Faster and dumber. In some ways, you can't blame Square Enix for taking that route. If you want to cater to the masses, unfortunately, "faster and dumber" is usually the easiest and most effective method. Of course, the company in question made a critical mistake: They thought Final Fantasy could – or even should – be designed for the casual masses, those who love shooters and high-impact action games. They never even considered for one second that such gamers would have zero interest in FF, regardless of its speed or dumbness. And the long-time fans? Yeah, they'd hate it.
For the record, if Square Enix had simply wanted to reinvent the IP to make it more accessible and appealing to more consumers, I'd be fine with that. Or even if they kept it relatively niche and wanted to overhaul the "outdated" turn-based mechanic. Go right ahead. If you want to make an action/RPG, there are plenty of great ways to go about it. I was against the quasi-real-time system used in Final Fantasy XII , too, but it was designed so beautifully that I ended up loving it. So, it's not about the legions of older FF fans whining that it's not the same.
We're complaining because it's starting to suck .
A playable demo for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is now available on the PS3 and Xbox 360. In it, we step into the shoes of "the savior" (Lightning) as she attempts to track down and subsequently "free" Snow. Those who played FFXIII will remember Snow as a regular party member. The guy who used his fists and was in love with Lightning's younger sister, Serah, remember? Well, here, he has somehow become the leader of a city that's just gonna party like it's 1999. In other words, they're celebrating the end of the world; there isn't much time left, so they're just living it up until it's all over. For whatever reason, Snow is presiding over this vivid yet grim spectacle, and Lightning shows up to "save his soul."
Let's get right to it: As usual, Square Enix does excel in the realm of CGI. It really is beautiful. There's a ton of awesome choreography and the character design is better than ever (I'm only referring to this particular trilogy when I say that, by the way). Unfortunately, the in-game graphics are extremely dated; zooming in close turns everything into an eyesore and really, the environment you explore in the demo is downright ugly. Now, after finishing the sample, you catch a glimpse of brighter, possibly better created areas, so maybe there's more beauty and diversity in the final product. Still, the technical achievement is way lower than anticipated.
You have control over the camera, which isn't a good idea. It sits too close, rarely keeps up with the action (frequently leaving you blind in the midst of battle), and is sluggish besides. Lightning moves surprisingly slowly when you move her about manually, although she does jump around nimbly when outside of combat. Jumping seems tacked on, as does the actual movement in battle; sure, you can get away from the enemy, but there's always an invisible barrier around the battlefield. You can only go so far. It makes each encounter feel cramped and rushed. Then there's the combat itself, which appears to be a collection of missed opportunities.
Lightning can change classes on the fly, switching between her available "Schemata." With a press of a button, you can change from Black Mage to Dragoon or Savior to Dark Muse. Each Schemata is fully customizable, too. Here's where I started to have some hope. But that hope was dashed when I realized that when in battle, because Square Enix dumbed things down , you only have access to four abilities for each Schemata. See, each skill is mapped to a face button (to make it feel more like a straight-up action game), so that's all you can access. The saving grace is that you can switch between multiple Schematas at any time (usually when the AP of one is depleted), but that hardly makes up for the lack of options.
I like that each character can equip a bunch of stuff, and I like the full customization of the Schematas. Beyond that… Using only Lightning feels like a total rip-off, having such limited combat abilities per class when in battle is infuriating, and all in all, it feels sloppy and insanely watered down. Outside of battle, in the character menus,it feels like Final Fantasy . In combat and exploring the environment feels like a half-ass attempt at a genre FF should never be, and a genre with which Square Enix has minimal experience. They also have no idea who their fanbase is, anymore.
So, needless to say, I'm not looking forward to this when it shows up. Have you seen some import reviews? Fair warning; I've seen 3s and 4s.