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Final Fantasy XIII: We Go Hands-On

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The term "paradigm shift" is one of those things you often hear politicians, CEOs, "analysts," pundits, and others who like to spin things and hear the sound of their own voice discuss.  We're going to experience a paradigm shift in the way we use energy.  We're going to experience a paradigm shift in the way microchips are engineered.  Paradigm shift this, paradigm shift that.  We respectfully submit that in the coming months you're going to heaFinal Fantasy XIIIr "paradigm shift" used in a different and completely more fun manner.  And that is because if you want to play Final Fantasy XIII, you're going to need to learn all about paradigm shifts.

Blogcritics Gaming recently got the opportunity to lay our grubby little mitts on a playable demo of the upcoming (in the West anyway) Final Fantasy title, and the first thing we had to learn all about was the paradigm shift.  Of course, as the demo we were playing was relatively late in the game, there was a whole base of knowledge we had to acquire instantly as well (kind of step zero, with step one being the paradigm shift).

The battle system in FFXIII is incredibly fast, something you've undoubtedly noticed if watched any of the trailers, and consequently in a battle you only control one character.  In a battle said party consists of up to three members with you controlling the leader.  While you don't choose whether the others in your party attack, defend, use magic, heal, etc. in individuals turns in the fight sort of – and it still is a turn-based system – you can, tell them what they're going to be doing – and that is because of the paradigm shift. 

Let's step back a minute, shall we?

Before battles begin – which is to say anytime as long as it's not the middle of the battle – you can setup several different paradigms for your battle team in the menu.  There are six different roles each player can take on:  Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Synergist, Saboteur, and Medic (kind of like the jobs systems that have appeared in the past), and different paradigms are created by mixing and matching different roles for the three members of the party.  In a battle one can switch between paradigms, that would be a paradigm shift, thereby changing what characters will be doing even if those characters aren't being controlled individually.What role should you be assigning characters?  Well, remember the sphere grid in FFX?  This game has something called the Crystarium System which is very similar.  Players have certain roles that they may be better at, but all six roles are available in theFinal Fantasy XIII Crystarium System and different attributes can be upgraded within it with the use of Crystarium Points (CP) which are earned after battles.

Let's leave all that aside though for now and discuss the actual demo that we got to participate in, shall we?  Picking up the controller we found ourselves on the planet Pulse, that would be the lower world of the two in the game, on an open plain with monsters both great and small roaming around.  FFXIII will feature, as has happened occasionally in the past, monsters that are readily visible – there is no being attacked by creatures you don't see until the battle has commenced.

The game – as is usually the case with a Final Fantasy title – looks absolutely outstanding, and besides the massive Adamanchelid hanging out in the distance on the plain, it was the detail that existed in the game that we first noted.  From the individual strands of hair to rocky outcroppings, to whatever was happening on the upper world of Cocoon which looked totally uncool, the amount of effort put into creating a great visual experience was immediately apparent.

Taking control of the main character, Lightning, we went running for the Adamanchelid as we firmly believe in biting off more than we can chew and the four-legged beast who was several times the size of Lightning seemed like more than we could chew.  Before we got to the beast, we were unceremoniously attacked by smaller baddies.  For the first battle we oFinal Fantasy XIIIpted to just madly attack, waiting for the ATB to fill and then getting to punch attack over and over again – moves are stackable within the game.  Though we were in a later portion of the game, we were able to make quick work of the baddies, with Lightning and her compatriots bouncing all over the place as they dispatched the enemy horde.

Despite not actually getting to swing a sword or more the characters forwards and backwards, the speed at which the battles in FFXIII really made it feel as though we were controlling Lightning's movements.  There is no way at the speed a battle plays out that we could possibly have attempted to control all three members of our party and the speed made us feel a whole lot better at the minor loss of control.

Upon completion of the battle we were awarded CP, TP (technical points, which are used for summons and special magic), and even got an initiative bonus (the exact way that's calculated was never quite clear.   The battle summary screen also provided a star rating based on our performance, the expected time such a battle should take for us, and the time it actually took.  That's right, we came in under the time and rocked a full five stars.  And, even though one of our party, Sazh Katzroy (the guy with the chocobo in his afro), almost met his maker in the battle, his health was fully restored upon its completion (as happens with all characters).

Eventually we did make it to the Adamanchelid in the distance, who, with little ceremony, completely humiliated us – if one were to score his performance it would have necessitated a minimum of six stars.  Rather than having to go back to save point though, FFXIII respawns players immediately prior to the battle, a very nice thing that allowed us to get whipped by the Adamanchelid immediately once more. 

Are we a glutton for punishment?  Unquestionably, by the nice folks from Square Enix suggested that the next time we attempted the battle we time our attacks for when the Adamanchelid stomps, as Lightning jumps to attack the beast and the stomps act as an earthquake, damaging all players.  So, even though you don't haveFinal Fantasy XIII hands on control over every single move the players in the game do, it is certainly more involved than setting paradigms, shifting paradigms, and entering commands. 

All too soon, our time with Final Fantasy XIII ended.  The distinct feeling we had after putting down the controller was that the series has, once again reinvented itself, and seems to have done so very successfully. 

Final Fantasy XIII launches in the United States on March 9 and you can be absolutely certain that not only will Blogcritics Gaming be covering the title (and then we'll even get into the summoning system which involves each character only getting one Eidolon that they can call), but that the next time we face the Adamanchelid he's ours.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.