Archives for posts with tag: Demo impressions

Beyond: Two Souls, the latest from Quantic Dream, releases next week but today a short demo has gone live on PSN. It’s the same one that was on the show floor at last week’s Eurogamer Expo (which I briefly wrote about here), a demo I neglected to play at the time. I was waiting to experience it in the comfort of my own home. I mentioned in my EGX piece that the demo seemed overlong, yet when I sat down and played it on my own PS3, it felt quite short – perhaps it was because I wasn’t standing up, waiting for others to finish…

Read on for some (fairly in-depth) thoughts.

The demo gives you two short segments of gameplay to try: The first part, The Experiment, begins with a young Jodie playing in her room before a friendly chap in a white coat comes to collect her. Gaining control of Jodie, you can interact (using R-stick gestures) with a few things in her room, such as a guitar and a doll, and even watch a very strange cartoon on the TV. The cheerful guy keeps reminding Jodie that it’s time to go, so we head for the door.

It turns out she’s been in an observation room in a hospital, and she’s led to another, smaller room where we first meet Willem Defoe’s character Nathan, the man who will be observing the experiment. Jodie is placed in a room at a table with some cards on it, and in a connected room is a woman who has the same cards. The test is to see if Jodie can guess the card that the woman selects. Of course, Jodie has a trick up her sleeve: her connection to the spectral Aiden.

Controlling Jodie feels very similar to the studio’s past games Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain (at least, what I can remember of the latter game’s demo), but when you switch to Aiden with a tap of the triangle button, things feel a bit different: you can float around and pass through certain walls at will, though just like controlling Jodie, anything Aiden can interact with is clearly signposted.

With the correct cards chosen, Jodie is asked to try and move other things in the adjoining room, such as a stack of wooden blocks, some papers and a water bottle. In control of Aiden, you can then act in a more malevolent manner, cracking the two way mirrors, breaking the lights and even flipping over the desk. When I was watching at EGX, I saw many people also attempting to throttle the poor woman that had been taking part in the experiment, which led to the end of the scene. I wondered at the time whether this was necessary to complete the segment, but I’m glad to see that I didn’t have to do that – switching back to Jodie, I was offered an ‘X’ button prompt to end the experiment. Nathan runs in to comfort Jodie, who sits in tears with blood streaming from her nose. He tells her it’s ok, it’s over. She replies that it will never be over.

After this section ends, we meet an older Jodie in training at the CIA and it’s this section that get us used to the directional gesture-based control method. It’s essentially QTEs without prompts; the game begins an animation – say, a kick to the left – and then drops into slow motion to give you time to input the proper direction to continue. This seems to be the way that action sequences will play out, and it extends into the next segment of the demo, where we find Jodie sleeping on a train. We’re in control of Aiden, and we’re able to float up and down the carriage (and even pop outside to catch some wind and rain in the face). Aiden’s paranormal shenanigans eventually wake up Jodie – just in time for her to see police boarding the train. It’s clear they’re looking for Jodie, and she’s discovered pretty quickly. With a few flicks of the right stick, we manage to evade the officers and make it onto the top of the train, and I have to say, with a great sense of speed and some cool rain and wet clothing effects, it looks excellent.

Jodie begins to clamber along the top of the train, against the wind and stinging rain, but the cops are unwilling to give up the chase quite so easily, following her out. We get into a few scrapes, and again we’re inputting directional commands in bullet time. I’m not entirely sure I like these segments; while they’re a step up from massive prompts appearing on-screen (there are still button prompts elsewhere, but they’re fairly small and unobtrusive), it often feels like you’re hitting a direction on the stick to trigger an animation. If Heavy Rain had press ‘x’ to Jason, Beyond seems to be more move stick to progress. Still, the sequences are nicely choreographed. It just feels like you have little real control.

