Hands-on with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

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Hands-on with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

The heroine of Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning, has faced insurmountable odds to fight for what she believes in. She’s challenged the power of the divine, sailed across time, and now stands on the brink of the apocalypse, overlooking a decaying world with lingering memories urging her onward. In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the developers at Square Enix prepare to conclude Lightning’s story with an RPG that, more often than not, defies expectations.

Lightning Returns is a radically different quest than its two predecessors. Both its story and its play mechanics stride forward with little regard for the constraints binding the games before them, and the tropes that govern other Japanese RPGs.

When we first meet Lightning, our rose-haired warrior has been granted the title of “Savior” by the god of light, Bhunivelze, about 500 years after the end of Final Fantasy XIII-2. The world is crumbling under the seething weight of Chaos, and an ageless suffering has plagued its people. Bhunivelze has decided to fashion a new world and populate it with souls. Lightning must save these souls from the dying world so they might be reborn into the new.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIIILightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Familiar faces, strange locales, and old threats will haunt Lightning as she strikes out into what remains of the world. And if saving humanity wasn’t enough of a burden, she only has a handful of days to fulfill her task. Lightning Returns operates on a timer, which ticks away in the corner of the screen and warns of the looming devastation enveloping the planet. Almost every action, from exploration to questing, will eat away at the amount of time Lightning has left.

This management of in-game time is a rare challenge imposed on RPG players, who generally have dozens upon dozens of hours to spend gaining levels and mastering their party. But in Lightning Returns, time is a precious resource. In fact, everything is. At the beginning of Lightning’s quest, items are expensive and tough to stockpile. Even enemies themselves are a finite resource with a limited number of each type. Lightning grows by completing quests and saving souls — not from prowling alleys for an unlimited supply of disposable critters.

The battle system is just as refreshing as these limited resources. Lightning storms into combat alone, but does so with a variety of player-built “Schemata” equipped. These Schema are like customizable job classes that Lightning can switch to mid-battle. By selecting a garb — which acts as a job template — and then choosing an accompanying sword and shield, players can build Lightning into different types of warriors. Even her four skills can be customized, including basic attacks, guards, tremendous spells, and various buffs/debuffs.

The Cold Rebellion outfit, for example, increases Lightning’s magic and total HP, and bestows her with a formidable Blizzard spell. From there, players can select a sword, shield, and accompanying powers.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIIILightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning can equip three Schema at a time. In combat, each Schema operates on its own ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge, and every action depletes a portion of this gauge. By switching between the three Schema, players can string attacks together and adopt different strategies in the thick of battle. It makes for a much more involved process than just “press X to attack.”

The amount of customization in Lightning Returns is staggering, to say the least. Each garb has an adjustable color pallette, and can be complemented with a host of cosmetic items for flavor. This bestows players with immense control over how they approach each and every battle. Even better: this customized clothing is also reflected on the field and in cutscenes, which can lead to both cool and comical results.

Lightning Returns emphasizes player choice much more than its predecessors, and imposes a number of intriguing limitations on the resources available to Lightning. This, without a doubt, will lead to vastly different playthroughs from player to player, and even more reason to return to the quest after its completion.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII launches on February 11th for PS3, and will conclude a story that began more than four years ago with one ill-fated girl and a train ride through Cocoon.

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5 Author Replies

  • hey i dont know if you or morgan or someone can check it out, but on mondays 2 posts it said metal gear solid peace walker was gonna be $5 but its $6.99 on ps store

  • i am really looking forward to this game ! i almost wish there was a demo though. the changes seem quite extreme.

  • Hey, when can we expect a demo? :)

    Got this preordered already, but a demo would make the wait easier!


  • change is good though ! oh well, will get it anyway.

    and @1, i believe the $5 was a mistake and was corrected to the current price

  • I really liked 13, 13-2 was okay, but so much game breakers. I had to actually glitch a wild artifact to continue the game cause I couldn’t get anymore. Even sat on guides for hours and not one was possible. Lightning returns looks to be the best of the 3 sadly I won’t be getting any ps3 games for a while, sticking with vita and ps4 exclusively for a bit

  • I’m picking up Bravely Default instead. Ironically, it’s more of a Final Fantasy game than this o.O

    I’m glad Square-Enix came out with a game that builds off the Squaresoft roots, I just wish you’d do that with the Final Fantasy franchise … and on the big consoles :p

    Just look at XCOM. People DO still love turn-based games. They just need to be done well. And you *are* capable of doing it well.

