Hands-On: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII at E3 2013


Wave turn based combat goodbye.

Lightning, the pink haired warrior from Final Fantasy XIII is back for one last adventure in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. The action role playing game from Square Enix was on display at this year’s E3, and as a huge fan of the series, I’m happy to report that the final entry in the Fabula Nova Crystallis series is looking like the best one yet.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII takes place in 1000 AF, five hundred years after the events in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Not much of the story was shown off during the demo, but we did learn that Snow Villiers is still around, and that he’s now the protector and ruler, or Patron, of a place called Yusnaan.

Instead of story, the demo was action packed, showcasing Lightning Returns‘ brand new Schema combat system. In Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, characters could switch between different Paradigms at any time in order to execute various strategies. Lightning Returns‘ combat is similar, allowing Lightning to switch between different combat styles, or Schemas, with L1 and R1 depending on how you want her to attack.

In the demo, three Schema were shown off: Dark Muse, Sorceress, and Divinity. Each Schema offers Lightning four different types of abilities and the Schema are loosely broken down in to roles. For example, the Dark Muse Schema seemed to focus on melee attacks like heavy slash and light slash, while the Sorceress was centered around on magic attacks such as Firaga, Ruin, and Blizzara. Divinity was a mix between melee and magic.

Each Schema offered offensive and defensive abilities in the demo, but in the final version of the game they’ll be customizable. Additionally, when switching between Schema, Lightning’s clothing and accessories completely change. Since Lightning is the sole playable character in the game, the costume changes are welcome and bring a little something extra to the combat.

On top of a unique costume, every Schema also has its own ATB Gauge to limit how many times you can use attacks in succession. Using an ability drains a certain amount that Schema’s ATB Gauge, but the Gauge refills over time as you switch between Schemas. The idea is to constantly be attacking and switching between Schema if you want to take enemies down fast.

The Stagger system, which was in both Final Fantasy XIII titles, is back once again with a few tweaks. Instead of having to fill a stagger meter by constantly attacking, now enemies will have a stagger wave appear above their health bar if you hit them enough times. The wave bar starts off purple, but turns red when you’re about to stagger the enemy. Once staggered, enemies become defenseless and take a lot of extra damage.

The best way to take care of a staggered enemy is to use Lightning Returns‘ new Overclock feature. Overclocking makes time slow to almost a halt for Lightning’s enemies, allowing her to attack at what seems like breakneck speed. It wasn’t clear how often you can Overclock, but it’s a great addition to the combat system overall.

Combat mechanics aside, the game as a whole is absolutely beautiful. Beautiful combat isn’t something you normally say, but the way Lightning gracefully attacks her enemies, combined with the spell particles and how smoothly the Schema changes occur, simply looks fantastic when you put it all together.

The E3 2013 demo was short, but it offered the perfect bite of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. The game is already looking extremely polished, and I can definitely see folks who aren’t Final Fantasy fans enjoying everything it has to offer.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will be out for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on February 11, 2014.

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