Square-Enix recently showcased a few of their upcoming titles prior to New York Comic Con this year and I got the chance to have an intimate hands-on experience with both Thief and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
First up was Thief.
Thief is a reinvention of a classic franchise that allows players to take on the role of Garrett, The Master Thief. It is a first person action-adventure stealth game where gameplay is choice driven, whereas each level has a number of various paths and approaches which can be taken. When Garrett returns home, he finds that his hometown is now run by a tyrant known as ‘The Baron’. While ‘The City’ is infested by a plague, the rich continue to live in good fortune and Garrett intends to exploit the situation to his favor. The missions that I took for a spin were on the XBox 360, and the developers had the level filled with tons of extras to steal so that you could get the true experience of the game. So, in the final version, don’t expect to see many golden chalices or purses laying around next to beggars! Players, in turn, may use the stolen items in exchange for money to purchase supplies and equipment at the end of missions.
As I attempted to steal, guards and other townspeople (if they happened to be aware of Garrett) tried to flush Garrett out and kill him. Each one had a different means to find him and the game’s AI was at some points well aware of the level design, and therefore, knew of my potential hiding spots.
There was also a “Focus” mode, which provided several advantages. It enhanced Garrett’s vision, highlighted pipes that could be climbed or candles that could have been put out to make the area darker. Think “Detective Mode” in the Batman Arkham series. “Focus” can also slow down time, so that Garrett is able to steal more effectively while pick-pocketing. Garrett can also use “Focus” to push enemies or perform debilitating attacks. It can be further upgraded over the course of the game.
As for his weapons of choice, Garrett carries a blackjack, used to knock guards unconscious; a collapsible, compound bow, which can be used for both combat and non-lethal purposes; (and seems very advanced for the time period!) and a claw, which can be used to grapple. My demo did not utilize the latter, but I did get to cycle through various arrows in my initial play through.
Overall, it’s pretty impressive visually. It’s fun to sneak through the streets, search the rooftops, and use the peeking mechanic, which allows you to take cover behind objects likes crates and walls and glimpse around the corner or above them. Although, there were a few objects that wouldn’t allow me to take advantage of the peeking option for no apparent reason. Sometimes, the controls felt less responsive, such as when I couldn’t jump from a ledge no matter how well I set the jump up. But this was only a beta. We’ll have to see what Thief has in store when it’s finally released sometime in 2014.
Next in line was LIGHTNING RETURNS: FINAL FANTASY XIII. It is a sequel to Final Fantasy XIII-2, and takes place five hundred years after the events of that game. As Lightning, you are faced with the challenge of completing her final battle against a new deity, all while saving the souls of humanity in a doomed world. The game plays on a “doomsday clock” element, in which Lightning needs to prevent the world’s destruction within thirteen days. You are initially given seven days to explore the world, but this can be extended to thirteen days by completing side-quests. However, with only thirteen days remaining, not everyone can be saved.
After extremely lengthy conversations with Dr. Gyshal, (most of which I skipped to get to the action) Lightning’s quest was finally given, and it was to find the Angel of Valhalla. It’s an elusive white chocobo that could help her fight against a mysterious, villainous force known as Chaos. Once on my journey, I came across your standard wolves and slimy creatures, but the main boss was a Chocobo Eater. The battle system is heavily influenced by the two previous entries in the series and also enables you to control Lightning with real-time movements and attacks, as well as blocks and dodges. Though the battle system is of an action-RPG, it also has an ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge and every completed action depleted the bar. I had access to several different custom-made ‘Schemata’ that changed Lightning’s assigned skills during the fight. This included the Savior (quick elemental attacks), Dragoon (slow, powerful attacks) and L’Ange Noir (defense and healing) Schemata. The hardest part was figuring out which schemata worked best to defeat the boss…
Each Schemata had its own refillable gauge, and I could swap between Schemata and maintain constant action while allowing the other Schemata to recharge. When I ran out of ATB and couldn’t perform any actions, the gauges gradually refilled as Lightning was stationary. Also, each one is fully customizable in the menu. I was able to put together a weapon, a shield, accessories, and abilities to create different skills and attributes for battle. Some of them were imaginative, while others left very little to the imagination.
Overall, I think it’s the gameplay of Lightning Returns that makes it an interesting title. Its open world is fun to explore, and its battle system is more engaging than that of FFXIII and XIII-2. Lighting Returns is to be the concluding chapter of the overall Lightning Saga, and without any possible multiple endings created from differently branching interpretations of history, so I am curious to see how it all ends.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will hit U.S. stores on February 11, 2014 on PlayStation®3 system & Xbox 360
Thief hits U.S. stores on February 25, 2014 and will be available for PC, PlayStation®3 system, PlayStation®4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Rating Pending for both games