1/25: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Demo, and Why I’ve Had It up To Here
(Note: This reaction may be a bit harsh, but it was my honest, raw reaction after playing this demo.)
I liked Final Fantasy XIII, I did. But I really, really, really disliked Final Fantasy XIII-2. Playing that sequel was like playing a totally different series that included the same characters: it didn’t continue the story of FFXIII, it put you in the shoes of new characters instead of the main characters we spent hours and hours and hours getting to know in the first game, and the time travel mechanic didn’t relate to anything we’d seen in the previous game. It really was its own game, it just happened to take place in the same general world with some of the same people in it. (I wrote out my thoughts on FFXIII here, and some more here.)
And the ending of XIII-2 didn’t seem to resolve anything, and it ended on a “to be continued.” Infuriating. I did like Yeul, though I don’t think they did enough with her. (I complained about FFXIII-2 here.)
Now there’s Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Yup, it is certainly not “Final Fantasy XIII-3,” because that would imply that the plot would make sense when going into the game after playing XIII-2. Judging by the demo, LR:FFXIII is very much its own game as well. The demo picks up at a place that feels fairly far in: Lightning gets into an altercation with Snow and has to chase him while fighting random battles along the way.
Things I Didn’t Like:
- This is a poor place to start a demo. I have no idea what time period this takes place in. Apparently, Snow has been alive for centuries (what?). I assume the full game will explain, but why throw something like that into the demo and not explain it? It doesn’t compel me to play the game to find out more, it just annoys me for raising a very big question and not even hinting at an answer.
- Hey, JRPG developers: it’s 2014. Can we please stop with the in-battle one-liners that repeat when you attack?
- The dialog is hokey (and that goes for all three games). A lot of what’s said out loud by the characters would probably be okay when read in a speech bubble/text box, but when spoken out loud it sounds lame and hokey and awkward, like a poorly written anime or live-action comic book movie.
- People referring to there being “too much chaos” in an area (dark energy that clouds a room) sounds awkward.
- Talking over a radio to Hope about how Snow has lost his hope is awkward.
- Why are Lightning and Hope and Snow talking to each other like they haven’t known each other for two 30+ hour games?
- Does Lightning need to pose at the end of every single battle? It interrupts the flow of the game. Also, why is Lightning flipping her hair at the end of a battle when in the black mage outfit? This fundamentally goes against her character, which has been developed as being stoic, guarded, dignified, and never girlie.
- Job classes are called “schematas.” Did we need a fancy name for job classes? Did we need a term that differs from the previous two games in the series (it was previously called a “paradigm”).
- This series does a lot of explaining about how things work within its world, so I really hope the full game explains how Lightning can switch clothing on the fly. This is under the “didn’t like” list because I somehow doubt they do, other than explaining it away with “Lightning is a goddess.”
- Lightning is a goddess, referred to as “the Savior,” and serves God.
No, not a mythical god-like being like Cosmos (see Final Fantasy Dissidia), but God God. You know, the one from the Bible and whatnot.*Edit: I’ve been told that it’s made more clear in the full game that the god being referred to is not what I thought, and is indeed mythical.*
- The third entry in a series should not introduce a new battle system; it should improve on the system that appeared in the previous two games. It took me about 6 battles before I realized that the multiple meters on the screen were actually the ATB meters that were unique to each job class I could switch to on the fly, and were not used by all job classes. For example, the blue meter only shows how many for black mage actions you can take, but the yellow meter shows how many savior actions you can take, and they refill over time, even if you’re not using that job class. This was not explained well in the demo.
- The menus feel heavy and overcomplicated, especially since the demo does not give you much information.
- The demo menu lists your three job classes that you can switch between during battle, and also three sub-classes. But there’s no explanation as to how to use the sub-classes, or what they’re for. I wanted to be a red mage, dammit!
- The stagger system has changed since the previous two games, just enough that I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. This is especially disappointing since I was a pro at the previous stagger system.
- Guarding an attack depletes some of the ATB gauge, so if you’ve attacked too much with one schemata, you won’t be able to guard. I can see this becoming not only annoying, but very dangerous and frustrating during an important battle.
Things I Did Like:
- The opening cinematic reminded me of the opening cinematic of Final Fantasy VII, in which the camera pans over the city and zooms in onto the people.
- Being able to run outside of battle helps keep the fast pace of the game. Attacking an enemy in the field in order to gain a pre-emptive bonus.
- The new battle system is OK, I guess. I like being able to move around during battle (though the Tales series does this much better), and it’s satisfying to have your attacks happen live.
- I still like Lightning. I hope the whole goddess stuff is fully explained in the full game.
