Lightning returns in Lightning Returns, and we get hands-on with the next Final Fantasy game to find out it actually is rather fun.
Published on Jan 15, 2014
It’s hard to believe, perhaps, but Lightning Returns is actually worth your time. With our many hours of hands-on time with preview code we’ve discovered there’s a surprising amount of depth to the threequel in the Final Fantasy 13 series.
Honestly, there is a lot to like about Lightning Returns – just hear us out.
We know you guys aren’t too impressed with how Final Fantasy 13 has eked itself out for this long and yes there are some radical changes to the formula here – but this really is worth your time.
Lightning Returns Time-Limited Challenge
First off, it’s worth talking about the story a little bit. Not in too much detail, obviously, because for one it’s practically all hokum anyway but also because there’s no need to spoil it for the handful of you that believe story is a reason to play a JRPG.
But the key story element here is Lightning’s limited amount of time to save the world’s populace. In a cheesy – and obvious – rendition of Noah’s Ark (but with nicer hair), Lightning has only a handful of days to rescue as many citizens as she can to help rebuild the world after a planned devastating calamity.
That’s not the important bit, however. What is interesting is how the gameplay is affected by the concept: here a clock is constantly timing down to the world’s end, and though there are means to manipulate the flow of time it is all the same an ever-present threat.
More than this, however, the world you explore and the citizens you meet all have their own time-specific situations; gateways might become locked or certain characters may only be spoken to at particular points of the day or night, for example.
Initially it feels like a poor man’s Majora’s Mask, but once the story unfolds and you’re given a bit more freedom, the true depth – and necessary balancing act – of the system really comes to light.
You likely won’t see everything in a single runthrough, so devoted Final Fantasy fans will need to take notes as they play. Expect a New Game+ mode.
How Equipment Works In Lightning Returns
JRPGs are very particular games, but the true crux of a JRPG is not its nonsense storyline or spiky-haired teens with amnesia. No, in fact a good JRPG can often be judged by the amount of time you spend in a menu, fretting over numbers.
In this regard you’ll find Lightning Returns can cut it with the best of them. Before talking about combat a little more, it’s worth mentioning ‘Schemata’ – the term used to describe Lightning’s ability to change costumes on the fly in battle.
It might sound like a namby pamby game of dress-up, but there is actually a lot of statistical depth to the way you equip different schemata.
Each has a set of base stats, abilities and passive enhancements – some are built for tanking, others for magic and the rest fill interesting and useful roles in between.
Alongside that it’s possible to equip a weapon, a shield, two accessories, a guard ability and up to three attacks (depending on if the schemata in question hasn’t already used these slots up).
That might not sound like a lot, but you’ll find yourself spending a considerable amount of time jumping into the intricacies of which item to equip where.
It has a tangible effect on your loadout, and covering all aspects for defeating an enemy is important. This is by far the best aspect of Lightning Returns.
Lightning Returns’ Real-Time Combat Actually Works
Tying into the Schemata system is the real-time combat. Yes, shock horror, Lightning Returns removes turn-based combat for a real-time equivalent.
But it’s good. Great even.
Final Fantasy 13 elements such as ‘staggering’ crossover here, and it’s up to Lightning to use her mix of physical and magical attacks to best figure out how each enemy must be defeated.
Early on they won’t prove too much a challenge, but it quickly becomes clear – even early into the preview build – that Lightning Returns will have some properly epic battles on hand, and not only boss battles.
With L1 and R1 it’s possible to switch between different outfits, and with it the various underlying stats and abilities that you’ve sat in a menu for half an hour putting together.
Each schemata has its own ATB gauge, and the abilities you use will drain that resource bar. That ATB bar will slowly regenerate, but when it is empty your best option is to switch outfit and continue the barrage of attacks while wearing a different skirt.
Combine this with the need to use particular attacks to stagger an enemy and expose its weakness and combat in Lightning Returns becomes a sort of careful resource management as you try to maintain your three ATB gauges to allow you to unleash your strongest attacks and maximise damage once you’ve opened up a particular beastie’s defences.
There’s also a necessity to grasp the guard mechanic, whereby you can decrease damage from an enemy attack, negate it entirely and even parry, but that will take some serious practice to truly get to grips with.
As with a lot of what we played during this preview build it took a little while for the depth of the system to really fall into place – and truthfully there’s a worry that this will put a lot of players off, especially with the story as inflated as it is.
But it’s that depth that JRPG fans will be eager to look for, and though we’ve only had access to the burgeoning signs of this depth by the time it comes to review the full scope of the system should come into view.
If you’ve any love for Final Fantasy or games with strategic combat, then you really ought to be considering getting Lightning Returns. It could end up being the biggest surprise of the year.