Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Attacks In Fast-paced Style
In October last year, we got a chance to have a hands-on with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, of which we covered with some impressions. In summary, the game is much faster paced than previous instalments in the series known as “Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy” (that’s one long series title, even by Final Fantasy standards). We have a return to the titular character of Lightning, considered by many fans of the genre to be a bland and lifeless clone of Cloud, in female form. There were arguments that the previous titles in the XIII series were far too linear and that the battle system was merely fully automated with little consideration for actual gameplay. Things, however, have changed with the latest game with Lightning Returns focusing solely on Lightning in battles. Gone is the party system of the previous games in the series.
Name: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Developers: Square Enix, tri-Ace
Publishers: Square Enix
Release Date: 14 February
Price: R660 (PS3, Xbox 360)
The result is that Lighting Returns is a slightly altered beast than its predecessors, and attempts to address the criticisms leveled at the first two games. The battle system this time is far more action-oriented and fast-paced than one initially expects, promising a far more open world than previously seen and Lighting now has the ability to freeze time (called Chronostasis). A central mechanic of the game is that the game’s events take place within a certain period of time.
Five hundred years have passed since the ending of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lighting, the main character in the first game and key to the second, has now awoken from hibernation thirteen days before the end of the world. She is tasked with saving humanity, the world as well as former friends and allies. The worlds of the two previous games, Gran Pulse and the Unseen Realm are fused together to form Nova Chrysalia. Two opposing religions dominate this landscape, that of: The Order who worship Bhunivelze and the rebel cult called the Children of Etro who worship the Goddess. The world of Nova Chrysalia will be dominated by four regions each with a different mood or environment. All of this will be contained within a greater open world than in previous titles in the series.
Other characters do make a return with Hope aiding Lightning through a communicator. Snow, following the death of Serah his fiancee and Lightning’s sister, chooses to become the leader of the Yusnaan. Vanille gains the power to hear the voices of the dead and Noel from the second game has become a vigilante due to his own guilt. The game mysteriously also introduces a new character named Lumina who is the splitting image of Serah and taunts and aids Lightning throughout the whole game.
With Lightning Returns, the developers Square Enix aided by tri-Ace (who helped in the graphical department), have decided to make the game more open world. A player can navigate through the open world, explore towns, different environments and complete NPC-given sidequests. The time mechanic mentioned previously will play into the in-game clock which runs continuously as you make your way through the world. Essentially one day in-game equates to one hour of real time. The game has a timer which starts out with seven in-game days, but can be expanded to a maximum of thirteen days. When the in-game clock hits 6 AM, Lightning returns to a place known as the Ark, where time stands still.
In the Ark, Lightning can give spiritual energy known as Eradia to a tree known as Yggdrasil, this as a result extends the duration of the in-game clock. Lightning receives Eradia after completing sidequests in the game. Due to the in-game clock certain quests can only be received at particular times, meaning all the NPCs are always on the go and will only show up at definite location within a timeframe. Quests themselves are connected to Lightning’s own character progression as she gains experience from quests, stat boosts, with even bigger character boosts from story quests.
The battle system has been changed quite a bit as well. Lightning has various levels of abilities, or tiers if you will, similar to the Paradigm Shift system of the previous games but now more compact. No longer is it a case of stacking attacks and playing the game in a sort of “auto-battle” mode. Rather all your attacks are mapped to the face buttons of your controller, and when used drain your ability meter (ATB meter). When that meter is consumed you change to a different tier of abilities and continue to battle on. These tiers are connected to different costumes which Lightning can change into and gain new abilities, with some of the primary ones based on melee, magic and defense.
The new battle system is called the Style-Change Active Time Battle system and is a combination of the Active Time Battle-based Paradigm system from the previous two games and the dress sphere system from Final Fantasy X-2. There will be several customisable outfits to choose from in battle, which means that you can change up your strategy since you no longer have a party to support Lightning in battle. Not everything has changed, enemies will still appear in an open world, where you can avoid them if you so choose. Although time does affect the number of monsters on the map, with more appearing during the night. Eventually if you kill all the standard enemies on the map, the boss will appear.
In battle, when changing costumes Lightning has a number of swords, shields and magic attacks at her disposal which helps her to thwart a range of enemy attacks. She can also block and evade enemy attacks with her shield too. Much of these functions can be, or are, assigned to her various items of clothing. Once again, each enemy has a stagger meter, represented as a line behind their health bar, that if you attack the enemy from behind you can stagger them and have an advantage in battle. On top of this, Lightning can spend Energy Points to perform special moves, and activate abilities. These include one special move that slows down time, where Lightning can land more hits on enemies, and even Army of One in which Lightning can distract enemies with a decoy.
At the end of each battle, Lighting earns some of the in-game currency and replenishes some of her HP, instead of using store bought potions.
Visually, from what can be seen in recent gameplay footage, Lightning Returns looks far better than the demo we played last year October. Everything looks crisp and there’s a level of polish to the environments, characters and landscapes that one would expect from Square Enix. The music, once again, looks to be top notch stuff and is something I doubt Square Enix could entirely screw up. The quality of the voice acting for the English translation cannot be evaluated at this moment in time, but from experiences in previous games it may be a hit-and-miss affair.
Suspected Selling Points
- Lightning Returns seems to address many of the criticisms leveled at the previous games.
- Battles appear to be fast-paced and lively, with a unique combination of battle systems.
- The game has an open world that may appeal to fans who criticised the game for being linear.
- There is a level of visual polish in the game that is very enticing.
- Lightning Returns rids itself of the traditional Final Fantasy party system, in favour of a solo battle system with Lightning as the focus.
- The game is far more fast-paced than previous games, and may not bode well with old school fans.
- The story feels a tad laboured and mundane.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII has a lot going on, and is the conclusion to the often criticised Final Fantasy XIII series. If you’re a fan of the series and liked the direction Square Enix has taken with the Final Fantasy franchise then you should definitely give this game a look. Otherwise, you should wait for reviews to surface before considering this a purchase.