- The graphics look nice enough.
But let’s get real for a moment: There are 13 days until the end of the world, and Lightning has to stop it. Psh, come on, guys: Link managed to do it in only 3 (see Majora’s Mask)! Again, these are just my thoughts on the demo. The full game may very well address some of my annoyances.
Fire Emblem Awakening Demo Impressions
The next game in the Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem Awakening, launches on the 3DS on February 4, 2013 in the U.S. While we wait, Nintendo has released a demo (available on the eShop), containing two short battles, some dialogue, and a few cut scenes. I’ve never played a game in the series, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to give it a try.
The Awakening demo begins with a young man named Robin (the woman is not available in the demo) being found in a Ylissean field by a trio of armored shepherds: Chrom, Lissie, and Frederick. Robin soon realizes that he knows Chrom’s name but not his own, and slowly remembers bits about himself. Like many great RPGs’ main character, Robin is suffering from amnesia, but when a nearby village is attacked he quickly remembers that he can both size up the enemy by eye and command magic. Chrom is a swordsman, Frederick is a horsed lancer, and Chrom’s sister, Lissie, is a healer.
The demo’s battles are tutorials that show off the fluidity of Awakening’s battle flow. While the dialog scenes take place in detailed locations with fully-rendered characters on a 3D plane, the battlefield resembles a 16-bit SRPG overhead view, continuing the tradition of other Fire Emblem games before it. You’ll move each character a limited number of squares and attack an enemy, use an item, or wait. When attacking, you can cycle through a character’s weapons to select the weapon or spell with the best reach, highest chance of hitting the target, or doing the most damage. When any character engages in an attack, the view zooms into the map and takes you to a fully-rendered scene in which the attack takes place. The graphics here greatly resembles Super Smash Bros. Melee, and transitions smoothly without pause. During the 3D attack scenes, the action can be paused or fast forwarded, and the camera can be changed even to a first person view. This is probably fun during fights with bigger, badder enemies, as you can pause, go into first person mode, and look around where you stand. Attacking while another ally is on an adjacent map square boosts the attacker’s stats and shows both party members in the attack cinematic. Once the attack is over, experience is given out and the view zooms back to the 16-bit map.
The demo also shows off fully-voiced, 3D anime-style cutscenes. These scenes are gorgeous, and give us another way to enjoy pivotal action sequences.
This was a well put-together demo, and it showcases the personality of the characters, the smooth transition between the SRPG battle map and on-the-ground attack scenes, and the fantastic anime-style cutscenes in between. Fire Emblem Awakening sure looks like it’s the total package, and I can’t wait to play the full game.
The LEGO Batman 2 (3DS) Demo is Fun
After last week’s 3DS E3 presentation, a demo LEGO Batman 2 demo went up on the 3DS eShop.
The demo opens with Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor at a fancy pants fundraiser, both smugly waiting for the announcement of Man of the Year. Naturally, the Joker, the Penguin Harley, and the Riddler crash the party. As Batman and Robin, you’ll get to take on all of the aforementioned villains within the 20-30 minutes the demo spans.
The game has everything you’d expect—charming LEGO set pieces, LEGO characters, destructible LEGO furniture, LEGO building and collecting—but with a few surprises. Batman and Robin have slow-motion finishing moves—a callback to Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. But most surprisingly, the game has voice overs. That’s right, the LEGO-ized characters speak. And while I would have thought this would detract from the charm all the miming in the LEGO games provides, putting dialogue in the game actually works, making it feel more like a Batman game that is also a LEGO game (and the casting is spot on).
The 3D is a nice feature, though the demo doesn’t show any places in which it truly enhances the game. You could easily enjoy playing with 3D turned off, depending on your preference. The touch screen gives quick access to switching characters and using your items, though it is often easier and quicker to use the face buttons during a fight.
It’s a great demo. I recommend checking it out.
(LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes will be released in the US on 6/19, in EU on 6/22, and AUS on 6/29, and will be available on PS3, XBOX 360, PC, Wii, DS, and 3DS. A PSVita release will come later this summer.)
Heavy Rain Impressions
After running through the Heavy Rain demo on PS3 all I can say is wow. That game is going to be fantastic.
Warning: Minor demo spoilers ahead.
Heavy Rain is an interactive story in which the player controls four different characters over a series of chapters, their lives somehow intertwined throughout the course of events in the game. From what I’ve seen, read, and played of the game, the story is a drama/mystery thriller that thrives on its realism. It seems the goal of the game is to take down someone known as The Origami Killer, a murderer of children who always leaves origami at the scene of the crime.
