The lights are on
Last week at a New York Comic Con event, Square Enix gave us hands-on time with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Following our brief play through of the trilogy's conclusion, we sat down with producer Yoshinori Kitase and game design director Yuji Abe.
Lightning Returns takes a sharp detour from the traditional turn-based play found in the previous entries. Lightning is alone on her quest, and the development team has worked hard to both open up the world and speed up the battle system.
Once in battle, Lightning has access to three assigned "schemata." Each offers four different abilities mapped the face buttons. Using the right trigger during battle pulls up information on the current foe, including weaknesses and resistances. This list is populated as you use different attacks.
Each attack uses part of that schemata's gauge. This refills slowly over time, but much faster if you switch to a new schemata. Each battle played briskly and kept me engaged throughout.
"We always kept in mind gamer feedback," Abe says. "There were comments from players that there was a lack of freedom in the first game."
"With the first installment, we weren't able to do everything we wanted to, Kitase says. We've gotten to the point where we're able to accomplish what we're trying to do with the current generation of hardware. I'm really happy that we're able to do that. Moving to the next generation, the hardware has even higher specs, and there might be more challenges to face.
The switch from a party-based title to a solo adventure will have narrative implications, but Kitase is confident that gamers will be happy. "We used the feedback to improve on the subsequent installments while keeping the story," he says. "The party members are still in the universe and they are holding onto their struggles and loss."
Lightning Returns takes place 500 years after Final Fantasy XIII-2, and the world is nearing its fated end. Unlike some other apocalyptic tales, the opening cinematic for Lightning Returns reveals a city celebrating.
"After the events of XIII-2, the world started to slowly move toward this end phase," Kitase says. "Time has stopped. People have been stagnant for 500 years. Over those several centuries, the people have accepted their fate in their own ways."
The mood isn't quite so jovial in other parts of the world, as different pockets of civilization busy themselves with their own missions. For instance, the citizens of Luxerion, a religious city, spend their days reading the teachings of their deity.
Lightning Returns features the grand vistas and sweeping story that Square Enix's Final Fantasy series has become known for. The franchise remains one of the pillars of the publisher's home console publishing business amidst a significant shift toward mobile.
Even the Final Fantasy series has been touched by this transition, with Final Fantasy VI coming to iOS this year. Mobile interaction was almost woven into Final Fantasy XIII, also. "Lightning Returns was designed with the controller in mind," Kitase says. "There was a time when the team was considering a mobile application for the XIII series. We decided instead just to focus on the console version of the game."
Lightning's saga concludes on February 25, 2014, for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
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Well, if there was a way to make the XIII series worse than it already is, it'd be mobile or mobile integration.
Seriously, let's get XV going already. Even X-2 was better than this, and X-2 was horrible.
I'm really looking forward to this game and hope it does well this coming February in 2014.