8 Lightning-Quick First Impressions From the FFXIII-3 “Lightning Returns” Demo.


When I heard the Demo for FF13 – 3 was
coming out on the PS3 yesterday, I couldn’t help but hop on PSN and
download it. This double epilogue of misguided persistence has had a
longer hype campaign than its parent title did; with numerous
trailers, cinematics, sneak peaks, cross-title promotions, and oh so
many avenues for pre-order upsale costume packs. I figured it was
going to be a glorious disaster and I had to see it.

I sorta got what I was expecting, but with a few surprises I wasn’t: Here are my 8 First Impressions
of “Final Fantasy XIII – Part 3 “Lighting Returns”
(the Demo).

(1) Square Is Trying To Leach Fan Love From Final Fantasy 7 & 8.


Opening shot of the demo is a long range pan into a bleak,
industrialized city; black, black, overcast, a highly
illuminated building in the center (not unlike ShinRa tower), and oh hey …
It’s a train! This is like like Square Enix is begging people to remember when
they actually liked Final Fantasy; I admit, my inner child
started bouncing up and down chanting “lookie, it’s Midgar!” untill I realized that was what Square Enix was after. They
probably should have just reused that tech demo remake of FF7‘s opening sequence
from a few years back and saved a bit of cash.

Next shot is of some kind of strip-club-masquerade-ball-rave-thing.
Crowded ballroom dance floor, creepy mo-capped stage
dancing jester chicks; this feels ripped directly out of FF8. There’s probably a little
pandering for FF10 – 2 in there also, with its weird ass pop diva opening,
but the overall feel is FF8. I really have to question if all this was this really necessary or wise? I mean, understand Square Enix’s intent; but it was probably a bit
counterproductive, since dredging up old content is just going to contrast how shallow all the new stuff is.

(2) This Game Has Absolutely Nothing in Common With FF13.


The good news for haters of FF13: this thing no longer has the
slightest connection to the first game. Sure, same old characters, but none of them acts (or really looks) like they did in the first one. I think the only reason it’s called “Lighting
” is because thinking up a new name based on stormy weather was too much work. Plus reusing old character names meant they
didn’t have to worry about writing actual character introductions. Maybe there is some facet burred in part 2 for why none of these characters have their old
personalities, or why the world design is completely disassociated from what it was; but I still can’t stand Sarah long enough to bother

Nothing in this holds a shred of the first
game’s government conspiracies, sprawling urban sky cities, or civil unrest. Take that as you will;
the first game’s plot and characters didn’t pluck heartstrings on the
first go around, so it is probably for the best, even though I myself kinda liked the extended backdrop. It made the game
world seem so much bigger than just what the characters were doing. Granted, it also made it really suck when you never got to actually interact with any of it; but I don’t think having no expanded lore was the solution people were looking for. They really should have just ditched the old cast and made a new one, but that wouldn’t have worked out
either, because ….

(3) Square Enix No Longer Has Any Idea How to Make a Final Fantasy Game.


This whole game (well, demo, and yes I do know that the other zones are more open and bright, but I doubt the rest of the game’s mechanics differ that much) reeks of Square Enix not having the slightest understanding of what made the
prior Final Fantasy games work. It’s like they piled together every bit of classic Final Fantasy iconography they could, dumped it in a pasta bowl, then threw it at the wall hoping
something would stick. There are so many little bits and pieces from the old
games scattered about, but none of it is used right. My take is that instead of Square Enix actually trying to make homages, they are trying to experiment.

It is like Square Enix is tearing apart concepts from old games, then sticking them back
together in weird ways. What I think they are doing is attempting to reverse engineer “the magic” of
Final Fantasy
, because they have no idea what made the past games work. What they don’t seem to get is that without the sense of having a greater world to explore and discover, or any
real effort put into minor NPCs having some kind of personality, all they are going to get is dead worlds. It’s kinda sad,
because you can tell
they are trying so hard to figure it out, but they are still so far off the mark.