After escaping the train with Aiden’s help, Jodie has to run through a forest, jumping or ducking over and under tree branches, fighting dogs (with, you guessed it, directional inputs) and finally scaling a cliff. This is where the button prompts crop up, though they are mercifully low-key – small, white labels that don’t stand out too much. Again with Aiden’s help, Jodie manages to steal a police bike and speed away, and here we’re actually given direct control of the bike, with the throttle mapped to R2 and movement on the left stick. Unfortunately, we’re stuck on one road with the occasional wide left or right turn to keep us occupied. It feels a bit unnecessary really, as if the developers felt they needed to give the player full control over something, but then limited it to veering left or right across the screen. It’s like a 20th century version of the original Outrun. The segment ends when a cutscene kicks in: Jodie reaches a town, a special forces soldier shoots out her tire and she comes off the bike, scampering away injured before being surrounded by the military types that have ambushed her.

Again we’re shunted into controlling Aiden, and I’m reminded of something David Cage said during his Eurogamer Expo dev session. He said the player could switch between Jodie and Aiden whenever they want. So I press triangle. Nothing. “Help me, Aiden”, screams Jodie. I guess that’s my role for the time being then. I also recall Cage lamenting gaming’s continued reliance on non-interactive cutscenes, saying that he wanted all of Beyond‘s story to come through in gameplay, rather than have slices of game bookended by slices of video. Yet there are traditional, non-interactive cutscenes in Beyond. Hmm…

Back in the game, and we’re in a very one-sided siege scenario. It’s an injured Jodie versus a heavily-armed, heavily armoured special forces team, backed up by a helicopter. But Aiden has little respect for the laws of physics and the natural world and we quickly find ourselves throttling, possessing and otherwise harrying the assembled soldiers. In a cutscene, I spot a sniper atop a building, so as soon as I’m back in control, I make a beeline for him, hoping to possess the poor sap and take out some of his buddies. Instead, Aiden makes him jump off the roof. I guess that works too. After possessing a few more, blowing up a petrol station with a grenade and tipping some cars over, Jodie manages to use the ensuing chaos to scamper inside a theatre and barricade herself within. “Aiden, they’re coming for me!”, she shouts, so I look down on the scene from above. None of the remaining soldiers have moved. I continue to watch. They remain in position, as if waiting for something, some signal that it’s time to move in. “Aiden! You have to do something!”. I guess I’ll try and take that chopper down, then.

Using R1, I float up to the chopper’s altitude and see that the pilot is surrounded by an orange aura. This means he can be possessed (other colours are available: red means you’ll throttle them, blue means you can’t interact at all), so I hold L1 to lock onto him and move the two sticks inward. Sparks fly, the pilot’s eyes turn white. He’s mine. With a single rotation of the right stick and a press of L2, I bring the helicopter crashing out of the sky. Exploding in a ball of fire right outside Jodie’s hiding place, I manage to take out all but one of the special forces soldiers. Predictably, he’s the leader. Another cutscene. Jodie leaves the theatre and approaches the soldier, grabbing him by the collar. “Tell them to leave me the fuck alone,” she says, “because next time… I’ll kill everyone.”

With that, the demo comes to an end, and as I read back over what I’ve written, it seems like I’ve perhaps been a little harsh. I did actually very much enjoy the demo, though it was more for the characters, their performances and the story premise. I like a bit of supernatural drama, and I’m certainly intrigued to find out more about Jodie, Aiden and the link between them. The facial animation is also very impressive – certainly up there with the excellent work done by LA Noire, though mercifully without the somewhat detached-looking body animation of that game – and character’s eyes look incredibly lifelike. More studios seem to be moving toward full-body performance capture (last year’s Halo 4 used it and upcoming Xbox One exclusive Ryse also does), and it certainly leads to a very cinematic, weighty end result. It also means that the actors really get their performance across, and Beyond shines here, with Ellen Page putting an excellent shift in as Jodie Holmes, and while we don’t see Willem Defoe’s Nathan for more than a handful of seconds, I’m sure he’ll be solid too.

What does give me cause for concern is the player’s level of interaction with the gameworld. I mentioned above that if often feels like you’re simply nudging a stick to trigger the next animation (or continue an admittedly well-shot cutscene), and this is what worries me for the full game. Even when you’re interacting with items in Jodie’s room at the start, it doesn’t really feel like you’re truly interacting, more that you’re triggering little vignettes. This concern will be nothing new to fans of QD’s games of course, and it’s clear that the story and characters will be the driving force behind Beyond: Two Souls. And that’s fine; not every game has to be pure gameplay, and if I want that I’ll put Deathsmiles on. I just hope that the story can carry David Cage’s latest opus, unlike that final third of Fahrenheit. Because if the story fails to hold my interest, there’s not that much meat left on the bones to carry the experience. But so far? I’m cautiously optimistic.

ds3The Dead Space 3 demo is finally here (though it has been available for about a week for anyone brave enough to sign up to EA’s Origin service), so as a massive fan of the previous two games, I was eager to try it out. I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been quite wary regarding Dead Space 3; the initial reveal showcased a number of things I didn’t want anywhere near a Dead Space sequel, like human enemies, bro-op gunfights and cover. It’s not that I dislike these elements, but I have other games to deliver that kind of experience for me.

