Square Enix On Bringing Lightning Returns To Life

Lightning returns. The Final Fantasy XIII heroine wraps up her saga with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. And it looks to be not only a very different Final Fantasy, but also to be one of the most interesting FF titles in recent memory.

Prior to the game's official unveiling, there were huge hints that Square Enix was returning to FFXIII. Many gamers, myself included, weren't exactly thrilled by the notion. Then something happened: Square Enix showed the game's concept, and it looked (and sounded) great. Lightning wasn't striking twice, but thrice. But there's more than that, Square Enix tells Kotaku.

According to the game's creators, it was necessary to return to the world of Final Fantasy XIII because there were so many loose ends that needed tying up. According to Lighting Returns Battle Director Yuji Abe, all of the characters either are burdened by guilt or have a deep emotional wound.

"'A battle with destiny', which is a theme at the root of the Lightning Saga, becomes a heavier burden on their shoulders as more events and people are sacrificed with each instalment," Abe told Kotaku in an email interview. "By spending three games to depict their stories, I'm hoping that they are released from what binds them to their destinies, and they will get to see an end filled with a true sense of hope."

The heavy emotional ties are not new to Final Fantasy — and they're, no doubt, something that keeps fans interested and emotionally connected to the games. Yet, when Lightning Returns was first officially unveiled, it appeared familiar — still Final Fantasy — but felt different. There was something about it.

Perhaps, it was the concept art that Square Enix showed. Isamu Kamikokuryo, the art director of Lightning Returns, told Kotaku about the game's artistic inspiration: "When I first looked over the proposal documents given to me by the director, I thought it would be a great fit to have the following three elements as the main pillars: the elements of a mechanical design, which is consistently used throughout the FFXIII series, elements of fantasy, which is characteristic of the whole Final Fantasy series, and an element of gothic design, in a very broad kind of way."

Kamikokuryo and his team used gothic architecture as a reference point, but also looked to as far as the 19th century too taking inspiration from the era's gadgets as well. "We are picturing the streets and alleys of London around the time of the Industrial Revolution, near the end of the century." Middle Eastern and Asian motifs have also found their way into Lightning Returns, depending on the location.

The game even gets a new logo — a new stylised logo. When it was first shown, Japanese net users compared the diamond-like Lighting Returns emblem to the Skyrim logo. Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII producer Yoshinori Kitase told Kotaku why the game has a different logo from the other FFXIII (and batted down those Skyrim comparisons).

"We revamped the title logo because we wanted to convey the 'newness' of this instalment," explained Kitase. "Traditionally, the Final Fantasy series logo can be characterised by a delicate, yet bold illustration that is placed within the logo. However, this time our intention was to present a newness using an emblem with sharp edges and a symmetrical design."

"And so there is no relation to Skyrim whatsoever," added Kitase. "Of course, there are many members of the dev team that enjoy playing Skyrim."

The logo change and the various artistic inspirations, of course, doesn't mean that the game's previous look was thrown out the window. From what Square Enix says, it wasn't. The basis for the game's visual aesthetic is the previous two FFXIII titles. "With the concept of illustrating a dying world as our foundation, we are depicting how technology is slowly deteriorating," Kamikokuryo explained. "While we had illustrated a very high-level modern civilisation in FFXIII, we are giving it a more retro feel in this instalment."

It's not just a retro feel that Lightning Returns promises. The game's director, Motomu Toriyama, decided to go with a "world driven" title, something that Square Enix says will obviously give players far more freedom. However, within that freedom, there is a clever constraint: a time mechanic that ticks away the minutes and hours. When the feature was first revealed, gamers were quick to point out the similarities between it and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. "I'm afraid I have never played The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and so I won't be able to explain the difference," said Abe. "However, based on my past experiences with The Legend of Zelda titles, the motif may happen to seem similar, but I believe the two titles are nothing like each other."

Continuing, Abe added, "While we create a livelier atmosphere through elements such as the town and its inhabitants with our titles, the Zelda games have a simple yet polished design. If by some chance the mechanics turn out to be similar, I'm sure it will be a completely different impression."

Similar time mechanic or not, the development time on many recent Final Fantasy has been notoriously long. According to Abe, this means that the differences between each numeric Final Fantasy has become bigger — not necessarily a bad thing! Still, gamers interested in checking out Lightning Returns hope that its development time won't be anything like FFXIII's. Square Enix, however, was able to get Final Fantasy XIII-2 out in a timely fashion. Lightning Returns is a new type of Final Fantasy, so the developers might need some room to breathe and get things right.