The demo takes you through two short chapters, each starring a different character - an asthmatic private detective and an FBI agent who’s got the shakes. You start as the P.I. as the game teaches you controls which seem odd at first but work well once you get the hang of them.
The P.I. pulls his car up to an alleyway. It’s pouring. Your first task is to put the car into park by pressing down on the right analog stick. Then to open the car door by pressing up then rotating toward the right on the right analog stick. Controls like these are the sole way of interacting with objects in the game and it gives more of a physical connection to your actions. Walking takes getting used to, as you have to hold R2 to walk and simply steer with the left analog stick. If you use the left analog without walking it acts as look controls, turning the character’s head.
Your goal in this chapter is to speak to someone who may have clues that can help track down the Origami Killer, but not without a fight.
The FBI agent’s chapter has you ducking under police lines (down on the analog stick) and utilizing a high-tech pair of sunglasses that can scan for evidence. In this chapter you have to analyze evidence at the Origami Killer’s crime scene, where a young boy lays dead.
At any point you can hold L2 to select a topic your character is wondering about and listen to him think to himself. You can interact with plenty of objects, for example you can lean on a dresser while another person speaks or even drink a cup of coffee. These things may not sound interesting when described, but within the game it adds an extra layer of depth to the realism of the environment and characters. The graphical details are fantastic, down to the wrinkles and pores on a character’s face. There’s an important sense of facial movement as well, key in depicting the emotions of the people within the game.
The unique controls, however, give the game the pacing and control of exploration of your surroundings that some of the best point-and-click games offered. Fighting, however, is a done as a quick-time event, as you have to tap triangle, X, R1, aim the right analog stick, etc. as the buttons appear on the screen in order to counter your attacker.
As interesting as the controls are I’m most excited for the story, which seems packed with drama, thoughtfulness, and emotion. I have a feeling it will be a powerful game.
Heavy Rain will be released on Feb. 23.
MGS: Peace Walker demo from IGN is Japanese
When writing about the Metal Gear PSP demo IGN had posted from the Tokyo Game Show I neglected to realize it was the Japanese demo. Meaning multiple Metal Gear opening cut scenes in Japanese only, with Japanese menus. I figured out most of the controls on my own, but couldn’t figure out how to crawl, and so I got stuck in the first very small area that begins the demo. Sigh. Then I found out you can’t crawl, and were supposed to throw a grenade at a metal gate to advance.
Metal Gear PSP demo Available Early
IGN has linked the Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker PSP demo that was available at the Tokyo Game Show. This demo is not yet available on the PlayStation Store.
Installation instructions are available in the linked article. Enjoy.
IGN: TGS 2009: Get The MGS Peace Walker Demo Right Here
Half-Minute Hero Demo (PSP)
The 8-Bit Revival movement has had a great sense of humor about gaming’s history which is epitomized in the PSP’s upcoming Half-Minute Hero.
The goal of this RPG is to travel the world map, level up, collect money, purchase armor and weapons, and destroy the area’s evil lord under a 30 second timer. Of course there are tricks to this, which can be discovered in the latest demo.
The demo allows you to choose between two missions. The first is straight-forward. An evil lord has, to his own delight, learned a destruction spell, so he decides to cast it and destroy the world, however, the spell will take 30 second to cast. Getting wind of this, the Time Goddess seemingly at random chooses the Hero, who happens to already have a sword, to hurry up and defeat the evil lord. This map consists of a small island with you, a town, and an evil castle.
The goal is to raise your level to be higher than the boss’s, and the game truly shines in battle. Random battles are automatic and consist of the Hero and the enemy running at each other and ramming until one of the characters yields to defeat. Leveling up moves very quickly, and time is paused while visiting a town to purchase goods or replenish health.
The second map is larger and your goal is more complicated. To succeed you’ll have to do the same thing as in the first level, however you must first gain the trust of the neighboring town’s knights to help repair the bridge leading to the evil castle. As an added benefit, they will aid you in battle, boosting the damage done to enemies. This map also has a northern cave containing a treasure, though you will have to use your precious time to reach it. This is worked out by being able to pay the town’s statue of the Time Goddess to reset your clock, though each time you do this it becomes more expensive.
The game seems like it could easily become very hard. I’ll admit, after three tries I still have not completed the second demo map.
Half-Minute Hero looks like it will be great for nostalgia, ridiculous gameplay, and an interesting challenge. The demo is currently available at the Playstation Store and the full game should be out in the U.S. before the end of the year.
Final Fantasy: Dissidia Demo Released on PSN
With the PSP’s Final Fantasy: Dissidia set to release in late August, the PSN has had the good graces to release a demo of the game.
