You think you know everything about Final Fantasy? I did too, but there's a whole bunch of weird new stuff going on with the next title in the series, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, due out late this year. I've just returned from a first look at Square Enix's work in progress armed with a list of new features and surprising changes to the classic formula for this final chapter of Final Fantasy XIII.
Think change is good? Get a load of this stuff.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Releases: Fall 2013
13. The game takes place over 13 days, with time constantly moving
Time is constantly moving in Lighting Returns, gradually leading up to the end of the world. Depressing, right? The game's main character, retiring heroine Lightning, is out to do her best to save the people of this world in these final 13 days. She can't save everyone in less than two weeks, but she'll do her best in a sort of atonement mission. She's partially responsible for the world ending, after all.
In a live demo we saw, time determines how and when you'll interact with others in this world through what game producer Yoshinori Kitase calls "world driven" gameplay. For example, visiting a train station in the town of Luxerion in the early hours of the morning had us running into few NPCs. Coming back at 8 or 9AM would have more people out to interact with.
12. Lightning is the only playable character
There are no parties to hang with in Lightning Returns, meaning that our pink-haired pal is rolling solo for this entire game. She'll meet plenty of friends along the way, and Square Enix says that they're considering having another character accompanying her in certain battles, but the majority of the fighting will be done with her only. Loner.
11. The new battle system is action-oriented
Lightning may be going into battle on her own, but she's more capable now with a new battle system that has attacks mapped to the face buttons of the controller. Button presses send out attacks instantly, doing away with the typical pick-and-wait system of your standard JRPG. Some of these buttons are assigned to guard functions, which, when timed correctly can give Lightning an advantage in battle. I know that it sounds like quite a change, but it looks really fun.
She now has up to three fighting styles available in battle, and each has its own attack set. For example, one could be physically focused while another could be built for magical damage. Each form also has its own Active Time Battle gauge, and each attack knocks that gauge down a bit. Lightning can freely switch between the three forms to mix up attacks and make best use of the available ATB gauges.
Another big change for battles is that Lightning can now move freely around the battlefield by using the left analog stick, with positioning playing a role in attack effectiveness.
10. Quests are available; some with stealth and detective elements
It may sound odd to be taking on optional quests when the world only has 13 days on the clock left, but Lightning is out to help as many people as possible move on to the new world, so she'll be able to talk to NPCs to take on various missions to do so. One optional side quest we saw had Lightning chatting up a frantic towns person to take on a Behemoth that had managed to get into town. Despite it killing 12 previous bounty hunters, Lightning gladly took on the challenge. The battle was so difficult that the Square Enix staffer playing the live demo died before killing Behemoth!
A hint of stealth was shown in one mission. A live gameplay session we saw had Lighting with her sleuth cap on, out to find the people behind a string of murders in Luxerion. She talked to various NPCs to find clues and hear testimony. While tracking a mysterious group that was said to be involved in the incidents, we saw Lightning hiding around corners and other objects in the city to get a better look at them and track their movements. The mission continued with more snooping to find the numbers to a passcode that allowed access through a gate where the group was said to be performing a suspicious ritual.
9. Lighting has new world map movements
As Lightning moves about the world, she'll have access to a new set of movements to better help her get around for these final 13 days. She can now jump, climb, and slide down poles [hey, she's not that kind of girl] to make the most of her time. And while she could always run, a new dash ability lets her move even faster, though activating dashing will use a bit of her available ATB gauge. I even saw her sliding down sand dunes, Journey style.
8. Lightning can restore HP in new restaurants and taverns
While potions will always do the trick for topping off Lighting's hit points, new restaurants and taverns around the world of Lightning Returns can be visited to do the same. I imagine her hitting up a hot dog cart to wolf down a chili dog before a key battle.
Good news, shopaholics: other types of vendors will let Lightning purchase and change out abilities. Director Motomu Toriyama says that Lightning Returns has the most stores of any Final Fantasy title.
7. You can play dress-up with Lightning
The promised customization options in Lighting Returns give you the ability to dress up Lighting in just about any way you see fit. There looked to be several types of swords and armors to pick from, with both having full options for custom color picking available. Lightning's available armor looked to cover every possible Final Fantasy outfit type, from ornate dresses and battle gear to more skimpy tights and skirts. And there's feathery things, too. If you liked the Dressphere system of Final Fantasy X-2, you're going to dig this.
Aside from the standard attack and defense stat boosts you'd expect from swords and shields, all of these customizable items also add perks like magical and physical resistances.
6. Noel returns, and you get to kick his ass
I liked Noel as a character, but I still want to kick his ass for some reason. Now we'll have the chance.
The return of Final Fantasy XIII-2's hero, Noel Kreiss, was teased at this preview event. It seems that some people, Noel included, have heavy burdens on their heart in Lightning Returns, and Lightning takes it upon herself to beat some sense into them. A battle scene we saw had Lightning taking on Noel in a one-on-one fight in an effort to release the burdens of his heart. Tough love, I guess.
Appearances of other friends from the world of Final Fantasy XIII were also promised. Though we didn't see him, we heard Hope's voice in a live gameplay session. He acts as a sort of remote supporter for Lightning's cause in Lightning Returns.
Oh, and apparently people have stopped aging in these final days of the world, so everyone looks just as you remember. Oh, Square Enix.
5. New monsters and beefed-up old ones
With the new lands of Lightning Returns comes new monsters. The game's director, Motomu Toriyama, says that new baddies have been introduced to fit with the new geography. We saw quick snippets of battles with new beasts with names like Niblet and Bolt Rascal, the latter of which is probably strong against lightning. Plenty of older, more familiar enemies will return this time around, but Toriyama says that they've been strengthened for more of a challenge.
4. Four Continents
Lightning Returns takes place over four continents, each of which are connected by train. At this preview event we saw a fair bit of the religious port city of Luxerion, known as the "city of light and prayer." We also caught a short peek at the Wildlands, an open, natural continent populated with tree-packed forests and mountains. The Dead Dunes looked to be arid and sandy, with ruins and dungeons to explore. Square Enix left us hanging on the fourth continent, though.
3. The Stagger system is now deeper
With the new action-oriented battle system comes an improved Stagger system, letting you exploit weaknesses to take monsters down a notch for opportunities to do even more damage while they're down. They're calling it the Knockdown System for now, and in it you can activate stagger in several different ways with multiple types of weak spots. Depending on the player's style of attacking, different types of stagger opportunities will present itself. Elemental attacks, physical attack timing and even character positioning on the battlefield can now activate a stagger.
2. New character Lumina looks a bit like Serah
Good news, pink hair fans: Lightning Returns hits you with another pink-haired character, this one named Lumina. This young, mysterious girl looks a lot like Lightning's little sister Serah, though a bit less innocent. She has a big smile that seems to let on that she's withholding some important information.
1. Chocolina returns
The strangest shopkeeper in the Final Fantasy franchise returns. We're still not sure if she's a freak of nature or just a really good cosplayer, but we managed to spot Chocolina shaking her hips in the background during a live gameplay demo in the town of Luxerion. Wark!
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is set to release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the Fall of 2013. Stay tuned for more details coming down the line soon.