"Creating the graphics goes by fairly quickly, because of our past experience," says Abe. "But in terms of the game itself, we as a team don't have much experience on creating a game in which things move so freely, so I predict we'll be going through a lot of trial and error, especially for each idea we want to incorporate." That being said, Square Enix previously announced a 2013 release (in Japan, apparently) for the PS3 and Xbox 360, so hopefully, the game will hit that release. Last month, Square Enix revealed that development was 30 per cent complete.

With the upcoming Wii U release, some gamers have been wondering if Lightning Returns will come out on Nintendo's new consoles. Previously, Square Enix said the game would hit both the PS3 and the Xbox 360. When asked why the game wasn't getting a Wii U release, Kitase replied, "Since we've developed this title on the same game engine as the previous two instalments, the compatible platforms will be the same as that of the previous two as well."

Kitase is a long time, legendary Final Fantasy producer, with credits like designing and directing Final Fantasy VII. He seemed upbeat about Lightning Returns, saying, "What I think is the best part of working on Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is that I was able to take part in a trilogy with the same characters, world view and game engine."

Meaning? Meaning that Square Enix can continue to tweak and perfect. This is exactly what so many studios now do over a console generation: release a new game, then follow it with two sequels that hopefully perfect the formula. As Kitase explained, "We take into account all of the feedback we have received, and take great care in considering what we can do to make the next title better. The fact that we could polish the game from its previous instalment, but at the same time take on a new challenge, is what made working on this title such a great experience."

A great experience is exactly what many Final Fantasy fans hunger for. They might feel burned on a previous title or perhaps they just want something new and fresh. "The change to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, for me, is not very dramatic in terms of the rules of the game, but I think it will prove to be a big difference in terms of how the game feels," said Abe. "I hope that this change in how the game feels will work toward bridging the gap between us and the players that have grown distant."


    Have we all given up on ever seeing Versus 13?

    This sounds interesting, but I think I'll wait to see a bit more before putting a preorder down.

      Not me. Day one special edition for me.

        I hope to do the same, eltial!

    Most uninspiring trilogy of games ever? I'm not being *that guy*, seriously, but the first was just.... yeah.... the second was a little better but still not great... the third just suffers from 'Why bother when the first two were so uninspiring' syndrome. Which sucks because it's got potential to be so good.

      The second was actually my favourite game I've played all year. I loved it so much I even got my first Platinum Trophy with it. I had so much fun playing that game.
      Granted, I haven't started Dishonored yet and soon there'll be Assassin's Creed III but still, FFXIII-2 is so far the best game I've played all year.
      So I'm really looking forward to how the third game turns out.

        Me too, Strange. FF13-2 is easily my favourite game of 2012 and the first full release that I got 100 % on :)

        Maybe it was just the ever so sour taste that XIII left in my mouth, I'll give XIII-2 another go...

          I gotta be realistic about this - if you really disliked XIII I doubt XIII-2 will dramatically change your mind.

    XIII-2 was very good. I always thought the backlash against XIII was over the top, but XIII-2 definitely fixed a lot of the flaws. I would play this.

    I'm really liking the art direction for this game. That shot of the city streets invokes memories of Midgar in FF7 or Dollet and Deling City in FF8.

    And for the record, I hated FF13, but rather enjoyed 13-2.

    For some reason this game is giving my the Valkyrie Profile vibe.

    FFXIII-2 "very good?" Serious? The battle system from the first game (easily its best feature) was dumbed down so far it was practically just "mash X to win" for the entire game! Not to mention the eye-rolling dialogue that made this long-time FF fanboy cringe every time they opened their damn mouth.
    Not a terrible game, but certainly not up to top FF standard.

      I haven't played FFXIII-2 so I won't comment on whether the battle system was worse or better than the FFXIII system, but I will comment that the FFXIII system was bad. That was absolutely a case of mash-x to win. Heck it was probably even better to just use the auto command and let it choose attack for you. I know you >could use other attacks but they were largely pointless. Even the difference between magic (ravager) and physical (commando) was pointless. Every "attack" was just exactly the same. They all took one slot on the five bar, flicked damage numbers up too quickly to possible have any specific strategy other than generally "damage now" "heal now" (if you even need to heal). I remember how many different paradigms I had and know that I almost never needed to switch that at all. I think almost every battle could be one by locking in attack 5 times, or magic 5 times or whatever.

