Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Update: Square Enix has just released the game's E3 trailer. Take a look!
The world is in rough shape by the end of Final Fantasy XIII-2, (spoilers incoming) and Lightning has to pick up the pieces in the next entry. She only has 13 days before the apocalypse strikes, a time limit represented by a countdown timer that runs as you play. I played an early version of the third chapter in the Final Fantasy XIII saga, testing out the more action-oriented combat. Lightning Returns moves away from the multi-character, role-swapping battle system of past games, but still provides a good time.
This preview also appears in Game Informer issue #243
Lightning is alone this time, but the basic flow of combat feels familiar. During my hands-on demo, I stalked through a chaotic city on the trail of FF XIII hero Snow, who Lightning is pursuing for mysterious reasons. I sneaked around foes, jockeying for position to strike them from behind. Sneaky assaults like these grant you advantages in battle, like enemies starting with 10% fewer hit points. Once engaged, battles play similarly to previous games, but with an added sense of urgency. In past FF XIII games, players had to wait for a meter to fill before casting magic spells or attacking. In Lightning Returns, players can wail away on their foes until their ATB (Active Time Battle) meter drains. Attacks like lightning strikes or dashing blade thrusts are mapped to face buttons. If you press the corresponding button, Lightning attacks immediately. Once an ATB bar is depleted, you can swap to a new schema (this entry’s version of paradigms) for a fresh assault. Meanwhile, the ATB meters of Lightning’s other scheme replenish.
These schema let Lightning instantly swap between a selection of offensive and defense maneuvers. A magic-based schema lets her damage enemies with frost or fire-based spells, while a melee-focused option lets her choose between heavy and light sword strikes. Like Final Fantasy X-2, these combat modes are linked to various outfits, but I was too focused on the action to notice Lightning’s skimpy costume changes. Each schema I used included a block command, which allows players to mitigate damage from incoming assaults with a quick button press. Swapping between schema and doling out attacks feels like a snappier version of the previous games’ battle systems. Up to three schema can be equipped at a time.
Near the end of the demo Lightning crosses paths with a female antagonist cloaked in a veil of dark magic. The woman prods and taunts Lightning verbally. The mysterious lady is eventually revealed as Lightning’s sibling, Serah. We suspect the sisters launch into a battle here, but we’ll have to wait until Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII hits February 11, 2014 for more answers. If our hands-on time is any indication, this encounter will be a frenetic trial of Lightning’s new skills.