2010 brought with it the arguably most disappointing Final Fantasy game in the series, Final Fantasy XIII. With a great battle system, beautiful world, and and interesting story, XIII was at its worst in navigating this beautiful world that Square-Enix had created. Spending close to 60 hours walking down a seemingly endless corridor made me never want to re-play this game again. Square seemed to remedy this with the game’s sequel in 2012. The game brought a more open environment and rewarded players for exploring these incredible landscapes. This freedom seemed to come at a cost, with the story suffering in the long-run. XIII-2 almost felt like an apology for the previous attempt. Now in 2014, Square wants to win you over again with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
The recently released PlayStation 3 demo throws you in to an action-packed section of the game’s story, so I instantly felt overwhelmed. The characters that had previously seemed relatively human (minus the magic and gravity defying jumping of course) suddenly had titles like “Saviour” and “Lord of the Feasthall”. Trusting that the full game would explain theses changes, I embraced them for now. One of the first big changes from the other two games in the saga, is the battle system. Ditching the paradigm system for “Schemata” adds a higher level of customization to the game. Different weapons and armor allow for different move sets to be used and discovered to aid you in battle. Other than a benefit in battle, these Schemata also change the way Lightning looks, each one making her (surprise surprise) more scantily clad than the last. Keeping the ATB bar, but mapping each move to the controllers face buttons, the new battle system feels more like a Kingdom Hearts game than Final Fantasy. Blocking and evading enemies moves feels like it requires more skill than just luck as it felt in previous games. So far this is appears to be my favorite battle system in a Final Fantasy game, but time will tell if the new model stays fresh after a reported 50 hours of content to play through.
The area that the demo provided for traversal didn’t seem to show the games apparent open-world experience. Instead you control Lightning chasing Snow the corridors of a banquet hall, showing off the games new “jumping and running” system that even includes a stamina bar. These seemingly elementary features are surprisingly new to the series, but add little to the game from what I can tell so far.
The demo closes with a boss fight, using the new battle system, and puts everything you have learned so far into practice. This boss is incredibly easy, but if the first Final Fantasy XIII game has taught me anything about hard boss fights (Barthandelus anyone?) I’m in for some tough times ahead when I final get my hands on the full game.
From what I have seen, I am very excited for Lightning Returns. The new battle system and open world exploration may be what’s needed to reinvigorate the series. With the game releasing February 11 in North America, and February 14 in Europe, it remains to be seen if third time really is the charm for Square-Enix, or if the Final Fantasy series as a whole will suffer from a third strike of Lightning.