Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Shows Series Leap | Preview
A few days ago Square Enix invited us to preview a brand new build of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII; the series has been rough so far but I’m optimistic about the future. The first XIII, was far from satisfactory and I couldn’t fathom it getting worse; instead of a game FFXIII felt more like a 35 hour tutorial leading up until what we’re playing now. Admittedly I didn’t play Final Fantasy XIII-2 very much, but I could see the various improvements immediately. Despite my shallow impressions of XIII’s sequel, I could easily claim that Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns feels much more alive than any other Final Fantasy game in recent history. Lightning Returns follows a plot focused around non other than Lightning herself who is caught in a world destined to end, as shown by the game’s doomsday ticker. Lightning is essentially the Cloud Strife of the XIII saga; this lonely Lightning Returns arch puts her in a dreaded mostly single-handed adventure.
In the latest build of Lightning Returns, Lightning encounters a small Village where she speaks to someone who goes by the name of Dr. Gyshal. Lightning is in search of the “Angel of Valhalla”, a majestic white Chocobo of legend. The village itself is only about a few houses wide but it offered food, items, and probably the most interesting aspect of Lightning Returns, garb purchases.
A rebuilt fighting system broken down into Schematas rejuvenates already great combat controls FFXIII featured, one of my few praises of the series. Schematas are essentially different modes of your Paradigm Shifts, but they are now much more flexible and exclusive to Lightning — if you’re unfamiliar with the battle system of FFXIII I’ll explain soon. The Lightning Returns dev team killed two birds with one stone by linking your weapons, accessories, and power-ups to a garb based Schemata. Like Paradigm Shift you can change between your three Schemata with the tap of the solider buttons L1/LB & R1/RB, your outfit will reflect your Schemata change. All Lightning’s garbs from my hands-on time were color customizable, just what the doctor ordered for you freedom loving RPG fans.
When Lightning Arrives in the village you’re greeted by some locals who direct you to Dr. Gyshal. Visually, Lightning Returns is fantastic; the game’s presentation is enhanced by Lightning’s serious demeanor shown by the determination in her dialog. The cutscenes within the village are rendered in-engine and feel very cinematic thanks to the game’s slight bloom effect on the background visuals. That Chocobo of subject? People familiar with the XIII story believe it is the re-manifested form of Lightning’s Eidolon, Odin. Eidolons are summoned beasts that can change the course of a battle in a cinch. Before you save the white Chocobo you must defeat the Chocobo eater who the bold legendary Chocobo preys upon as its own “call of duty” to protect, that is before it got its butt handed to it.
I’ve always felt like all games are linear to some degree, Final Fantasy XIII probably was the epitome of linearity within the series. I’m beginning to believe most claims of a game being “too linear” is much more superficial than it is substantial. All games require progression. It may be easy for a developer to throw in a couple of side-missions while you’re pursuing a main quest in any RPG, but if those missions are banal and lacking in enthusiasm I’d take the superfluous but “linear” game over a dry multifaceted one. Along with the main plot, Lightning Returns offers side missions that make or may not take your interest. Like FFXIII-2, this game introduces you to vast open landmasses where you’ll encounter varied enemies, but nothing you haven’t fought before. Enemies will spawn incrementally and you have the option to influence the battle before-hand by attacking first before the real battle initiates. A first hit while in the explorable world will deduct your opponent 5-10% of their total health before you lay an ability on them, however if they attack you first the exact opposite will happen.
The ghouls and beasts you encounter may be vulnerable or insusceptible to elemental attacks such as Thunder or Froststrike so it’s wise to pay attention to the enemy profile by pressing R2/RT. The stagger system has also been modified, certain scenarios exist where simply timing a block perfectly could stagger your opponent, allowing you to ravage their HP. A balanced Schemata load out will consist of a pillar of physical attack, defense/recovery, and elemental/status infliction. Because some enemies will involve lengthy battles making use of Commando, Ravager, and Medic, classes in previous Final Fantasy games were critical; these are now gone but their fundamental attributes remain throughout the flexible Schematas Dragoon, L’ange Noir, and Red Mage, for example. Lightning Return’s battle system is based on real-time much more than previous installments. Each Schemata has it’s individual ATB gauge that determines how long and when you can attack, defend, or perform any ability linked to the current Schemata. Overclocking is new to XIII, it’s an ability that allows you to continue attacking regardless of your ATB guage. Overclocked mode does work similar however, the more ATB costly your attacks are the shorter your Overclock will last. The devs I spoke with said this new feature is earned found throughout your adventure it can’t be earned, it is to be used sparingly.
Truthfully I don’t know much about Lightning, and if you don’t either she has a game coming out in 2014. The adventure is customizable, vast, fun, and lengthy. It should let you know everything that you missed in XIII and more. I think that’s what Square Enix wanted me to take back from my preview time with Lightning Returns. We’ll wait and see if it delivers. There’s only so much you could accomplish in a world that’s set to expire in 13 days; one things for sure you better not sleep on this one.