Review: Final Fantasy XIII Demo Version

Final Fantasy XIII has been a long time coming. And unfortunately for us all, this review is for the recently-released Japanese Demo Version, not the finished game. Still, this little taste while waiting for the real thing is appreciated, and if nothing else, gives an indication of what the battles in Final Fantasy XIII will feel like. And, believe it or not, the verdict is this: it doesn’t feel that much different from what we’ve seen before.

The demo begins with a lengthy opening cutscene that introduces the main character, Lighting, and her sidekick Sazh Katzroy. Lightning does, indeed, appear to be a female rendition of everyone’s favorite Cloud Strife. Calm, collected, short on words, and possessing the ability to kick copious amounts of ass, Lightning is already shaping up to be quite an interesting lead. Sazh is there to back her up with some dual-pistols and some comic relief. (He has a damned Chocobo living in his afro.) After a short boss battle that acts as a tutorial, the two set out onto the rubbled streets of Hanged Edge.

The bar dictates all...
The bar dictates all...

The primary focus of this demo is, unsurprisingly, the combat system. Someone familiar with Japanese might be able to glean some story elements out of it, but the rest of us will have to settle for what we get. Luckily, the combat is fast, fun, and somehow, manages to feel familiar. To be frank, it feels a lot like a mix of Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy XII.

So here’s a breakdown of how it works: while traversing the field map, groups of enemies are visible on-screen. Coming into contact with them prompts a transition to the battle screen. (Yes, there IS a transition; battles don’t take place the field map as they did in FFXII). Once in battle the player has control over Lighting, and only Lightning. Any and all actions are dictated by a rather large and prominent ATB bar visible in the lower-left corner of the screen. The difference between this and prior ATB systems is that the bar fills up rather quickly, and is divided into 3 segments. Now, the reason for the division is this: each action available to Lightning has a number assigned to it. (The demo only has actions with values of 1 and 3, but it can be assumed that the final game may have actions worth 2 slots.) Three actions can be selected in a turn, as long as these three actions have a value of 1. Alternatively, a single action with a value of 3 can be selected. Of course, the player isn’t forced to take up all three slots. One, quick action can be selected and executed if desired. In any case, once the desired actions have been stocked, a tap of the Triangle button executes them. Different combinations of actions may have different effects, such as Air Juggling, which seems to deal increased damage.

Movement around the battlefield is automated – Lightning will move about, but not by the player’s command. Also, space and time come into play here – for example, certain combinations of attacks will cause Lightning to fade back after attacking. If an enemy attacks during said fade-back, the attack will miss. Also, if the player selects physical attacks on an enemy too far away, Lightning will improvise by throwing fireballs instead. In a parallel to FFX-2, enemy actions can be interrupted by player attacks – and vice versa. The “Chain” system from X-2 returns as well, with consecutive hits dealing increased damage. A bar in the top-right corner of the screen indicates how long the current chain is, and how much of a damage bonus is currently in effect. These aspects of the combat system didn’t seem to play a huge role in the demo, but it’s likely that such things as interrupting enemy attacks and evading damage will be more prominent in the finished game.

While it’s impossible to issue any commands to party members in the demo, this will change in the final version of the game. It’s unclear if a FFXII-style gambit system will be implemented or not, but in any case, some method of giving directives will be available. For a full list of the changes that will be made from the demo to the final product, check out this article on 1UP.

Zell stole Seifer's coat...
Zell stole Seifer's coat...

The second half of the demo stars a man by the name of Snow Villiers, who appears to be the leader of a ragtag resistance group. Snow is a bit slower and stronger than Lightning, utilizing up-close fist attacks, but controlling him is effectively identical to controlling Lightning. The whole demo lasts a good 45 minutes to an hour, which is plenty long enough. Reports of it lasting two full hours are greatly exaggerated, but frankly this is a good thing. Thanks to the rather limited combat options, you can easily see all there is to see in about 20 minutes. And unless you’re fluent in Japanese, the numerous cutscenes won’t be much more than pretty pictures. To be clear, though, this demo is a blast. The combat system is a great blend of old and new, highly intuitive, and a hell of a lot of fun to play around with. I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the finished product.

