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A demo for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, next month’s conclusion to the Final Fantasy XIII saga, has gone up on Xbox Live today. A demo for PSN will land tomorrow.

The demo, weighing in at 1.13GB, apparently grants players an extra schema (an outfit that Lightning can don in battle) if you “submit your battle score” to the Outerworld service, the functionality that allows players to post to social networks. I’m intrigued to see how this works for myself, and I’m currently downloading the demo on my 360.

Hopefully it’ll be a different playable slice to the one I encountered at Eurogamer Expo a few months back. I’ll still play it if it’s the same (if only to get that extra piece of garb for the full game), but it’d be nice to have a different chunk to play through.

You can find the demo here, and I’ll update this post with some impressions once I’ve given the demo a go.

**UPDATE**

The demo is much the same as the one I played at EGX back in September (my impressions of which are linked above). There are a handful of differences, however.

Firstly, you can engage in a fair amount of customisation over Lightning; you have six schemata to choose from in the demo (including the awesome FFIV Kain-style Dragoon!), and you can choose between a number of weapons and shields for each and even plop some headgear on Lightning’s noggin – rather strangely, the ‘Dark Muse’ build comes preloaded with a beret. You can also change the colours of various elements of each garment too, which I experimented with briefly as you can see in the pic below.

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A more minor addition to this demo is the availability of a black market dealer who will sell Lightning a handful of items for her gil. These items include X-potions and other items that confer certain buffs upon use. Curiously, Lightning can only carry five items at any one time, and these slots are likely to be taken up with a handful each of X-potions and phoenix downs now that Light’s health no longer regenerates between battles. I can understand the development team wanting to keep the pace of battle up by discouraging reliance on items, but a total capacity of five seems a bit mean-spirited. Perhaps you can upgrade the number of slots as you move through the game, much as you could gain additional accessory capacity in the previous titles.

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Finally, the Outerworld service I mentioned above is available in this demo, allowing you to upload screenshots (like the one at the top of this piece) or battle results (like the image below) and post them to Facebook or Twitter. I chose Facebook and experimented with it a little. It takes quite a while to submit something to the Outerworld service (long enough that you might think it’s crashed), but you can add a personalised message and apparently even items to your image posts. Rather annoyingly, images seem to be resized to 640×360, so don’t expect to be making tons of new laptop wallpapers from in-game images, and clicking on the posts on your wall takes you straight to the Lightning Returns website, rather than showing the image. You’ll have to go into your photo albums to get a proper look at them.

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I quite like the idea of the Outerworld service (mainly because many of my Facebook friends play video games and much of my time on there is spent talking about the subject) but the execution seems a bit lacking at the moment. Hopefully with the full release we’ll be able to share larger images and do it much faster so that it doesn’t interrupt gameplay quite so much.

Regarding the game itself, this new demo is bookended by a couple of cutscenes, the first of which is a typically stunning pre-rendered intro which appears to be the opening to the game. The story begins in media res, with Lightning on the trail of Snow before the mysterious Lumina interferes. As we battle our way through Yusnaan’s palace on Snow’s trail, we eventually end up back at that same Zaltys boss battle from the EGX demo. Having dispatched Zaltys, a message appears on stage telling us that we may now encounter the enemy “in the field” and that the demo would end at 6am. Glancing at the game clock, I noticed it was 4.48am, so I wondered if the demo might give me free reign over the rest of Yusnaan for a few minutes.

Unfortunately, I rounded a corner and entered another short cutscene (in-engine this time) in which Lightning and Hope discussed Snow’s state of mind, having been living with the events of XIII-2‘s ending for centuries. Lightning teleports back to the Ark, her base of operations, and the demo comes to an end.

My impressions from EGX still stand: I really quite like it. The schemata system will probably take a few hours to really get used to, and at first I found myself trying to rush through battles without too much thought for strategy beyond spamming attacks, guarding and switching garb sets. I think this is likely down to my recent XIII-2 story run with a powerful team, where every battle was a minor inconvenience rather than a challenge. Once I forced myself to slow down and consider my options, I started to appreciate it much more. Thankfully, the game clock seems to stop while in battle, so there’s no need to feel rushed while fighting.

I also still think the Stagger Wave mechanic could be better communicated. I like that you have to try different things to see what it responds to (whether that be a specific type of magic or physical attacks), but it doesn’t seem to respond to the same things with any kind of consistency. I staggered Zaltys twice in the boss battle, the first time playing it safe, the second time going all out by throwing magic at him almost constantly, and bizarrely he seemed to stagger far slower the second time. Perhaps there’s more to it than the demo can show and more battles will expose some hidden depth in the mechanic. My main issue is that I loved the chain gauge in XIII and XIII-2. That system did the same thing and was far easier to read, so why the change?

One thing that worries me a bit more is the game seemingly beginning with little to no explanation. There is some light narration over that opening cinematic in which Lightning briefly touches on her new role as ‘the saviour’ and that seems to be about it. I’m hopeful that the full game will explain itself a bit more thoroughly, but I worry that the already-disjointed narrative between the XIII games will be taken to it’s logical conclusion here.

I’m still excited to get my hands on it though, and I think at the very least it’ll play very well. So far, all I’ve experienced has been from a single linear area, and I’m looking forward to getting out into the cities and the wilds and exploring those wide open areas. If Lightning Returns can strike a balance somewhere between Final Fantasies XIII and XIV, I’ll be pretty happy.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII hits European shores on February 14th.

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