Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13’s Last Stand
Lightning Returns is possibly the most experimental Final Fantasy game that Square Enix has ever produced.
With the criticisms of Final Fantasy 13 leading Square to produce the eclectic 13-2 and its incredibly open and time travel set-up, the laser-like focus on series main protagonist Lightning in Lightning Returns is producing something very different to what has come before.
We join Lightning 13 days before the apocalypse and a reminder of the impending doom is imprinted at the top of the screen in the form of a ticking clock – the pressure’s constantly on.
Lightning finds herself wandering the streets of Novus Partus, a 500 year-old land that was created when Pulse and Valhalla merged at the climax of 13-2. It’s a modern bustling city and one that gives Lightning plenty of opportunity to explore, interact with people and hopefully, by the time that clock runs down, discover a way of saving the world.
There’s a much more ‘adventure game’ feel to Lightning Returns and it’s this time-sensitive setup that is providing Square Enix with the opportunity to create its potentially most diverse Final Fantasy game yet.
One of the first locations we saw sees Lightning exploring an area called Luxerion, which appeared to be a highly religious area, presenting a nice foreshadowing of the chaos of coming apocalypse.
Luxerion is apparently the first of four islands, each of which has been designed with its own unique flavour, side quests and geography. Side quests will form a big part of the action and the diversity of these will go a long way to ensure that Lightning is rarely repeating herself.
Lightning has to fight by herself but don’t worry, she’s got a few new tricks.
In fact, we saw instances during side quests that required Lightning to stealth her way into an area before the inevitable fighting started. It’s just one example of how Lightning Returns is differentiating itself, not just from the series at large, but from the previous games in the ‘Lightning Saga’.
It’s important to remember, too, but due to the impending apocalypse Lightning won’t actually be able to complete all of the available side quests open to her making the player’s decisions during the game-time even more important than usual.
It’s not clear whether players will be up against a clock quite as stringent as the one seen in Capcom’s Dead Rising series, but picking and choosing what Lightning does will form a big part of the overall puzzle.
As in every Final Fantasy game combat forms a huge part of the experience. In Lightning Returns though, players will only have one options in battle, Lightning. This not only forces players to think in an entirely new tactical way during fights, but it also gives them a single highly customisable character to play with.
What players choose to equip Lightning with will have a direct affect on how she performs in battle and seeking the world for the best armour and clothes should be at the top of your ‘to do’ list. It’s all about creating ‘your Lightning’ according to Square Enix.
The greatest departure in the series representation of combat though, is the ability for the player to move Lightning around the battlefield. This makes perfect sense considering Lightning is fighting on her own, but it also gives Lightning Returns an entirely different feel to the previous games in the series.
As she fights by herself Lightning also has three ATB bars, each with its own ‘style’ attached to it. This gives players the chance to swap between styles, much in the same way as the Paradigm shifts of the previous games, but it also means she’s never left out in the open and susceptible to attack.
These new style ‘Paradigms’ (for lack of a better term) come with pre-set combat options and, with the ability to move around enemies, it creates an interesting half-way house between full-blown real-time combat and the deep strategy of the previous Final Fantasy games.
Lightning Returns’ combat is much more akin to Square Enix’s Kindgom Hearts games and with movement mapped to the left stick and action commands to the face buttons, there’s a distinct feel to the combat that’s all of its own.
Lightning Returns’ full cast of characters has yet to be revealed, but here are a few we’ve already caught a glimpse of:
Noel Kreiss – Making his return from Final Fantasy 13-2, we’re not quite sure what’s happened to Noel. From what we saw he seems to be possessed by something and has taken to calling himself the ‘Shadow Hunter’.
Hope – Hope also makes a return with Lightning, but it appears that you’ll rarely actually see him. In Lightning Returns he takes on a similar role to Otacon in the Metal Gear Solid game, relaying information to Lightning and keeping the plot going.
Lumina – A new character for the series, Lumina shares a remarkable similarity to Lightning’s sister Serah. In fact, Square Enix was dropping some massive hints that there’s more to Luminous than you’d first think.
You can read NowGamer’s exclusive interview with Square Enix’s director Motomu Toriyama and series overseer Yoshinori Kitase to discover more about Lightning Returns.