August 20, 2009
- I've already covered Final Fantasy XIII
a number of times in the past. Representing Square Enix's next massive entry in the RPG landscape, Final Fantasy XIII has already garnered an impressive following and looks to properly introduce the Final Fantasy franchise to current-gen consoles. At this year's E3, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Final Fantasy XIII's director Motomu Toriyama and producer Yoshinori Kitase in order to watch a brief demo
that showed off hero Snow summoning an old Final Fantasy favorite, Shiva. At Gamescom here in Cologne, Toriyama and Kitase returned with a very similar demo that featured a brand new summon, as well as some intriguing new tidbits of information.
The demo took place in an icy area/mission called Lake Bilge -- The Waters Stilled. The party available for the demo was main character Lighting, the charming Vanille and always-enthusiastic Snow. Sazh was also along for the ride, but he wasn't being used in battle.
There wasn't much environmental exploration during the demo, as Toriyama (who was playing the preview build) jumped right into a battle with a group of blue winged creatures. These enemies once again illustrated just how detailed the character models are in Final Fantasy XIII. Everything from the textures to the layered clothing looks great, so I can't wait to see the full game up and running. The battles, as you likely already know, put you in control of one specific character and you can queue up attacks to create custom combos against your enemy. The specific system on display today was the Paradigm Shift system, which basically enables the player to change the "stance" or setting of the characters in his or her party to best suit the situation at hand. Possible settings include Overwhelm, Aggression and Peacemaker.
According to the developers, this system was added in later on in development, as the team thought more strategy and depth was needed in the original battle mechanics. Unfortunately, the demo given really didn't explain the Paradigm Shift system very well (it was a translated demo after all), so there's not much else I can say about it besides likening it to traditional AI behavioral settings.
The English VO recording was just completed recently, according to Toriyama, and he noted that the facial animations and lip synching would be redone for the English language version. The demo on display in Cologne, however, was still Japanese and subtitled in English, but everything still sounds great. After the initial battle, Snow runs ahead and begins a dialogue sequence as you (Lightning) are still running towards him. This creates more seamless transitions into cutscenes and smoothes out the narrative experience.
Following the heated conversation between Lightning and Snow, several masked soldiers appear and challenge our heroes to battle. This makes for a perfect setup for the next major part of the demonstration, which featured Lightning's summon. As was discussed in previous coverage, each character only has one summon to use during the game, which I still find quite disappointing. Nevertheless, Toriyama activated Lightning's summon and I was treated to a fantastic little cinematic where another Final Fantasy favorite appears: Odin. Yes, the powerful knight returns in Final Fantasy XIII and appears in battle after Lightning tosses up a rose-colored gem and slices it with her sword, which causes a massive red glyph to materialize in the air and along comes the imposing warrior.
As is the case with the other summons, Odin can transform and combine with Lighting in Gestalt mode, which changes the pacing of battle quite significantly. While Shiva turns into a rockin' motorcycle for Snow to drive around, Odin becomes an armored steed which Lightning gracefully mounts so she can take up Odin's own sword in battle. During Gestalt mode, players can input commands for direct actions, making the game feel more like an action title than anything else. I, unfortunately, wasn't able to go hands-on with the system, so I can't be sure how it feels... but it sure looks cool.
After a brief transition into a story segment, the demo quickly concluded and Toriyama and Kitase fielded some questions. This was a great opportunity to get more details on the game that I'm still uncertain about. For example, I can confirm that there is still no dual-language option planned for the English version of the game -- which is a sad fact for Japanese nuts like myself.
I also asked Toriyama if he could further explain the setting of Final Fantasy XIII, as I imagine the English-speaking audience has been a bit confused about what was going on in all the various trailers and gameplay clips thus far. Toriyama joked, firstly, that even the Japanese audience is confused, so we shouldn't feel bad. But the director continued on to answer some questions I've had about the plot. According to Toriyama, the Fal'cie (a name we've heard several times before) are like gods that built the shielded world of Cocoon to protect humans from the wilderness of Pulse, the outer world. The Fal'cie selected certain humans to be their servants and subsequently granted them incredible powers. These servants are knows as L'cie. Final Fantasy XIII revolves around the relationships between these various peoples, and the results of the Fal'cie's mysterious works.
Hopefully that clears some things up...
As for the technical side of things, Kitase explained that the Japanese PS3 version of the game is 90 percent complete, while the 360 version is approximately 70 percent complete. This seems like good news for PS3 owners, but I hope that Square Enix
can do just as good of a job on the 360 version.
Right before the demo was complete, I asked the developers if there were any other new characters they could discuss that have not yet been revealed. As a matter of fact, there are! As a special treat, they showed me art for two characters that have been completely unknown and will only be revealed in Japan in the coming months. The first character, a young girl with silvery blonde hair tied in a ponytail, was wearing what looked like a sci-fi schoolgirl outfit -- complete with pink pleated skirt and a lavish white top. The developers described the girl to be the "cutest character" in Final Fantasy XIII, and I'd have to agree.
The final character revealed was Sazh's little son: a child with an adorable afro and extremely innocent smile. This was especially pleasing to me, as I think it's great that Square Enix is including more black characters in its game (despite the internet controversy). It's a sadly rare choice for JRPGs and one that needs to change.
So all in all, Final Fantasy XIII is still looking superb. I hope it lives up to all my expectations.
I hope there is a new trailer or something, all this closed door shit is nonsensical at this late stage of production. I heard a rumor that FFXIII was going to be shown publicly tomorrow. Anybody know if this is true?