Finland (11 November, 2013) – Today, Square Portal and FFWorld are happy to release their collaboration here. We hope you enjoy reading this preview of the Wildlands demo that was experienced by the press during Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII European demo tour. Please check out the promo video called “The Opposite” in the end of the preview as well!
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to try out the latest demo for Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII, exhibiting the 4th continent of the game world: the Wildlands. Here are my impressions.
The demo is set shortly after Lightning arrives in the Wildlands—a vast and natural region that bears the remnants of Gran Pulse. It is there, Hope tells us, that the Chaos from Valhalla first started to corrupt the land, but looking at the vast expanse of this quiet prairie, you wouldn’t tell the world is just a few days away from its doom. The first quest that we are presented with requires locating and saving a white chocobo, who lost its way in some old ruins on the easternmost side of the plains.
When she finally reaches the chocobo, Lightning discovers a nasty monster called the Chocobo Eater is attacking it. After a somewhat easy battle, the villagers return the white chocobo to their camp, hoping to get it back to its feet. The bird, though, refuses to eat unless Lightning is feeding it. Thus begins a new quest, where the player has to find Gysahl Greens to cure the chocobo and eventually get the chance to ride it. Unfortunately, it seems they are quite rare.
You actually cannot explore the entire Wildlands unless you have your own chocobo: as in the Archylte Steppe in FFXIII and XIII-2, some areas can only be accessed thanks to the chocobo’s wing-powered jumps. As I was not given enough time to get to that point, I decided to simply roam the land and explore some (almost) never seen before areas to the west. From that experience, I can tell you that the Wildlands are really, really huge. The central meadow only represents about 1/3 or 1/4 of the whole area, but the other parts are a bit narrower.
To the west is a nice little forest, where some paths are blocked depending on the time of the day. I was still able to explore another small camp and some clearings. As the time I was allotted began to run short, I pushed northward, past a small pond, and climbed another path that led me to a rocky area at the center of the Wildlands. It did remind me of the arid region surrounding the Taejin Tower in FFXIII, but the crystalline outcrops were a dramatic sight to be sure.
This was a pretty tour indeed, though I have to confess Lightning Returns will probably be the least impressive entry in the XIII series as far as the technical side is concerned. As a result of short development time and limited human resources, it is unfortunately very easy to notice the poor textures and scarce details in the environments. The game is by no means ugly, but it is pretty clear now the developers could not afford building an open world like Nova Chrysalia without some compromises. So be it.
But of course, the art direction is as lovely as you would expect it to be, and the Wildlands feature a picturesque palette of pastel colors. NPCs and animals such cats, dogs and (of course) sheep roam the land, thus underlining the peaceful lifestyle of the area. The soundtrack serves the same purpose, as the two daytime themes I was able to hear were gorgeous, airy orchestrated pieces somehow reminiscent of the Dragon Quest symphonic albums. In stark contrast with those, the battle themes are overflowing with energy—of course, the normal battle theme is Naoshi Mizuta’s “The Savior”, but the Chocobo Eater boss battle music is a fantastic mix of roaring electric guitar and bombastic orchestral elements. As far as art is concerned, Lightning Returns will not let you down—and yes, the soundtrack will be fantastic.
The one thing that might unsettle you is the battle system, which is much more nervous than in the two previous installments. I already had the chance to experience it in the E3 demo. At the time, I could feel how much Lightning Returns’ battle system requires a learning curve. There are many elements to familiarize yourself with, starting with the four skills each of the 3 available costumes gives you access to. Of course, the empowered action elements are at the core of the experience. But this switch doesn’t make it any less strategic, as the key to winning the most difficult fights will be good timing and decision-making.
Contrary to what you would expect, the hardest monster you can encounter in the demo was not the Chocobo Eater, but a Behemoth wandering around the same area. It was a very hectic but fun duel that made me understand how precious the Block button is. Don’t worry: there will be an easy mode for the most careful players among you. But the challenge is definitely exciting and mastering the many possibilities offered by the system will certainly be a lot of fun.
But in the end, for me, one of the most striking moments of the demo was the simple fact that I was finally able to spend some time with Lightning. After months of controversy surrounding the character’s appearance in the game, I was pleased to notice the quests involving the white chocobo revealed a more sensitive side to her. One cutscene, especially, featured a touching monologue where Lightning reflected on the chocobo’s miserable state. A new and beautiful piano piece bearing Masashi Hamauzu’s trademark style highlighted her meditation. This kind of moments is very promising for the rest of the story and shows that the game has much more to offer than lurid fan service.
Based on what I saw in the demo, Lightning Returns should feature a lot of cutscenes with quest NPCs. However, I had the feeling these cutscenes were a bit too long and talkative—fortunately, time doesn’t flow during them. Also, Hope tends to get a bit too pressing each time Lightning receives a new mission objective. Really, I was tempted to answer him “Give me a break” at some point. The developers certainly didn’t want the player to feel alone in these vast landscapes but I am afraid Hope’s frequent chatter on the radio might get slightly oppressive.
There was one thing, however, that relieved me a lot: as many of you I suppose, I was worried about the whole time flowing mechanic. Even if Motomu Toriyama’s team adjusted the game design so that it is now possible to complete every quest in one go, I was still wondering how fast time would flow in-game. I started playing at around 7am and, after roughly one real world hour of playtime, I was reaching the end of the afternoon. And I actually let time flow freely during the whole in-game afternoon, as I was exploring the land and avoiding most of the monsters. Thus, as time stops during cutscenes, battles and menu navigation, Lightning Returns’ signature countdown should not be too stressful.
The time I spent in the Wildlands definitely left me waiting for more. Knowing Lightning Returns carries fewer expectations from the Final Fantasy fans, the developers obviously toyed with open world ideas probably for the best. And the game, to be sure, has more to provide than a wardrobe of fancy outfits.
Here is the promotional trailer “The Opposite” for the preview. We hope this little event was worth waiting and you enjoyed watching the video and reading the article. Lightning Returns :Final Fantasy XIII will be released in Japan on November 21st, and next year in Europe and North America. More news coming soon! Stay tuned!