Three weeks before release, Square Enix released a demo of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. It reintroduces us to Lightning as she takes on the role of a savior at the end of the world, and based on what I played in the demo, it just might be a very exciting journey.
At first glance, the combat system is similar to its predecessors — the ATB gauge is obviously still there and the stagger point (although I have no idea where or if there is a meter for it) still exists. The power of Libra is now free and players can press the right trigger or R2 to get more detailed information about the enemy. However, each action is now performed in real time. You can attack or defend whenever you want. It doesn’t matter that your ATB has four or six sections anymore. Now ATB has a maximum value of 100, and each action costs a certain amount of that value. This time it’s less about watching it happen and more of you correctly timing the attacks and carefully spending your ATB. As a result it’s an incredibly intense and exciting fight and forces you to really think about your actions, since you can’t take it back once the button is pressed. Some players might spend all of their ATB in one go, not realizing that the enemy might be stronger than anticipated. As a consequence, they need to wait for the meter to refill to a point where they can use Guard and then wait for the meter to fill again.
Her movements are still the same as past games with an early attack leading to an advantage in battle and vice versa. She can now also sprint for a limited time if she needs to chase people or slip past tough foes. Item management is back, but with its limits. During the demo, I was only allowed to have six recovery items during battle, which can be accessed with the start button. With this change it seems that the days of the 99 potions in the inventory are over. I’m not yet sure how this might impact the game in its full form, but it’s bound to anger some players. An online component, Outerworld, was also introduced. This allows players to be in each other’s games, not to necessarily deter the player’s progress, but as a way of assistance through messages and possibly trading items. It also works as a way for players to compete by having the best score in defeating a certain monster. Screenshots can also be transferred through Outerworld. Just like the limited items issue, I’m curious to see how this works, but I’m not sure if players will use it as much as the developers hope they will utilize it. For me, it was more of a background application that I really didn’t use.
The demo offered more exciting prospects than doubtful ideas. I’m really excited about the combat and Schemata customization. Time will tell if the limit on items is a good idea or a complete failure and Outerwold is very much up in the air. If there is one thing that I’m seriously doubting it’s the story. Final Fantasy XIII-2 didn’t really have a strong story in my opinion, and the sneak peek of the story in the demo wasn’t attractive either. At this point, I have cautious optimism. The gameplay is there, but the story really needs to deliver if Square Enix wants to make Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII a success.