I thought I’d be massively hyped for a new Dead Space by now (the last one ended up being my favourite game of 2011, after all), but instead I’ve found myself worryingly indifferent to the game – everything I saw of it seemed to be moving away from what I wanted, so I just stopped paying attention and decided to ignore everything until I could play it myself. While this had the intended effect of allowing me to bypass both the hype and the inevitable internet hate-storm, it also meant I began to care less and less.

But it’s almost upon us, and I can ignore it no longer. Luckily for me, the demo downloaded nice and quickly from Xbox Live and I was able to try the game out for myself and at least attempt to come to some kind of conclusion…

The demo opens with our haunted former space mechanic Isaac Clarke regaining consciousness, seemingly in the cockpit of a ship. Seeing as he wakes upside-down, it’s safe to assume he’s crashed that ship. Isaac frees himself and crawls out of the wreckage to find himself in an arctic waste with metallic debris all around. Fires rage from the wreck as cold winds blow flurries of snow all around reducing visibility to a few metres. I’m initially struck by a comparison to the snowy mountain level in Jake and Sherry’s campaign in Resident Evil 6, except not as awful – while visibility is low here, we can still actually see enough of what lies ahead to not be completely snowblind. Isaac resolves to find rest of his crew. His crew? We know Dead Space 2‘s Ellie makes a return and we certainly know about soldier new boy Carver, but could there be more companions for Isaac this time around? Hmm…

As we make our way through the snow-covered heights, Necromorphs make their first appearance early on. It’s no big surprise or shock when they do arrive, and due to the amount of ammo the demo loads you up with, they’re no match for Isaac. As I reload, I notice the ammo seems to be universal, usable for all weapons. I’m not sure what to make of this just yet – it could be a rare instance of streamlining that proves useful, but it could also erode some of the inventory management you expect from a survival horror. I mentioned Resident Evil 6 before, and I’m reminded of that game yet again as we make our way around a cliff edge. As Isaac tries to clamber over a truck that hinders his path, it unsurprisingly starts to fall over the precipice. Isaac survives the section with some QTEs which seem a bit more heavy-handed than I remember seeing in either of the previous Dead Space titles – wasn’t the only use of QTEs before to shake off the Swarmers? Perhaps there were more and I’m simply forgetting them? Either way, the prompts here aren’t terrible, but the section could just as well have been a cutscene.

We eventually find ourselves in a large snow-blanketed courtyard area with a large metal platform creating a wall to our left. Carver appears above and shouts for Isaac to make his way to the command centre before spinning to fire as necromorphs converge on his location. Ducking into a small room to power the generator, Isaac activates a lift to reach the platform Carver was on. As we slowly ascend, we are attacked by a large, insectoid monstrosity with spidery legs that tears the lift from the wall. Flinging Isaac back down to the ground, it shapes for a fight, and a few throws of stasis and a few shots at its glowing orange weak spots see it off, but not before it helpfully creates a path up to the platform. Thanks, undead spider freak. On the other side of the wall is a monstrosity of a different sort; our first glimpse of human enemies. Ok, so it’s not that bad – it’s actually a three-sided battle between Unitologists, Necromorphs and Isaac, and the Necros convert our human foes into their own kind very quickly, meaning we don’t really get a feel for fighting human opponents.

