TGS: Lightning Returns is the Opposite of Final Fantasy XIII

Who said sequels had to be anything like their predecessors?

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

Once upon a time, there was a game called Final Fantasy XIII. This was considered a bad idea and made many people very angry.

Me, though, I actually thought it was pretty good. I mean, it was basically the ultimate logical endpoint of the "completely linear" branch of the Final Fantasy tree. (It goes: Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XIII.) And it did that style pretty well. Some good characters, a great battle system... plus a completely stupid story and hyper-restrictive design. But it was good for what it was. I played it, I reviewed it, I said, "That was fun; now let's never do it again."

Square Enix, however, had different ideas. For some reason, they decided to follow up the most divisive Final Fantasy ever with not one but two direct sequels. The thing is, though, the sequels strayed pretty far from FFXIII's design; Final Fantasy XIII-2 had a slightly non-linear narrative that involved traveling through time. It was surprisingly good, even if it barely resembled a sequel at times.

But FFXIII-2 has nothing on Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII when it comes to flipping the bird to continuity. About the only thing Lightning Returns has in common with FFXIII is the eponymous protagonist, Claire "Lightning" Farron, and the perpetual voice in her ear over the course of her new adventure, Hope Estheim. Everything else is, so far as I can tell, completely different.

The most important thing FFXIII-2 retained from its predecessor was its combat system, the oddly hands-off battle style that saw players primarily playing an advisory role by changing the role of their party members and basically letting the characters auto-battle. It shouldn't have worked, but it did, dealing less in button presses than in charting the overall tide of battle and responding in kind to constantly changing situations.

But forget how well it worked before; Lightning Returns throws it out the window in favor of a single-character combat system that feels like a midpoint between Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X-2. Baffling? A little. But the new system works equally well, giving players tremendous customization and control over how Lightning approaches battle. She can equip up to three combat styles at a time, each of which comes with its own traits and skills (all of which can be adjusted based on gear and abilities).

These custom sets involve different costumes -- hence the FFX-2 connection -- and while there's been an unfortunate emphasis in the press and on forums on some of the more salacious outfits Lightning can don, the majority on display in the Tokyo Game Show demo hew more toward a different kind of fan service. Rather than showing off her fetish-friendly body parts, they call back to previous Final Fantasy games. One of her default costumes basically makes her look like Kain from FFIV, all the way down to her use of spear-based attacks (including a melee combo that ends with her launching into the air and darting downward to impale a target). Other outfits on display include "Heartbreaker," a thief-themed costume that makes her look like she's cosplaying the Yoshitaka Amano concept art of Locke Cole from Final Fantasy VI, and "Admiral," which is a dead ringer for Faris Schweriz from Final Fantasy V. There are also more generic outfits available, like a straight up Red Mage uniform, as well as some that seem to have no connection to anything whatsoever, such as an elaborate ball gown that doesn't precisely scream "combat-ready."

Players can toggle between these costumes instantly with the trigger buttons, and since each outfit has its own Active Time Battle meter, this allows her to keep the battles moving. Each combat style in the demo included some form of melee attack and a guard ability, but these weren't uniformly the same across sets; her mage set, for example, gave her "Rejene Guard" ("Regeneration Guard"), which would seemingly restore a small amount of health as a reward for a perfectly timed block.

But the combat revamp is hardly the biggest change in Lightning Returns. Much more significant is the way it seems to have jumped on the open-world design bandwagon slightly in advance of the rest of the games industry. The TGS demo set me in a rural village, which seemed like a typical Final Fantasy town... but when I did a 180 and headed out of town, I seamlessly stepped into a vast, lush grassland. Other towns could be seen in the distance, and an elaborate castle rose above the nearby mountain range. Just a few years ago, the FFXIII team complained about how difficult it was to create a traditional game structure in quality suitable for high-definition.... but here we are with a Final Fantasy that looks damn good despite its broad vistas and go-anywhere design.

The demo wanted me to go off to some narrow channel of land to do some quest involving chocobos, but my sentiment was, "Screw that." Instead, I set out in the opposite direction, toward the castle. I made it pretty far, actually -- passing the monorail that links the different continents of the world together -- before a Square Enix representative caught me studying the map and running off in the wrong direction. This prompted him to do the usual thing that happens when you play a demo at TGS with the intent of poking at the boundaries of the world rather than following the scripted experience to the letter: He politely told me what I was supposed to be doing with the same cheerful patience you use to address a particularly stupid child. Oh well.

But I was surprised by just how unbounded Lightning Returns' world has turned out to be. When I first heard that the game would be adopting an open-world style, I had concerns about how well they could pull it off given the tubes 'n tunnels style of FFXIII, and even FFXIII-2. But no; Lightning Returns looks legit.

It totally kills me that the game operates on a hard time limit, though. This is the kind of world that makes me want to tell the plot to go shove off while I wander aimlessly to see the sights. Preferably as my heroine kills monsters while wearing a pretty a ball gown. Just because you're stomping slimes in a mission to avert the apocalypse doesn't mean you can't look good, dammit.

