The Final Fantasy XIII series owes a lot of its success to the character Lightning, according to series producer Yoshinori Kitase.
Her distinctive look has brought about an opportunity for not only a closing chapter to her saga, but also a brand new game in a brand new world. With this new gameplay experience, both Yoshinori Kitase and Director Motomu Toriyama hope to satisfy fans and maybe newcomers alike.
Following the official reveal trailer this past December, Square Enix invited a select bunch of press to get an early look at the game proper. Not only was I treated to an unfinished version of the game – said to be the earliest build of a Final Fantasy ever shown publicly – I was able to get an understanding of what the developers are trying to aim for.
The presentation began with a look at the familiar Jump Festa trailer, although slightly longer with a few extended scenes. While there are a few extra glimpses of the city Luxerion, the most notable addition is the appearance of Noel Kreiss – FFXIII-2’s time-traveling protagonist. Appearing in his original garb, Noel isn’t here to help Lightning – no, he’s here to fight her. His motivations seem obfuscated in mystery, but one thing’s for sure – he doesn’t believe Lightning is the real one.
Now burdened with more questions rather than answers, we moved on to a lengthy gameplay demonstration. Running on a PS3 system, Toriyama stressed that this build was still quite early and that graphical improvements would be made over time.
The titular heroine Lightning is back – this is her story that will lead to her conclusive happy ending, after all. With 13 days set until the end of the world, Lightning has been tasked as the Savior to guide the souls of mankind to a new world that will be created when the current one ends.
The world of Nova Chrysalia (formerly known as Novus Partus) is a strange land. Four continents make up its base and include the city of light Luxerion, a vast natural landscape dotted with villages known as The Wildlands, and The Dead Dunes – a desert location featuring many dungeons hidden beneath ruins that hark back to Final Fantasys past.
The game begins in Luxerion as Lightning is seen exiting the monorail in North Station. As the city is entrenched in somewhat of a gothic style, the name itself appears on screen to signal your arrival. The city itself has become one of faith and religion. Those who live there worship the god Bhunivelze, although not everyone is pleased with his coming creed.
Having stopped aging, the people of Nova Chrysalia have become burdened. A heavy weight lies upon their hearts and now a group wishes to stop the Savior at all costs. Serial murders have started taking place in Luxerion as someone aims to kill Lightning. The city of God has been filled with blood – three people dead in three days – and Lightning on the hunt to find the culprit. So intent are these detractors, that they’ve hung an effigy of Lightning near the town’s clock tower. The group responsible is a bunch dressed in white. Their goal is as much as a mystery as the story itself.
The demo is prefaced with a bit of an adventure. Lightning takes to the streets, questioning those in her path while following the advice from Hope Estheim – a familiar FFXIII character who operates elsewhere for the time being. By moving around the city, Lightning can collect evidence and in turn traverse through many shortcuts to get to where she needs to be.
Perhaps taking a page out of the Assassin’s Creed book, Lightning follows her lead by way of stealth. In pursuit of the white clothed people, she hides behind structures, trees and even boxes to avoid being seen by her would-be killers. LRFFXIII is not a game all about stealth, however, Toriyama stresses that sneaking will be largely optional during certain quests and not a component necessary for the entire game.
Trailing the white-cloaked people seems to pay off for Lightning – she discovers they have somewhat of a hidden base hidden behind a gate. The only catch is she’ll need a code to open it that changes daily. Starting from the next morning, she proceeds to find these codes throughout town – one in particular hidden on a wall covered in mist. Lightning is able to catch on to this by other NPCs having a look.
It is here that Noel Kreiss – hero from FFXIII-2 makes his expected appearance. Having been spared in the previous game, he has become the Shadow Hunter – a title that still holds much mystery. His confrontation with Lightning is lead by the burdens in his heart, for he believes he must right the wrongs that have been done to the world. These burdens have appeared presumably because of Chaos that has flooded the world, rendering people essentially immortal yet unable to birth new life.
Touching back on the concept of World Driven gameplay, it’s important to recognize that the world of Lightning Returns revolves around a real 24 hour clock. That’s not to say that the game conforms to actual real world time, but its own system that cycles through about one day every real world hour. With that said, the player must take the concept of time into consideration when playing this title. Not only the player, but NPCs tend to change their behavior depending on the time of day it is. For example, when it’s early in the morning you won’t see many people about, but come 8 or 9AM game time, you’ll see NPCs gather here and there as they commute to work through the monorail station.
