Feature Article

Lightning Returns: You Can Go Home Again

You can lead a chocobo to water...

by

The Final Fantasy XIII saga just keeps going, doesn't it? In spite of players' tepid reactions to Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2, Square-Enix has staunchly stood by the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos that drives these games, as well as the characters that populate it.

I like Lightning, but I don't miss her when I don't spend time with her. As much as I enjoyed FF XIII and XIII-2 (against all odds), I'm not filled with unbridled joy at the thought of coming face to face with the gang once more, though I admit to some excitement over the possibility of running into Fang again. (I'd play a game starring this headstrong heroine eight days a week.) And if I feel this lukewarm towards another adventure in this world, I can only imagine how weary a design team might become when living and breathing the same fiction for so many years. With the release of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII looming on the horizon, I sat down with producer Yoshinori Kitase and game design director Yuji Abe, and with the help of a translator, asked them how they felt knowing that they would soon be leaving this story behind. Were they sad to be saying goodbye to Lightning, or just glad to be moving into fresher pastures?

"We would never feel sick of these characters or these worlds," Kitase-san says. "Don't worry, we love them and we have an attachment to this whole story and characters. But in terms of this story, the whole Lightning saga story, this is going to be the end, and we're going to be moving on and not continuing in any sort of way. But the characters, since we do love them and do have an attachment to them, we're hoping there might be ways where they can make like a cameo, or something like that. For example, in Final Fantasy XIV, we're going to be doing like a collaboration with that game, and Lightning will make an appearance within the game. So we're hoping that there will be an opportunity to showcase them in some other form."

And so the end is upon us. And it is not a wishy-washy conclusion. Kitase-san tells me that there will be no downloadable episodes, no plot holes to be filled in later. Lightning Returns is also Lightning's farewell.

There's a lot riding on Lightning. She is one of Final Fantasy's most ubiquitous characters, the star of both Lightning Returns and Final Fantasy XIII, as well as a major figure (and the first character you control) in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Square-Enix clearly sees something special in her--something so special that Lightning Returns doesn't feature party-based combat. When it comes to exploration and battle, the pink-haired chosen one is a lone wolf. What makes Lightning so special, so different from the role-playing heroes that preceded her?

"What sets Lightning apart from the other [Final Fantasy hero] characters is that you don't see very many female heroines being the main character," says Kitase-san, "of course apart from maybe Terra from Final Fantasy VI. So that's definitely something that sets Lightning apart. She's not only a woman, but she's also very strong and also very cool, and she can put up a good fight. That's definitely one of her positive features. Even outside of the series, I got to go see the show floor at E3 and at Gamescom, and looking at other publishers I noticed that Lightning is probably one of the only female characters that pushed out in the forefront for their game titles. Of course, we had Lara Croft when Tomb Raider was about to be released, but now that that has launched, Lightning is one of the only female characters that is out there being the face of a title."

When I sat down to play a demonstration of Lightning Returns, I was struck by the lead character's visual graces. Lightning is sexy but not sexualized. A pointed collar and hard-edged pauldrons communicate her strength and stubbornness, but her cape and skirt waft effortlessly as she moves through forests and fields, softening the angles. My time with the demo was limited, and I didn't have much context for where I was and why I was there. What was most important, however, was that I find the white chocobo that was destined to deliver the world's savior to a final confrontation with the Chaos engulfing the land.

Lightning is that savior.

After chatting with the local villagers, I discovered the existence of a creature that feasted upon such a rare chocobo, and headed to the location where it had last been seen. On my journey, I engaged a number of flan and became quickly accustomed to Lightning Returns' fighting system, which uses some elements of the previous games while rearranging the specifics. The ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge returns, and each action you take depletes that gauge. The gauge is quick to deplete as you press the face buttons assigned to each action. Therefore, you must switch frequently between collections of skills called schemata, which replace the paradigms of earlier games. You equip three schemata at a time, and each schema has its own ATB gauge. When you switch to one schema, the ATB gauge of the one you were just using gradually refills.

