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Mankind will defy its fate one final time By Joey Chiu on October 14, 2013 at 8:58 PM

As the last installment in what is now the Final Fantasy trilogy, it goes without saying that Square Enix has persisted on a set of games that were met with mixed feelings within the Final Fantasy community. Love it or hate it, common criticisms have always centered on the game’s linearity or its less than stellar plot coupled with a dragging out of a world that – while interesting on paper – in execution had much left to be desired. With the final installment looming one has to wonder if a common theme is hidden somewhere in a series never meant to be one or if Square Enix was essentially making things up as they went along as we enter nearly ten long years since the original game’s inception.

Long before the advent of Final Fantasy XIII itself there was Fabula Nova Crystallis. Drawn up by series writer Kazushige Nojima, the mythology has served as a set of guidelines for FFXIII and other Final Fantasy titles that set the pace as an overarching vehicle for the story. These “guidelines” have their roots in the various gods that exist in the world as well as the humans created by them who then have a preordained fate thrust upon them. LR GameplayBecause of this, there has always been a sort of struggle between the humans and the burden of said fate tasked to them by the gods of the world. For example, in the first installment – Final Fantasy XIII – the sign of the l’Cie is considered an inexorable destiny and Lightning and her friends struggle to gain their freedom. In keeping with that theme, Lightning will work as mankind’s savior in this final send-off as she and potentially others attempt to fight fate once again.

With Fabula Nova Crystallis as the cornerstone of this XIII trilogy, the universe itself has set up its own creation mythology, including a handful of gods that attempt to dictate the happenings in the worlds. According to a video produced and shown exclusively in Japan in 2011, the universe of FNC is divided into two: the Mortal World where the souls of the living reside, and the Unseen World where the dead take their place. The extensive back-story for this mythology has gone on to span various novels as well as the blanket foundation for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV, however as producer Yoshinori Kitase explains, much of that content will remain in its homeland for the time being.

“In terms of the novellas that expand from the basic mythos, there was the Episode i novella that was translated for XIII-2,” explained Kitase. “Of course, if the demand is high, we would consider it, but for the most part we want to concentrate on the main games. The novels that expand on the original story aren’t imperative to read in order to enjoy the main content of the mythos that is present in the games.”

“LIGHTNING RETURNS IS MUCH MORE FAST-PACED WITH BATTLES PLAYING HOST TO A VARIETY OF SPECTACULAR ELEMENTAL ATTACKS.”

During a recent demo of Lightning Returns with Kitase and game design director Yuji Abe, the pair told Nova Crystallis that they do have a bit of hope when it comes to players eventually looking back on this trilogy once they play the latest game. “I hope that when players play this game, they can relate to that aspect in real life,” said Kitase. “When you’re facing a struggle in your own life, I hope that it can help with facing that struggle, whether it’s finding a way to break through or finding your own way to break free, and coming to terms with that struggle.”

Compared to its predecessors, Lightning Returns is much more fast-paced with battles playing host to a variety of spectacular elemental attacks. According to Kitase, the team wanted to revamp everything while maintaining recurring elements such as fire spells. “Almost all of the effects have been updated to be more flashy and exciting,” he explained. “That was a major factor in incorporating these new elements, but at the same time, the only playable character in this installment is Lightning. You don’t have a party with you, so we had to figure out how to make everything visually interesting to watch with just one person battling enemies. Abe-san, the game design director, brainstormed ideas on making it visually interesting, and that’s how the thought of filling the screen with elemental effects came about.

“You may have already seen it in the various trailers, but there are also other familiar spells from the Final Fantasy universe like Flare or Tornado, and they’re definitely going to make a reappearance in LR. We upped the ante on those spells, so we hope you look forward to seeing them in the final game.”

LIGHTNING_RETURNS_FFXIII_Sept_13_CIn the midst of the Wildlands demo – in which Lightning is tasked to save the injured white chocobo, the Angel of Valhalla – Lightning’s movements within the battle arena itself are paced in a manner unusual to the typical Action RPG. As she must keep enemies within her attack range, Lightning approaches them with a deliberate pace despite the player having the option to speed her up outside of fights with the press of a button. According to Yuji Abe, there isn’t necessarily a specific movement or ability to increase her stance in battle; the key here will be to manage your defenses. “Timing and distance is very important in blocking incoming attacks,” explained Abe. “While there won’t be abilities to aid directly in Lightning’s movement, there will be abilities that help with sidestepping in the middle of spell casting or evading an enemy’s attacks.”

