Nearly two weeks ago now, the creators of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII took to Japan Expo in France with all new information, a look at gameplay, and even a new trailer in tow. While the play style of this final chapter in the Lightning Saga is quite different from the two that came before it, Lightning Returns is setting itself up to be completely customizable in a world where time and the world will come to halt within 13 days. To help explain this “different” Final Fantasy, both Final Fantasy World and FFRing had a chance to sit down with the developers and discuss what’s next in the world of Nova Chrysalia.
During Japan Expo, fans were treated to an extended demo – one quite different than the likes of what was shown at E3. The demo had Lightning explore the Dead Dunes – a desert area – and one of the four continents that players will be able to visit. The fourth continent, known as the Wildlands, has yet to be shown to the public, but Motomu Toriyama assures that it’s quite different than anything we’ve seen so far. As opposed to the Dead Dunes – a huge desert slowly being swallowed by chaos – “the Wildlands is still a rich nature,” according to Toriyama. “It’s like a Western open-world game – a huge continent with a lot of nature and vegetation. But also there are different settlements in the Wildlands, so you can move around from one settlement to another and meet the people there.”
When the Ultimania Omega guide for FFXIII-2 came out, it was revealed that there were several unused environments such as a city on the Archylte Steppe and the ruins of Eden. With the XIII series no stranger to the reuse of assets, were these ideas then taken and used in Lightning Returns, even as a source of inspiration? Those hoping for such a thing might be disappointed as Toriyama confirmed the entire environment in Lightning Returns is all new. “There aren’t any sort of areas or locations or features that we didn’t make use of in XIII and XIII-2,” he explained. “None of them have been recycled. However, you will probably be encountering some landmarks, many of which may make you think of some existing areas and locations from XIII and XIII-2.”
The world in Lightning Returns is ever-changing which is a first for the series. Yoshinori Kitase explains that Final Fantasy is what it is because each entry is never the same – even for the future. “Each new FF game should be made from scratch. So just because we took this direction for this game doesn’t necessarily mean anything about our future FF games. However, this huge, open world system, has been employed by Lightning Returns and Final Fantasy XV as well. It’s not necessarily what you might associate with the term ‘open world.’ It’s a huge open map – and for future RPGs, this type of feature is almost a necessity.”
That said, the demo on display at both E3 and Japan Expo took place in a more narrow environment – a palace in which Lightning had to pursue Snow in the continent of Yusnaan. This demo was specially created to showcase the battle system and how to play the game, according to Toriyama. When you play the actual game, this tutorial will be in place, but after that the player is pretty well free to adventure from one continent to the next on the open map.
The battle system itself in Lightning Returns is decidedly different than the two previous XIII games, but perhaps not as much as it initially seems. “What we wanted to do was take the ATB battle system from XIII and XIII-2 and turn it into something more advanced – speedier and more realistic,” explained Toriyama. “Particularly because Lightning is going to be your only playable character in LR, we wanted to bring another dimension by changing what she wears, the weapons and shields, to give her different kinds of gameplay you can chose from. In that sense, even though the battle system will be very action-oriented, at the same time by including outfit change, we tried to present a ‘marriage’ between action and strategy.”
But given the action nature of the battle system, has the team ever considered breaking free from the use of the traditional ATB bar system to make things even more dynamic? That’s not something Toriyama thinks they would do. “Because we really want to make an RPG, the most important thing we had in mind while creating the game was tactical elements. You have to always check how much you have left in your ATB gauge. You have to check the enemy’s weakness and strength, and you have to create an attack that should be the most effective. Action on the field has also been enhanced in this game. New moves have been introduced, but not as more reactive moves. They react more to different terrains you see in this game, so that we put the spotlight on a time management element. All the moves have been created to satisfy that condition.”
During battle, Lightning will have access to three costumes with many more available to be set up, mixed and matched to form Schema. The key to the game is that every player can make their own Lightning and dress her however they please. There are two aspects to this system: whenever Lightning’s outfit is changed, she equips a different battle style. As she is the only character, the second aspect is all about looks and the design of each particular piece of clothing. Costumes will be available at shops or in some cases a reward for quests and even found in some treasure chests.
It’s been said that there are more than 80 costumes in the game, but that’s not entirely true. “When we said 80 – that sounds like a lot – but most are actually based on more than a dozen original outfits,” said Toriyama. “The rest of them are actually different versions with different colors. It’s not 80 completely different costumes. We took some inspiration for the designs from – for example – the job system from the FF franchise. One of the designs in particular has been inspired by the Red Mage from the previous entries; we just modernized it a little bit.”
As of now, there are currently three announced costumes from other Final Fantasy games that will be making an appearance – Cloud’s from FFVII, Yuna’s outfit from FFX and a female Miqo’te’s from FFXIV. Collaborations are nothing new, but there’s always concern about a game retaining its uniqueness and in this case, toying too much with Lightning’s image. “We obviously don’t want to lose any of her identity altogether,” explained Toriyama. “It has to be Lightning – we have been very careful. Whatever outfit we created for her shouldn’t be too far-fetched. They should be reasonably in line with what she would wear. The only exception is the Miqo’te outfit from FFXIV. When she wears it, the victory pose after battles doesn’t look like her anymore.”
And DLC costumes? So far we have Cloud Strife set to arrive as a pre-order bonus – a move said to be more so for the fans of FFVII than it was for FFXIII. “We think it’s more of a bonus,” said Toriyama. “We think it’s okay, even if you don’t seem to agree. But more importantly, when Lightning wears the Cloud outfit, what she says is almost something that Cloud would have said. In that sense, if we don’t keep the good balance, Lightning would turn suddenly into Cloud. That’s something we didn’t want to see. Even if her speech is influenced by what Cloud would have said, she still has to be Lightning.”