Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a Game to Watch

Square Enix announced that they would be showing off the concluding chapter to the “Lightning Saga” yesterday. As Final Fantasy XIII-2 left gamers on a cliff hanger, everyone expected the announcement of Final Fantasy XIII-3; however, what we got was quite a bit different than what we thought we were getting. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII has a weird name and it seems like it will be a weird game. Drawing elements from many sources, changing the gameplay, and totally refocusing the storytelling approach, is a bold move for the third game in a series. Very little has been released on the game, and fewer professional gaming sites are giving it the coverage it deserves. I recommend you familiarize yourself with the 1up article, which provides a huge amount of information, as well as some interesting interpretation. I usually don’t shill for articles, but this one is very insightful and provides all the base information you need.

If this said “Cloud Returns” the internet would explode.
Truthfully, the new direction is baffling. Final Fantasy XIII had many, many detractors, and while it was a fundamentally flawed game, many of the criticisms were unfounded. Square Enix attempted to appease these detractors with Final Fantasy XIII-2, an excellent game that systematically addressed each major issue people had with the first game. However, many of the detractors cared little for this appeasement, as half of them just troll the series they profess to love, and the other half want nothing to do with the universe the game is set in. However, the XIII series now has a strong fanbase on its own, and Square risks alienating them by completely changing the how the game is played. It is clear that those who hate XIII are never going to come around, and they will be extremely vocal about how much they hate Square until the end of time, so it seems weird to risk the fanbase they have to try to court these people. 
Doesn’t everyone know IX was the last good Final Fantasy? Or was it VI, or VII, or X, or XII, or I, or IV. Oh wait, I forgot Final Fantasy simply has the worst fanbase ever. 
Know nothing about the game. Somehow the saviour of the series
The real tragedy with all of this is that Square Enix could release this game without a strong fanbase to support it. This is tragic because the changes being made to the game look absolutely amazing, and could create an incredibly unique game that everyone should play. I hope the awful Final Fantasy fanbase can get over themselves to see that, but it seems unlikely, as the forums are already blazing proclaiming the end of the series. With a bit of luck and marketing, hopefully Square can capture a new fanbase and simply forget about these fools who want nothing more than Final Fantasy VI or IX or maybe a Final Fantasy VII remake, and who spout endless praise for Versus XIII, a game they know nothing about. The name Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII over say Final Fantasy XIII-3 shows that Square is trying to distance themselves from sequel phobia (People avoiding games because it’s deep in a series they don’t know). It seems like they want this game to be more of a stand alone game, which has its upsides and downsides. 
Action RPG? Must be WRPG right?
So what do we actually have with this game? What we have is Square moving in a far more action oriented approach to gameplay. People have accused them of trying to westernize the series with this by cutting the turn based combat or opening the world or whatever else they can think up, but the truth is that this game is still strongly entrenched in the JRPG genre and none of the feared WRPG elements are actually exclusive to WRPGs. Of course they aren’t. Why would anyone think that real-time combat means WRPG when so many JRPGs, including major Square JRPGs such as Kingdom Hearts, use it? Why would an open world mean WRPG when just as many JRPGs have been open world as WRPGs, and that open world doesn’t just mean The Elder Scrolls?
If you screw up all three, you get this.
What we are getting from this game is going to be a totally rethought out battle system that seems integrate elements from the original game with a more Kingdom Hearts/Crisis Core action RPG feel. With only a single protagonist, it would be silly to make it turn based again, and it allows the gamer to have much more control over Lightning, which seems to be the theme for this game. By integrating elements such as timed hits, as seen in Super Mario RPG, and command customization, as seen in Crisis Core, without making it a mash fest, Lightning Returns could have the most engaging strategic action RPG battles ever. The risk with action RPGs is that their combat is too jumpy, a mash fest, or too easy. Lightning Returns looks to be addressing some of these issues. If they can avoid all three then it could be an incredibly fun game. 
