Monday, September 3, 2012

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Announced

Final Fantasy XIII fans, rejoice.  Lightning isn’t done yet.  This weekend at the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Event Square Enix announced the third and final chapter in the Final Fantasy XIII saga - Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.  Although this game remains shrouded in mystery, one thing is for sure: we are finally getting what we’ve been waiting for – an end to the Final Fantasy XIII story.

While only a few details are known at this time, I have done as much research into the announcement as possible, including watching the stream of the event.  Read on for details and a general breakdown of everything we know so far.

During his presentation, Toriyama (the director of the game) focused on two key concepts for the game: “World-Driven” and “Lightning Returns”.  Let’s focus on the “World-Driven” first.

“World-Driven” is an entirely new concept for the Final Fantasy series.  If you think of XIII as a story-driven game, and XIII-2 as a player-driven game, Lightning Returns will be a world-driven game.  Toriyama explained that this means that the world of the game is constantly changing.  Time passes – the sun rises, people go about their daily business, the sun sets, and night falls.  All of these events effect the world – and each gamer’s experience.  It sounds like Square is trying to create a world that exists on it’s own, independent of the player.  Think something like Sleeping Dogs or Skyrim.  The game is considered open-world, so the player is able to freely explore the entire world that is in constant motion.  Theoretically, this will make each player’s experience in the world unique – and could even mean that if you play the game more than once you could have quite a different experience the next time around.

The world Square is designing for the game is very intriguing.  The game takes place hundreds of years after the events of XIII-2, in a world called Novus Partus.  It consists of four large islands set in a sea of chaos.  The islands are connected by a monorail system, which I will talk about more in just a bit.  From the concept drawings, it seems that each island will offer a very different environment to explore.  One seems to be a large city, the next more of a forest/farmland area, the third a harsh desert, and the last a mountainous region.  Apparently, the big castle-like structure on the mountain island is the shrine of Etro (I thought it looked familiar).  If you look up just beyond it, you can also see the New Cocoon floating in the sky (I missed it on my first observation).

The world of Novus Partus, with the Shrine of Etro and the New Cocoon in the background.

One of the most important elements in this world is that of time.  As a kind of mirror to the events leading up to XIII, Lightning Returns takes place over 13 days – the last 13 days of the world, to be exact.  In order to bring this element more into focus, square is introducing a Doomsday clock device into gameplay.  Essentially, the doomsday clock starts at 13 days and as you play it counts down to the end of days.  It actually sounds very similar to Marjora’s Mask, which upon initial inspection worried me a bit.  I’m personally not crazy about games that have an impending time limit – I really like to take my time and fully explore worlds.  However, I was somewhat put at ease when it was revealed that actions you take during the game affect time passing in both ways.  So, certain actions that Lightning takes will use up lots of time – taking the monorail between islands, using certain moves in battle, choosing to rewind time if you fall in battle – all of these actions will push the Doomsday clock forward.  However, by completing certain other actions Lightning will be able to turn back the clock – by defeating enemies, for example, she can add more time to the Doomsday clock.  So while the overall effect is to give a sense of urgency, it sounds like you won’t be rushed all the time and will still be free to explore the worlds fully.

Square seems to have put a lot of effort into making Novus Partus very realistic as well.  People are out and busy during the day.  The monorails have a time schedule, and are most frequent during peak travel hours.  Nights are less busy but more dangerous.  And certain areas are only accessible during certain parts of the day.  Gates close, buildings shut down, etc.  They even mentioned that if you are not careful, you can get stuck in a certain place for the entire night, wasting valuable time.  This element is meant to introduce another level of strategy to the game – you have to plan how to spend your time wisely and always thinking ahead.

A metropolis of Novus Partus with the monorail overhead.

Visually, the concept art looks stunning and very different from the previous two games.  The world is meant to be a combination of different elements: “mechanical, gothic, and fantasy”.  It seems that unlike XIII-2 almost all of the locations will be completely new.  This also applies to enemies and monsters.  Essentially, chaos has infected the enemies you encounter, so they will typically be mutated versions of your typical RPG fare.

