Sony had a novel way of controlling the crowds. While the PS3 and Vita play areas were open and free-roaming for spectators (the PS4 area, less so), in order to play you had to request a ticket for a specific title and then wait in line. This certainly helped corral the masses, and it actually made some games easy to access. For example, I had to wait all of thirty seconds to get a chance at Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (as opposed to the fifteen minute wait at the Square Enix area). I even went back the next day, again with no wait time at all.
The demo begins by dropping Lightning at the edge of a farming settlement. There is no explanation, no directions, no clear goals. There's just an arrow to guide the player in a vague direction, and no reason at all to follow it. It's just as easy to roam across the broad grasslands around the farm, check out some ruins, watch the monorail as it passes overhead, then whomp on some blue slimes for good measure.
And that's about all I did on my second time through the demo. On the first try, I talked to everyone in town and learned a few things, like how Lightning is looking for something or someone called the Angel of Valhalla and that she needs a ride. Following the merry arrow all the way led me to a nasty critter called the Chocobo Eater, which was about to make a meal out of a lovely white riding bird. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take Mr. Ugly down before my time was up, but I put a good effort in.
Unlike every other demo I've played here, this one doesn't seem to care which way the player goes. True, there's an obvious storyline event to aim for, but it's just as easy to take side-quests from NPCs or ignore it entirely. When I think about it, this may be the point Square Enix is trying to make here. There was no gaming corridor, no railroading, no excessive handholding. There was just the game, and it was nice.
Now on to the nitty-gritty: the battle system. Lightning is a one-woman army in this game, as she can swap out costumes and skill sets easily with the L/R buttons. The three costumes I saw had their own strengths and weaknesses against various monsters, as well as their own ATB counters. Every action used up a few points on the ATB, but the gauge recovered pretty quickly while Lightning was switched to a different costume. It was a far cry from the first XIII's battle system, which some might be happy with. Within battle, Lightning had a limited range of movement, as she was oriented on her target at all times, but at least I didn't have to worry about aiming all the time.
I wasn't sure what to expect here, given the two wildly divergent styles of its predecessors. My hope is that Lightning Returns manages to split the difference and make good on the adage "the third time's the charm." Better late than never, right?