The main story of Lightning Returns itself has been largely left to mystery despite little bits and pieces explained in the numerous trailers released over the year. Recently, Square Enix shared a new main visual to let fans know that the gang from XIII and XIII-2 would be returning in full force – although for reasons unknown, only Lightning and Snow received massive makeovers while the others have essentially worn the same outfits for 500 years of game time. Kitase told us the reason for that design choice is steeped in part of the game’s narrative.

“After the events of XIII-2, the world was consumed in Chaos,” said Kitase. “Time stopped, people stopped aging, people stopped dying, and new lives weren’t being born. Things became very stagnant after the events of XIII-2, and each character that appeared in the previous installments has been living in a frozen timeline and stayed where they’ve been for a few hundred years.

“FOR DLC OUTFITS FOR THE OVERSEAS MARKET WE’RE STILL FINALIZING THE DETAILS.”

“In Snow’s case, his new look stems from how he’s the ruler of Yusnaan. In terms of Noel, his outfit has changed in some subtle ways, and his new appearance in the story is as a vigilante that operates in darkness, and he faces off with Lightning and opposes her. Vanille also will have a prominent role in the story, and her clothing had some tweaks as well. So in general, we’ve made some updates and tweaks in costume design relative to the new roles that each character takes in the story of Lightning Returns.”

One of the key elements of Lightning Returns centers on Lightning’s set of interchangeable clothing. Players will have the ability to switch in real time between different Schema that allow for defensive, offensive an other magic type abilities to be had. Many of the costumes in the game are actually inspired by classic Final Fantasy job classes but Square Enix has decided to take things a step further. Lightning will be able to find herself in the wears of characters from franchise past including Cloud Strife from FFVII and Yuna from FFX. At this year’s Tokyo Game Show, Yoshinori Kitase revealed yet another familiar fanservice garb on the way to Japanese fans in the form of Aerith Gainsborough – one currently exclusive to that market by way of a bonus for purchasing the game’s guide. We asked Kitase what would become of that outfit and other retail exclusive pre-order garbs when approaching the western market. “For DLC outfits for the overseas market we’re still finalizing the details,” explained Kitase. “In terms of exclusivity to a specific region, we try not to make it so that it is just Japan or just one region, so it might not be in the exact form – like buying a strategy guide to get a costume – but we’ll try to make sure that we are able to offer material for all of the regions in some way.”

Lightning-Returns-Final-Fantasy-XIII_2013_09-24-13_001In the Japanese version of the game, Lightning is voiced by Maaya Sakamoto – who incidentally also provides the voice for Aerith in the Compilation of FFVII and her other voiced appearances. That connection immediately stuck out to me as I saw the announcement video roll. The concept itself has its merits – once equipped, Lightning will sport Aerith’s weapon and animations. Square Enix has been mum when it comes to explaining what happens beyond that, although Kitase clarified that these bonus elements will go beyond just the aesthetic appeal into possible dialogue alterations. While not part of the game as a serious, main story element, Lightning will pick up various lines as well as their corresponding victory pose from each game as well as other FF nods easily recognizable by fans. Unfortunately, such bonuses won’t really be seen outside of battles.

But what about other characters? Surely with Final Fantasy sitting on over 25 years of rich history they might dig some other popular ones out of the closet? “Well…” laughed Kitase. “This is also still under consideration so please look forward to future information.”

I asked Kitase and Abe what was next for them and their team as the development on Lightning Returns wraps up. Kitase said that as the team has been apart of this project for quite some time now – the better part of a decade now – they’ll definitely be moving on but the future is still undecided. “We’ll definitely be moving on after the XIII Project comes to an end, but we still haven’t started up the new project so we can’t really describe it,” he said. “At the end of FFXIII-2, when we were asked on the same question we could say that we would work on the third installment which is now Lightning Returns. This time we don’t know yet, so we’ll be starting on the planning process in the near future.”

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  • that should be their ad campaign.

  • Crystal

    “still finalizing the details for dlc”
    Is this going to be outfits like aerith etc ?

  • Ehren Rivers

    Yes, that should be it. The Aerith costume is currently unconfirmed for release outside of Japan. The seven Samurai costumes are unconfirmed for North America, and some of them are only available in Europe as a part of the “Nordic Edition”.

  • Joshua

    Yuji Abe is a very sharp person, probably one of their better technical individuals right now. Probably worth watching to see what project he ends up on next.

    Very eager to see that some of these higher level folks at SE (Abe, Toriyama, Kitase) who have been tied up in the XIII project for so long can go forward, be creative, and create something new now.