  • I don’t know anything about this game. but my favorite final fantasy character is lightning.

  • Lol I love Lightings Character even though I know nothing of the Final Fantasy serious but she looks awesome

  • Series’s**

  • So the demo is already out on the 360, when are we going to see it on the PS3?

  • Not interested, I liked the previous two games better. In this one you can only play as Lightning, and now the story’s taken another strange twist.

    I can’t wait to here more about Final Fantasy XV though!

  • Ugh, I am an avid Final Fantasy fan, but FF XIII just bored me to death. I stopped playing on Gran Pulse (Chapter 11, I think) because this game’s combat system does everything for you. On top of that the go from point A to point B isn’t entertaining. I really wanted to give this series a chance, but they dropped the ball on XIII.

    People tell me XIII-2 was much better but I can’t really play the sequel without finishing the previous entry.

    Although Spoony has recapped the game very well for me to know what’s going on.

  • Got this pre-ordered, but I’m a little put off. Please go back to the traditional type of battle system that made FF so great. I know you evolve different parts of the formula with every new iteration. But please go back to a turn based menu driven battle system and evolve something else. Put the soul back in FF….

  • I didnt like the first two to get through them, so I doubt I’d like this enough to spend $60 on a last generation game.

    Square, release this on current gen consoles, and we’ll talk. I’d consider buying it on PS4, if for no other reason because of the lack of PS4 games to play

  • I can’t wait! CE pre-ordered and I even got that silly Lightning Returns PS3 controller from Gamestop.

    Personally, I really liked Final Fantasy XIII & XIII-2. Are they melodramatic? Yes! Are they heavily story driven? Yes! Are they more linear than previous entries? Yes!

    But that’s kind of why I liked them. The characters and voice acting are done well, the story is complex but entertaining, and the battle system grows on you.

    It’s perfectly understandable if you miss the gameplay direction of V, VI or VII. However, I enjoyed the Lightning series… having said that my fingers are crossed for something different for Final Fantasy XV.

  • Why is it that Xbox already has an English demo out for this game but we do not here on Playstation????

    I am currently downloading the JP demo from Japanese PSN as I type this because apparently they have had a PS3 demo of this game since November!

    When?! When are we going to see an English demo of this game on NA/EU PSN’s?!?!!

  • Where is the Demo? Japan PSN has it, XBL has it. Where is ours

  • I’d like to second the notion on wondering when the PS3 demo will hit the PSN. I’m in no rush though, if I really have to try the demo I`ll get it off the Japanese PSN or I’ll just plug in my 360 and get it off the marketplace…after downloading 2 years worth of system updates… okay nevermind passing on using my 360.

    I have the regular edition pre-ordered at my local retailer, since I didn`t want to deal with Digital River and the SE store. Only 1 month to go!

  • I played the Japanese demo, but I would like to play the English demo as well. I don’t want to play on my 360.

  • Just went on xbox I didn’t see The demo

  • @ sullydabricks: Well than with all respect you didn’t look good enough… a simple google search of “Lightning Returns demo” comes up with multiple news stories of the demo ‘being out now on XboxLive’.

  • Will we be getting the Demo?

  • I’m going to get it and it looks fun, but I hate the idea of the timer.
    That’s what ruined the Atelier games for me. Never being able to really explore without feeling rushed is not a good idea in an rpg.

    And as for not being able to find anything on the XBmarketplace…that’s not surprising at all, they have always had the most ridiculous setup and the ads are horrible.
    PS3’s store is giving it a run for worst digital store ever though since it was “upgraded”.

    • The timer imposes a challenge on the player, but I think it’s a fun challenge — not a punishment.

      It creates a puzzle-like mechanic around the entire quest, managing time and using it to your advantage. I’d definitely recommend checking Lightning Returns out anyway, to see if it clicks with you.

      Thanks for the comment!


  • This will be my first Final Fantasy game I will play

  • I’m currently on my 5th playthrough (of the import) with over 200+ hours clocked in. I can’t wait to play it in English! So excited.

  • Well, apparently there’s not going to be a demo on the PS3, or else those comments would have gotten some kind of response. Nice way to give the finger to your fans on the PS3, SE.