This system doesn't make Lightning Returns feel quite like an action game as much as it makes it resemble the Tales series, in that you issue a command and your character quickly performs it. I quickly became accustomed to the demands of combat as I zapped flans with the lightning spells they were most vulnerable to, while using guard commands (like the ever-helpful medguard) to fend off direct attacks.

What Lightning will be fighting against is the inevitable doom of the world.

It wasn't until I reached the dreaded chocobo-eater that I discovered just how tense Lightning Returns' battles can be. The creature was enormous and deadly, and managing the ATB gauges of each of my three equipped schematas, along with timing my guards properly, was more challenging than I had anticipated. I lost on my first attempt, and the game let me re-engage the monster--but only if I understood that I had lost two precious hours in doing so.

Why are those hours so precious? Well, Lightning has a limited amount of time in which to save the world from annihilation. There are ways to extend the countdown… but there are ways to waste time as well, such as escaping battle and restarting. Regarding Lightning Returns' time management, Abe-san says "In terms of the time element being an interference to the player, there are certain NPCs and certain places that you won't have access to at certain times of the day. Say for example a certain shop is closed after business hours, or things like that. So you have to effectively manage your time, as well as actively explore the area to be familiarized with what's available at different times of day."

"Time management is going to be a very big portion of how time plays into the game itself," he continues. "We set up this time restriction, this limitation on time, to tighten up the gameplay. The excitement and the fun element is to determine 'how should I go about going on my quests in the most effective manner?' or 'how do I defeat enemies in a very efficient manner?' Not only is there the time restriction, but it's supposed to make players more active in exploring the different areas and getting an understanding of what's available to them, very much like a time to race."

I never worried about the time elements, given how short my time was with the demo. I was more concerned with the white chocobo I rescued upon defeating its predator. After I returned to the village with it, it refused to eat from any hand that wasn't my own. Apparently, this was a sign not only that Lightning was the chosen one, but that this bird was to be my saintly steed. It was hardly in fighting shape at this point however, and I faced having to locate all sorts of victuals to nurse it back to health.

There was feedback about how sometimes the battle kind of dragged on.

Fortunately, feeding a chocobo is hardly the greatest challenge you face when the world's fate hangs in the balance. Lightning Returns is only the latest Final Fantasy in which you face grave danger on a quest that benefits the greater good. But what force of personality is to be your biggest threat? The series has not only given us some memorable heroes, but also many of role-playing's most interesting villains. The XIII games are not known for their extraordinary bad guys. Final Fantasy has brought us Kefka and Sephiroth, but does anyone remember Final Fantasy XIII's Barthandelus?

Sadly, Lightning Returns isn't poised to provide a villain that can stand toe to toe with even the likes of FInal Fantasy XII's Vayne. In fact, it doesn't seem as if there's a primary villain at all. Says Kitase-san, "As you may know, in the last installment, we had a character named Caius, the villain, I guess, who Lightning fought against. In this particular installment, this is difficult to answer--this isn't really somebody in the shape of a human. The whole theme of the series was that Lightning was fighting against her fate, and trying to break free from destiny and what she was fated to do. And so with this final installment, we've emphasized that concept, that they're fighting against the fate of their lives. In this case, the world is about to end. And so what Lightning will be fighting against is the inevitable doom of the world, and trying to break free, and trying to save as many people and fight against that fate."

Abe-san and Kitase-san are aware of how many fans see Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2; the games are often called out as the weakest of the franchise, and both men hope that Lightning Returns will not only address fans' concerns, but will also stand out as a great game in its own right. Says Abe-san, "Since I was involved in the battle aspects of XIII and XIII-2, I feel like in the first two installments, I was able to accomplish what I wanted to do for the most part. And there was some really positive feedback on the battle system in the previous games. But at the same time, there was feedback about how sometimes the battle kind of dragged on, and it took more time than necessary. So I wanted to tweak that and revise it, and so that was one of the elements that I feel was able to be revised in the latest installment."