  • Wassim Mokhtar

    All I could say is keep it up!

  • iLoveLightning

    Aw the last part made me sad.

  • Jaundré

    I just struggle with concepts such as

    “Time stopped, people stopped aging, people stopped dying, and new lives weren’t being born. Things became very stagnant after the events of XIII-2, and each character that appeared in the previous installments has been living in a frozen timeline and stayed where they’ve been for a few hundred years.”

    and the fact that the world ends in 13 days. The only way my mind reconciles this is to assume that a rising and setting sun signals “days” and time as a 4th dimensional component is zero. Mathematically would that be a (linear?) transformation from R4 to R3…?

  • Leon Aether

    “Vanille also will have a prominent role in the story”
    Yes please! That’s what I am looking forward to! Both Light and Vanille should get the spotlight in this game!
    As for the XIII saga, it’s been really a long road, and I enjoyed every piece of it, and I can’t wait for LR. But it’s time to move on too… Next gen seems promising so far!

  • Storm2356

    I don’t know about the math stuff, but I suppose that either you’re right about the rising and setting sun signaling days, or the Chaos just keeps people from aging and dying of natural causes.

  • Jaundré

    Haha mathematically it works, not difficult, its just a projection on the xyz cube. Anyway, I think we must take it in good faith, like ffxiii 2’s confusing timeline dynamics. I dont think the chaos keeps them from ageing since you have clear pockets of chaos in various areas and Hope’s ark is untouched by chaos since god removed it there but time is still stopped there. Am I getting this right?? Help Ehren!!

  • SazhKatzroy

    “I hope that when players play this game, they can relate to that aspect
    in real life,” said Kitase. “When you’re facing a struggle in your own
    life, I hope that it can help with facing that struggle, whether it’s
    finding a way to break through or finding your own way to break free,
    and coming to terms with that struggle.”

    Kitase’s quote is gold. I felt this way when playing the previous two games. The stories have been about overcoming something in your path or finding a way to better both yourself and others in the long run. Maybe this is why I enjoy the story of XIII so much. I see a bit of myself in the plot, or as an actual member the XIII team during their mission to seek out the truth.

    Not knowing what to do after the completion of such a large project can be somewhat problematic, but I know their talents will be put to good use. If I had a chance to talk with Yuji Abe or Kitase, I would tell them to put a spin-off title on the back-burner in the form of the War of Transgression, but only after other FF titles have surfaced.

    The franchise has had a great run, thought it’s disappointing many fans gave up on XIII in the beginning. I am sad to see it go, but something inside me says XIII will be back in some way, shape, or form. Who knows, we may have access to a Virtual Reality controller in the future that lets us walk along the beach of Bodhum, or to take a stroll through The Sunleth Waterscape… the possibilities are endless in our ever-changing world of technology and ideas.

  • SazhKatzroy

    So primarily we will be getting costume DLC that includes weapons/shields… but nothing like episode DLC from XIII-2?

  • Jaundré

    Your last paragraph…that is gold in itself. Would give anything to take a walk along that beach…if only virtual reality was real…

  • SazhKatzroy

    Thank you my friend!
    you never know.
    It may be closer than we think 🙂

  • stevenm281

    I can relate to the story of XIII as well, which is why I like it so much.

    It’s a story about discrimination, about how society sees you as something different.

    While FF13 characters had to face society being l’Cies, I had to face high school, years ago, being gay.

    The scene were Snow is with Hope and they get attacked, always got to me.

  • Ryuukishi

    Things could always change, but I believe early on they said Lightning Returns would not receive any story/mission DLC, only costumes and weapons.

  • Sapientia

    So I actually found a write-up by somebody at GameSpot who said that when he lost the battle with the thing that was trying to eat the white chocobo he/she lost a whole TWO hours because of that battle…
    http://www.gamespot.com/articles/lightning-returns-you-can-go-home-again/1100-6415554/
    Maybe I won’t play it on hard mode for the first time lol

  • SazhKatzroy

    That is spot on! Discrimination is a major theme in XIII !!

    I am sorry you had to deal with that nonsense in school, rather I feel bad for those kids who wouldn’t accept you. You are a human being just like everyone else, just like how Snow and Hope were civilians of Cocoon when viewed differently.

