• Got a Eurogamer account? Your details will work here too!

  • Need an account?

    Create an account. They're free!

  • Forgotten your login details?

    Recover your account here.

Square Wants to Know: Do Gamers Want a Modern Turn-Based Final Fantasy?

An interview with the creators of Lightning Returns yields an unexpected (but intriguing) turnabout.

By Jeremy Parish. Published 10 months ago

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII finds itself trapped rather ironically in the large shadow cast by the recent announcement of Final Fantasy XV. I say "ironically" because back when XV was originally announced back in 2006, it was as the third chapter of the Fabula Nova Crystalis trilogy, Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Now it's gone on to become the next core entry in the series on a next-gen platform, while Lightning Returns wraps up the FFXIII story arc as a current-gen game a few months after the new consoles launch.

That's not an enviable state of affairs for any game, but it's doubly a shame for Lightning Returns because -- based on what I've played of it -- it's genuinely good. Who knows how the overall adventure will turn out, but the E3 playable demo (which according to producer Yoshinori Kitase and director Motomu Toriyama represent a near-finished version of the game) focuses heavily on combat... and Lightning Returns features an excellent combat system.

The battle mechanics differ greatly from the first two chapters of the FFXIII saga in that they focus on a single character -- the eponymous Lightning -- and allow for real-time movement, menu-driven but nevertheless direct actions, and defensive blocks and evasions. At the same time, you can see that they grew from FFXIII's battle system, with a functional equivalent to Paradigm Shifts that allow Lightning to take on different fighting forms and swap between skill sets and indepedent action gauges. It also brings back the Stagger concept, which leaves enemies weakened and vulnerable if attacked in specific ways, and this time around hitting the stagger point feels far more intuitive thanks to a simple visual indicator that highlights which actions are most effective for inflicting stagger.

Enemies in the demo were weak to Lightning's lightning attacks. It's not as prosaic as it sounds.

At the same time, I do view combat in Lightning Returns with a touch of melancholy, because it seems to be part of a growing trend away from the classic menu- and turn-based combat that defined the series in its formative days. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy XIV features a fairly typical MMO menu/action hybrid system, and Final Fantasy XV looks to be straight-up action. I asked Kitase if he sees action as the future of the franchise. His answer didn't surprise me, but I was taken aback (in a good way) when he turned the question back on me for an intriguing hypothetical.

"It's true that it we used very action-driven systems for Lightning Returns, Final Fantasy XIV, and in the trailer for XV," Kitase said. "But if you look closely, there's a different flavor for each game. What we try to do with Final Fantasy is take each installment and think about how to structure the battle mechanics. We start from scratch with each installment we put together.

"Even with something like Kingdom Hearts, what you have there is something very different than the style we've created for Lightning Returns. For this game, we have an evolved ATB system with three different styles that we switch between... and even that's different than anything we've done before. So it's really hard to say where the series will go in the future.

"We do have action-driven elements, but also elements of strategy -- hitting an enemy's weak point to stagger it, or watching your timing to block. We feel it's reminiscent of the traditional Final Fantasy strategy, and we're hoping some people who grew up on Final Fantasy will find its strategy element interesting."

Kitase paused for a moment and looked at me. "Now, I have a question," he said. "I'd like to know, would you want to see a turn-based command style return?

"Here's a hypothetical question -- and this is just hypothetical, so don't read too much into this -- what if we were to take a game like, say, Final Fantasy VI that does have the ATB system but is basically command-based. What if we were to take that game and breathe new life into it? Make it into a current-gen game? Would users be OK with it in that turn-based style?"

Did you just imagine this sequence in proper modern style and feel a chill? It's OK. We all did.

Of course I said yes, because who wouldn't want to see FFVI remade faithfully but in glorious HD? But did I speak out of turn? How would you feel about a Final Fantasy remake that mixes up-to-date graphics with old-fashioned play mechanics?

The best community comments so far 30 comments

  • Vitoner 6 months ago

    Abso-freaking-lutely YES. I always preferred turn based battles to real time battles mainly for two reasons:
    1-Terrible AI: FFXII was a good example of good friendly and fully customizable AI, but other RPGs did mostly an awful job (Ni No Kuni, Rogue Galaxy). FFXIII worked nice but I didn't like its battle system (too much automatic and soulless).
    2-I like to have FULL CONTROL on the battlefield. I want to pick a strategy and make my party act exactly how I want to. Even with a wonderful AI a system handled by the CPU will always make me feel more a spectator than THE player.
    So, PLEASE, if you have to do a remake of a classic REMAKE IT AS A CLASSIC, don't turn it into something else.

  • Bla1ne 10 months ago

    Uh... YES.

    In most cases, I will hands-down pick turn-based over action battles for an RPG game. The reason is simple: TERRIBLE friendly AI. I just recently finished playing Ni No Kuni and, while I absolutely loved playing a proper JRPG again, and the story and art were amazing, my experience was greatly diminished by the terrible AI of my ally characters. Because of the action battles, I could only control 1 of my 3 characters at a time, leaving the other 2 to do as they please, and more often than not their actions would outright frustrate me. Especially during the boss battles, most of which are right before key emotional plot-points, and my irritation from the fight would actually dampen my enjoyment of the story segment. (You do get marginal control over your partners in the "Tactics" battle menu and the all-out defense and all-out attack maneuvers, but neither of those improve the situation at all.)

    For an action-style RPG combat system to work, it needs 2 things: to give players precise settings of their AI allies, and rapid switching between controlled characters. In Ni No Kuni, say, if I specialize one of my characters to be a healer, and the rest to be damage dealers, it's extremely cumbersome to switch from one to the others, and the moment I switch the rest invariably do something that irritates me. On the other hand, FFXII's gambit system was a rather good example of AI setting.

    So if they can satisfy both these conditions adequately, I'll be happy with action battles. If not, give me turn based any day, without hesitation.

  • Macstorm 10 months ago

    I really don't know if I trust SE to listen at this point, but yes, yes, yes, absolutely yes. Just imagine all the awesome classes in FFXIV along with the FF staples. Now imagine all of those things in a next-gen, single-player Final Fantasy. That would be great.

View 30 comments

More from USgamer