The North American release of Lightning Returns is in just one week, so what better way to get people excited than a quick set of impressions (and screenshots) from the English demo?
To start with, the opening CG sequence is (as many of you have already seen) gorgeous. It’s followed up by a pretty concise scenery-shot primer narrated by Lightning herself, which covers a few connections and refreshers such as Serah’s death. The demo dives pretty much immediately into things after that, with a battle that teaches you how to use the Style Shift system. It was relatively easy to grasp the basics, but I took the tutorial anyway just to be through.
After you fell your first enemy, one of the Anubys creatures seen in the opening, you are locked in a room with three separate enemy troops and told how to do things like manually attack on the field, or perfect guard in battle. Once I managed to get rid of all three, a pop-up proclaimed that I had unlocked Schema customization. I took a few moments to look around though, and check out the NPCs running around nearby. There were definitely some surface textures that looked low resolution when I was up close, but from my couch I didn’t really notice anything major. NPCs, on the other hand, are standard XIII series fare- Not-quite-transparent spaces between the strands of hair, seemingly painted-on collar bones and skin tones. The new Yusnaan soldiers were pretty cool though, and the monsters were well animated.
Satisfied with my surroundings, I turned to the Schemata customization menu and dug into what the demo gave me access to. Six outfits, enough weapons and shields for each, a smattering of abilities, and even a few decorations for me to take out for a spin. The default setup had Dark Muse (A strength-based attacker) and Black Mage (which comes with two powerful locked spells) in addition to the starter garb; The stat-balanced Equilibrium. In reserves were the classic Red Mage and Dragoon looks, as well as the Locke Cole-inspired Heartstealer garb. You can change the colors of your outfits (some have few options compared to others), and you can freely rename Schema using text entry.
I’ve played the demo quite a few times now and done all sorts of mixing-and-matching, but this time around I had a tip from community member and import player Ultromega. With my goal being to defeat the draconic boss of the demo was quickly as I could, I set up the following Schema:
Sap and Salvation
- Garb: Equilibrium
- Weapon: Scramasax (Strength-oriented)
- Shield: Double Cross (ATB Speed-oriented)
- Triangle: Deprotect (Magic +40)
- Square: Mediguard (HP +150)
- Circle: Attack (Locked)
- X: Blitz
- Max ATB: 100/100
- HP: 2250
- STR: 370
- MAG: 310
- ATB Speed: 110
- Garb: Dragoon
- Weapon: Wyvern Lance (Strength-oriented)
- Shield: Dragoon Gauntlet (Strength-oriented)
- Triangle: Lancet Lv3 (Locked)
- Square: Attack (Strength +40)
- Circle: Beat Down (Strength +80)
- X: Heavy Slash
- Max ATB: 60/120
- HP: 2000
- STR: 640
- MAG: 320
- ATB Speed: 105
- Garb: Black Mage
- Weapon: Crimson Blitz (ATB Speed-oriented)
- Shield: Double Cross (ATB Speed-oriented)
- Triangle: Blizzaga
- Square: Guard
- Circle: Rapid Fire Lv2 (Locked)
- X: Quick Freeze Lv2 (Locked)
- Max ATB: 112/150
- HP: 2100
- STR: 330
- MAG: 363
- ATB Speed: 115
As I trucked along the small area of the demo taking out creatures as they appeared, I found myself enjoying the constant conversations between Hope and Lightning. We’ll see how I feel about them in the full game, but what otherwise might have been a lonely dash for the finish ended up being pretty engaging. Hope has been around the world of Nova Chrysalia for a significantly longer period of time than Lightning, so he’s pretty knowledgeable about the places she goes and the people she meets. He’s quick to tell her just how Snow came to be the “Patron” of Yusnaan, although he comments that the l’Cie warrior doesn’t really do anything like ruling anymore.
An outburst of Chaos heralded an encounter with Lumina, the mysterious girl (aptly described by the developers as “a capricious little demon”) who shattered Lightning’s sword during the opening. After sarcastically pointing out that Lightning can’t be one of “God’s regular lackeys”, she summons the dragon Zaltys and I am pushed into the fight I spent most of my demo time preparing for. Despite having several potions and full EP (Energy Points), I decided to feel the creature purely on my own power, to try and get used to the basic strategy. The end result was a 4-star score and a battle time of just over 3 minutes, but I knew I could do better.
Beating the red dragon unlocks the ability to encounter him over again if you keep running around the room, so I prepared myself and waited for him to appear. With some quick reflexes I managed to get behind him and avoid the swipe he performs when he first spawns, so I was able to do a “Great” preemptive strike and start the battle with 1/4th of his HP already gone. This time I pulled out potions that granted Enfrost, Bravery, and Faith alongside some pretty heavy Quick Freeze spam. Liberal use of Overclock saw me win the battle in just 57 seconds, owing partly to my failure Guard against a few of his attacks.
All in all, I found the demo to be pretty fun. The voice acting is still quality, the combat shows more need for strategy than the previous two entries, and the customization of schema is really well done. The meat of the Lightning Returns experience, the time management system and exploration, didn’t really feature so for now I’ll have to say I’m optimistic about the final product. Please look forward to the in-depth English review, which will be done based on multiple completions of the main game and discuss New Game+ features such as Hard Mode and the weapon upgrading system. Until then!