Final Fantasy 13 Lightning Returns Returns PS3 preview – what Have Square got planned for the third 13?

Final Fantasy 13 Lightning Returns ps3 screen

There’s no shame in having a crush on Lightning. Why else would Square Enix make such a big deal of bringing her back? The fans voiced their love for Final Fantasy 13′s lead, and Square Enix listened. If we hadn’t all been writing erotic fan fiction and wondering if her hair smelled like candyfloss we might have been stuck with Serah and Noel for another game. But this concluding chapter to the 13′s with Lightning alone taking the reins.

Final Fantasy 13 Lightning Returns Returns

That’s the good news. The bad news, for some, will be that Lightning Returns isn’t just about rewarding fans with a grand finale, it’s also about delivering, as producer Yoshinori Kitase puts it, “a completely new gameplay experience” that walks the tightrope between alienating the faithful and the uninitiated all at once.

 

There’s climbing. There’s stealth. There’s a new combat system that gathers up any lingering specks of ‘turn-based’ and fires them into orbit. This is also a ‘world-driven’ experience. Before you throw your copy of Far Cry 3 at us in disgust, let’s clarify that: it’s not in the sense that it aspires to lock horns with Skyrim or outdo Vas’s tropical isle. Instead, Kitase’s highlighting how the world changes around Lightning according to a 24-hour clock. NPCs have schedules, and populate certain areas at different times of the day, so you’ll have to keep an eye on the clock too to get things done properly. Oh, and because the world’s going to end in 13 days.

Final Fantasy 13 Lightning Returns ps3 screen

It’s 500 years after the events of the last game, and Gran Pulse and Valhalla have merged into an archipelago in the Sea Of Chaos. It’s a dark time, then, and Lightning – having had the mother of all naps – has some catching up to do on current events before she saves the world. You know, again. Noel Kreiss was introduced in the last game as someone the uninitiated player could identify with, and a vessel of exposition. In this game, that character is Lightning herself. Director Motomu Toriyama explains: “From the story in 13-2, several hundred years have passed, and Lightning has just woken up. So if you look around for somebody that doesn’t have much knowledge about what goes on in the current world, that would be [her].”

The four islands of that archipelago are all accessible by hopping on a monorail, and represent not just a change of scenery but a shift in play style, too. The Dunes, a rocky desert, offers an action/adventure pace, where you’ll be “exploring ruins and dungeons”, according to Toriyama. The Wildlands, a traditional RPG woodland village is introduced in passing, but it’s in the game’s big city, displaying a heavy Renaissance influence, we get our first peek at Lightning Returns’ gameplay.

Final Fantasy 13 Lightning Returns ps3 screenHere, oddly enough, our girl takes on the role of criminal investigator. A string of murders is making the city’s inhabitants jumpy, so the pink-haired one becomes Columbo with a ponytail. In Lightning Returns you can no longer flit about through time, but it still works as a kind of currency. Saving one person’s life by completing a quest might earn you more precious hours in which to save everyone and everything, and completing another quest might use up hours and give you nothing in return. Accepting one of the many side-quests that the city dwellers offer is a tough choice, and not without risk.

So, in an attempt to buy some time, Lightning talks with the townspeople to gather evidence. Folks gather around important items and mill around according to the time. When Lightning arrives by monorail at 7am, for example, it’s heaving at the station as everyone heads to work. These touches show promise, but as Toriyama makes abundantly clear, we’re looking at really early code. Lightning sticks out like a Fabergé egg in a box of free-range among the PS2-tastic NPCs roaming the washed-out textures of the city. The finished game will be prettier, but since 13-2 looked much the same as its predecessor, don’t expect a giant leap forward for your eyes.