    That scene is also one of my favorite parts. You can almost feel the tension in the air and see the blood in the rioters eyes. They were always told, and most likely educated, that Pulse L’Cie were enemies no matter what…

  • Emanuel Martinez

    I’m so excited for this game. FF13 and 13-2 are my favorite games in the series. While I’m excited for this entry, I’m sad because it’s the last time we’ll see Lightning. At least, these games got a trilogy which has never happened with Final Fantasy. It’s just a shame that people found it fun to bash SE for anything they did because the games weren’t like the old ones. I remember when FF12 came out and people bashed it everywhere for being too open and not having random encounters or turn-based combat. Now everyone our of nowhere apparently loves that game and decided to bash FF13 instead for doing exactly what people criticized about FF12.

  • Somber

    Those who bash are minority. They are always being loud. Most fans are pleased with what SE done for them.

    There is no game which is absolutely free of being bashed. Just ignore those people.

  • Emanuel Martinez

    It’s just that EVERYWHERE I go that’s FF13 related, people are commenting about how much they hated the games, save for this site.

  • Ehren Rivers

    In XIII-2, the concept of time is more about the idea of causality and the ephemeral nature of human lives than actual ticking seconds. The destruction of time means that someone like Noel, who was born AFTER the period where Chaos ends time, can continue to exist even though in the original world they would fade away. The surge of Chaos has completely halted human progress as well, but neither of these things stop GRAVITY which is what causes the planet to rotate around the sun. Days could still technically be counted.

    Want an alternate explanation? Imagine you were stuck in an infinite loop of one day, completely aware of the loop. Over time, the force that created the loop starts to degrade the pattern and the world begins to shift and change so that every day seems different- When, in fact, it is not. Chaos, which is an “impossible” energy capable of causing almost anything to happen, has reshaped the world and is slowly consuming it. It may not be time in the traditional sense, and it might not be quite our scientific concept of timelessness, but it sounds to me like the world is at least temporally damaged.

    As for Hope, he went to the Ark only 169 years ago. Prior to that, he lived on Nova Chrysalia. His appearance as a child and the nature of the Ark are the doing of Bhunivelze, so there is some outside force to consider. Chaos does occasionally appear in intense concentrations, but it also surrounds the world and suffuses it. I could theorize all day about the nature of the Ark itself, but I won’t bore you any further.

    Hope this helped a little.

  • Ehren Rivers

    It has been confirmed and reconfirmed quite a lot: There will be no additional story segments or coliseum battles through DLC. Right now the only thing they are considering is the costume sets, most of which are legacy outfits.

  • Jaundré

    You are a very good commentator. I think we can see time symbolically and literally and its destruction signifies on various levels the tragedy of the human experience in the world of Nova Chrystallis. Also, I just would like to see more character development from Cauis in LR, how does he feel that he finally ended “time”?? In Yeul’s words: “He no longer wishes to live, he yearns to die”. I don’t mind theorising at all!! That’s what I do everyday as part of my research. Any thoughts about Yeul’s words “You have been lead to the fountainhead whence the chaos flows…”

  • Paul Robichaud

    I’m curious to see where LR:FFXIII’s story goes… Having been screwed over by these “gods” (Pulse/Lindzei in their sick games) before, I’m surprised that Lightning wouldn’t just tell Bhunivelze to find someone else to do it’s dirty work at the start. However, I get the feeling that that’s pretty much what ends up happening in the end, based on things like the (leaked) achievement list, or the phrase “The brightest lights cast the darkest shadows…”. Based on my observations about the information released so far, this “God of Light”, no better than it’s “children” (Pulse/Lindzei), seems to want the world to end as part of some twisted scheme, under the guise of “salvation”. If that is indeed the case, then hope that Lightning ends up saving the world and teaches this self-righteous “God” a lesson. I could be totally wrong, of course, but it does fit the theme of the first XIII.

  • SazhKatzroy

    I am a detail oriented person, so I try to tie as much together as possible. My own free time has been quite limited recently, but I want to look over XIII-2’s fragment data and see if anything is mentioned given what we know already in LR – heck even that which we don’t know much about, like the Ark, is always fun… I always like to speculate about the unknown

  • Sapientia

    *spoilers*
    Well, she’s pretty much been stripped of emotions so maybe she doesn’t feel as rebellious or questioning of Bhunivelze? Also, he told her Serah would be free if she did as he told, so he’s kind of blackmailing her.

  • DarmusXIII

    U mean bribing? Just wondering or is he blackmailing…not that it matters

  • Sapientia

    IMO, he’s blackmailing her. Basically saying, “hey, I can give your sister back to you if you save all of these peoples’ souls, then I’ll return her to you.”