Think back to the beginning of the current generation. At the time, Final Fantasy XIII was one of the most desired and graphically stunning titles. Back then who would have thought its release would garner such a mixed response from fans and spawn not one but two sequels? Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII is the third and supposedly final entry in Lightning’s Saga. I had a chance to check out a demo of the game at Square Enix’s pre-NYCC event.
Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII takes place 500 years after the events of FFXIII-2. Lightning awakens from her long sleep to discover that the world will be ending in 13 days’ time. This starts her off on a quest to save as many souls as possible in that time. The demo started a few hours into the game with Lightning arriving at a small farm village. There she hears a story about a legendary white chocobo known as the “Angel of Valhalla.” At the prompting of a Dr. Ghysal she sets off into the Wildlands to rescue the Angel of Valhalla from a monstrous Chocobo Eater.
The battle system has been completely overhauled from XIII and XIII-2. This time Lightning is the only character you take control of. Enemies appear in the wild and will try to attack you. If you engage them first by striking with your weapon using the shoulder button you will be rewarded with a bonus that decreases the enemy’s health by as much as 10%. When an enemy managed to attack me first it decreased Lightning’s health by 5%. The focus of the game is definitely more action oriented. You now fight in real time using the face buttons for specific commands. You can either tap the buttons repeatedly to attack or just hold down the button and Lightning will repeat the command continuously. At any time you can toggle between 3 different sets of commands usually tied to which costume Lightning is wearing. The costumes all look unique and have memorable names to differentiate them such as Helter Skelter, Dragoon, L’Ange Noir and the Savior. Different commands included Thunder, the powerful Spark Strike, and a two part Beatdown. When I temporarily subdued an enemy I had the option to launch it in the air for more devastating attacks. I was also able to use an Overdrive which slows down, immobilizes the enemy, and increases Lightning’s attack power for a limited time.
By pressing the Back button on the Xbox 360 you can access your items menu to utilize potions and the like. When my HP ran out the game automatically showed a screen allowing me to revive using a Phoenix Down. When it happened again after I exhausted all of my items the game told me I managed to escape but fell unconscious for an hour thus moving closer in time to the end of the world. The camera during combat was a tad tricky to master even with a lock on the enemy. Another issue was evading attacks. You have the option to guard attacks and if timed correctly these give you a jump on the opponent. Other moves attack while creating distance between you and your foe. What I really wanted was to execute a dodge roll like the ones available in Final Fantasy’s cousin series Kingdom Hearts. I hope Lightning gains the ability to do so later on in the game.
After a few tough battles with wild monsters I eventually tracked down the Chocobo Eater and began a boss fight of sorts. Once I defeated the Chocobo Eater, Lightning tried to comfort the bleeding White Chocobo and took it back to Dr. Ghysal to preform emergency surgery. The ensuing cutscenes make it clear that there is a special connection between Lightning and the Angel of Valhalla that should evolve further into the game.
Graphically, the game seems a bit garish, especially when it comes to the color palette. My hope is that this has something to do with how the demo station was set up because I don’t remember this many jaggies or framerate hiccups in previous Final Fantasy XIII games. The game still has its moments of real beauty but there is thus far not a noticeable step up from its predecessors. The battle system is definitely the biggest change for the trilogy and may take some getting used to, though I admire the way it speeds up combat and requires sharper reflexes. Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII releases on February 11, 2014 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.