I Have Staggered Monsters In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

My first hands-on session with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and its interesting new combat system was, fittingly, lightning quick. Just a few minutes at the end of a long night of seeing the stacked upcoming line-up of Square Enix's (and pals Deep Silver's) next games: the Deus Ex iPad game, the new Thief, the new Saint's Row, a game called Murdered.

The clock was ticking, Square's showcase, held in a hotel in Santa Monica a few weeks back, was nearly over. It was almost midnight. I was nearly a pumpkin. In the game the world is going to end in 13 days. In my favourite game ever, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the world will end in 24 hours. Time limits were top of mind. Lightning Returns, Square's next big role-playing game, was just sitting there.

You know, I was expecting more of an action-RPG. When the game was announced in August, the detail that stuck out to me was that, as we wrote at the time, "Character control will be more dynamic. She'll be able to hang off ledges, pull herself up, jump, duck behind corners. You'll be able to move her around in battle, a first, they said, for the series." I was hoping that one of the things I dislike about many popular role-playing games — how the playable characters tend to feel like game-board tokens and don't feel like they're physically part of their world — would be remedied in this new game.

Not quite.

Lightning moves better than previous Final Fantasy characters, but she doesn't exactly animate with the smoothness of a hero from an Uncharted or Assassin's Creed or even, as I was hoping, a Zelda or Fable lead. She's still a bit stiff.

The combat, however, was indeed more interesting than I expected. Lightning fights alone, but, in a possible nod to Final Fantasy X-2, she can change her clothes on the fly and, in doing so, change her power sets. You jump into a battle, have free rein to run around and attack enemies and can switch from outfit to outfit.

Each outfit, or "schema," has a a quartet of attack and block moves assigned to it. Each can be used as long as you have the requisite amount of your move meter filled. This drains with use and gradually comes back. It's the active-time-battle system introduced in Final Fantasy IV dressed up differently, in a matter of speaking. Good players will drain one scheme's moves, switch to another outfit, use its moves and keep swapping.

You can also stop time, freezing enemies. That helps. It's called Overclock mode and is mapped to a trigger button. I'm not sure what you have to do to earn it. Again, we'll play more and figure out more.

You can also stagger enemies by discovering and exploiting specific weaknesses. This has been a recurring element in the FF XIII games. Hitting an enemy with attacks against which they're vulnerable will produce a stagger wave meter. More attacks will turn this meter red and eventually knock the enemy down, at which point the player can inflict maximum damage.

Hooray for new wrinkles to RPG combat, right? There are many things people like about Final Fantasy games, of course: the story, the music, the art style... a lot of that changes from game to game. Combat usually changes, too. How well this system holds up in battle after battle remains to be seen, but it's nice to at least see the Final Fantasy XIII series of games continue to try t to add complexity to the genre's combat. Long gone are the days of just tapping the X button. Instead, we have yet another new, more ornate system — in-combat movement! clothes/ability-switching! — that hopefully gives way to more player-driven strategy and an altogether more fulfilling game through which to battle.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will be out for Xbox 360 and PS3 on February 11, 2014. It'll be out in Japan in November. We'll be playing the game more at E3 and will have a more thorough description of how Lightning Returns works then.

This preview is based on a hands-on demo of about 10 minutes of the game.


    good luck selling many copies when the new consoles are out before release date LOL

      Does it really matter if the new consoles are out before the release date? I think people will still play this game.

      heaven forbid I'm still using this tired old console with this massive library of games I already have when I could be completely ignoring it for an expensive console I can barely afford with one or two new games on it.

      I'm afraid you're thinking about this the wrong way around. It's not in square's interest to release games on the new console if they are after quantity sales. According to wikipedia there have been about 77 million PS3's sold as of the start of this year. even if we assume half of those are broken or not in use anymore that's 38.5 million potential customers.

      I'd be surprised if PS4 sells 10 million in it's first year, meaning the potential market is much smaller on PS4. It's in Sony's interest to have games released on PS4 to sell more of them but until that install base is built up there is more money on the older platform.

    I hope that doesn't mean that if this game is received well we won't see any more turn-based, strategic combat in FF games. I love ARPGs but I also personally love almost every FF game's system (except XII's, tbh). As long as they keep having enemies visible on fields

      I don't think there is a big risk fo that. At this point, LR:FF13 is more a spin of from the original numbered title. There is plenty fo scope for them to do soemthign quite different with this one yet move bakc to a more traditional combat system with FFXV.

    Wow this is looking so promising. The world is soemwhat starker han the previes series enteries, yet they are balancing that with the costume system whihc sounds light hearted and fun. i think by branchign away from the mian series in this way has allowed SE to take some risks. I don't usually bother with pre-orders but I'm keen to see what sort of special edition is offered because at thsi point I think it looks like a winner!

    I really hope moving around in combat isn't a bit part of it, perhaps a Ni No Kuni level of interactivity could work, but I'd prefer in depth skills to 'fluid' combat.

    Each can be used as long as you have the requisite amount of your move meter filled. This drains with use and gradually comes back. It’s the active-time-battle system introduced in Final Fantasy IV dressed up differently, in a matter of speaking.Isn't it also Dark/Demons Souls' stamina bar, any MMO's cooldown timers and pretty much any other game's "mechanism to prevent you spamming overpowered attacks and use a bit of strategy"? Not exactly a mechanic that's as archaic and anachronistic as the author is making it out to be.

    While I'm not disappointed, I was kind of hoping that they would realise that Kingdom Hearts blended real-time action and turn-based mechanisms relatively well and take a few pointers from that...

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