Speaking of things being different, let’s move on to the second main concept: Lightning Returns.  This game belongs to Lightning.  She is the sole playable character (a big change for the FF series as a whole).  Because of this, Square will be offering a lot of customization with her this time around.  Apparently, there will be over 20 different costumes you can equip Lightning with.  It sounds like the costumes may not only affect the look of Lightning, but also her abilities in battle as well.   Similar to X-2, the costume she is wearing could augment certain moves or attributes, adding another layer to the battle mechanics.

Players will also have more control of Lightning in battle in general.  Details are still a bit sketchy, but it sounds like you will be able to control her movements during the entire battle.  Real time events like parrying attacks, countering, and even attacking will be introduced.  Battles will take place in the world without a “battle screen”, so you’ll be able to move Lightning around as you see fit, and even be able to use the environment for cover and strategy.  You will also be able to choose different strategies for the actual fighting.  You can rush and attack melee style, or hang back and focus on casting spells.  From the way it was presented, the battle system reminded me a bit of the one found in the Mass Effect games.  I think when we see it in action everything will become much clearer, but essentially it sounds very different from the previous two games.

The development team was not ready to show what Lightning will look like in the game, but they did reveal what they asked Nomura to create for her.  They emphasized that she is going to fight her final battle.  This is the end of her story.  And as opposed to the somewhat mystical quality she had in XIII-2, it sounded like they wanted a return to the “tough but beautiful” style of XIII.  Personally, I can’t wait to see what she will look like.

The concept art looks beautiful, and could that be a preview of Light?

Though a lot remains to be seen about this game, I have to admit I’m very excited.  The game sounds very different from XIII and XIII-2, and it will be very interesting to see how Square implements all of these new elements.  At the same time, however, it seems very important to Square to keep the core of the XIII games in this one.  Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the final chapter in the XIII saga, and it is vital that it keeps the spirit of XIII while moving things forward to the conclusion. 

Please check back soon for more info on Lightning Returns.  Square has promised more details after September 4th, and I will update you as soon as they do.  They have also revealed that the game will be coming out in 2013 (how appropriate) and so hopefully we won't have to wait too long to see the game in action.  In the meantime, let us know what you think in the comments below.  Are you excited?  Nervous?  Happy?  Scared?

Through all of the unknown elements, I think it is still important to keep hope alive.  Square has rewarded our hope with the promise of a new game in the XIII legend.  They have offered us what we really need: and end to the story.  Lightning has one last chance to save the world, and we get to experience her story one last time.  I can’t wait.

We won't give up on you, Lightning.


  1. I am incredibly, incredibly excited about this and so far it sounds amazing and the concept art: flawless. I love that they're trying out the Gothic steampunk-ish style; for some reason i think it would look good on a Final Fantasy game especially on such a dark story-line like this one.

  2. It will be interesting to see what the game will be like under the new "World-Driven" concept. Square has been slowly changing its RPG Identity over the last 5 years.

  3. An update was given today via interview that reveals that the game is 30% complete, and that the cast from the last two games are very much alive, and that no one has aged. Also mentioned was that this game will only have one ending and that it will be a happy ending. I'm guessing this means everyone will be saved and brought back together in the end. Very little on plot and characters so far, but we been told to look out for more at the TGS later this month.

  4. Let's all welcome The Maker!

  5. Do you think that Lightning Returns will be the end of the XIII saga, or will there be a XIII-3 that this sets up? It says that it is Lightning's last battle, but that doesn't mean that Hope and Noel can't save the world in XIII-3 without her help.

    1. The development team has stated pretty clearly that this will be the last Final Fantasy XIII game. It's not only meant to be Lightning's last battle, but also the wrap up of the entire saga. Square has said that characters other than Lightning could be in the game, just not as playable choices. Hope, for example, is already confirmed for LR - he'll be communicating with Lightning via a headset kind of thing. Ultimately, it seems like they want to bring everything full circle - Final Fantasy XIII began with Lightning, and it will end with Lightning.