For part two of our three part Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII first look, we’ll be focusing on the little things – that is, the finer details caught between the lines during our preview.
Our hands-off preview with the live demo was followed up by a brief question and answer session with Producer Yoshinori Kitase and Director Motomu Toriyama. The pair shared some insight into the game’s development, as well as their own challenges with applying user feedback. As the FFXIII series is coming to a close, we hoped to find some answers.
Balancing player wishes with creative vision
When looking at fan feedback Kitase noted, “It’s important to look back to the first title, which gave players a sense of speed through its use of cinematic cutscenes that wove through the story. FFXIII has been equated to that of a FPS because its goal was to move players quickly from one step to the next. Following its release, the development team received user feedback – most often in regards to the game’s linearity. As we moved on to the second and now third title, we thought of how to implement that user feedback.” Some of the things they strived for included player freedom and the growth of the character while exploring the world. For LRFFXIII, in order to balance that user feedback while forming new elements, they created this expansive world that players would be able to explore, but at the same time, the player won’t be thrown into it haphazardly. To help the player along, the team included the element of time management so that the player would pay better attention to the world, and the burden of having to think about how they will interact with its inhabitants. In a sense, the player must value the time that is left for Lightning – which is one of the strongest elements that was thought of in regards to balancing user feedback.
Kitase and Toriyama outlined five major pillars to their approach to gameplay:
World-Driven Game — A world that is constantly changing and diverse, changing with time.
Time Management System — Players will learn to value the time they have remaining.
Action-Oriented Battle — Execution of commands is immediate, much like an action-RPG.
Lightning Customization — As broad customization of Lightning tied to her gameplay progression.
Plenty of Sidequests — Example: NPCs and bulletin boards where Lightning takes on quests.
Why create a time-based world?
The primary source of inspiration for the time element in LRFFXIII was the Doomsday Clock. Toriyama imagined a clock with five minutes left until the end of the world. “For example, let’s say there’s a country that’s developing nuclear weapons and threatening Earth. As they do so, one minute is depleted from that time, yet as other countries pass laws to protect the peace, then they would gain one minute.” By taking this inspiration, Toriyama says you’ll have to spend your time wisely. Much like this scenario, you’ll be able to add time back into the world of Nova Chrysalia by completing certain deeds.
On-field exploration in the expansive world of Nova Chrysalia
Aside from the tutorial, the game will be basically free to explore. The player will be able to travel to any of the four continents in the world either by monorail or simply walking to and from them. “Because the time of the world moves in its own 24 hour period, the player might miss some opportunities to explore certain elements,” says Toriyama. The game is set up so players can go back through multiple playthroughs and do things differently through each New Game+.
Having scrapped the previous name of Novus Partus, Toriyama introduced us to the newly named Nova Chrysalia. This new world is made up of four continents – three of which are known so far: Luxerion, Dead Dunes and the Wildlands. While the final area has yet to be shown or named, it’s been speculated that it’s Etro’s castle – the remnant of Valhalla that was transported to Pulse when Chaos spread into the world. The world itself seems decently large from what little was shown, although Toriyama says we’ll have to wait for more information on that front.
The story itself is of course focused on Lightning. Not only will she be tasked with freeing the darkness in people’s hearts, but one of the major elements will be her own internal struggles as she goes against her destiny in order to save Serah once again. “We wanted to depict her again in a slightly different light so that people can have another opportunity to get to know her better,” Toriyama explains. “You might be a little bit surprised to see her at the beginning of Lightning Returns because you’re going to find her even more distant and more closed than before, but throughout the story you’re going to find out more about her real emotions, and what goes through her mind. She will be getting more and more human and vulnerable, even as you play.”
As of now, much of the story remains under wraps. A short glimpse at what’s to come revealed the Oracle Drive – a key item from XIII-2 that holds premonitions of the future. In LRFFXIII it seems the device is somehow related to the origin of the crimes taking place in Luxerion.
The key experience players should take from Lightning Returns
As the conclusion to Lightning’s saga, Toriyama wants to present a happy ending for Lightning. The other takeaway is the theme of the world ending. The team wanted to make the players think “what if I only had a certain number of days left until the world ended?” and how would they live their life to the fullest given the little time they’d have.
Courting fans who may have lost interest in Lightning or FFXIII
“With the Lightning Saga having expanded to three games now, there is a risk that some players have been driven away from the series,” Kitase explains. “At the same time, there might be this impression that people had to play the first two installments to enjoy the third and final installment. With LRFFXIII we wanted to focus on giving it a brand new feel – a brand new game that can be enjoyed regardless of prior knowledge of the series.” By creating this game the team wanted to bring back the players that drifted away from the Final Fantasy XIII saga or the Final Fantasy series. The effort of giving this game a whole new feels shows in their logo – it’s a completely different approach that casts away the traditional Yoshitaka Amano design. According to Kitase, they “wanted to convey to the audience that this is a new game that’s being brought to the table.”
