Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Demo Impressions

Lightning Returns - Final Fantasty XIII Logo White

Let’s start off with a little personal setup.

I loved Final Fantasy XIII. Even the 20 hour long tutorial. It was a slow start in the gameplay department, and most of the side quests couldn’t be completed until after the game was finished, but it was a beautiful game. The visuals were impeccable, the music was fantastic, and the voice acting was top notch. Due to the superb level of details the story was able to come across more lifelike than in any other Final Fantasy to date. The plot of desperation, solitude, and questioning the purpose of everything shined on the hardware used to tell it. Of course there were faults, as there are in every game. However, the faults most players called out – feeling of solitude due to lack of people to talk to, no shops, too linear, and a 20 hour tutorial – all felt right to me. You’re playing as fugitives, so you can’t exactly walk up to people and greet them. You’re hiding form the law, so there aren’t exactly a plethora of shops in the back alleys of Cocoon. Not every game needs to be Skyrim, and when it does open up you complain about all of the plot development that occurred before reaching the open areas of the game. It all felt like nitpicking to me. My only complaint was that the game left no opening for a sequel, and when the sequel tried to fit itself in I was lost.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 was released to address the issues of the first. Instead of traveling from point A to point B in a linear fashion you were given access to a map with multiple destinations. Complete enough activities in one destination to open up a route to a new one, or two. Travel to them in any order you see fit. But it was confusing and there was little to no direction. It felt like I was thrown back into Final Fantasy 1 and told to go kill the 4 Dark Lords. Well. . . WHERE ARE THEY? and the game replies “Figure it out on your own!” Not cool. Combat was opened up to not give a game over when the lead party member died, but I died so infrequently in FFXIII that I never had an issue with it in the first place. There is at least 1 “city” or “hub” in every new zone. Each hub had multiple people to talk to, extra quests, and SHOPS! WOOO! (That was a sarcastic WOOO!) Lastly the tutorial was relegated to “It’s in the menu under Tutorial. Go read it.” What was sacrificed was a coherent reason for this game to exist, likable characters, and good writing. The ending of FFXIII was erased to make way for XIII-2. Instead of everyone finding one another and being happy, Lightning disappears. It made no sense to me when I started XIII-2, and didn’t make any more sense after playing the game for 30+ hours. I also had no idea how a 3rd game was supposed to exist in this series, but here it is.

Lightning Returns - Final Fantasty XIII  - Lightning

Well, Lightning Returns takes place at the end of time. With 13 days remaining it’s up to Lightning to save everyone as the Savior. The demo kicks off with her inside Snow’s palace. She needs to save him, but since he’s lived so long with no hope in his life he’ll also be one of the hardest people to save. That’s evident early on when she presents herself to Snow and they fight. After the insanely cool cut scene he disappears and you take control of Lightning. Tutorials take place in combat since so much has changed. No party members here, just Lightning and a load of bad-ass abilities.

Lightning can change classes during combat, as has been the theme since the first FFXIII. She can have 3 classes in her rotation for a battle, but it looks like you have have a total of 9 created to swap in an out of easily. Each class has different abilities. Triangle and X act as abilities, casting spells or special attacks. Square is usually some form of Guard, and Circle is a form of basic attack. The left analogue stick can be used to move Lightning around the field, which gives the combat a whole new level of interactivity. Each class has it’s own Ability Meter. Using any of the face buttons drains the ability meter, when empty no actions can be take by that class. At that point you change classes, use new abilities, and continue on like that. Each class has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. Dragoon – which dresses Lightning in a sexy/cool version of the classic Kain armor – is powerful, but slow. Heartstealer – which dresses Lightning up as if she’s a Zidane cosplayer, complete with tail – is fast, but weak and able to avoid attacks easier than any other class.

Outside of combat Lightning can explore corridors and such. There’s a Sprint button which drains Lightnings Ability meter in exchange for faster movement outside of combat. Lightning can also attack her enemies on the field to lower their HP for a battle. Dragoon lowered HP by 25%, while Savior only lowered enemy HP by 10%. Other classes may have other effects on enemies if used to attack them outside combat. Lightning can also jump to traverse minor platforming puzzles, and climb ladders. Everything runs smoothly and feels natural.

Lightning Returns - Final Fantasty XIII  - Combat

While the demo was on the short side, clocking in at less than 30 minutes and maybe 10 battles, it does feel like an excellent representation of the final product. At least the combat portions of it anyway. Besides a few fights, 6 classes, and some corridors to run through, there wasn’t much else to do in the demo. You can leave messages for other players, similar to Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, but that feature didn’t seem to add a whole lot for me. There were a ton of messages, but no real reason to check them out.

Otherwise I was impressed by what I played. The combat feels fresh and exciting, taking away the “auto-pilot” mentality the previous two entries had. Staggering foes is far more involved that it was in previous games. There’s no stagger meter, instead you have to attack enemies with abilities they are weak to or when they leave themselves open before or after an attack. You have to stay focused, and can’t just mash X for “Auto Attack” anymore. The world feels open like a proper Final Fantasy entry. Random corridors to run down, and minor platforming elements help remove the monotony of running away from the camera. The class system is really interesting, and seems like it’s going to open up the game to a large number of customizable combat options. Best of all, the plot seems interesting. While I’m still really confused about how we’re actually here in the story, I don’t really care. I would like to know what exactly Lightning is supposed to do, and how the Serah clone fits into it all, but those are answers for the main game.

Lightning Returns - Final Fantasty XIII  - Combat 2

My opinion is turned around for this one. I was completely uninterested, and now I’m somewhat interested. Not $60 interested, but maybe $30 in a few months interested. Time will tell.

What did you think about the Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII demo? Let us know in the comments below!

is not a boss.

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