Other than the combat system, no other aspects of the gameplay are shown off in the demo. There are no menus to access, no towns to explore, and no level up system present. (Although again, this will be changed in the final game.) However, the demo does show off some pretty cutscenes and some catchy music. Interestingly, I received a rather distinct Final Fantasy X vibe from the visuals and music. The character designs, in particular, draw some major parallels to FFX. The music is composed by Masashi Hamauzu, who co-scored FFX, so the parallels there are hardly surprising. The limited selection of music, particularly the battle theme, is excellent. The art direction also seems to be showing promise; the rubbled, futuristic appearance of Hanged Edge, all bathed in an eerie green, is fantastic to behold.

While my description of the game, (particularly the combat system) may make it sound like a strange and foreign beast, it really isn’t. This is effectively a much faster, more streamlined version of the ATB system we’ve seen many times before. In other words, Final Fantasy XIII is not an Action-RPG by any means. It’s fast and flashy, but still an entirely menu-driven experience. This isn’t Kingdom Hearts, Crisis Core, or the like; it’s still very much Final Fantasy, and fans of the series should feel right at home with this new system. The demo ends with a promise of “Winter 2009” in Japan, and we can only hope that Square Enix delivers. After playing this demo, my excitement for the game has only intensified.


  1. Cant fucking wait for it FFXII and FFX-2 had the best battle systems in the entire Final Fantasy Series

  2. I still think its a sad, sad era of gaming there are more reviews of demos then actual games…

    Other than that, looks good.

  3. Close to the vest? It looks to have a badass confident female lead instead of the typical whiny male, it has an intriguing Chrysalids motif, a battle system that is, sure, much like an advanced version of the ATB, but looks to have incredible potential and be, most importantly, a lot of fast-paced fun.
    What would FFXIII have to look like to you to look like it was going to be a great game or not sticking close to the vest?

  4. Ah…that’s the issue with reading the comments before reading the article…
    Why can’t you delete your own posts?

  5. Though I realise Oyashiro is not commenting directly on our policy of reviewing demos (after all, this is the first one we have EVER reviewed), I think it bears mentioning if anyone is wondering why we chose to do this.

    If the demo had been a press demo submitted to us with the tacit understanding that it is not a final product, &c., it is very possible that no review would have been in order. Instead, we would have published just our impressions in the form of an editorial.

    Because the demo is a publicly released product–and, moreover, a publicly released product that consumers must *pay* for (the Advent Children with Demo version being more expensive than that without)–it is perfectly reasonable to be a candidate for a review subject to the same scrutiny that a full game would be. After all, if they are charging people for a product, it doesn’t matter what they call it: demo, teaser, intro, or full version. People have a right to know what’s in it, so they can judge whether it is worth the cost and time. That’s the point of a review, after all.

    Even when demos have some associated cost, it might be argued that we shouldn’t spend too much time dealing with them. The final version may entirely negate the demo impressions, so it can be misleading to praise or lambast a demo which might bear little resemblance to the final product–but only if one fails to realise that the demo and the final version are separate things.

    It can be helpful to the producing company to know whether or not their demo is being favourably received. On occasion, negative feedback on demos has resulted in positive changes to the final version of a software release. Furthermore, though the final version is subject to its own review, a demo can provide us with information about the final version which we would otherwise have to wait for. In this respect, a demo is valuable news. It allows us to say something to interested parties at an earlier date that we otherwise might.

    A demo review should not be considered a substitute for a review of the game itself. This is, of course, obvious. But, the demo review is useful for general information about a game; to see what level of production is being employed; to get an idea of how far along that production is; to learn early plot details; and so on.

    Finally, this is the demo for Final Fantasy XIII, which I think we can say without doubt is one of the most anticipated games currently in production. If a playable demo for Starcraft II or Diablo III were available to the public, they’d receive the same treatment. Considering the vast hunger of the public (whom we serve) for news and details of this game, we would be delinquent in our duty if we did not review the demo.