Why continue the FFXIII saga instead of creating a new one?
“There are two major pillars to this decision,” says Kitase. “The first concerns the development of the concept for Final Fantasy XIII. Lightning was found to be a very attractive character, so we wanted to expand the story of her.” From the beginning stages of FFXIII-2, they had plans to start expanding even more on the world of Lightning and her saga – not only through games, but “the foundation came about for DLC, novels or other various expansions.” In that respect, they drew up the idea for Lightning Returns as the conclusion for the series during the development of FFXIII-2.
“The second pillar is represented by the idea that every numbered Final Fantasy goes through massive revisions for each entry,” Kitase explains. “Because the characters, systems and world would have to be created from scratch, it would be difficult to implement player feedback. As such it might take two or more years between releases. With XIII it was a very rare but great opportunity for the team to take this character and take elements from the game like the battle system and evolve them through the trilogy. By considering user feedback through such a short development time, the player can see that those changes have been applied straight away.”
How will downloadable content be handled?
In terms of DLC released for FFXIII-2 Kitase says there has been a mixed reception. “One example is the costumes that provided an aesthetic change to Noel and Serah. Feedback suggested that perhaps in addition to a visual change, maybe costumes should have an effect in-game – things like stat boosts, or other battle advantages. This feedback has been taken and applied to Lightning Returns.” As seen in the gameplay demo, Lightning has an assortment of outfits she can change between and Styles that can be assigned that contain different abilities or bonuses.
Another popular piece of DLC feedback the team received was in regard to scenario content. With XIII-2, they had planned DLC from the very beginning – building it with that extra content in mind. To round out the story, Kitase believes it was effective that they had those additional episodes in place. “Following their release, players voiced concerns of confusion and frustration, saying that they didn’t really add anything to the main part of the story,” says Kitase. As a result, the story for Lightning Returns will conclude within the main part of the game already on disc.
Costume customization – Lightning’s personal job system
The customization system in LRFFXIII is very similar to the classic Final Fantasy job system, or perhaps even FFXIII’s own Paradigm System. “The new system has been expanded so that players will have more freedom with abilities that they can assign,” according to Toriyama. Unlike the job system in say, FFV, where roles were more specific to each job, the system in LRFFXIII is a lot more expansive. “The player can lean toward a more action-oriented style of battle with commands like Guard or Strike or Dodge-Roll. Or, for those more interested in a typical RPG style, you can customize Lightning to cast magic.” In addition to assigning elements such as commands, Lightning’s actual outfits can be changed, with items like shields and weapons mixed and matched. Her outfits can be micromanaged down to the smallest detail, including custom colors that will appear while exploring the world as well.
Introducing the Amazing Active Time Battle
The game’s battle system is still undergoing various treatments. In particular, the current user interface will probably see some changes by the time the game ships. As enemies can be found on the field again, battles are prefaced by an encounter system that allows Lightning to sneak up on them to perform preemptive strikes. Doing so correctly will introduce certain advantages which are quite advanced from FFXIII. For example, if Lightning can strike first, the enemy will lose 10% of their starting HP; if Lightning can strike an enemy from behind instead, they’ll lose 25% of their HP.
Once in battle, an active dodge and counter system is available. Each command equipped to Lightning can be accessed by the four face buttons on the controller, while full field movement is controlled by the left analog stick. Similar to most action games, by using the Guard ability Lightning can reduce any damage done to her.
What about the returning characters?
As the third game in the series, it’s only natural to wonder about the fate of the supporting cast. We already know that Snow and Hope are in, with the latter supporting Lightning from afar. FFXIII-2 lead Noel Kreiss will also reappear, though with strikingly different motivations.
Hunderds of years alone has stirred a darkness in him, one that grows due to the infection of Chaos. Now known as the Shadow Hunter, he hunts down wrongdoers in the city of Luxerion. With the souls of former comrades corrupted, Lightning has no choice but to battle to free them of their burdens.
The role of shops and other vendors
Shops have returned to the series in full force – in a variety that Toriyama claims is the most diverse in the franchise. Not only will Lightning be able to buy equipment parts, but also abilities, magic and other items. Because abilities are now purchased via store fronts, the Crystarium system has been scrapped. If necessary, she can also visit restaurants to buy food items that restore HP or other status effects.
So after all of that, what did we think? That comes later. Keep an eye on the site for our dedicated impressions article, and stay tuned for even more Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII coverage in the near future.