  • ^ Yep… I think I’ll pass on this one. I got plenty to keep me occupied on my new gaming PC I just built.

    Buh Bye! ^_~

  • I’ll buy this game but let me say: I don’t like time limits, or time attack modes, or time anything. This quickness games have right now is both: stressting and takes away most of the fun. You see, the human brain works better the less hurry you have within you, so high speeds mean less sensitivity and less time to form adequate thoughts, not to mention the real stress it causes you. They aren’t entertaining.

    I wouldn’t like that part of this game, but what gets my attention is the fact that they are making it more difficult. Limited quantity of enemies, less items, harder to purchase, and I hope there are other mechanics that make it difficult.

    I just wish I had all the time I wanted with no one putting time strains to enjoy it’s world. They should think about a mode without the time limit (perhaps that would be where the strongest monsters should be?).

  • Btw: yeah this on PS4 would be an instant purchase for 90% of all people who bought a PS4, especially at this moment.

  • I cant wait.I pre ordered the CE already and lighting is one of my favorite ff characters.

  • I read on polygon that the demo appearing on xbox was a mistake.

    Well, now that everybody knows the demo is just around the corner, why not release it now?

  • @asilentnoise there is a Demo out already for XB ,Sony we want a Demo as well come on

  • I’ll decide if I’m going to buy this right away based on the demo, if there is no demo I’ll wait a couple months and the price will drop like a rock like the rest of them.

  • Why do you have to remind me after i had lost my data on Final Fantasy XIII last september i was almost at the end that’s when my PS3 hard drive had broke :( I haven’t went back to it ever since and now this game is coming out..

  • @15
    I just want to say I 100% agree with you. Pretty much reading my mind! Peace!

  • The final fantasy universe is massive there are so many stories to be told!!!!!!!!!!

  • Seems to be a pretty interesting game to purchase. I’m going to look forward into buying it.

  • I do want to play this, but too busy with FFX HD to justify buying it right now. Maybe when it goes on sale.

  • I obtained the Lightning Returns Ultimate Box collection. ^_^. FFXIII series is my only favorite series in FF history and the music, the most impactful of all times.

  • The battle system is just as refreshing as these limited resources. Lightning storms into combat alone, but does so with a variety of player-built “Schemata” equipped. These Schema are like customizable job classes that Lightning can switch to mid-battle. By selecting a garb — which acts as a job template — and then choosing an accompanying sword and shield, players can build Lightning into different types of warriors. Even her four skills can be customized, including basic attacks, guards, tremendous spells, and various buffs/debuffs.

    ya i will pass if i wanted an actio game i would buy one.this series used to be so great then part 10 came was ok but everything after just gets worse.now there is a time limit.meh i wont hate.hope whoever gets it loves it but myself i will pass.miss the days of old hd remake of 7 please or 3=]

  • Since you folks at Square Enix North America are more engaged with your populace than SQEX Japan seems to be, could you look into why they’d be so stand-off-ish about overseas player-based promotion of games that haven’t even released States-side? In this case, Dragon Quest X, an entire series that could use more enthusiasm from the non-native market, and YouTube user saigancat (his initial reaction here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDKbW-IYzjs).

    As for anything FFXIII… I still haven’t steeled myself to finish the painful first game, despite having ordered the soundtrack-packed followup, so “Lightning Returns” *listless party horn* has been a big dead-zone in my receptiveness.

  • I miss Final Fantasy back from when they used to be RPGs.

    The XIII series is so mediocre, nothing like Final Fantasy and should not be put into the RPG category, as they are generic action games. Why do they restrict gameplay so much? Why do they not allow freedom and exploration? Where are the classic Final Fantasy staples at? Final Fantasy 15 also looks like a generic action game and nothing like an RPG.

    Modern Final Fantasy should be renamed to Mediocre Fantasy. Hallway Fantasy XIII.

  • Is the demo that was released on the Japanese PSN coming to NA? Ideally before the game gets released?

  • They should rename the XIII series, “S.hitty Fantasy XIII”.

  • Hey, yeah, probably a waste to ask at this point but was the Collector’s Edition ever fixed? I noticed the link was moved but don’t want to risk possibly ordering a third one because I can’t tell whether the order has even gone through. I got sent back to a full shopping cart instead of an order confirmation screen or some such acknowledgement.

  • this looks ace :)

  • Cant wait!! Dress Up Lightning The Game!! sign me up!!

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