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Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
E3 2013 Demo Impressions

June 16th, 2013 by Cecily Lam

Lightning Returns has been of ample concern on the minds of the community since it’s announcement during Square Enix’s Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Event on August 31, 2012. While XIII-2 did well to calm the minds of fans who were left unfulfilled after completing the flagship title, it took away the one thing that they desired above all else: a happy ending for Lightning’s story. Thus led to the introduction of the third and final title in the trilogy, one that promises to go above and beyond in not only the realm of XIII, but Final Fantasy as well.

I received the opportunity to play Lightning Returns at E3 2013 on the Xbox 360. The demo starts us off with Lightning in the center of the Feasthall in front of a grand crystal replica of the once proud Cocoon with only 7 days left to go. She contacts one “Mr. Hope Estheim” for instructions, and he informs her of two simple facts: that she should really just call him Hope, and that her only priority at this point is to reach Snow who, for reasons unexplained, seems to be running straight into a large concentration of Chaos located in the center of the palace.

As Lightning chases Snow through the palace, Hope informs her of how this former hero rose to power. Apparently, Snow started off simply providing citizens with aid, and they grew to like him so much that they elected him as their ruler, affectionately called “the Patron”. However, his level of activity has dropped down to next to nothing as time went on and instead chooses to keep to himself for the most part.

Lightning reaches the center of the chaos and encounters the source, revealed to be none other than Lumina. She’s surprised that Light can see the dark matter and remarks that she’s not like the other lackies of God before summoning an immense creature to confront her. In typical demo format, it really only serves to revisit everything you’ve picked up thus far. Once that’s over and done with, a basic summary of your achievements surfaces, and that’s that.

In regards to the gameplay, this time around there is no party to control; Lightning remains the sole player character in this installment. She is controlled with the left analog stick, and she can jump with the B button. X opens up the world map, and A allows her to attack in the field. Battle sequences are initiated once you make contact with an enemy or vice versa, with bonuses and penalties granted depending on what happens.

In battle she has four different commands mapped to the buttons on the right. Each of the attacks will deplete a predesignated amount of points in the ATB, which will regenerate over time albeit very slowly. The cost of these attacks varies on their strength, so the player will need to strategize how to properly use their points rather than mindlessly spamming. You can also replenish your stock of points by utilizing the Schemata.

Those of you who’ve played Final Fantasy X-2 may find this reminiscent of the dressphere system. Each of Lightning’s Schema corresponds to not only its own ATB (Active Time Battle) meter, but also a different equipment set, victory pose and commands to use in battle. You cycle between each schema with the use of the left and right bumpers. With over 80 different outfits available for Lightning in the game, players will certainly enjoy developing unique equipment sets to meet their standards.

There were three schema equipped in the demo: Divinity, Dark Muse and Sorceress. Divinity appears as Lightning’s default, with Attack, Thunder, Galestrike and Block. Sorceress grants the use of Firaga, Ruin, Blizzara and Lesser Guard. Dark Muse opts out for more physical attacks in contrast to Sorceress’ magic arsenal with Heavy Slash, Light Slash, Electric Blitz and Lesser Guard. The only way for Light to evade attacks is by using Block at precisely the right moment or by putting enough distance between her and the enemy.

My main criticism over the Schemata is how restrictive it is over the gameplay as a whole, which feels to be built around that system. While it sounds interesting at first glance, the high ATB cost of attacks and slow regeneration strips a great deal of the freedom and experimentation, instead making it almost a requirement you to cycle through the schema constantly to remain in combat. At some point it grows to be fairly repetitive in general, though with many more options available in the full build, there’s hope that this may become less of an issue. I will say that it definitely is more enjoyable to experience in comparison to its predecessors.

Each enemy also has a specific weakness you can exploit. The key is to experiment with the variety of commands each schema provides to determine what you can use to your advantage best, and excessive use of the commands in question will eventually lead to a stagger, allowing you to freely attack to your heart’s content for a brief period of time. Enemies that are on the verge of being staggered will depict a wavelength vibrating through their health bar. The stronger the wavelength, the closer they are to stagger.

They also introduce the Overclock Mode, which slows down time for the enemy and allows Lightning to launch attack after attack with no ATB cost for a short while. With the daunting threat of the 13 day countdown to the world’s end, it’s an interesting element woven into the gameplay.

One thing to point out is that health will not regenerate after a battle, although recovery items are available through the main menu at any given moment. From past experiences, it’s safe to assume that save points will also allow you to heal back up to full as well, though none were available to confirm that.

The playable demo was very clearly meant to correspond to their latest trailer. However even with that, the player cannot fully understand what’s going on throughout their playthrough. Lightning’s chasing Snow, but why? And what’s Lumina’s connection to the chaos that so terribly plagued the world during the events of XIII-2? We’ll find out eventually in any case.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will release on February 11, 2014 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Cecily Lam is a contributor to Final Fantasy Network and managing editor at Kingdom Hearts Insider.

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  • Anaqra

    Good article. Better than NovaCrystallis and RPGSite articles.

    There is also a 15 min gameplay video floating around. I recall seeing some 10 abilities on Lightning, similar to XIII-2 monsters. Any info on that? I need to watch that trailer again completely.

  • rattyinc

    ” I will say that it definitely is more enjoyable to experience in comparison to its predecessors.”
    The last two battle systems were quite enjoyable so i guess that’s a plus if it’s better.
    I hope summons come back in some form or manner, in 13-2 it was dismall, the only thing that came close to was the monster in your parties ?feral attack. I think that’s what almost everyone loved about FF, the summons.
    In 13 they were a little underpowered but meh, there needs to be some sort of balance otherwise, we’d end up with a FF8 scenario where GF/summons are spammed with zero strategy.

  • alexsam

    I’m not gonna read this, simply because I’m hoping that Square-Enix delivers this demo sooner or later and I want the experience to be fresh! I did read a recent interview with Kitase and Toriyama though and the game’s world does seem rather expansive! Gone are the days of running through pretty corridors. We get creative freedom in this game! Can’t wait till it’s released.

  • AnimaMagna

    I had an amazing dream: this degree of freedom in-gage, these kinds of gameplay mechanics applied to a party, and no time limit. That would have made FFXIII a surefire hit.

  • ultromega

    As a big fan of XIII-2’s battle system, I’m more and more excited every time I read an article that affirms that LR’s battle system is more fun than its predecessors. I’m really looking forward to this game. Now, where’s that demo? :)

  • TheBadass

    I really hate how slow Lightning moves while in battle. I thought being able to control her movement in battle would be fast like in FFXII and Crisis Core.

  • Shadowcatdoll09

    After reading this article I hope you can get something the game that lowers the cost of attacks for the Schema so I can stay in particular outfits a bit longer.

  • Shadowcatdoll09

    I meant in the game