      The other element of the battle system, that you heal before each fight (without items) and that you can retry each fight for free basically makes it so you have no consideration for resource management or care for strategy in battle. So what if I just use attack attack attack and on the off chance I lose? I will just click retry and win with no penalty. This actually encourages even more clicking of attack attack attack because I have no reason to be conservative.

      Anyway if FFXIII-2 system was worse, that's disappointing - but I don't think FFXIII system was good to begin. I actually wonder why they try to deviate from the ATB system which it seems like they perfected throughout their other games as I don't think there were any complaints about it. It for me, was a mainstay of the series and I loved it. When they took it out in FFX but returned it in FFX-2, well, that was one of the best features about X-2.

      Grandia, if you guys remember that series, had a sweet combat system. It was almost like the staple of the series and you so despite 1-2-3 having different feelings, at least you got the cool battle system in each. Felt like when fighting your actions mattered.

        As someone who spent alot of time with both FF13 and FF13-2 I can assure you that your post is gobbledygook. I don't think you really played FF13 much at all, and it really shows in your post.

          As someone who spent a lot of time with XIII I can assure you his post is spot on the money and yours is just a fanboy rant.

            2 line makes a rant now?

            "Heck it was probably even better to just use the auto command" <-- That is how it was meant to work - any one who played it knows that.

            "They all took one slot on the five bar" <--- no, they didn't actually.

            "if you even need to heal" <-- I must be really bad at 'games', b/c I needed to heal. Either that or 'anon' didn't actually play very much of the game.

            Last edited 12/10/12 12:47 pm

            As someone who played FF XIII through once to completion I can assure you (all of you) that people will have different opinions about whether a battle system is any good or not.

            I think i have to agree with Ash on this i have spent alot of time on both FF13 and FF13-2 and majority not all but alot of what was posted is just jibberish. He states that Commando and Ravager are the same thing, does he not know about vunerabilities? Does he not know that commando keeps the stagger bar from reducing? Does he not know that ravagers increase stagger faster? What i can tell from that section was he went with just all of 1 or the other and mashed attack sure he could have won that way but i beat he won majority of his fights with 1 star because it was ineffective and slow. To be winning 5 star battles took more tactics then that.

            I have no clue what your on about being conserative with attack due to having multiple chances on a fight with no penalty in what way would you have to be conserative if there was a penalty?

            FF13 and FF13-2 use an ATB system just slightly changed to be closer/feel more like real time combat then the old turn based style of previous FF games.

            FF13-2 system i really enjoyed as a min-max player it was cool trying different ways to build your character to optomise it and i loved the way they did the skill tree style in FF13-2 so you could just push 1 tree to max insane fast and be strong in that but be lacking in everything else, it gave you options and let you play the way you wanted.

            Weresmurf comments like your just a fanboy is just sad shows you dont really know what your talking about and your just going on the defensive. Clearly if anon had played FF13 beyond the first 11 chapters which is where the game really opens up he would not have commented the way he did.

              Anon, while mostly wrong about the mechanics, was right about the "Press X to win" side of it all. Since the AI is smart enough to use the learned weaknesses in the auto-attack, you just had to keep pressing X to keep the character attacking. It felt like they wanted you to have more to do than just Paradigm shift every so often. Items were rarely useful other than in boss battles and some of the more "Oops, I'm too low for this" fights.

              To be honest, it was too simplified. Aside from boss battles, a lot of the battles just needed 2 ravagers and a commando (2 commandos and a ravager during stagger) with healing every so often to get 4 or sometimes 5 stars. They should have spiced it up with taking out the constant X pressing and making it true auto-attack, instead allowing you to micro-manage the attack sequence based on weaknesses like in XII.

    The time constraint thing sounds awful.

      I have to agree this worries me a little. Final Fantasy is on a series in which I ever imagined I'd be punished for derping about for a while.

    I've yet to see someone say "Lightning is my favourite character and I am glad that Square Enix feel the need to make all these games around her" either sincerely OR ironically.

    I finished XIII and had a "meh" reaction.
    I finished XIII-2 and had a "wow that was really good except for the cliffhanger ending".

    I think Lightning by the end of XIII-2 had come into her own from the negative big sister to the hero that steps into role greater than her sacrifice.
    She is a great character.

    I have a feeling this new game will be very good.
    I wish they'd get Versus done though. It looks like a very dark mature game that will give FFVII a run for its money.

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