This is not your father’s Final Fantasy. There is no ATB, no magic, junctioning or materia, no Prelude. No job system, no battle transition and Victory Fanfare only plays after a good night’s sleep.
This is also not Kingdom Hearts. This is not a button-spam, dodge-happy, camera-crazy brawler masquerading as an RPG. In fact, it’s entirely too easy to define Episode Duscae by what it isn’t, because as a demo of a game nine years in development and generously described as “60 percent complete”, Duscae is little more than a tease.
What can we tell you? Episode Duscae is named for the region in which the demo takes place, a sprawling marshland filled with gargantuan beasts, scrappy scavengers and the occasional imperial dropship of magitek robots. With so many elements purposefully kept absent from the demo, there remains a handful of key takeaways: graphical fidelity and the stability of the game engine, the adaptation of the franchise and getting to grips with the combat mechanics.
There is one thing that is immediately apparent in the demo: Duscae looks incredible. Following on from the suffocating corridors of XIII and the roster of smartphone titles similarly for little but to discredit the brand, Duscae opens to the kind of expansive environment that feels appropriately unknown. Grass and banners twist in the wind, textures are crisp and palpable and the bestiary is as impressive as any eight-armed Gilgamesh. The landscape is convincing and intriguing to explore, and it is a joy to wander.
But the demo is not without blemishes. While the main cast and enemies are glorious, incidental humans look distinctly 360-standard, with unconvincing animation and poses that are at odds with their environment. Worse, Duscae suffers from moments of excessive slowdown, be it more understandably during some of the more evocative moments or just walking down sparse roads. How reflective the demo will be of the full game remains to be seen, but the amount and severity of slowdown is cause for concern enough.
Duscae has been “shielded” from the main storyline, save for some loading screen blurb about visiting the archaean Titan in Cauthess, a premise that is never clarified. In lieu, you’ll glean insight into the main party cast of Prompto, Gladiolus, Ignus and main character Noctis through a handful of cut scenes and a lot of incidental dialogue. Contrary to their boy band image – of which Gamestyle insists is no less ridiculous than your average Master Chief or Marcus Fenix – your compatriots are affecting company. Derived strictly from anime tropes, the work put into making them distinct shines through, from their dialogue to their running animation and mid-battle tactics.
More disappointing is the somewhat regressive Cindy, the busty open-top, short-shorts mechanic at equal ease with a CDR valve as she is with the party’s lingering gaze and staid flirting. While it remains to be seen whether there is a justifiable stance on Cindy, or indeed whether it warrants justification, as a character to stand in their own right but it is a shame that the demo approaches its close with such a step backwards after showing so much promise.
However the meat-and-potatoes of the demo are firmly in giving players their first taste of combat. An early combat tutorial gives three main instructions: hold L1 to dodge, hold square to attack and press cross to warp. Director Hajime Tabata has stated that his vision for the combat is less focused on technique selection and more on timing and spatial and environment awareness and after experiencing it firsthand, we can see the potential. While holding down square will see you through most battles, players will miss out on the flair and panache of mastering switching between evade, attacking and adjusting their weapons that are sequenced in your attack will leave you all the more satisfied. Duscae is also keen on encouraging intimate knowledge of its combat mechanics, providing as much as 250 percent additional experience for rounds with multiple parries and no damage taken. Needless to say but as we have done so excessively in this paragraph, Gamestyle is very keen on the combat. However we will make one concession to the message board dwellers; the tutorial is underwhelming and wholly inadequate.
Clearing the main demo will take approximately 120 minutes, although fully rinsing the demo brings this closer to five hours. There are a myriad of collectables, optional bosses and some hidden details when you take advantage of some of the demo’s bugs. It is a lot of money if you’re not interested in Type-0, the game in which it is exclusively bundled with, and while Gamestyle can’t necessarily recommend forking out £25 on eBay for an elusive code, Episode Duscae is a very enticing, very promising glimpse into what might be the far future. It is an ideal demo, generating little but hype. Consider Gamestyle hyped.