Born free: How Lightning Returns is breaking from Final Fantasy tradition
17th Jan 2013 | 12:00
We're not sure what we were expecting, but it definitely wasn't this. Lightning Returns breaks away from series tradition and brings some interesting new elements to the Final Fantasy formula. Fans may find the changes too much, but it's good to see Square Enix trying something different and addressing complaints about the increasing linearity of their flagship franchise.
There's a time limit
Like any good Final Fantasy hero, Lightning is on a quest to save the world. But there's a twist - she only has 13 days to do it. As you play the game, a counter is displayed on the HUD telling you how many days are remaining. Quests will use up a certain amount of time, so you'll have to decide whether it's worth taking the risk. This has definite hints of Nintendo's sublime Majora's Mask, although Square Enix tell us Lightning won't be able to manipulate time like Link.
It's a bit like Assassin's Creed
In our demo, Lightning is in the city of Luxerion tracking a mysterious cult. The architecture is reminiscent of Assassin's Creed 2's Renaissance Italy, but the similarities are more than visual. One quest sees her creeping through the streets tailing a group of cultists wearing white robes. In another she leaps between rooftops. Lightning Returns will apparently feature a lot of different gameplay types in its quests, so expect way more variety than the last two games.
There's only one playable character
It's long been Final Fantasy tradition to have a party of characters helping you in battle, but Lightning is on her own this time. Familiar faces will return, including Hope Estheim and Snow Villiers, but they'll be playing support roles only. Lightning Returns, as the title may suggest, is entirely about her, which is something of a first for the series. New characters will be introduced too, including a mysterious little girl who looks suspiciously like our protagonist.
The combat feels more like an action game
Without other characters getting in the way, Lightning is much more mobile in combat. You can move around freely with the left stick, which brings real-time elements - like dodging - to the series' trademark turn-based Active Time Battles. There are no menus either: all of her abilities and spells are mapped to the face buttons. This gives battles the feel of an action game, but strategy is still important. It hasn't turned into a button-basher, thankfully.
You can play dress-up
Lightning's elaborate costumes are the equivalent of the Paradigm Shift system. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you can switch between them in battle using the shoulder buttons. Knowing which so-called garb to use, and when, is where the core of the strategy lies. You can customise them too, allowing you to create your own bespoke character builds to suit different situations. There will be around 20 outfits to unlock and tinker with.
There are loads of side-quests
If you felt Final Fantasy XIII was too linear, Lightning Returns should win you over. The cities are full of wandering NPCs who dish out quests when you talk to them. There's a day/night cycle too, so some can only be completed at certain times. Compared to the static corridors of the previous games, the towns feel much more dynamic and alive. But with the looming threat of the apocalypse, you'll have to decide which side-quests are worth your time.