Final Fantasy XIII was a little… well, different, than its predecessors in the Final Fantasy heritage. They changed whatever was left of the classic formula from soup to nuts, from the overland battle encounters to the new ATB fight system, the whole stagger tactic, the Eidolon system and gestalt versus summons, bloopity blah, bloopity blergh, bloopity blooey. The list goes on. And as expected, most of that held into Final Fantasy XIII-2 starring Lightning’s younger sister Serah. But in Lightning Returns, the latest game in the XIII universe, Lightning takes a page from Vincent Valentine’s book in Dirge of Cerberus and flies solo as the only playable character. There are no parties of three or team paradigm shifts in the sense we’re used to, just Lightning being a badass starring in a one woman show. Seems a little strange for a Final Fantasy title, but if any of you unlocked her Army of One ability in FF XIII, then you should find it wholly believable.
… Even though you (well I) had her in Commando mode all game only to find out that this ultimate ability of hers is in her Ravager tree and then you have to switch up your parties and ALL your paradigms to re-align stuff with a crystarium points farm and…
Sorry. Got kind of carried away there. But while I’m on that point, come on guys. Come on.
At any rate, the video (which you can see here on IHOGeek’s YouTube channel) and screens for Lightning Returns provided by Square-Enix show our heroine jumping from ledge to ledge and over/through obstacles to get around on the overworld map instead of just running around to the next checkpoint, more the way Dante or War would in Devil May Cry and Darksiders. And that mechanic is both the reason I’m looking forward to it as well as the reason I fear for it. I’ll get into that in a bit.
Once in a battle Lightning seems to be freer in her movements and attacks in taking on enemies – able to issue commands and change up style on the fly. So while there’s still some of the elements of the XIII universe that we know and love left untouched, in battle mode it looks like menus and auto-attack has been replaced with assigned commands, with each of the four main buttons on a Xbox 360 pr PS3 controller mapped to something different. An example from one of the fights in the trailer, the player has the four commands set as Light Slash, Heavy Slash, Evade and Blizzaga. Each of these four commands look like they will change when Lightning changes paradigms – and from what we can see so far those are called Divinity, Enchanter and Cerberus corresponding to defensive, magic and physical styles. Seems to me like that would provide a ton more options that a single character has, which is a direction that needs to be taken when she’s the only one you’ve got. An arsenal at the ready and tweakable skills look to make it so that players can make Lightning their own.
Now back to what I was saying before. As I mentioned, the action/platformer element of this game is both the reason I want to play it and the reason I fear for it. Square-Enix did the same kind of thing in their Final Fantasy VII universe – spinning off a different genre of a game with Dirge of Cerberus. DoC featured Vincent Valentine in a first person shooter style game, and while it was fun, I felt like they didn’t go all in with it, and it was enough of a departure from the lore to seem like an attempt to expand the franchise. Now in that sense, Lightning Returns isn’t in the same boat. It’s a legit part of the FF XIII continuity. My hope is that these elements are added the right way, and act as an enhancement instead of simply another method of trying to keep the franchise fresh. Either way, I’ll be playing through Lightning’s final journey for sure.
Oh, and by the way kids – the game will limit you to 13 days of play time to get it done. Secret methods notwithstanding, finish in 312 hours or the world ends in chaos. Have fun!