Adds Kitase-san, "In the first installment, in the previous installments, the field and the map looked pretty but there wasn't much interaction between your playable character and the environment. You wouldn't be able to climb walls or climb ladders or things like that. So that's something I feel I wasn't able to accomplish in the previous installments. But going through the subsequent installments, and receiving player feedback, we were able to tweak the program, the map design, so that with this last installment we were able to get to what we wanted to achieve in terms of the freedom of exploration and being able to interact with the different 3D elements of the game."

So maybe hanging out with Lightning again won't be so bad after all. It was never Lightning herself that was the greatest of the XIII series' problems anyway. After venturing into the wilds of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, and after chatting with Abe-san and Kitase-san, I'm ready to invite the soft-spoken chosen one back into my living room. And who knows--maybe the friends she invites to join us won't be as annoying as they used to be. I can only hope.

Discussion

397 comments
XDarkMessengerX
XDarkMessengerX

Well...the game released today in Europe...and guess what? As i said 3 months ago...IT SUCKS! xD


Told ya!


I still think Gamespot overrated it xD


5.0 (Mediocre) is overrating this game xD

ishsgames
ishsgames

All you guys do is complain. It is really sad i can't learn any of my fellow gamer's perspectives :(. 


My take on the FF series: 


13-1 --> i think Lightning was always a great character. Although i didn't get myself into the storyline of the game, i absolutely loved the gameplay. The final boss design was horrible though lol. Titan challenges were so fun, grinding and getting the omega weapons was really fun. I think Square enix did a great job with the 13-1's mechanics, gameplay, art direction, music, replay value; a true jrpg fan would realize all these things. Especially after chapter 8, that's were things get really amazing. I would agree with anyone that Hope and Doj should die lol. I like Sazh, Fang, and Vanille. Snow was all right, but was as annoying as English Dubbed Naruto.


13-2 --> I bought this game having very high hopes. High hopes that told me that Lightning will become the biggest badass in the FF series. And after the first 30 minutes, i was ABSOLUTELY STOKED. Like DAMN those first 30 minutes were just perfect. And then the rest of the game takes place with Serah and Noel -_-. I don't like either of these characters. If anyone out of them were cool, it was Mog. Even though the gameplay was weak, the story was MUCH BETTER than 13-1. Gameplay, art direction, music, story and level design remained strong but a lot of things weakened. I played through this one till the end, and it was all right but i think the metacritics were retarded. Why the hell did they praise this game so much more than 13-1?


What do i think of 13-3? I think it will be better than 13-2 but not 13-1. The story will probably be better and maybe the gameplay will be a little better but ultimately the replay value of 13-1 won't be returning :(. 


rkm0911
rkm0911

dear lord of games, please let this series end! im so ready, giddy and freakin' excited for ff15!


oh yes please...let her go home. RIP lightning.

sad_dorito
sad_dorito

played the demo and it SUCKS BALLS !


menus look like grand turismo menus


custume parade battles with no soul


to many sparkly flashy effects



fuck of enix i wont pay 1€ for this ..really

igorcule
igorcule

You should play Ni No Kuni or Tales of Xillia from Namco Bandai to see whats really awfull games. Games from Square Enix atleast have deepth intresting story,detailed plots and elaborate characters. When i see RPG from Namco i avoid it like plague.

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

I have been one of the staunchest haters of 13 but I played through 13 twice before I beat it, and I actually like 13-2. The games pay off at the end, but 13 was just...ugh.