  6. @Lusipurr – I did anticipate this, but I’m an eternal optimist.

  7. @Lusi – Yeah not directed at this. Its just that games are taking to long to get made now a days.

    It feels less like what demos use to be, a marketing tool to get people that where unsure to buy unlike now that they are used to keep people from forgetting about the game. It just seems now I see a demo and I think “So they didn’t cancel this game?” instead of “I’m diffidently buying this game now!”.

    I don’t know if I’m wording that at all correctly to be understandably. XD

  8. @Oyashiro: I think some game demos still have this effect. Specifically, the Too Human and Crackdown demos made me say “Ok, I’m going to buy these games when they come out.” Granted, for the Too Human demo, the day I could buy it was I think at least a month and a half away at that point (I don’t remember the exact duration, I could be off by a bit), but it still had the intended effect of turning somebody on the fence into a paying customer. Timing is important when releasing a “hype building” demo, and some companies have better timing than others.

    As for the FFXIII demo, though, I don’t think that’s what Square’s trying to do. Lets be honest, anybody who got this demo has already paid something like $70 (again, figure from memory, apologies if it’s wrong, but the point still stands) for what is essentially a fan-service blu-ray with an hour of gameplay packed in. Is there anybody who bought the demo who isn’t going to be lining up for FFXIII on day one already? There may be a few people that find the demo so deplorable that it turns them away from the game completely, but those cases are sure to be few and far between.

    As for Square’s sense of timing, I can be patient. I say they take as long as they want, as long as they keep putting out FF titles at the same quality level as past iterations of the series. I WISH we didn’t have to wait for a 360 port as well, but I have plenty of things to play in the mean time, so I’m not going to be losing any sleep over it. At the end of the day, all that really matters is the quality of the game. If it’s good enough, gamers will gladly forgive having to wait over 1/2 a decade to play it.

  9. I don’t agree, Oyashiro. There are a ton of games coming out, and most of them with a reasonable level of polish. SE just takes a stupidly long time to release games. it’s no one’s fault but theirs.

  10. Do u think that since this demo is not coming with FFVIIACC, it will be downloadable through the PSN and 360 market place

  11. Yeah, there was an article on IGN with a statement from Squeenix saying that’s a definite possibility, Blitzmage.

  12. I guess its just me then… Although I will say I was grateful for the RE5 demo, told me to save my money and not waste it on the full game. :)

    @Blitz – They say that they are looking into that, but I seriously doubt it. A 5 gig demo that they will let people download for free? I think they may package it with another game, you can bet they will find some way to profit of the demo.

  13. @Ethos: I set you up only so that I can tear you down. Thank you for being so obliging about it all of the time.

  14. I highly doubt we’ll ever see the demo in NA, because they’d be obligated to build an Xbox 360 version of it as well. That’s the whole reason this PS3 demo isn’t coming with the NA release of Advent Children Complete.

    And frankly, I don’t want them spending resources building another demo. Just finish the damned game already.

  15. IMO we’ll get the demo about a month before the game proper drops.

    @Oliver- Once the Japanese version is complete there should be sufficient uncommited human resources to throw together a demo.

    -Also if you want to understand that characters are saying in the cutscenes there are numerous translations floating around as well as translated videos on Gametrailers. The dialogue is mostly what you’d expect but that doesn’t stop it from being interesting, and it also helps define character personalities.

  16. I think whether or or not the demo shows up here depends on how smoothly the 360 port goes. If they’re having troubles getting it working correctly, I bet they’d want to spend all their resources working on that rather than putting out a demo. On the other hand, if it’s as easy as they think it’ll be to port the game, I bet they’ll cut the same demo out of both versions a few months ahead of release and put it out with a game like they did with the FFXII demo.

  17. I’m inclined to agree with Darth. SE has never been in the way of releasing Demos free and clear–they are always bundled with something else The execs at SE are not labouring under any illusions; they know the demo will sell copies of X that ordinarily wouldn’t sell.

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