As part of the gameplay is the customization. Apparently, the player will have a huge amount of customization options for Lightning with the ability to change her looks, abilities, and combat style. This will apparently be done primarily through equipment, which will make new items as important as they are in many great RPGs such as Final Fantasy IX. The ability to customize fighting style is excellent and will let players tailor the experience to how they want to play…if it works. The risk is that there isn’t balance and that magic or physical or some sort of mix will be totally inferior to the other such as in Kingdom Hearts, Crisis Core, or Skyrim. If they can pull it off, it will bring the game to a strong focus on Lightning and will give the player a lot of customization, which the XIII series strongly needs. 
Customization is critical. Materia made VII a hit.
I’ll admit Dead Rising may not be the best rolemodel.
The most exciting thing about the game is the time limit by far. Time limits are a bane for RPG gamers who traditionally like to take their time, but they work very, very well. There is a reason that Majora’s Mask and the original Fallout are so loved, or that the Dead Rising series works so well. Time limits restrict what you can do in a single game, but they also make the game much harder, give the player more impetus and most importantly make the game more replayable because many things are likely to be missed. Yes, RPG gamers like to take their time and grind, but time limits work at bringing a level of intensity to a game, which is usually not present. Throwing you into the final boss fight whether you are ready or not at the end of 13 days is a great decision, what is better though is the level of choice and consequence that can go with this system. 
See that counter on the right? That made the game.
We already know that dying in battle will prompt you to be able to revive yourself, but the Arise spell will cost time, 100 minutes to be exact. What other time restriction choices will be scattered through the game. Jeremy Parish, the 1up article author, likens this system to the D-counter system found in Dragon Quarter, a game I personally praised as being far ahead of its time. The basic idea behind the D-counter is that every action causes it to rise and when it reaches 100, the game ends. Stronger actions such as transforming into a dragon (Also known as the win button) cause the meter to rise much quicker, making these actions a last resort. By causing actions to take time away from your goal, the game can force the player to really think if those choices are worth it. Will you open that treasure chest and get the wonderful items found within? What if it costs you an hour of your time and you are already comfortable with the gear you have? Will you wipe the floor with your enemies with the Overclock ability, slowing down time so you can easily get yourself out of a jam? What if that costs you half an hour and you could probably squeak through otherwise? The level of depth choices like this can add to a game is amazing, and, if executed well, should make this game a must buy for that reason alone. 
You seriously need to play this game.
The story for the game is a bit of a mixed bag. Set 100 years after XIII-2 (Which is pretty meaningless in a time travelling tale) in a completely new land, it seems like closure to character arcs will not come very quickly or easily. It seems more that Square is trying to make the final game of the series stand more or less alone with new areas and new people with new problems. Sure there will likely be closure to Lightning’s journey and cameos from other characters, but these will likely be kept to a minimum. On the one hand this is a slap in the face to gamers who legitimately loved the XIII world and wanted to keep on with the characters from the previous games. On the other hand, this gives Square much more freedom to create a far more compelling story without being trapped in fanservice. It all depends on how it is executed, which we simply don’t know yet. 
Sorry Sazh. Chocolina has a better chance of showing up than you.
When Square Enix announced that they would be continuing the “Lightning Saga” I was confused. I had never thought of the XIII series as the Lightning Saga. All of the characters in XIII pulled their weight and it was hard for Lightning to really outshine anyone as a lead, and XIII-2 was a, Dude Where’s My Car-style, quest for Lightning with her making precious few appearances. However, now I understand why Square used that phrase. Lightning Returns is a totally refocused Final Fantasy XIII, which will be trimming off a lot of the unnecessaries and place the entire focus of the titular heroine. With so many amazing ideas going into this game, I bauk at those on the forums who are not excited for this game, but instead choose to doomsay. Sure the game could be executed poorly, and all the elements might be half-assed, but that could be true of any game. For now, Lightning Returns looks like a very ambitious game that is certainly one to watch.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

One thought on “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a Game to Watch

  1. Well, this is certainly an info overload. Why must so many good games be coming out? I only have so many hours in a day to enjoy them! Anyway, I agree that this is a risk, but the payoff almost completely compensates for any loses…if it works. Until then, I will play Final Fantasy Dimensions for a few more months.

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