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GAMEX 2013 Hands-on Preview: LIGHTNING RETURNS: FINAL FANTASY XIII

LIGHTNING_RETURNS_FFXIII_Sept_13_LWhen I played FINAL FANTASY XIII back in 2010, I branded it the worst FINAL FANTASY main-series game I had ever played. Three years have passed and upon replaying the game since then, I wholeheartedly stand by my opinion on that matter. But Square-Enix have proven that they have the power to turn things around, their improved release of FINAL FANTASY XIV earlier this year is one of the best titles the company has released in years. So when I had the chance to try out the new FINAL FANTASY XIII title at GAMEX 2013 this fall, I was happy to give it a honest and fresh try.

LIGHTNING RETURNS: FINAL FANTASY XIII (PS3, Xbox 360)
Developed and Published by Square-Enix (Namco Bandai in Nordic territories)

The demo I got to play had Lightning chasing after Snow, a character from the previous FINAL FANTASY XIII games. The story of LIGHTNING RETURNS is set many years into the future, close to the end of days. People have stopped aging and the world is in chaos, that’s all the story I was informed of before I got to play the game. While there was not a lot of story development in the demo, Square-Enix have ensured that people who have not played the first two FINAL FANTASY XIII titles will be able to start with this one, just like players were able to jump right into FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn despite it being a sequel.

Almost everything about the game has been restructured and redesigned from scratch. The battle-system no longer relies on any sort of partner AI as Lightning is the only character in the party. That’s not to say they’ve abandoned the classic ATB system entirely, quite the contrary actually. In LIGHTNING RETURNS, Lightning can have three classes (called schemata) equipped at a time, which you can switch freely between using left and right bumpers on the controller. Each class have their own ATB bar that refills when you’re not attacking, making it so that you constantly will be switching between the three equipped classes, much like you would switch between the turns of three characters in a classic turn-based RPG.

LIGHTNING_RETURNS_FFXIII_Sept_13_TThe way that attacking works is changed as well, gone is the classic menu and it’s been replaced with face-buttons on the right side of the screen. Each button is mapped to a type of move, be it a offensive or defensive, quite similar to Eternal Sonata in a lot of ways. But perhaps a more apt comparison would be the combat-system in Tales of games, as you can freely move around Lightning with the left analog-stick, yet she’ll run up to the enemy and do the attack assigned when you hit the button, just like the semi-auto combat style featured in most Tales of combat systems. It’s fast and intense, and unlike the combat system in the original FINAL FANTASY XIII, it actually works pretty well. At least in the demo.

You can also access a item menu by pausing the game, letting you refill health and gain other buffs and fun stuff. Unlike the original FINAL FANTASY XIII, you no longer replenish health automatically as you win a battle, so you’ll have to stack up on potions and other items. Finally, there’s one more new thing to the combat system, called Overclocking. In Overclocking, you get a short spurt of infinite ATB points, letting you spam as many attacks as you want for a small period of time. A good way to get the Stagger effect that’s returning from previous FINAL FANTASY XIII games.

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While I was very impressed with how fun the combat system was, there’s new fun stuff to do outside of combat as well. While I did not get a chance to check out the open world that’s been promised, the environment I got to run around in did show major improvements in terms of the way Lightning would interact with things. Lightning can now jump around, swing on poles and do a bunch of acrobatic maneuvers as you make your way through the world. You can also gain bonuses by attacking enemies on the map, and start with flaws if they attack you first. It’s clear that Square-Enix really want LIGHTNING RETURNS to be rich with gameplay, hopefully that will actually shine in the final product as well.

I’m very impressed with what LIGHTNING RETURNS: FINAL FANTASY XIII have showed me so far. it was very fun to play and gameplay wise almost every problem I had with the original seem to have been fixed, to at least a small extent. Now, there’s no telling whether or not the final product will be enjoyable, especially when I’m still skeptical on the writing, but playing the demo a few times have left me hopeful and positive towards the February 14th release.

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