Square Enix seems to be on a roll lately, with the surprise announcement of Final Fantasy XV (formerly Final Fantasy Versus XIII), bringing Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn to both PS4 and PS3, and the much anticipated reveal of Kingdom Hearts 3, but Square Enix also has another title in its Final Fantasy stable on its way, and that is Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
After the non-ending of 2012‘s Final Fantasy XIII-2, many fans felt like they were kicked in the pants. Lightning Returns hopes to rectify that, seeing the return (obviously) of Final Fantasy XIII’s original heroine Lightning as she tries to undo the time-shattering calamity of XIII-2’s end. Our E3 demo began with Lightning in what appeared to be a derelict, barren, industrial complex of sorts filled with monsters. Her task: track down Snow Villiers, whose alignment with good or evil is now up in question (as shown by his now ambiguously evil clothes).
Final Fantasy XIII brought huge changes to the series back in 2010, and Lightning Returns changes the formula up even more. For the first time in a main Final Fantasy game, you only have a party of one, with Lightning being the only playable character. Combat works similarly to the last two games, continuing the Active Time Battle and Paradigm shifting systems. What’s new this time around are Lightning’s “Schemas”, various outfits she switches between in real time via the press of the shoulder button. Much like the job system of previous games and the dressphere system of Final Fantasy X-2, each outfit allows Lightning to use different sets of abilities, such as an outfit that features mostly melee attacks, a sorceress outfit for magic, and one that features a mix between the two. I only had access three outfits during my demo, but the final game will feature more.
Each move in your various schemas is mapped to a face button on the controller, with a block move being available in each of mine. Lightning carries out each move as soon as you press the button, but this depletes her mana gauge. Each Schema has access to its own mana gauge, so juggling your Schemas and using them strategically is required to take down enemies efficiently and effectively. I loved quickly switching between the similarly themed Paradigms of the previous XIII titles, and I enjoyed the way they were implemented in Lightning Returns.
Switching between Schemas is fun and fast paced, but if there’s one thing I didn’t like about the demo, and that's how sexualized and pandering Lightning’s various outfits are. I’ve long been a supporter of Final Fantasy XIII and the changes it brought to the series, but this decision soured my goodwill somewhat. Say what you want about Final Fantasy XIII, but Lightning was one of the better heroines of the series. Switching between Lightning’s various clothing reveals different combinations of short skirts and visible underwear. In one outfit, the top of Lightning’s backside is clearly visible. I get that sex sells in this industry, but it made me uncomfortable and ashamed to see one of my favorite Final Fantasy characters be depicted this way.
That said, I remain excited for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. The battle system is fun and fresh, I’m intrigued to see the conclusion of this story, and I’m looking forward to seeing the various ways time travel gets incorporated into the narrative. The Final Fantasy XIII saga has proven to be a bold experiment for Square Enix’s long-running franchise, and we get to see how it ends February 11, 2014 for PS3 and Xbox 360.