Square Enix’s global media tour for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII continued Wednesday in San Francisco. We at Final Fantasy Network were on hand to get a first look at the third and final entry into the Lightning saga. In addition to a new trailer detailing some striking new insights into the world Lightning is trying to save, we were privy to an extended gameplay session that provided us with the new vision the team will use to conclude the trilogy.
In part one of our first look at Lightning Returns, we will take a look at the new elements of the story, gameplay, and world you’ll experience in the game — and there’s plenty of new information to share. In part two we’ll be going over more with developer QA with Kitase and Toriyama, as well as our impressions of the game thusfar.
To kick off the presentation, Toriyama and Kitase showed off a new trailer for Lightning Returns very similar to the one we saw at Jump Festa late last year. For those of you with keen eyes, you may have spotted Final Fantasy XIII-2′s own Noel Kreiss slinking around in the background as Lightning traverses the streets of Luxerion. Well, here he comes in to plain view — not to greet Lightning, but to attack her.
“You’re not Lightning — you can’t be!” Noel shouts as Lightning parries his blades.
Lightning, the star of this game, has been given the role of savior by Bhunivelze — a god said to have been sleeping encased in crystal until the end of time. Well, since the final thirteen days are here, it appears he has awoken to give Lightning his agenda: save the souls of humankind and lead them to a new world. To this end, Lightning is given her fantastical garb and the ability to affect the flow of time; she is sent to the city of light: Luxerion. As Lightning exits the monorail station, the city’s name in Gothic font is emblazoned on-screen in a fashion you’ll remember from the Kingdom Hearts series when you first visit a new world.
This is a city in which people live their every-day lives heavily influenced by religion, and worship Bhunivelze as “God”. Humanity is aware of the end of the world’s approach, but is unaware of how much time is actually left. The influx of Chaos that constantly and warps and distorts the world of Nova Chrysalla (yes, that has replaced the previous name of Novus Partus), comprised of four continents connected by a monorail. This has presumably affected the Chaos that dwells within human hearts as per the Fabula Nova Crystallis lore, causing humans to stop aging though they do not gain immortality.
There are other events that strike fear into the citizenry: serial murders that take place around the time Lightning arrives in town. Apparently there have been three murders in the last three days, and Lightning has come to solve what is behind it. As Lightning grimly states:
“The city of God is filled with blood.”
It appears that Lightning has detractors within Luxerion, going so far as to hang an effigy of our heroine from the clock tower near the monorail station; the “darkness” within the city of light appears to be a group of individuals garbed in white cloaks. These who disregard the teachings of God see Lightning as a target, but their goal remains shrouded in mystery.
In her pursuit, Lightning navigates the streets of Luxerion, taking up the mantle of crime scene investigator and questioning various people as they live in and commute through the city. She does so with the assistance of Hope Estheim, who is giving her guidance from an unknown location. As you’ve seen in trailers, Lightning makes use of her environment to get around, whether it be platforming to higher locations or sliding down poles. She can also sprint, though a ATB bar representing her stamina quickly depletes as she travels through the city.
In one section of the footage we were shown, the player has Lightning tail the white-cloaks by ducking behind structures placed gingerly throughout the city streets, including trees and street-corners to avoid detection. They eventually elude her after she observes a ritual, revealing that Lightning needs to uncover a code to gain access to where they’ve escaped. Taking to the streets again, Lightning uses the world and people around her to search for clues.
Make no mistake, Lightning Returns isn’t a “sneaking game”. For her quests, abilities like sneaking will be granted to complete them.
When Lightning does eventually find a digit in the code etched in some chaotic-looking energy plastered on a wall, we see a glimpse of Noel Kreiss in his typical blue garb. It’s here that he confronts Lightning, where she speaks his name and learns that he is now known as the Shadow Hunter.
“I have to make it right!”
He says, before the two engage in one-one-one duel, using the game’s battle system.
It appears that people have developed burdens in their hearts, presumably as a part the effect of Chaos flooding the world at the end of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Noel Kreiss is no different, being the one to correct the timeline and seal Etro’s fate to die at his hands.
