently.

When in summon mode, you can press the square button to switch into Driving Mode. This begins with a huge, flashy transformation sequence, showing off Square Enix’s visual design mastery . Having the Shiva twins merge into a motorcycle should look silly, but it looks great, and I imagine myself enjoying watching it over and over again (I wasn’t able to check if you could skip it, although past FF games have let you set a menu to shorten such transformation sequences). Odin’s transformation to a horse is also a sight to behold, although there’s a bit of awkwardness as following the transformation, the horse appears to gallop on an invisible path as he swoops down towards you from above.

 

I’m not sure if I’d read wrong somewhere, but I’d been expecting Driving Mode to give players full control over the vehicle. This isn’t the case. From what I could see, you have no movement control over your character. There’s a slightly greater action feel, though, as you perform moves using button combination commands, shown in the lower left side of the screen. Each of these has a cost, which depletes from a timer shown in the far lower left of the screen. When you’re not pulling off moves, the timer counts down by one every second, and when it hits zero, you go back into standard summon form.

More than any other area of the demo, Driving Mode really highlights the beauty of Final Fantasy XIII. Even outside of the eye catching transformation sequences, the actual Driving Mode attacks make the screen light up with effects.

The whole of the demo appears to have been given a visual boost over the Advent Children build. Everything has a clean, solid look, with smooth framerates and transitions. I was actually underwhelmed by the visuals in the original demo, but in more complete form, FFXIII looks like a standout title visually.

 

There are few random bits I noticed when playing the game. Most surprising was what appears to be a presentational hint from Namco Bandai’s Tales series. As you’re running around, little message windows occasionally pop up in the lower left of the screen, with your party members saying stuff to you in fully voiced dialogue. I saw this happen myself as someone played as Snow, with Sazh’s face popping up. The Famitsu report says that Hope did the same thing for Lightning (whom he apparently referred to as “Light”). The messages, according to the Famitsu report, include commentary on the current state of things, like “This is tough” when you’re surrounded by enemies, and “Provide cover,” said by Hope before he runs forward.

I also took note of a special set of curiously named items. Pressing one of the trigger buttons brings up a quick access item menu which lets you select from a few special parameter changing items. These are all named something-something Smoke. Examples include Barrier Smoke and Power Smoke. The Square Enix rep explained that these items are received as rewards by killing off enemies. When used, they alter your status the next time you enter battle. I’m not sure why they’re called “smoke,” though.

The demo also offered a glimpse at the game’s menu system. We didn’t get to explore too much here, but the available items seemed to be pretty standard, including options, status, ability, equipment, area map, and item. More than the content, the presentation for the menus was notable. Everything is so graphical, with video-based transitions bringing character profile pics in for close ups as you select to view their status. Attractive, well thought out menus are typical for the FF series, but this looks like a new high bar.

This particular Final Fantasy XIII demo is special, and not just because of its increased quality over the Advent Children demo. During the presentation today, Toriyama said that the demo has features that aren’t in the final version of the game. A butterfly-like boss that awaits at the end of Lightning’s sequence was added just for the demo. Additionally, Snow’s part apparently gives you access to a stronger party than what you’ll be able to achieve in the final version.

With all that work going into the demo, perhaps players who can’t make it to Tokyo later this month will get a chance to give it a try in download form at some point.

Outside of the demo, Square Enix closed off the event with a sneak peak at the game’s Tokyo Game Show trailer. I’m pretty sure I’ve thought this about every single Final Fantasy XIII trailer, but this one struck me as being the best FFXIII trailer thus far, mixing story and gameplay to provide an intriguing final (?) look at the game.

The focus of the trailer was on Serah, the girl mentioned by Snow at the end of the Advent Children demo. Serah looks like she could be one of the ties between Lightning and Snow, as in addition to being Lightning’s younger sister, she and Snow appear to be romantically involved. The opening of the trailer is a lengthy dialogue sequence between Snow and Serah as they glide through what appears to be a festival, make a promise to meet back there in the future, and kiss.

Lightning says something mysterious midway through the trailer implying that she became “Lightning” due to Serah. A Famitsu.com writeup on the trailer has some clarification. Lightning parted with her real name when she and Serah’s parents died while the two were in their youth. This was done in order for the young Lightning to assume an adult role. What’s the connection with becoming an adult and changing your name? I’m not sure, but during the trailer, Lightning tells Hope “I thought that by throwing away the name that I received from my parents, I wouldn’t be a kid.”

The trailer provides a whole lot of hints that Serah will go the path of Aerith and other past Final Fantasy heroines. Of course, I doubt Square Enix would give away anything so important, so maybe we’re just meant to think that.

There’s one more point of note that I took away from the story side of the trailer. It appears that Snow and crew are being persecuted in part because they’re l’Cie. Midway through the trailer, we see a shirtless, bandaged Snow pleading with enemy soldiers about how they’re all residents of the same Cocoon. Newly introduced Yaag Rosche says that the presence of a l’Cie alone poses a danger to the common citizens. Famitsu.com has a quote: “Would you exchange your life for the lives of thousands of Cocoon citizens?”

Not all the l’Cie are combating the government, though. Towards the end of the trailer, we see Snow in confrontation with a new black-haired female character. Snow is surprised by this lady, saying that she’s a l’Cie who sides with the Holy Government.

Outside of the story stuff, the trailer was packed with new gameplay footage. Most notable was our first look at Sazh’s Driving Mode. I’m not sure of its original form (it did look somewhat fire-based, so perhaps Ifreet?), but Szah’s summon transforms into a slick race car. Once again, what should be a silly transformation is a sight to behold thanks to Square Enix’s masterful artwork.

The trailer also offers an intriguing glimpse at the vast open fields of Pulse. You’ll be able to run around these areas freely, it seems. I presume Pulse serves as somewhat of a world map. In the trailer, we see the player guiding Hope through Pulse. There are giant dinosaur-like creatures roaming the fields around him. While the framerate here in the trailer build was choppy, the sense of scale is impressive.

It’s good that we now have a final release date for when we’ll get to experience all of Final Fantasy XIII.

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