Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is Square Enix’s final title in the divisive trilogy, featuring a more action orientated battle system, and only a single playable character this is a major departure for the miniseries, and potentially one of the best decisions SE have made in years.
So we are here again, another year and yet another Final Fantasy XIII game, to say this series has been excessively milked would probably be an understatement. Despite the disdain shown towards this particular trilogy of games by a very vocal minority, Square Enix seems intent on continuing the saga. Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns is the third and final part of the miniseries, once again the battle system has been changed to suit a new type of gameplay optimised and designed around a single protagonist. (No prizes for guessing who that may be.)
The new battle system introduces a more action orientated approach to combat, with full 360 movement and the ability to dodge and block moves, the system is particularly reminiscent of recent iterations of Star Ocean. What sincerely differentiates it from other JRPGs however, is the role swapping mechanic which forms the foundation of the combat. Lightning now has access to and can equip any three roles at once which can be utilised throughout battle, each of these roles has its own unique skill set, attributes and interestingly enough, its own attack meter. Players have the option to use attacks from each role until the attack meter has been depleted, they must then either wait for it to replenish or change role and access a completely new attack meter. This transition is absolutely flawless and as a result creates a highly strategic fluid battle system. Lightning Returns may be an action RPG but those thinking they can just hack and slash their way through have another thing coming.
As expected from a console iteration of Final Fantasy, the graphics are stunning, in particular Lightning’s transformations between classes, metamorphosing between battle costumes is an elegant and spectacular transition. While the majority of the game looks fantastic, the environments were a little underwhelming. They felt dull and lifeless, perhaps this was just endemic of the demo, but I didn’t feel like Lightning was an active element, it felt like she was just there. This feeling was increased by the newly introduced jumping mechanic which felt very forced indeed, why Square felt the need to introduce basic platforming into the title, I do not know.
Overall my impression of the title’s short demo was overwhelmingly positive; the single character battle system is an inspired adaptation of previous Final Fantasy games with X-2 and XIII (obviously) offering the greatest elements of inspiration. The aesthetic and monsters are familiar and will be instantly recognisable to series veterans (as expected), but the way in which you interact has evolved. The basic platforming elements offers potential in terms of creative exploration but admittedly so far feels a little forced.
It’s hard to make a final judgement of a JRPG on only a 15 minute demo but so far, so good. Obviously the narrative is still a relative unknown and will be essential for the title’s critical aspirations, but if SE can get that right, they may just be back on track with their flagship series.
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