As Isaac makes his way through the mining facility, we come face to face with a (hopefully) dead example of the spider creature we fought a few moments ago, suspended from the ceiling and numbered, and from the trench painstakingly dug out beneath him, it seems someone has been engaging in a spot of archaeology. What are they looking for, I wonder? Not a Marker, the pit is far too shallow. Hmm, mysteries… But mysteries we don’t have long to ponder, as we face a new enemy. This one is a… well, it’s a head. An evil bloody head that screams like a banshee and attaches itself to any chunk of flesh it can, regardless of limb capacity. It’s certainly an annoying little bugger; by the time you’ve reduced the body it’s in to a limbless torso, it’s already jumped to another, so you’ll have to catch it out in the open and finish the parasite off for good. Do NOT let these things jump at you, unless you wish to see Isaac’s head replaced with a new one.

After this encounter, we stumble from the darkness out onto the snowy cliffs again, in time to witness a beautiful yet incredibly creepy vista of the bright, orange sun setting over Tau Volantis, with an enormous bony Necromorph structure that looks to be about the same size as the final boss from the original Dead Space. It looks like a great, grotesque bone dragon, like some twisted, mutated dragon skeleton from Skyrim, only hundreds of times bigger, though thankfully it appears to be frozen in ice and snow. This towering monument serves as the backdrop to our second three-way battle, as a squad of Unitologists retreat from the Necromorph onslaught. This time, it’s easy to stand back and wait for a winner (that’ll be the Necros, then) to be decided before picking off the stragglers and making your way through the door that the hideous mutants burst from.

Inside, we find a large circular hall, and a huge drill that is being obstructed by two security gates that we need to free with kinesis. The idea is to move the gigantic drill bit so that we can get through to the passage beyond it, but of course, nothing ever goes to plan in Isaac Clarke’s world. As we set the drill free, the circular pit enters lockdown and the drill spins up murderously, following Isaac in a wide circle around the room. Obviously, we need to escape, and to do so we’ll need to hit the drill with stasis a few times to have an opportunity to take out its fuse, hidden in the centre of the whirring drill blades. Of course, while we’re trying to slow the drill and get a few shots off, we’re assaulted by wave upon wave upon wave (no exaggeration) of clawing undead mutants. They certainly know when best to strike, the clever bastards! It’s best to thin the herd a little before taking a pop at the drill, lest the variety pack of Necromorphs keep clawing at both your face and attention. We need to hit the drill three times, degrading its condition further each time, to open up the path before us, and it’s a pretty frantic, enjoyable section; you need to stay out of the path of the increasingly erratic drill bit, evade or take out necromorphs, and try and hit the fuse all at once. It’s good fun, and brought back positive memories of the Event Horizon-influenced engine section that was featured in the demo of Dead Space 2.

As we make our way outside, pulse steadily dropping from the frantic scenes beforehand, we find Carver outside crouching infront of us in a rather peculiar way. There’s a battle going on that he seems to be uninterested in – a bug perhaps? Ignoring Carver’s strange crouching, we notice that there’s another guy too, and he’s on our side. Who the hell is this guy? Well, we have no time to ponder Mystery Dude’s identity, as a sleek dropship swoops in to land troops, and Unitologists take up positions. This time, there are no Necromorphs to distract either side, so a cover-based gunfight erupts. I pull the left trigger to hug a wall, click right stick to crouch behind a crate and start to return fire. Dimly, I realise that I’m not hating this, but I’m not particularly enjoying it either; it’s just kind of… happening. It’s not that the cover shooting is poorly implemented here, but my idea of Dead Space is not hiding behind a box taking potshots at other people hiding behind other boxes on the far side of an arena – it just doesn’t work here, not for me. The untilogists also seem to take a good few shots – I headshot one three times with the Plasma Cutter before he goes down, which just seems to go against everything we expect from Dead Space. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate fighting unitologists.

Blessedly, the gunfight doesn’t last long as that enormous bony ice-dragon thing we spied from the cliff earlier appears to devour all of our pious foes. It almost gets Isaac too, and as our protagonist scrambles to his feet to face the nightmare, the demo draws to a close.

