Final Fantasy XIII's Paradigm Shift, Gestalt Mode & MoreS

We're just a few months away from Final Fantasy XIII's release—in Japan anyway—giving Square Enix good reason to reveal more about the role-playing game's battle system. We got a look at FF XIII's goods this week at Gamescom.

Final Fantasy XIII producer Yoshinori Kitase and director Motomu Toriyama walked us through a brief demo of the game running on the PlayStation 3, a mix of in-game cinematic moments and battles in a frosty zone dubbed Lake Bilge. Before Toriyama engaged one of the monsters in a fight to the death, he made sure to give us a good look at our heroes' surroundings, a frozen cave peppered with blue and white icy spires, something the developers seemed quite proud of.

Toriyama explained that the FFXIII team exerted a great deal of effort to get the transparent and translucent properties of those materials just right, which might help explain the game's extremely long development time—or at least some portion of it.

Once in battle, Toriyama showed off the game's Active Time Battle system, which lets players queue up commands for more action oriented combat. Expect the numbers of ATB commands Lightning, Snow, Vanille and crew can put in the queue to expand as the game progresses.

We also got a look at the Paradigm Shift system, which lets the player assign class roles to each character, putting them in offensive, defensive and healing roles with names like Commando, Medic, Sentinel, and Peacemaker. It appeared that Final Fantasy XIII will let players combine the Paradigm Shift option and the Active Time Battle command queuing, letting them cruise through battles.

We also got to see Final Fantasy XIII's "Gestalt" mode in action, after protagonist Lightning summoned the giant Odin to her side. All summons will have two formations, their normal state and the action-oriented Gestalt version which, in Odin's case, was that of an ornately armored horse. The normal version of Odin will fight alongside your party, but in Gestalt, Lightning hops on and the two attack as a pair. Toriyama said that Gestalt attacks will make use of "real-time simple button commands" to help mix up the action.

You've likely already seen Snow and his paired summon Shiva's combined Gestalt mode, which features fancy girl-on-girl motorcycle tricks.

Final Fantasy XIII's Paradigm Shift, Gestalt Mode & MoreS

The developers said that part of their focus is to offer a game that is "new user friendly" but maintains a balance with the complex leveling and upgrade options that Final Fantasy fans have come to expect. Toriyama said we won't be asked to dive into the deep end with XIII, as the game will offer ample tutorials on how the game's battle system works. And don't expect to be Paradigm Shifting right away, as access to that system will be unlocked over time.

Final Fantasy XIII looked spectacular during our hands-off demo at Gamescom. Toriyama said that the subtitles and voice over work are almost complete, which hopefully means that Square Enix will make its dates of Q4 2009 in Japan and Q2 2010 elsewhere.