Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Preview
Xbox 360 | PS3
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Box Art
System: PS3, Xbox 360
Dev: Square Enix
Pub: Square Enix
Release: TBA
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p
A Closer Look at Lightning Returns
by Angelo M. D’Argenio

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a controversial game. The departure from traditional Final Fantasy mechanics, such as parties and menu based combat, have caused many already jaded fans to raise their fists at their collectible plush chocobos in anger. Luckily, Square Enix said that they were going to have more answers for us at PAX East this year, so when we went to the Square Enix booth, we were excited to see that we finally got a chance… to watch a new Lightning Returns trailer. Laaaame. Well, I wasn’t going home empty handed, so I probed the Square Enix representatives at the booth for as much Lightning Returns info as possible.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Screenshot

The booth reps were surprisingly forthcoming about story details. The end of Final Fantasy XIII-2 has you facing off with Caius Ballad, a man who seeks to cause an end to time and space as we know it. After defeating him, the game heavily alludes to his survival and continued role as antagonist in the next entry of the series. Yeah, forget all that, Caius Ballad is dead. Somehow his death also kills the time-goddess Etro.

The death of Etro merges Valhalla and the world of future Pulse/Cocoon into one strange, somewhat abstract land floating in the middle of nowhere. It is now five hundred years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and humans have gained immortality; the world is dying; and the fal’Cie, strangely, are nowhere to be found. Oh yeah, the universe is about to come to an end as well.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Screenshot

It was earlier revealed that the game will operate on a thirteen day clock. Lightning has to find a way to stop the end of the world before these thirteen days are up. In a way, it actually makes the game a lot more like Dead Rising than a Final Fantasy game, and the game’s missions are similarly organized. You’ll find that you can only trigger some missions, access certain areas, and talk to certain NPCs at specific times of the day.

Certain side quests and even parts of the main story line have a time limit too, becoming unavailable or even triggering a game over should you not get to them in time. In fact, there will be certain missions that you specifically can’t do, as the game is not designed with completionism in mind. You’ll have to make tough choices at the end of the world, each choice locking off other potential paths.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Screenshot

Lightning Returns does have an Active Time Battle system, but it’s unlike anything you have seen before. First of all, it was already revealed that the system will be totally active. Lightning will have to jump, dodge, and skillfully evade her enemies’ attacks as the battle goes on. She will also switch between multiple roles in the middle of battle, much like how you switch paradigms in other installments of Final Fantasy XIII. Each role will have its own ATB bar, and switching between them will allow Lightning to remain on the offensive.

The booth reps revealed, however, that the game will have a lot more in common with action titles than with RPGs. Instead of picking your action from a menu, you simply outfit your roles with four commands, each mapped to a different face button on the controller. Pressing that button will instantly use that command, draining the ATB bar for as much as that action costs. The game will feel more like God of War or Devil May Cry than Final Fantasy. You won’t be able to fall back on button mashing, though, or else you’ll end up with an empty ATB bar and no actions to perform.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Screenshot

The stagger system from previous Final Fantasy XIII titles returns, once again rewarding you with extra damage if you manage to hit the opponent with successive magical attacks. There is also a new combat state called “knockdown” which is triggered by hitting the enemy with a particular combo. Icons representing actions you need to take are visible under your opponent’s name. Performing them all knocks the enemy down. Not a lot of info was available about this system and the booth reps were not forthcoming, though I was told that more information would be available at E3 this year.

Lightning Returns is certainly a risky move. Its open world gameplay and single player combat fly in the face of every Final Fantasy tradition we have come to know and love. Sure, shops and towns may be back, but at what cost? Final Fantasy XIII-2 didn’t sell nearly as well as Final Fantasy XIII, which itself angered the already dwindling JRPG fanbase with a host of problems. Is Lightning Returns really what JRPG fans want, or is Square desperately trying to reach out to the action gamers who have mostly ignored it since the days of NES? Only time will tell if Lightning is returning in the nick of time, or if these are Final Fantasy’s last days.

Angelo M. D’Argenio
Contributing Writer
Date: May 1, 2013

Game Features:

  • Multi-role action battle system.
  • Open world, limited time, quest based gameplay.
  • A story that finally tells us what happens to Lightning.

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