Different NPCs will also appear at different areas – something you’ll need to take note of as Lightning will need to acquire different quest information throughout the story.
As the world continues to move, it’s important to pay attention to its happenings. Time even passes during event scenes – the town, and the time is shifting constantly. Side quests also appear based on the time so it’s important to save time by taking shortcuts when traversing the world. In addition to jumping, climbing and normal running, Lightning will be able to perform a sprint move that uses its own ever-present ATB bar.
An assortment of shops will be available in the game as well. For example, at one such shop in Luxerion, Lightning was able to purchase some food items that restored her HP. Other items shown for sale included abilities such as Fire and Blizzara. Unfortunately, however, it seems that some shops will close up during specific times of day. Toriyama even suggests that this might be the only Final Fantasy game with such a wide variety of shops to visit.
In the demo, one such quest involved a hunt for a behemoth. By taking this quest upon her shoulders, Lightning must venture out into the city to find and defeat it for a reward. Instead of money, completing such quests will net materials which can be used for item creation later on.
Much like NPCs, enemies will appear at various locations throughout the day. Typically the appearance of people running from a given location is a signal that monster enemies are nearby. Or as in the demo, an injured person was the prelude to a thread that Lightning must handle herself.
Moving on to an actual battle, the demonstration took us through several normal enemy encounters. The battle itself is very action-oriented – that is, similar to Crisis Core: FFVII, you can move Lightning around using the left analog stick. Commands are mapped to the face buttons instead of cycling through d-pad based menus.
Before combat, however, it’s important to customize Lightning. Not only can you customize her abilities, but her costumes and even costume colors as well. Newly revealed Dark Muse and Shadow Dusk outfits were available as well as a myriad of brand new outfits not yet available in any media form. Other Garbs included Cresent Moon, Heart Burglar and Sorceress – one of which was an elegant dress for Lightning, while another was a fur-lined ensemble that used a feather-like side skirt.
Preemptive strike also returns, allowing for a battle bonus for encountering the on-field enemies properly before a battle transition.
The battle system itself is presently being called “Amazing ATB.” By allowing the selection of three outfits and their equipment – or rather, three Styles – each will have its own ATB gauge to utilize. Abilities assigned to each style will consume part of the ATB bar depending on which face button you choose to press. Lightning can switch Styles on the fly through use of the R1 and L1 buttons, allowing tactical precision by changing costumes at just the right time.
A new Stagger or Break system has also made its way into the game. Known as the Knockdown system, Lightning can now take advantage of an enemy’s strengths or weaknesses. If you watch the latest trailer you might notice some little icons under an enemy’s HP gauge. These icons represent the features that relate to either their strength or weakness. With full customization at hand, battles can really become something that requires a step-by-step process that requires a lot of forward thinking – similar to your typical RTS. By setting up appropriate Styles, the player can really take advantage of these strategy-based battles. Revamped as the battle system is, Toriyama has also pointed out that all of the visual battle effects have also been redone for this outing to make Lightning appear “more cool.”
Not only can Lightning Returns appeal to RTS players, but perhaps also action game players as well. Director Toriyama referenced Lightning’s new abilities such as blocking, dodging, and free movement as reasons why Lightning would be going it solo this time.
Although an early build, it was easy to see the direction the team was taking the game. Following the live demo, Toriyama ran a brand new trailer (which is still unreleased to the public as of this writing) that showcased the two newly named areas of Nova Chrysalia. Of course, with new worlds come new monsters and the team promises nearly 50% of creatures in-game will be brand new.
We were also shown a little more insight into what was going on with Noel Kreiss. It seems he is now known as the Shadow Hunter and that Lightning may have to battle more than one former ally in order to release their burdens. The newly revealed character Lumina was shown as well, although her true purpose remains shrouded in mystery. Although she has the appearance of Serah, she seems to be toying with Lightning at every turn. Just who or what is she?
Rounding out the event was one last surprise: a release period. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will be available worldwide in Autumn of 2013 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Disclaimer: Flight and hotel accommodations were paid in full by Square Enix.