The Lightning saga of Fabula Nova Crystallis will be wrapping up in the Fall of 2013 when Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is released and it will take the series in many new directions. Where Final Fantasy XIII-2 took feedback and improved on original concepts from XIII, Lightning Returns goes in a totally different direction, focussing on a new world in Nova Crystalia.
At a recent event, Square Enix showed off a first look at the upcoming title and shed light on what some of the major gameplay changes will look like. All of these impressions are from an early build of the game on the PlayStation 3.
The recently released trailer (as seen below) was shown at Jump Fest '12 shows off the prelude to the section of the game we saw. After Lightning gets off the train to Luxerion it does not take long before she gets wrapped up in solving a case of mysterious deaths. While looking at the latest corpse, a doll that looks just like Lightning is thrown off the roof of a building. This seems to be a sign to scare her from doing any more investigating.
Yes, you will be investigating, finding evidence, and finding who is guilty in Lightning Returns. Instead of just battle after battle, you will be able to mix it up from time to time. The investigation brings Lightning to a mysterious group (cult?), who she thinks is behind these string of murders. This means you will actually be sneaking around the overworld in game. This is only a small section of the game, so if you were worried about things turning into Metal Gear Solid don't be.
As Lightning continues her quest, she will not be alone. Hope joins her and keeps in communication with her a lot. We do not yet know what he looks like, just that he is talking to Lightning from an undisclosed location. After some brief stalking and eaves dropping, you find out that you need to collect 4 from numbers around town to infiltrate the mysterious group. All of this gameplay now was part of previously recorded footage.
This is where the hands off demo started and we got to see how some of the many new systems will work. You now can run in the overworld faster using up meter to travel around. Shop variety is also much different this time. There are now restaurants/food stands to eat and restore your health for free. You can also buy skills for Lightning to use in battle and it's possible to customize your outfit and weapons before entering battle. Different sword, shield, and outfit options will change your stats depending on how you want to play.
These outfits also range from the strange, with a samurai like costume, to cute with a formal dress, or even nostalgic with a summoner outfit that looked very similar to Yuna from Final Fantasy X-2. If that wasn't enough to scratch your cosmetic itch, you can even change the colours for each piece of equipment manually. Along with more options to customize how you look, the custom colours really make the game feel like you're controlling YOUR own Lightning.
On her quest for the mysterious four numbers around the town of Luxerion, you will want to pay close attention to what the town's people are doing and saying. The in-game clock is always showing you what time of the day it is and how much time is left. Different events will happen based on your day, location, and specific time. After finding a crowd of people surrounding a mysterious symbol, you discover that these symbols are where you find the numbers. This also shows off our first in-game shot of Noel as he appears to be following Lightning around as she searches the town.
We were then taken to a very sneaky monster that was scaring some nearby people and got a glimpse at the new battle system. The first thing you will notice is when you get the upper hand and strike an enemy first, it gets a penalty. In the example we saw, there was a 10 percent loss in health for the foe. Things like this make how you start battles much more important than before.
It was extremely difficult to tell how Lightning Returns new battle system would play out, but now we finally have specifics. The biggest change is that you can actually move Lightning now on your own, but she seems to strafe and doesn't run around the stage avoiding attacks. You seem to automatically lock onto an enemy and all movement is centered around them. No idea if you can freely change targets or are locked into battle one at a time yet.
Attacks are now made by pressing one of the four main face buttons. So while on the exterior it may remind you of Kingdom Hearts, it still never stops feeling like a Final Fantasy game. There is now a brand new system and instead of the paradigm system, you now use the Amazing ATB ( Active Time Battle). This new system lets you control three separate ATB bars at the same time.
The way you do this is by switching between three different outfits using the shoulder buttons. Each outfit lets you have different equipment and attacks to use in battle. It acts like an instant dress sphere change from Final Fantasy X-2 and also requires you watch the ATB on each outfit. Going back to customization, there are many different types of skills to mix and match in battle. You can go all out with strong melee attacks, stay back with magic, or a mix of what fits your play style best.
Staggering an enemy is now called a knock down, but more information on how this will differ has not been announced. All of the past affects for attacks in XIII and XIII-2 battles have also been redone with a new look. Finally, Amazing ATB seems to not always be "active" when using an item like a potion, the battle is stopped completely. It is interesting to see that change exclusively for using items and nothing else. This were also many other new features, but we didn't hear too much info on them.
Going back to specific timed events in the overworld, we are shown a side quest being given to you by a citizen. She tells you about a raging bahamut going through Luxerion. It showed off more of an action based mission as opposed to the investigation from earlier. After defeating the giant enemy, the demo came to end. However, we now have a better sense of how you will move around the overworld, variety in quests, and the Amazing ATB system.
We were also treated to a bit more footage with a video showing off more gameplay from later in the game. The Wildlands and Dead Dunes were announced as the other environments you will traverse in the world of Nova Crystalia. That only leaves one unannounced area of this world left and these two new areas are quite different from Luxerion. Wildlands offers more lush green forest and plains setting along with a bit of desert mixed in. Then the Dead Dunes are nothing but sand, mysterious ruins and dungeons for Lightning to explore.
While all of the enemies shown in the demo were from XIII-2, the video shows off many new types of enemies to face off against. Noel now appears to make Lightning out be an enemy for an unknown reason. However, he is shown teaming up with her as Lightning attacks the mysterious group, but later we see what appears to be their first meeting in game. Noel appears to be attacking Lightning out of anger, claiming that she cannot be the real Lightning. Noel is a shadow hunter in this world and you will have to fight him to free his soul. Whatever is corrupting his soul is still unknown.
This is not exclusive to Noel and other people will need to be freed by Lightning if they ever hope to return to normal. This is one of the many mysteries in Nova Crystalia, along with no one having aged in centuries and a new girl called Lumina. Lumina is a pink haired girl that bears a very similar look to Lightning's sister Serah and runs into Lightning every step of the way. Her motives are unknown wrapping this new character in mystery along with the new world.
After taking in all of the new information from these gameplay videos and demo, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII looks more promising than ever. Minor annoyances such as text popping up on the HUD in the world way to often are easily forgettable when you get wrapped up in how well all the new additions fit. For such an early build of the game, many of the new systems are already very fleshed out and hopefully we will learn more details as the Fall 2013 release draws near.
Disclaimer Square Enix paid for flight and hotel in full for this event