GameYakuza
GameYakuza

lightning: the original sparrow face.

ami-dani
ami-dani

So long as this is the last game of 13 and they stay away from "cameos" for FF 15, than I am cool. honestly I dread the whole Final Fantasy 13 franchise at times... But I hope it answers everything that the last two games failed to explain. You know... the whole story. And I really don't know what to feel about their not being a main villain...

normanislost
normanislost

Its a weird thing for me to be more looking forward to a southpark game for my RPG fix instead of final fantasy good work on that square enix

Sniggih
Sniggih

FF8 is still my all time favourite of the series. FFXIII was tolerable......like that aunt that pinches your cheeks at Christmas dinner. Tolerable... but you only want to see her once a year

G4mBi7
G4mBi7

I wish they had just stopped and moved on after 13 was released. I have played every single FF game including FF11 and FF: ARR and i have loved every single one of them. No matter how much i tried i couldn't get myself to finish 13 and the same applied to a lot of other fans, it would have been better if they had kept the FF series as individual games telling one story instead of stretching that story into a trilogy making it lackluster in direction. While game play might have been improved, i have no motivation to even give 13-2 or 13-3 a try without having finished 13-1.

Go back to your roots square. One amazing game to tell one amazing story

rettooo
rettooo

Whether people hate this game or gets low score, I dont care! I'm buying this game 100%

HaiderAliButt13
HaiderAliButt13

As a newcomer to the FF series (the first ever FF game I played was 13-2, then borrowed 13 off a friend and completed that then went back to 13-2), I was generally impressed with the series and it's made me a fan of the FF series, wish I could play all the great games like X and VII though :(

JBStone1981
JBStone1981

Also, "Abe-san?" "Kitase-san?" 

Seriously, Kev. Stop it.

JBStone1981
JBStone1981

What is wrong with these buttholes? People have been clamoring for either an HD remake or a sequel to FFVII for years, and I count myself among a small but vocal minority of fans who absolutely loved FFXII and would love a continuation of that story.

But do we get that? No, instead Square rides easily their worst iteration of the series into the effing ground, in spite of what everyone else says. You love the characters, Kitase? Then write some fanfic. During your 9-5, I want you working on a product that your fans actually want. 

And they wonder why Square is failing. STOP MAKING SHIT NOBODY CARES ABOUT.

Phil-teh-Pirate
Phil-teh-Pirate

Still not the Final Fantasy VIII - 2 I'd love to see but its better than a kick in the teeth.

kierwinyoung
kierwinyoung

This is pretty exciting. of all FF I've seen and played this is my Favorite.

Still, not gonna complain about how Classic the old FF series was. but then The characters are what drive me into this.

frylock1987
frylock1987

I am actually interested in this one. Played through FF13, while extremely linear, I still enjoyed it. Didn't even bother to play FF13-2, but this one intrigues me enough to give it a shot.

Fembot_Eulogy
Fembot_Eulogy

One day, maybe in the distant future FF will be good again. When Lightning Returns arrives, it will no be that day. 

ryadings
ryadings

They sure know how to make it look nice. Anything else though... and the DLC machine is already running.

cory_vet_gamer
cory_vet_gamer

@ishsgames  More and more opinions...that's all you can do honey? sorry but the truth or the reality is too grim for you.

cory_vet_gamer
cory_vet_gamer

@igorcule  That's a great troll scene good work honey! now go back to your insignificance and shut up.

rkm0911
rkm0911

@igorcule  graphic wise i'll agree that SqE has the upper hand...but i disagree on everything else.

tsunami2311
tsunami2311

@normanislost it not really weird seeing as how FF rpgs have all been down hill since X, I get my rpg fix from Aksys these days. as they are really one few RPG compains they still make RPG that remind why I loved RPGed in first place.

SQE and FF games are dead to me and the NEXT FF games to me is nothing more then Action game, from seeing the few videos

tsunami2311
tsunami2311

@Sniggih  I didnt beat 13 and I wasnt a fan of 8 and the draw system, as such i never beat 8 till I got 13 cause I hate it so much I went to finish 8

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@Gravelord_Nito She's not really in 13-2. She has like 2 lines but she's not actually a part of it.

