Hands-on previews of Final Fantasy XIII in Edge and the UK Official PlayStation Magazine have torn the wraps off the game's battle system for the first time.
The magazines visited Square Enix's offices in Japan, where they interviewed the developers and were allowed to play the demo that will be distributed with the Blu-ray release of the Advent Children film in Japan later this month.
Edge - which describes the FFXIII as "the best-looking game on PlayStation 3 yet" - says that the battle system eschews FFXII's real-time programmable parties in favour of an evolution of FFX's more traditional Active Battle System.
Magic and Action points are out, with time being the main resource spent on moves. A character's time gauge is now split into three segments. Weaker spells and abilities will use one of these segments, while more powerful ones will use two or all three. You can therefore queue up multiple moves per character per turn, and there's a suggestion that the number of time segment commands might increase as your characters level up.
Timing can also be used to maintain combos between characters, with their attacks flowing into each other; a good combo will trigger a high-damage "Break Mode". Your performance after each battle is ranked from one to five stars, something the developers told OPM would affect gameplay.
Battles aren't random, although Edge noted that it was difficult to avoid the groups of enemies on the tightly constrained paths in the demo. The demo takes place on a series of futuristic walkways and suspension bridges beneath the hanging city of Cocoon (which sounds like the environment depicted in the recent trailer). The area is called Pulse, an under-city inhabited by rejects and outcasts.
Regarding storyline, the previews contain few details, but producer Yoshinori Kitase suggested to Edge that it would follow multiple characters along multiple threads, rather than merely focusing on poster girl Lightning.
"This is a story that's told from multiple points of view and we have whole chapters of the game that are devoted to a single character and his or her story," Kitase said.
"In that sense, it plays out in a similar way to Dragon Quest IV, taking the perspective of multiple characters, walking with them through their adventures before seeing how these stories come together and intertwine for the climax of the game."
We'll bring you our own impressions of the demo as soon as we can get our hands on it. Final Fantasy XIII is due out for PS3 in Japan before the end of the year, with and American and European release on PS3 and 360 to follow.