The RPG uses a cutesy character design style similar to the Final Fantasy III and IV remakes, but Square Enix created a unique look for this with the use of bright colors and flat, untextured space, which gives the whole presentation a cartoon vibe. In screenshots, the environments may not look great, but in motion the simple graphics are quite effective. All the backgrounds are done in 3D, including the world map (remember world maps?) which has a gentle curve to suggest that it's a tiny planet. The bouncy retro-ish feel is augmented by some wonderful chiptune background music.
You control a party of four Light Warriors -- basically anonymous (until you name them) characters in four classes who have been charged with saving the kingdom or whatever. Classes can change throughout the game through the switching of hats (similar to the job system in Final Fantasy III or the Dress Sphere system in the underrated Final Fantasy X-2). I wasn't able to find any hats during my short demo, so I have no first-hand experience with the haberdashery.
I walked straight out of town onto the world map, and into a couple of random battles (remember random battles?) My party took on some cute enemies called "Jack o'Lanterns," using the simple turn-based interface. Basically, the party has the standard options, but with some differences. Magic and special attacks are mapped to empty slots underneath the standard fight/item/etc. slots, and have "charge" requirements in the form of up to five little circular icons. In my first battle, everyone had one, and thus couldn't use magic. Instead of MP, characters have to "charge" for a turn in order to build up points that can then be used for magic and skills. It didn't matter so much in the first battle, as "fight" took care of the Jack o' Lanterns easily enough, but in later battles, I had to juggle charging and magic in order to stay on the offensive while keeping everyone healed.
In the most Dragon Quest-like touch found in the game, the bottom screen maintains a running commentary of the battle. "JC attacks! Jack O'Lantern takes 4 damage. Jack O'Lantern is defeated!" I must admit to being charmed by that superfluous, nostalgic element. I'll probably like it more when (if) it's in a language I actually understand.
I entered a cave to the north (of course), which housed a small dungeon -- so small, in fact, that I ran into a boss called the Minotaurus in roughly the second room. This boss really tested my charge management. The surprisingly tough first boss required me to keep enough of a charge not only for two of my characters to cast Fire, but also for someone to have access to Cure. I got just far enough in the fight to get the Minotaurus really angry, at which point he turned red and began attacking more frequently, and that's where the demo ended: with my whole party floating into the sky as adorable ghosts.
Just because it's simple doesn't mean the game's easy. Either that or I'm terrible at it. Final Fantasy Gaiden will be out next month in Japan, and no announcements have been made for North America or Europe, but don't be too shocked when it's localized, like every Final Fantasy game.