E3 2013: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Hands-On Preview – A Grand Schema
Written Sunday, June 23, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Seriously, Final Fantasy is the most ironic name in video games, bar none. There's nothing 'final' about the series whatsoever, and it seems like there's something even less final about Final Fantasy XIII, which including this latest instalment, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, has spawned two sequels including FFXIII-2. Despite a mixed reception then, Final Fantasy XIII has managed to make something of a comeback for its two sequels, with fan favourite pink-haired über heroine Lightning returning in an even more powerful state than ever after 500 years in stasis. The clue's in the title. Lightning Returns.
And like Final Fantasy X's sequel before it (Final Fantasy X-2), Lightning gets to play dress-up, with that game's 'dressphere' system being combined with elements of the classic Active Time Battle system from previous games and Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2's Paradigm system. The result is battle gameplay mechanics that present a whole range of options to play and experiment with, as Lightning's customisable outfits grant different power sets know as Schemata. During a battle, scrolling through each single Schema couldn't be easier using the bumper buttons, while executing each of the four moves attached to your Schemata (plural) is a simple case of pressing the corresponding face button.
There's a cooldown for each ability, though basic attacks recharge quickly, while you can also guard whenever you see an enemy's attack winding up. Strike an enemy at the right time however, and you have the chance to perform a Knockdown, giving you the chance to either juggle an enemy or follow-up with a flurry of attacks while they're vulnerable. Able to move around freely during a battle, outside of battle sequences Lightning is also quick and athletic on her feet, able to jump, climb and run to evade enemies. Should you decide to engage in a fight, you can execute a preemptive strike on a foe with the right bumper, taking a chunk of their health in the process.
Sneak up on an enemy and you can take up to 25% off their health, whereas even a poor or good strike can take 10-20% of an enemy's vitality before you've even started the battle proper. As well as dealing with monsters, our hands-on has us chasing Snow Villiers through the grounds of a dilapidated facility, leaping over obstacles, climbing ladders and descending poles with fluid ease. The monsters we fight during this demo section are fairly basic, with the spherical bat-like Niblets easily killed in just a few swipes, while the Anubys demons offer a slightly stiffer challenge. You'll no doubt recognise these creatures from previous Final Fantasy XIII games.
Taking in the detailed surroundings, we bypass an electronic gate into the demo's final area, where Snow is nowhere to be found. Instead, a mysterious small girl who looks a lot like Serah awaits, surrounded by a black acrid smoke. Her name is Lumina, and apparently she'll help or hinder Lightning during her quest. And as she only has thirteen days to save the world before armageddon strikes, your encounters with Lumina might become a bit annoying. Here Lumina decides to summon a Reaver to fight us, leading to a final battle to finish off the demo.
We put all of Lightning's Schema skills to use here, switching between her divinity, cerberus and enchanter Schemata to unleash a volley of attacks against the Reaver. He's particularly vulnerable to lightning spells, so we let rip with some thunder and thundaga attacks, as well as some fast and furious blitz strikes. Depending which Schema you have equipped, you can also use a heavy or standard guard to lessen the damage the Reaver deals against you, while heavy slashes see Lightning leaping into the air and coming down hard on the beast's horned head.
Lightning also has an Overclock ability that enables her to chain together a number of attacks in quick succession. Your Overclock bar fills gradually as you fight, and activating the ability is a simple case of hitting the left trigger and then cramming in as many spells and attacks as you can before the Overclock bar elapses. Initially, it seems like there's almost too much to take in where Lightning Returns is concerned, but after a brief hands-on with the game, the battle system seems deep yet accessible, offering a more streamlined experience with enough complexity and nuance to keep things interesting.
With the Reaver beaten, our demo finishes, and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is looking like another worthwhile instalment in the ongoing Final Fantasy XIII saga. With Lightning more powerful than before, and the end of the world looming, the stakes are about as high as they can possibly get. Factor in the fact that this is Lightning's swansong with Square Enix promising to tie up all of the loose ends, and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII might just be the most essential chapter in the FFXIII series yet. It might also be one of the best. Time will tell.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will be out on February 11th, 2014 in North America and February 14th, 2014 in Europe.