(4) There Is Social Integration BS.


I don’t know which angle they are going for with this; that Square Enix thinks people are just dying to have Facebook and Twitter
integrated into every game, or that Square Enix is so sure people will
love this extension of FF13 that they will just have to post their acheivements on social
media. Either way, have you ever had that burning itch to meticulously
post every achievement to your social contacts, but been too lazy to actually do so? Or maybe you have found
yourself too stoned to pull your phone out of your pants and put it on the couch next to you while you
play (so that if someone Tweets you, you can Tweet them right back)?

Well, Square Enix has the solution for you! You can now plug your
damn Facebook and worthless Twitter accounts into this game, and it will auto
announce your every minor achievement to your social contacts for you! There is also some weird thing about blue-capped NPCs showing up with messages from other
players…didn’t see that part in action, so I don’t know if they are hand delivering Twitter twits & Farmville spam scraped from your
accounts, or if it is like the graffiti system in Dark Souls with them being static in-game messages. I get that Square Enix is desperate to mine you for social contacts, but what I
really can’t figure out is why Square Enix even bothered to put it in
the demo; this damn thing only lasts about 25 minutes, most of that is FMV, so what the hell does it even have to announce?

(5) The Plot Is Nonsense.


Lighting is now the female Jesus Christ on a mission from GOD, while
“Chaos” is fuzzy black mist that makes the walls go all wobbly; then
Anubis monsters crawl through the wobbly walls and eat a waitress. Ok,
maybe they don’t call her “Jesus” by name, but she is “The Savior” and she works for GOD; I know I was saying “oh lord” every time someone opened their mouth, so maybe that was the angle they were going for. Knowing Japan, combined with the fact that Lighting teleports back
to “the Arc” at the end of the demo, I’m guessing that “GOD” actually stands for something like “Guardian
Order Defense” and she is a special agent assigned to an inter-dimensional space ship named
“The Arc.”

Or maybe “The Arc” is where she goes to practice twisting her spine like a snake for her victory poses.

The game is out in Japan, so there are spoilers I could look up to
see for myself, but I don’t want to. It is more fun to wait for the full
release, or not know that my bitterness-fueled snark engine of an
imagination just came up with something more creative than what
is actually going on; one of those two. Feel free to investigate for yourself; I’m just going to keep myself entertained by being pissed off that we got this thing instead of a new Valkyrie Profile game. Most people
will play this for the costumes, some people will play this for the
Profile-ish combat system; no one will play this for the
nonsense plot.

Oh wait, did I not mention that yet?


(6) The Combat System Is Like Valkyrie Profile.


Yeah, there is still the framework of switching paradigms from first game, but you are no longer doing so to manage party tactics.
How it works is that you get a costume piece which acts like a frame for equipping
weapons, accessories, and skills; sot of like each costume is a visual load-out profile. The costumes themselves are NOWHERE near as customizable as the
earlier trailers let on. Each costume is a single item, full body outfit, with no additional customization options besides the weapons you equip and a single slot for an appearance accessory (like Zidane’s tail or the Black Mage’s hat … but only one at a time). Once you have your costume slot set up, you assign 4 different skills
to the face buttons; one skill per each button.

It is pretty limited
per each costume, but you get to queue up three different costumes to take into battle and switch between on the fly. Taping the shoulder buttons
will hot switch to another costume, giving you access to the different abilities you have set up, and each costume has its own independent ability gauge you fueling your skills. Basically, each costume is
like a generic character unto itself, except they all have Lighting’s head. Fighting isn’t actually as live-action as it looks, since it is less of button mashing to attack and more like you hit the buttons to activate skills; some of them have pretty low animation timers so it is almost like button mashing, but it’s really not. If you have any idea what Valkyrie Profile is, you will understand this system.

(7) The Costumes Rock!


