Final Fantasy XIII told the story of six heroes that defied a world ruled by fal'Cie. Final Fantasy XIII-2 told of a seeress seeking to change a vision of the world's end. Now, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII looks to continue the legend of a goddess who seeks to save her world.
Once the goddess, now the savior. Lightning awakens to the apocalypse and in turn, a new task. Legends told that during the end of days a savior would arrive. A banisher of darkness, bringer of light, and a redeemer of souls. This is Lightning's final journey and there are only 13 days left.
When Lightning first awakens, she's spoken to by a being that she calls god. This god gives Lightning the ultimate quest of being a savior to the dying world. It's her duty to take the souls of the lost and deliver them to the new world.
Along with Lightning's return, many familiar faces will make an appearance in this final chapter. The first we learned about was Snow, who takes leadership of the chaotic town of Yushaan. Then there's the always faithful Hope, now young, who assists Lightning from "˜The Ark', something which is suspended outside of time.
Fang also takes a similar approach as Snow, taking leadership of a group within The Dead Dunes. Vanille on the other hand is under the protection of the Order within Luxerion, serving as a saint able to hear the voices of the dead. Fans of Sazh will be glad to know of his epic return. However Sazh of this time has been tormented for hundreds of years by the soulless body of Dajh.
To top everything off, we see some of the 13-2 cast making a return as well. Noel makes his appearance with talk of a prophecy that shows Lightning's death, and takes it upon his own hands to carry it out. At the same time, Caius seeks death's release but is unable to die, so it's up to Lightning to carry his soul to the new world.
Those who have played both the first and second titles will be a bit intrigued to know that Square Enix have announced both Serah Farron and Cid Raines will also be making a return in some form. While this may not mean they will be prominent or living, the details may be interesting to unravel.
Square Enix has touted a hefty 50 hours of gameplay when seeking to do all of its new content. Lightning's main task is to unveil the secrets behind the world's end. Outside of that, there are many side missions, souls to save, and side content such as the arena in Yushaan.
Completing this content is no easy task however, as a doomsday clock ticks away. As mentioned earlier, the world is set to end in 13 days. It comes out to roughly 2-3 hours of real time per day in the game. However, the game will feature tasks that can be accomplished to either reverse time or slow down time. Also, time spent in menus and some exchanges will not deplete time. So you have some breathing room to sigh relief.
Lightning Returns takes place in a sundered world, that's consumed by chaos and is awaiting its inevitable doom. Travel is accommodated for by a rail system, and this connects the four different regions that house many different climates, people, and beasts. The Dead Dunes with its peaks of sand, the grassy plains of The Wildlands, the dark city of Yushaan, and the divine city of Luxerion.
While there is only four regions to explore, their size and scale is massive. The Wildlands feature large plains, deep lush forests, chocobo farms, and even a moogle village. Exploring The Dead Dunes you'll find sandy hills, dead plains, dark ruins, and even beautiful oases. Even the two towns, Yushaan and Luxerion, are large in scale and feature bustling streets.
To traverse these large expansive areas, Lightning not only has the use of rail systems but also chocobos and even a dash. Though it's important to note that chocobos are not available in all areas and dash is limited by a stamina bar.
Fans can rejoice that the staple great combat of the 13 saga returns in the third iteration. Lightning Returns looks to expand on the solid mechanics, and enhance it further. Combat is initialized the same way, colliding or striking an opponent in the field, with striking being used to create an advantage of lowering the health of enemies by a great deal from the start of the battle. Once initialized, the player is moved to the combat field where they fight their opponent.
Replacing the paradigm shifting from the first Final Fantasy XIII titles is a Schemata system. Schemata are player designed presets of class like equipment and ability sets. You can have 3 total Schematas and each has their own Active Time Bars (ATB). The ATB serve as energy for abilities that slowly regenerates at a set rate. The trick is in using each Schemata's abilities and ATB as the others regenerate.
Schematas can be customized before battle from the main menu screen. Within the 3 usable Schemata, each can have a preset Garb, Weapon, Shield (if able), 2 accessories, an adornment, and 4 abilities. Garbs serve as a sort of class system that not only changes Lightning's appearance but also enhances attributes and abilities to serve a role. These range from Red Mage, Dragoon, White Mage, Black Mage, Quiet Guardian, Duelist, and many more. To make the Garbs more personal, you are able to change the color scheme of each to fit your liking.
The abilities are attached to the 4 face buttons and can range from standard attacks, magic based slashes, fire spells, and even class specific attacks like lancing. The is a wide range of possibilities for equipment and abilities and this may be the game's ultimate hook.
Getting back to combat, Schemata is switched between by using the L1 and R1 buttons. Similar to previous titles in the series, selecting which Schemata you enter each battle with and executing the proper abilities in each is crucial to winning a battle. A nice addition to battles is the ability to freely move, dodge and guard. This adds much more freedom and tactical advantage to Lightning Returns.
The stagger system has been slightly altered in Lightning Returns. Instead of building a meter with specific classes, you have a bar that peaks to cause a knockdown or knock out effect. This meter can be filled quicker by exploiting an enemy's weakness (magic or piercing attacks).
A final new element in Lightning Returns is Energy Points. These are points that build up overtime as your gain rank from each battle. These points can then be spent to teleport to different locations, or heal and unleash devastating attacks while in combat. One ability is called Overclock which slows down time in battle. This allows Lightning to chain attacks and unleash even more deadly attacks like the Lightning favorite-"Army of One."
The way items work has been slightly altered as well. Lightning has an item pouch that has limited slots. This pouch can hold Potions, Remedies, and Phoenix Down that can restore health, cure ailments, and even revive Lightning if her health reaches zero. This pouch can be refilled at any of the many merchants.
On top of all the new features and worlds, Square Enix has made it a point to give many nods to the saga in which it builds from. For one, the many garbs that you'll get your hands on can reflect White Mages, Black Mages, Miqo'te, Yuna, and even Cloud Strife himself. Then there's the many musicians throughout the world playing music from previous titles. Just like with Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enix is sparing no fan service.
Lightning Returns has already released in Japan on November 21st to some favorable Famitsu scores. With two 10s, a 9 and an 8, it achieved a 37/40. That's a good score, even if just under FF13 and FF13-2's score of 39 and 40 respectively.
Look forward to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII when it hit store shelves next year. North America will see a February 11th 2014 release and Europe a few days later on the 14th. If you're looking to grab this title, let us know what aspect has you hooked. Or if you're passing on Lightning's return, let us know why in the comments below.