I wish I could say for sure whether I liked or disliked this demo. I’m struggling to work out quite what I thought of it. The setting feels pleasingly in-universe, in that it feels like a place that might exist in Dead Space‘s canon, but I just don’t really like the snowy setting very much – I’ve always been a fan of Dead Space‘s dark, gritty industrial settings, though the more ornate areas in Dead Space 2 also impressed, such as the Church of Unitology’s place of worship on the Sprawl – that worked because the church itself was incredibly creepy, a strange amalgam of gothic architecture and HR Giger, and the primary school was just all kinds of wrong. But a snowy planet with some mining equipment doesn’t unsettle me in quite the same way. I’m hoping that it’s just poor choice for a demo section, but the second game’s demo started off incredibly creepy, in the frosty, cramped cryo bay area. As things stand, I’m a little worried that the snowy wastes of Tau Volantis will make up the majority of the game.

As I said above, I know for sure that I hated fighting the Unitologists, at least in this demo – it remains to be seen if the full game will differ in this regard. Hiding behind boxes and taking pot shots at distant enemies just feels too out of place for Dead Space, and the experience undermines what we expect from our weaponry; Dead Space fans know the Plasma Cutter as a deadly tool of strategic dismemberment, so seeing it take three headshots to down a human foe immediately downgrades it to futuristic pea-shooter. I don’t recall seeing any dismemberment from human enemies either – from what I could see, they just dropped dead, all in one piece. This doesn’t disappoint me because I’m a bloodthirsty maniac that needs to see limbs flying off in all directions, but because it doesn’t feel right within the gameworld.

Having said all that admittedly negative stuff, there are positives. The mini-boss battle partway through the demo gave me hopes that elsewhere in the game we might see some heart-in-mouth encounters like the necromorph boss in DS2 that tries to kill Isaac on the train, and boss battles have long been a Dead Space highlight for me. Likewise, the use of both kinesis and stasis are as enjoyable as ever, and the drill set-piece was a fantastic few minutes of frantic, slightly panicky fun. I didn’t mention the new Bench that allows you to create your own gun combinations (I welded a Line Gun to a Plasma Rifle, both of which can be operated independently), which should open up more avenues for personalisation and tactical play. The issue of universal ammo, I’m not sure what to make of – it should mean never running out of ammo for your favourite gun, but will it detract from the inventory management minigame at the heart of a good survival horror? Only time will tell.

I think it’s a given that I’ll be buying Dead Space 3. I like the story, the universe and the mysteries too much to just ignore it completely. But I’m undecided whether I’ll be buying it on day one. I’d hoped this demo would sway me one way or another, but I just can’t make up my damn mind about it.

As part of yesterday’s weekly PSN content update, a demo of WayForward’s Silent Hill: Book of Memories was made available for Vita owners. So, being a big fan of Konami’s psychological horror series, I decided to check it out…

Now, if I’m being honest, I’ve not been looking forward to this game at all, despite (or perhaps because of) my love for… well, at least the first four games of the series. Everything we’ve seen so far suggested that Book of Memories is a top-down, multiplayer, Silent Hill-flavoured hack n’ slash. I expected to hate it. So, after playing through the hour-long demo in bed last night (where else?), I was quite surprised to find that I actually quite enjoyed the experience.

You start off by creating your character build, choosing from a bunch of presets such as ‘preppy’, ‘goth’, ‘jock’, etc, and then customising their appearance. There’s not a massive amount of choice to be had, but perhaps that’s down to it being a demo. You can choose a stat-boosting symbol, name your character, and then the game begins.

It starts, as these things often do, with a cutscene. It’s your character’s birthday, and he or she is greeted at the door to their appropriately dingy apartment by a slightly creepy mailman, who proceeds to deliver a package to you… from Silent Hill. As he turns to leave, he wishes you happy birthday. How did he know..? Inside the package is a book, a book that contains detailed accounts of all of your character’s memories (hence the title, I guess…). Your character, being the typical horror-media chap or chapesse they are, is obviously curious about what might happen were they to rewrite their own memories…

Apparently, doing so causes you to awaken in the series’ Otherworld. The first thing that struck me is that, graphically, it doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as some of the screenshots we’ve seen so far would suggest. Granted, it’s not going to win any beauty pageants, but it’s perfectly acceptable; the rooms are decorated with an array of items and debris, and the lighting looks quite nice, with your torch occasionally throwing some nice shadows onto environmental objects. The music is also pretty decent so far, (actually reminding me of a dungeon crawler on Windows Phone called The Harvest), and I’m fairly sure the title theme is sung by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. Either way, it sounds suitably Silent Hill-ish.