Recently revealed in the newest issue of VJump, Lumina made her appearance briefly. Carrying herself with a smirk and sass dressed in a gothic lolita-esque outfit, if you think Lumina bears an uncanny resemblance to Serah Farron, her model in motion lends further credence to those claiming to see double.
When you travel in Luxerion, the NPCs that you’ll encounter change behavior throughout the day. In the morning, the streets are usually emptier, and later in the evening, people commute home. Different NPCs will appear at different areas during different parts of the day, which Lightning will need to note as they will offer her special quests. One such quest required Lightning to defeat a Behemoth enemy that appears at a specific location. Those who played the original Final Fantasy XIII will be happy to hear that mark hunting has returned via questing system. After chasing down the behemoth and felling it in battle, Lightning was rewarded with various materials the monster dropped in the victory screen.
Enemies will appear in Luxerion at different times of day, and should they come into contact with NPCs, they will ofttimes scatter and flee.
Myriad shops in Luxerion will outfit Lightning with items and abilities; director Motomu Toriyama showed us a menu interface where Lightning could buy a few magic spells like Fire and Blizzara from a vendor, but cautioned these shops aren’t always available at one time of day. He also added that Lightning Returns will feature the biggest variety of shops the Final Fantasy series has seen since.
One example is the introduction of a restaurant in which Lightning can purchase food to directly restore her HP. The higher the deficit, the more you’ll need to spend to restore her health.
When it comes to combat, Lightning Returns a brand new system of ATB entitled “Amazing ATB”. Lightning will make use of three different Styles (combinations of weapons, equipment, abilities) that each have their own ATB bar. In combat, the abilities assigned to that Style will consume a set amount of the ATB gauge when pressed. Run out of ATB and you won’t be able to perform an action, but the gauges will gradually refill as Lightning idles. By tilting the left analog stick, our demonstrator was able to move Lightning manually on the battlefield.
Of course, a wellspring of new outfits were revealed, all with their own special abilities attached. Some of the outfits put Lightning in fur-lined armor, an elegant dress, or even a chest piece that reminded yours truly of a Yoshitaka Amano watercolor. Those who enjoy customizing Lightning’s armor will be pleased to hear that you’ll be able to change the color of her outfits. The interface to do so was still in the works, and it resembled a color pallet tool from image editing software — with various sliders to adjust the color.
Next comes the brand-new Stagger system, which is now the Knockdown system. As man have guessed, the small icons under an enemy’s HP gauge are attributes that govern it’s strengths and weaknesses. Lightning can assemble a Style that appropriately exploits aforementioned weak points to ensure a better battle performance. In addition to that, were shown brief snippets of the Knockdown system in which Lightning was able to juggle a large enemy in the air continuously with her attacks.
Director Toriyama stated that he felt that the battle system would appeal to those who like strategy games and like to prepare for encounters and battles ahead of time, while also appealing to those who like action games by adding the ability to manually move, block, and dodge with Lightning. Since Lightning is the sole party member in this outing, Toriyama explained that all of the battle effects have been redone to essentially “make Lightning look more cool” in fights in battle. These are the parts that define “Amazing ATB”.
During the presentation, we were told that this build of Lightning Returns was an early build — so early that Toriyama pointed out this was the earliest build of a Final Fantasy game that has been showed publically. It definitely showed in-game, with many placeholder assets, models, and music being substituted in. This was most readily apparent when the team unveiled two new continents in Nova Chrysalla you’ll travel to.
The first of these were the Wildlands, featuring vast and open forests, plains, and mountains. There are many places to visit here, including small villages in the wilderness and even dungeons for Lightning to explore. One of the early dungeons Lightning navigated through looked similar to something you’d imagine for a classic Final Fantasy dungeon but remade for a high definition production. The other continent revealed was the Dead Dunes. This desert-like continent had Lightning sliding down massive sand-dunes like a cloth-person from Journey.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will release in Fall 2013 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.