Earlier this week we were able to get a hands on preview with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XII, the final chapter in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and the conclusion to Lightning’s story arc. Held at the history Troxy venue in London, the preview event gave fans a chance to get a first look at new, never before seen gameplay as well as being able to listen to the game’s director Motomu Toriyama and gameplay director Yuji Abe talk about the game’s development.
Set many years after the previous games in the FFXIII trilogy, Lightning Returns sees the titular character trying to stop the prophesied end of the world which will happen in 13 days. As you play through the game, the time will constantly be ticking down on the side of the screen, reminding you of the urgent matter at hand. When taking on side quests and doing tasks like fighting in the arena, some tasks will also take a pre-determined amount of time to complete, further decreasing the amount of time you have before the apocalypse and the end of the game. Luckily there will be points where the flow of time can be slowed or paused to give you a bit of breathing room.
After having a go on the preview builds that were presented at the event, it was easy to see that Lightning Returns will provide a more action-based take on the final fantasy series for players once it’s released next february in the UK. Instead of the traditional turn based system in battles, Lightning can move around freely within the battle area and attack enemies at will using attacks and skills which are mapped to the face buttons, reminding me a bit of the ‘Active Combat Mode’ system from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. Using attacks or skills depletes Lightning’s ‘ATB gauge’ and if it’s too low you can’t attack and have to wait for it to recharge. Familiar battle features like staggering opponents to do more damage make a return but the Paradigm shift system for switching loadouts of skills and stats has instead been replaced by ‘Schemas’ where you can configure an outfit for lightning which will then determine what skills can be used and any status bonuses or abilities. Each of the schemas you have assigned as your main 3 to use in battle will use a separate ATB gauge, so you can quickly switch between them to continue attacking if the gauge has been expended on.
Outside of battles, there’s a wide range of freedom you have to roam around and explore the open world area and pick up side quests from npcs scattered around in towns, villages or just walking around. One of the main cities we were shown during the event covered a large area and had loads of characters walking around, having their own conversations making it seem like a really lively world to be in.
Another one of the big features in Lightning Returns appears to be the extensive customization options players will have to spec Lightning in countless different ways by creating custom schemas with modifiable outfits to wear as well as customising gear and items. Some of the clothing options and outfits contain several nods to previous entries in the Final Fantasy series including Red Mage, Black Mage themed costumes for Lightning and Cloud’s Soldier uniform from FF7, which is currently known to be included as a pre-order bonus for the game. There are planned to be more than 80 different costume sets in the final game so you’ll have a lot of options to customize your own version of Lightning. Players can then show off their customized Lightning via the game’s recently announced ‘Outerworld’ feature where they can take and share screenshots as well as battle scores and messages.
From the presentation and actually trying out the game, it looks like Lightning Returns is shaping up to be an interesting addition to the Final Fantasy XIII series. The more action-oriented gameplay may rub some people the wrong way, but I felt the new battle system worked rather well and the action seemed to flow smoothly while running around the enemy and attacking simultaneously. Being given the chance to explore freely and take on side quests also gave me the sense that there would be a lot to discover in the final game aside from the main story path.
As a final surprise at the preview event, Toriyama-San & Abe-San brought along a few pieces of concept art to show from the game’s pre-development including a few looks at some of lightning’s costume designs.
Lightning Returns will be released next year, February 14th 2014 for PS3 and Xbox 360.