The demo allows the player to control one of five characters (Onion Knight, Cecil of FF4, Terra of FF6 with blond hair instead of green, Cloud of FF7, and Sephiroth of FF7) on Normal or Hard mode. Each difficulty gives the player different moves to pull off as they battle through several other Final Fantasy characters, including Garland, Kuja, Squall, Cloud of Darkness (FF3, not an alternate FF7 Cloud), Kefka, Zidane, Jecht, and Tidus. The characters have voice work for when they announce their special moves and opening/closing battle one-liners.
The graphics are very well-done. Characters that originally appeared in 3D appear as you remember them, though with a Kingdom Hearts-style makeover. Cloud and Sephiroth, especially, seems to have been taken straight out of KH, as Cloud appears with one metal hand and Sephiroth’s special move reveals one black wing. Another nice visual touch occurs when certain characters’ specials are performed. In their own FF game, a box would appear on the top of the screen announcing the move’s name (i.e. Limit Breaks, enemy boss moves, etc.), and those windows are preserved down to the style in which they appeared in the original. For example, Cloud’s Omnislash is announced by a redish-pink box with the text “Limit Break” while Zidane’s Trance moves use a gray box with white text. These abilities also have you input different actions depending on the character — The Onion Knight
The animation is very smooth, and for the pre-determined more intense moments of action the graphics go slightly grainy, which adds a cool look instead of detracting from the game. I assume this is to maintain the smooth animation while pushing PSP graphics to the limit.
The only issue I took with the demo is that Normal mode is very easy and Hard mode can be pretty hard. It plays more like a series of one-on-one fights than the part-RPG part-fighting game I’ve heard the game described as. There were no items, summons or cut scenes in the demo. It is strictly a fighting demo with no story whatsoever. Go in knowing there will be much more to the game, including more depth.
The Final Fantasy Dissidia demo can be found at the Playstation Network Store.
Halo Wars Demo: First Impressions
The sound of nervous fans echoed the internet when Age of Empires veterans Ensemble Studios was announced to be making the next Halo game instead of Bungie, who’d worked on the series. Even more fear arose when Halo Wars was announced — a console-only real-time strategy game.
Real-time strategy games have often failed on consoles while their PC brethren have excelled. Some notable RTS games include the Command & Conquer series, the Warcraft series, Starcraft, Age of Empires and more. What happens when you plug the Halo universe into an RTS? Nothing bad, believe it or not. The recently released demo of the XBOX 360-exclusive Halo Wars builds upon the original Halo story and gameplay to a satisfying extent.
From the opening menus, which look remarkably similar to Bungie’s Halo 3, to the intricate armor of the CGI arbiter during cut-scenes, you begin to fall comfortably back into what you know as Halo. The levels maintain the color scheme and environments from the original games — concrete, plant-life, and bright purple, blue and green explosions. The Halo world is continued even through the game’s sound, which keeps the elites’ voices on par with the series as well as the grunts’ screams. Everything just sounds right, minus the opening chants fans have grown accustom to from the other games.
The story takes place before the original series, roughly 20 years prior, and leads up to the events of the first game. The player is put in control a few years after the attack on Harvest (which is referenced in the main series and explored in the books). You begin with only a Warthog and are ordered to find four units of Marines who are caught in heavy fire. This begins the first of two missions available with the demo. The second mission has you destroy a Covenant base. Also available is one Skirmish map for play against an AI enemy.
The controls are simple and logical for a console, though the scrolling felt a bit off at first (this can be changed to your liking). After playing through the tutorial, the controls came as second nature: highlighting units with A, attacking an enemy or choosing a destination for the unites with X, and using special attacks with Y (soldiers throw grenades, warthogs run over foot soldiers or ram vehicles/structures). RB selects local units while LB selects all of your units on the map. The D-Pad is used to jump between groups of units and your base. Up on the D-Pad opens a menu with an area of effect healing special (reminiscent of Halo 3’s), though it cost a decent amount of money to use.
Building a base is simplified, as well. By selecting a structure with A, a circle pops up to cover most of the screen. Upgrades or units can be built or trained by selecting within the circle.
Splattering grunts, blowing up elites and destroying ghosts remains fun in Halo Wars, though the small physical scale of the men, Covenant and vehicles can become frustrating. Part of the fun of the Halo series was being able to see things up close and get a sense of emotion from both the human soldiers and the Covenant. It’s harder to see that outside of the cinematic.
Otherwise, the demo plays pretty well, and I found myself completely involved in the gameplay, though much of that was because of the Halo universe. The control scheme itself is nothing special, but the fact that the controls do not take away from the gameplay on a console is a plus in itself. Halo Wars has promise, and hopefully it will have a long campaign with great multiplayer play.