Square-Enix hasn’t exactly had a lot of luck with their Final Fantasy titles as of late. Final Fantasy XIII was criticized as being a long walk down a hallway with pretty graphics, while Final Fantasy XIII-2 was criticized as having a shallow story and a tacked on monster raising system. Can the third title in the installment, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, do any better? We had a chance to preview it at E3 2013.
Many RPG fans are worried that Lightning Returns will be more of an action title than a JRPG, and the game certainly does have more than a few action elements. Map traversal alone involves a lot of jumping, running, and quick time events. The idea of leisurely strolling through a dungeon while searching its crevasses for treasure has pretty much been thrown out the window. Instead, the game constantly forces you to go forward toward the next goal, as the entire game works on a Dead Rising style countdown clock.
Battles feel a bit more like your traditional RPG faire. Much like previous FFXIII titles, battles take place on another screen and they begin when you touch an enemy. You can gain the upper hand by attacking an enemy from behind, or be put into a worse position if the enemy manages to get you from behind.
Battle itself proceeds almost like a Tales game. Lightning can move around the battlefield at will, dodging enemy attacks in real time. However, to attack an enemy she has to spend some of her ATB which charges over time. 4 attacks (or rather, 3 attacks and a defensive option which also uses ATB), are mapped to the face buttons of your controller and pressing one causes Lightning to immediately use that attack.
However, to say that this feels like an action game would be lying. Pressing an attack button doesn’t cause it to be instantly used. Instead, Lightning pauses, takes her time to run toward the enemy, and then uses it. It’s essentially the exact same thing as choosing it from a menu, just without the menu. Considering this, it seems a waste to not include other party members like other FFXIII titles did.
Lightning also has a number of “schemata” she can change into over the course of the battle. Each schemata has different attacks to choose from and each has its own ATB bar. Skillful battling in Lightning Returns involves changing your schemata every time your ATB is out in order to continue the onslaught. It’s also an excuse to dress Lightning up in a variety of revealing outfits. Her heavy attacking schemata basically has her wearing a pair of assless chaps. I’m having some pretty bad flashbacks to Final Fantasy X-2 here.
Overall, Lightning Returns was fun to play but it’s still not what Final Fantasy fans want. It’s not a JRPG, it’s this weird, delayed action game that Square is making in order to appeal to an American audience. Maybe one day, Square will learn that all we want is a traditional RPG with traditional RPG systems, with some spikey haired kid trying to kill a god or something. Until then, I guess Lightning Returns will have to do.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is scheduled for release on February 11, 2014 for the PS3 and Xbox 360.