It soon becomes apparent that the game is essentially a dungeon crawler set in the Silent Hill universe, and while it probably wouldn’t be a vastly different game without the license, I appreciate the nods to Konami’s franchise on display here; The Order is mentioned in a couple of collectible notes, and Silent Hill 3‘s Valtiel pops up at the start of each floor to give you an extra mission to accomplish for rare loot. The basic structure revolves around exploring each floor, filling out the map as you go, battling enemies, collecting loot (such as ‘memory residue’, the game’s currency which is usable in the shops you’ll find on each floor), and finding your way to the challenge rooms that will grant you the items needed to complete the floor’s puzzle and progress onto the next one.

The Order is represented in some of the game’s discoverable notes.

Challenge rooms are fairly self-explanatory: you’re given a requirement to meet, and doing so rewards you with a puzzle piece (a number of which you need to collect to beat the puzzle at the floor’s end). Unfortunately, in this demo, all the challenges seem to be minor variations on a theme – that theme being ‘kill everything in the room’. You might have to accomplish that in a time limit, or do so without losing a certain percentage of HP, but killing everything is still the order of the day. Hopefully this will be expanded in the final game.

All this monster murdering brings me nicely onto the subject of combat. Well, it’s at least functional: you can hold either one small weapon in each hand (say, a knife and a pistol) or a large one (steel pipe, anyone?) in both hands, and you use them by pressing square or triangle, dependant on the hand. There is a rudimentary combo system, so the game tells me, but I couldn’t manage to get the timing right to string together more than two or three hits. Apparently, doing so activates… something. I don’t know what that something is, as I never managed it. Holding circle blocks, and also allows you to dodge with the stick, while the left shoulder button is used for enemy lock-on. As I said, it’s all very functional, and it’s mildly entertaining in a button-mashy sort of way. To be fair to WayForward, combat has never been a strong point, or indeed a design focus, of the Silent Hill series, and the ease of movement in Book of Memories makes it a less frustrating component. This being a dungeon crawler, combat also provides you with XP, allowing you to level your character, upping his or her stats as you go.

The character/stats screen.

I mentioned end-of-floor puzzles before, and at this stage they’re pretty rudimentary, offering challenges such as ‘put these four things in order of size’. The demo appears to offer the first ‘zone’ of the game, comprising two dungeon floors and a dungeon boss, which is essentially an arena battle against a massive, fire-breathing demon. Like the puzzles, the boss is pretty easy to fell, so I’m hoping progress through the game will yield more challenging puzzles and bosses, and more variety in the challenge rooms.

So, a Silent Hill dungeon crawler. Is it blasphemy to say “it works”? I don’t know. In general, I’m all for long-standing franchises branching out and showing a little variety (so long as it’s still enjoyable), and despite the fact that the genre of Book of Memories is so far removed from what we expect from the series, it does retain a little of that Silent Hill mystery. That is communicated most effectively by the ‘Forsaken Rooms’ – rooms that are at odds with the general Otherworld appearance of the rest of the dungeon that supposedly hold abandoned traumatic memories within them. These will only appear in single-player mode, and have three outcomes – neutral, dark and light. Your actions will determine which you get. There’s only one in this demo, and it’s not immediately clear what is going on, which makes me want to press on and find out more – usually the hallmark of a good SH experience, in my book.

Forsaken rooms offer a rare change of perspective.

Speaking more generally about single-player, it certainly has a degree of that typically lonely, somewhat-claustrophobic atmosphere that a good Silent Hill game has in spades, and exploring to fill out your map, while mechanically different in this version, is as engaging as it’s ever been. Obviously, this will all be somewhat diminished when playing in a party with others, and I think that’s where the majority of complaints will be focussed.

But as a lonely, single-player experience, I think this game might just work out pretty well. The structure lends itself to handheld play very nicely, and there’s just enough of the Silent Hill DNA threaded through this demo to justify the name on the box. Before this little sampler came along, my interest level in Book of Memories was skimming the baseline. Then the shopkeeper said, “They look like monsters to you?”

I might just be sold.

If you’ve read this blog before, it will be apparent that I’m a massive Final Fantasy fan. I’ve also mentioned that I’m frothing at the mouth while waiting for the Western release of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Square-Enix’s FF-themed rhythm-action prod-and-swipe-’em-up, and there’s now a demo available to try out on the store.