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Comments 14

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  • Avatar for Shinta #1 Shinta 5 years ago
    I have faith that the time limit is a bit more lenient then they've led on. We know that she can spend EP to use the ability "Chronostasis" which stops time. It's not clear how much it stops, and for how long, and what other restrictions there are.

    But it would be a genius move to impose strict time limits, then give the player the power to shatter those limits. It would make you savor the downtime and the freedom even more.

    And who knows what is in store for new game +. XIII-2 had about 20 "cheats" you could unlock with fragment collections, including the ability to massively speed up time.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #2 Stealth20k 5 years ago
    I loved ff 13 and 13-2. I dont particularly like the idea of this game. But I have a choice. I dont have to buy it. But if others like this kind of game go for it
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  • Avatar for Terpiscorei #3 Terpiscorei 5 years ago
    I'm glad to hear positive impressions from Jeremy -- I don't think there's anyone in games media that I trust more on the matter of JRPGs. I really liked 13 and 13-2, so I'm really curious to see what they do with LR. I even want to see what they do with the story -- for a trilogy, the first two games certainly didn't have much in common as far as narrative.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #4 jeremy.parish 5 years ago
    Yeah, time runs down pretty slowly by default, and at E3 they told me that one of the first major tasks in the game is to break the initial time limit. I imagine there'll be plenty of ways to game the system.
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  • Avatar for andykeener27 #5 andykeener27 5 years ago
    Having enjoyed XIII enough to beat it, and having loved XIII-2 enough to get every achievement, I feel obligated to play XIII-3, and from what I just read here I feel that I'm going to really dig it. Looks like I have my first game purchase of 2014.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #6 Kuni-Nino 5 years ago
    I think you'll be doing all the exploring you want in the final game, Jeremy. It seems like they've structured the game as such with the amount of missions you'll be doing while you explore.

    And yes, kicking ass with a ball gown sounds pretty damn fun. :)
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  • Avatar for Toplinkar #7 Toplinkar 5 years ago
    Count me as one of those who loved XIII and XIII-2. I like this franchise because all it's games are unique.

    I am really interested in this one. It took SE quite some time to master the current-gen tech. BUt I can't wait to see the result of their hard-work.
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #8 Kadrom 5 years ago
    I'm hoping the hard time limit is more of a Dead Rising / Breath of Fire Dragon Quarter type of system, where you're not expected to do everything in one go.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #9 brionfoulke91 5 years ago
    XIII is a very underrated game. You have to hand it to Square, they are one of the most creative and experimental developers out there. They do not get enough credit for the big risks they take, even with a flagship series. This new game sounds like it's shaping up to be pretty interesting as well.
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  • Avatar for VegaTT #10 VegaTT 5 years ago
    Since there's a hard time limit, did you rename Lightning to "Deku Link" or "Olimar"?
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  • Avatar for Scimarad #11 Scimarad 5 years ago
    The hard time limit sort of kills this game for me. I like the idea of the open world and the new combat system but I prefer to take my time with RPGs.
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  • Avatar for Spazgadget #12 Spazgadget 5 years ago
    "About the only thing Lightning Returns has in common with FFXIII is the eponymous protagonist, Claire "Lightning" Farron"

    ...How did I play FXIII and (get the platinum trophy for) FXIII-2 and not know her name was "Claire"? Hm. Anyway, as a moderate fan of FFXIII and an unabashed fan of FXIII-2 (which fixed pretty much everything people complained about regarding FXIII) I am pretty enthused to get my hands on Lightning Returns. Thanks,@jeremy.parish, for the impressions.
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  • Avatar for JoshuaKadmon #13 JoshuaKadmon 5 years ago

    The time limit is more of a pacing device than an actual restriction - remember Persona 3's moon phase deadlines? In LR:FFXIII, it's been confirmed that major story missions will top the day-counter out at 13 days, while side quests and such will vary in how they impact it (a few hours less here, a day extra there, etc). You can even acquire a special item from shops and enemy drops that Lightning can use to literally "buy extra time". Since the max time on the counter is 13 days, that means you essentially have those 13 days to accomplish the next [of many] story missions. It keeps you moving in the right direction but shouldn't feel so restrictive that you can't complete minor open-world objectives or simply explore. The countdown pauses during combat and anytime you visit the Ark homebase, as well. That being said, abusing Overdrive attacks will use up valuable minutes, and the producers have already stated that NO ONE will be able to do everything in a single playthrough. They specifically designed the game to unlock new challenges, difficulty settings, hidden bosses, and other stuff for subsequent playthroughs, and you'll be making choices along the way. Kitase said they're aiming to offer well over 100 hours of gameplay in LR, although the first story run may only take half of that.
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  • Avatar for Scimarad #14 Scimarad 5 years ago

    That doesn't sound too bad at all.
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