I was actually impressed with the costumes, they are highly
details and show a lot of variety. That standard outfit they keep
showing for promotional materials, it’s actually the blandest one in the demo. Throwback Jerseys are pretty much the name of the game, as there is alot of them, and the gender swapping on the male
outfits is pretty well integrated. Costume swapping to access different class types has got a feel to it like they pulled on the job change system of Final Fantasy 3, but they did it without actually lifting it wholesale.

The Demo comes with 6 costumes, 4 of which are Throwbacks; there is a FF3 style
Red Mage, a classic style Dragoon (but I can’t recognize what version), Zidane from FF9, and a heavilly modified version of Black Waltz (also from FF9). You can tell they had fun making these things, and that they really are the
core of the game. I am
honestly interested in seeing what and how they do all the other Throwback
Jerseys in the full game, but I don’t know if I will actually pick this game up when it is brand new; double epilogues with crap plots, and no relevancy to the main
title, are not something I want to support … but that Black Mage was pretty cool looking.

(8) The Costumes Also Blow!


Most of the costumes
involve some form of crotchless pants or chaps; don’t ask me why the
Dragoon is a full set of platemail except for the crotch, which is cut out so
Lightning’s little black thong can get some air…I don’t understand it
myself. I’m kinda guessing that this world is riddled with dysentery; so much so
that everyone was constantly shitting themselves and decided it was easier to just cut the crotch out off all their pants. Yes, I try to find a logical rational behind these sort of things – it’s honestly something of an illness. On top of which, there is no consistency between the proportions of each costume’s individual body style
and Lighting’s base proportions in her generic armor (or the prior games). These are not different outfits for Lighting; they are completely different bodies. I don’t get why they didn’t just
make each costume be a different individual character, as all that was left to
do was give each one a slightly unique head.

The easiest example is how Lightning’s breast size fluctuates wildly between
costumes; so much so that I thought the Red Mage was actually a male body. It took me a second to notice the raisin bumps on her chest, which is not that big of a deal except the other bodies have at least B cups, if not outright jiggling knockers. The Black Waltz costume
actually has a totally different skin tone than her head! The body has black/tan skin, while her head is still stark white, not to mention the body is about a size smaller than it should be while Lightning’s head stays the same size; the end result looks like a leukemia patient who waded neck deep into a vat of liquid tanning spray.

And that Black Mage one was my favorite costume styles!

End Conclusion: This Is an Experimental Tech Demo.


Like, the whole game is an interactive, experimental tech demo as Square Enix tries to rediscover how to make Final Fantasy. It’s playable, and it will probably end up being a damn sight better than the other games in FF13 Saga, but it is still not a cohesive project.

The engine improvements are noticeable and
welcome, as the game plays smooth, quick, and none of the pauses to
buffer between battles. The artwork is great, even if there is no consistency with
style, and the environments are quite a bit more open. Yeah, they are still just
hallways, but they are bigger hallways, with some jumping and climbing,
and a few of them even loop! There are good concepts, but it’s just not a solid project and the voice actors
are phoning it in like they are waiting in line to cash their checks at the bank. Not that I can blame them since the plot is nonsense, there is zero depth, and characters suck so much that no amount of acting could save them from being vacant shells. The team behind
it has talent, but they obviously have no idea how to glue everything together in right order to make a
Final Fantasy game. They are trying but they just don’t get it.

This game is like Square Enix stapled a tech demo to some fliers for now hiring notice:

Skilled Production Manager / Content Directed Wanted!


Unlimited Budgets Available, Look At The Cool Toys You Can Play With.

I wish Square Enix would you just cave in and ask Hironobu Sakaguchi to help
fix the franchise; I don’t care what kind of a mess it was – compared to
the crap titles Final Fantasy has become; The Spirits Within is starting to look like an
intellectual art flick.

Get with the program, Square Enix: have Mistwalker freelance the design while your in-house people do the actual development; people will be in such a hurry to give all their money that they will end up tearing off their pants to to throw everything in their pocket at you in one lump.

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