The first thing you’re likely to notice is that the demo is limited to thirty uses. Quite why Nintendo feels the need to do this I don’t know, but there you have it. When you get into the demo proper, you’ll find two songs available to try out, one each across two different modes. These two modes are Battle Music Stage (BMS) and Field Music Stage (FMS).

In BMS mode, your party of four chibi Final Fantasy heroes, standing on the right of the screen as is customary, do battle against a succession of iconic enemies from across the Final Fantasy series. Your enemy appears on the left of the screen, and so far I’ve seen Tonberries, Behemoths, and even the scorpion-like Manasvin Warmech from the early hours of Final Fantasy XIII.

Each of your characters has a note lane, upon which certain ‘triggers’ (notes) fly toward your heroes. There are three different types of trigger, and despite the lanes, it doesn’t matter where on the screen you tap to activate them. The first trigger is simply called a ‘touch trigger’, and it’s activation is pretty self-explanatory – simply tap in time as it arrives at the circle in front of the character. The second type is the ‘slide trigger’. These triggers have an arrow in their centre, and must be activated by swiping your stylus in the desired direction when it reaches the circle. You’ll often find these combined with the third type, ‘hold triggers’. As the name suggests, for these you must tap at the first note, and hold until the second, releasing the stylus if it’s a normal trigger, or swiping off if it’s a slide trigger.

In BMS, hitting these notes results in an attack upon the enemy, who will be defeated and replaced by the next if you’re doing well. Miss, and the enemy will lash out and deal damage to your HP bar, residing in the upper-right corner. Lose all HP and you’ll fail the stage. The piece of music offered in battle mode is ‘The Man with the Machine Gun’, which fans will recognise as Laguna’s battle theme in Final Fantasy VIII, and it’s certainly the more difficult of the two songs on offer, owing mainly to its tempo. There are three difficulty modes on offer – Basic, Expert and Ultimate. Expert took me two attempts to get through. Ultimate destroyed me in under ten seconds. I’m yet to manage an S-rank on either stage, so there’s plenty of scope for replayability.

The second mode available in the demo, Field Music Stage, is essentially your world map traversal. One character at a time takes turn in walking across a location (rather charmingly swinging their sword as they go), and the gameplay is essentially the same, with one slight difference; hold triggers here aren’t straight lines but wavy, with extra notes along the curves which you have to slide your stylus up and down to hit. Missing triggers here causes your hero to stumble and fall, chipping away at your HP until another character takes their place. The stage and music for FMS is FFXIII’s Sunleth Waterscape, and it’s a bit more sedate than Laguna’s battle music – I even managed to get through it on Ultimate.

There’s one more feature to mention which appears in both modes, though with a different effect in each. From time to time, a string of silver triggers will appear, and this is called the Feature Zone. Hitting all notes in these sequences will result in something that helps you out; for instance, a summon attack in BMS or a golden chocobo to speed you along in FMS. The full game will also have a third mode, called Event Music Stage, which consists of a cutscene with trigger commands overlaid – we’ve previously seen the ballroom scene from Final Fantasy VIII in a trailer, and it should serve as a nice new way to enjoy those iconic scenes.

The demo is beautifully presented throughout, and while not a technical triumph, it’s a gorgeous-looking game. The super-deformed heroes are adorable, and the recreation of the Sunleth Waterscape is very nice indeed, with a pleasing amount of depth in the scrolling background with 3D engaged. The game does of course suffer from the same issue as similar games though, meaning you can’t really appreciate the backgrounds and character actions as you’re so focused on your note chart. This is a minor gripe however.

Another nice touch is the nonsensical, though generally humourous sentences concocted by your party before stages.

The full game is out in less than two weeks, and promises to feature over 70 songs from across the Final Fantasy canon to get to grips with. I’ve had my pre-order in place for quite some time, and now I’m looking forward to it even more. Something tells me I’ll be going through those 30 demo activations in a matter of days!

If you’ve seen little of this game and passed it off as some bizarre Japanese-focused curio, make sure to at least check out the demo. After all, it’s free. If you’re a fan of both Final Fantasy and rhythm-action games, well, it’s a no-brainer.