Final Fantasy XIII

Character matters

Witnesses to the E3 trailer have noted that Lightning, the game's svelte heroine, may just represent the first-ever central female character of the main, numbered line of Final Fantasy games. While the protagonist status of Lighting has not yet been confirmed, it would seem to make sense in light of the fact that the game's director also worked on Final Fantasy X-2, which prominently featured three women as the only playable characters.

Mr. 33 cm, *wink wink*

Mr. 33 cm, *wink wink*

Lightning wields a gun sword, similar to Squall of Final Fantasy VIII fame. Few details about other characters have been released since then, but developers have mentioned a rough-and-tumble male that may be the focal character of Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Tetsuya Nomura, a Square Enix character designer, has referred to this character simply as "Mr. 33 cm" (a reference to his shoe size), but it is not known whether he will appear in more than one of the Fabula Nova Crystallis games. Little else is known about him, other than that he has a "cowboy-like" wild personality and employs a humorous combat style.

On the other side of character design, enemies in the game are said to be appropriate to their setting. The idea of limitless, faceless fiends that have pervaded the rest of the series may be chucked, as the developers have claimed that enemies will be distinct, with their own histories.

Engines of war

FF XIII will be built on the company's proprietary White Engine, which is tooled to render animated sequences specifically using the PS3's Cell processor. The result? Nearly pre-rendered quality graphics in real time. There were rumors that Square Enix had abandoned this engine after the company licensed Epic's Unreal Engine 3, which would have most certainly alleviated the rising costs of next-gen game development. However, these rumors have since been fully debunked. In any case, high graphical expectations are set for the game's final release, as the company has had a history of pushing new consoles to new limits with this particular series.

The Active Time Battle system (ATB), a Final Fantasy mainstay, will make a return, though it has been revamped to accommodate a faster-paced style of gameplay. When a player's turn arrives, he will be able to input commands that can be blended together. For example, rather than just slashing, the player can make a stab and slash combination, which will be animated seamlessly.

This game might actually allow you to *cough cough* ride Shiva. Vroom vroom.

This game might actually allow you to *cough cough* ride Shiva. Vroom vroom.

Enemy encounters have also been refined into something yet unseen: again the series eschews the random battles, opting for a smoother process akin to FF XII's map-roaming enemies, but the result will not be quite as free-form. Players will be able to modify the conditions of the battle before engaging, perhaps using a trap system similar to the Xenosaga series. Players will once again be able to encounter and utilize the graphical fanfares known as summons, but they will have a tweaked role this time around. Shiva, for example, will be able to transform into a motorcycle, possibly to be ridden by the protagonists.

With gorgeously refined graphics, a new gameplay slant towards action and speed, and the plot benefits of pre-planned multiple releases, FF XIII is shaping up to continue the series' trend of benchmark-setting games. However, since its release has been pushed back to April 2008 at the earliest, series fans still have a long time before the next-gen fantasy is finalized.

Still, there are plenty of Final Fantasy releases (e.g. Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, Final Fantasy Tactics: The Lion War, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, etc...) to keep them away from reality's reach in the mean time. Let's just hope that the Fabula Nova Crystallis series will not be subject to the same delays that plagued its predecessor, Final Fantasy XII.

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