XDarkMessengerX
XDarkMessengerX

@rettooo That's called: The Final Fantasy curse.

No matter how bad they are, you will still buy it and play it because it has Final Fantasy written on the title.

Luckly i got rid of that curse after Final Fantasy X-2...every time i thought of buying a Final Fantasy i said to myself: "Dress Spheres"

BAM! CURSE GONE! 

Now i only borrow Final Fantasies from my friends (they still suffer from that curse) and play them...at least i don't spend money on FF games but i still play them, even if they suck THAT hard.

rkm0911
rkm0911

@HaiderAliButt13  if you played final fantasies before the dreaded FF13 then you will never in a million years come close to being "impressed" by what it did to the series.

OtakuLiz
OtakuLiz

@HaiderAliButt13 Why can't you?

If you played XIII on 360 and don't have a PS2, then I can see that you don't have the hardware to play any of them at present (though I recommend emulating V and VI on your computer, because the PS1 ports of those two were horrifically slow), but a PS2 isn't that expensive anymore and it would give you the ability to play VII through XII. All you'd have to do is invest in an old PS2, one PS2 memory card, and one PS1 memory card, and you could buy/borrow and play VII, VIII, IX, X, X-2, and XII.

Alternately, if the friend you borrowed XIII from (or any other friend) has been a Final Fantasy fan for any length of time, they probably have a PS2 you could borrow for that purpose, though they might prefer if you get your own memory card.

Either way, a PS2 is a very small investment for playing that many classic Final Fantasy games.

XDarkMessengerX
XDarkMessengerX

@HaiderAliButt13 You should play every Final Fantasy before Final Fantasy 13, believe me, you won't be disapointed. Cause every Final Fantasy before Final Fantasy 13 are better than FInal Fantasy 13 

normanislost
normanislost

You wish you could? You can play still play those games and they are well worth it (especially 10 and 7 two of my all time favourites followed closely by ff9)

frylock1987
frylock1987

@JBStone1981

I personally don't want a remake to FF7 anymore. They milked 7 to death and ruined it for me personally with that horrid Compilation of FF7 with the only good thing coming out of that whole thing being Crisis Core. I wanted a sequel or a remake to FF7 a long time ago. We all did. Instead of giving us a remake or a sequel because it would "cost to much", they gave us a crappy movie that made zero sense, then they re-released said crappy movie only on Blu Ray to make it longer by adding in deleted scenes, then they release a PSP Game, a shitty PS2 game and some mobile games and called it a day, completely ignoring what we asked for.

Square just needs to not make anymore Final Fantasy games for a solid 3 years, work on other IPs (Chrono Trigger, Parasite Eve, Xenogears ect) or make a new IP. You have no idea how retarded its going to sound saying "Man, I can't wait for Final Fantasy 25!!!!!!!!!!" 15 years down the road.

G4mBi7
G4mBi7

@kierwinyoung Really? The characters? Such as the annoying as shit Vanille or the contradictory as fuck Hope?

HaiderAliButt13
HaiderAliButt13

@normanislost i don't have the consoles needed to play them :( guess i have to stick to watching the walkthroughs

XDarkMessengerX
XDarkMessengerX

@frylock1987 After these 10 years, i gave up on the idea of having a FF7 remake or remaster. 

If they were still the good old SquareSoft, maybe yes, but now i dont even want to think about it cause if they make a Remake or a Remaster for FF7 they will ruin it for good.

Joining with Enix in 2003 were SquareSoft's biggest mistake, that made Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu leave the company.

Since then Final Fantasy has been dead to me.

XDarkMessengerX
XDarkMessengerX

@G4mBi7 kierwinyoung was probably born 10 years ago. So it's just natural to say those kind of things at that age.

frylock1987
frylock1987

@G4mBi7  

umadthatyougottauseboldfont bro?