I played through the 45 minute Final Fantasy XIII trial version too many times now. You can’t get a good feel of the story from it. All you see is Lightning and her magical blue aura (she snaps her fingers to engage it) beat up some soldiers and Snow playing the role of a hero. No kidding! Snow and the other members of Nora are quick to identify themselves as “heroes”. There is a conflict between the L’cie and the demo starts with a prison break inside Cocoon. It ends with a mother sacrificing her life to shoot down a flying ship and the rescued prisoners falling into an abyss. The mother, after pleading with Snow to look after her son, and Snow fall into the darkness too.
Walking around Cocoon is impressive. The scenery feels more alive, but similar to Final Fantasy X you’re stuck moving on a linear path with a few sparkling jump points. You can’t jump manually, but if you touch one of these Lightning or Snow leaps. Aside from being eye candy the demo is really designed to let players try out the new battle system.
Time Gauge System Basics
Final Fantasy XIII has a brand new battle system with visible enemies. If you touch one of them the game quickly transfers into a battle where the heroes stand on one side and the enemies are on the other. Surprise the enemies by sneaking behind them and they start in “break” status. Keep that term in mind. A meter similar to the active time gauge fills up, but this meter has three bars.
You can attack when the meter is 1/3 full by selecting fight, hitting X, and then triangle. Or you can select fight three times and wait for the meter to fill up completely before hitting triangle. The advantage to waiting is your attacks link up to a three hit combo. Each linked hit bumps up the bonus gauge which determines how much damage you deal. So, lets say your base damage is 100%. A three hit combo moves the bonus meter up to around 120% which gives the last hit, sword slash or spell, a nice damage boost.
A basic fire spell takes one of the three bars to cast. Firaga takes three, but has an area of effect. Enemies and player characters move on their own, sort of like Chrono Trigger. If you launch your spell at the right time you can hit a large group, if not all of the enemies, with Firaga or Blizzaga. You can also cast Cure, but since it’s in a separate menu you can’t make a fight -> cure -> fire combo. You can cast Cure three times, though. Other white magic spells will probably be grouped with Cure so you can decide if you want to do an offensive combo or a recovery combo.
Lightning and Snow have also have a launch move. Remember “break” status? When an enemy is flashing activate launch as your first move and you knock them in the air. Lightning leaps into the sky and dishes out two more attacks, providing you selected fight for your next two moves, and slams them back to the ground. Any enemy in the demo, regardless of size, can be launched. Even giant ones like the Behemoth boss at the end of Snow’s story.
You can launch an enemy anytime when they are in break status, but you want to launch them right away to maximize the amount of damage you do. However, if you try to launch an enemy when they aren’t in break status you do around 1/8 of your fight damage. This was probably designed to prevent players from always selecting launch instead of fight.
The demo only lets you control one character in each scenario. Lightning and Snow were playable while Sazh, Lightning’s ally, and the two members of team Nora were controlled by the computer. Supposedly, other characters can controlled in the final release.
A big change in Final Fantasy XIII is spells don’t consume MP. There isn’t any MP in the game! To counterbalance fire spamming, magic isn’t as powerful. Without the bonus meter, Fire does around 90 damage while fight does 115 damage.
This may be a demo thing, but you start every battle with full HP.
When you’re in the middle of a combo Lightning doesn’t stop. She keeps going even if a PSI-COM solider fades out of existence. That’s how they die. She hits air instead of automatically targeting another enemy. It’s interesting because Square Enix “fixed” the Final Fantasy 1 remakes to eliminate “wasted” attacks, but brought them back for Final Fantasy XIII.
Timing is very important, more so than any other Final Fantasy game ever released. Remember how Sazh and the members of Nora automatically attack? Those attacks also fuel the damage boosting bonus gauge. You want to time your attacks so they fill gaps when your partners aren’t attacking to keep the bonus gauge going.
Some enemy attacks can cancel your attacks. A few machine gun rounds won’t stop Lightning, but running headfirst into a laser blast will cancel her move. I’m still not sure if the opposite works. In Snow’s scenario there are these dog beasts that run up before scratching Lebreau in the gut. Sometimes it feels like I can cancel their moves by executing a combo right when they start dashing. However, timing is really tricky since the distance between you and the attacking dog is never the same. Your characters move around too and make dodging motions, which are just for show.
Snow vs. Lightning
Lightning has a sword and fire spells. Snow attacks with his fists and blizzard spells.
One disadvantage Snow has is he cannot air juggle enemies like Lightning. If you launch an enemy with Snow his two other attacks are blizzard spells which aren’t granted air juggle bonus damage. If you do a launch -> fire -> fire combo with Lightning her fire spells don’t get the air juggle bonus damage benefit either.
These are my impressions of Final Fantasy XIII. Soon someone else will have the demo and a copy of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. We’re going to give away one copy of the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete + Final Fantasy XIII trial set on Siliconera. Since the PS3 is region free this will be a worldwide contest. And yes, despite being in Japanese Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete has English voice acting. Stay tuned!