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Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII A Huge Departure From Its Predecessors (TGS Hands-On)

September 29, 2013 Written by Heath Hindman

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Final Fantasy XIII was a different sort of Final Fantasy; and then Final Fantasy XIII-2 was, in many ways, quite different from Final Fantasy XIII; Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (or as my wife and I were calling it at dinner, Final Fantasy XIII-3) takes even more steps away from the polarizing game that was FFXIII. In fact, now that I’ve played all three, it’s a bit weird to think of them as being part of the same series.

Linearity seems to be evaporating from this FF sub-series like water from a puddle. Each new game has considerably less of it. Final Fanatsy XIII-2 introduced the ability to roam around the environments much more than its predecessor, as well as the time travel mechanic. Lightning Returns might as well be subtitled Lightning SaGa — okay maybe not that non-linear, but the series has opened up.

Battles reminded me not only of previous FFXIII games, but also of a single-character version of Final Fantasy X-2. Switching jobs in mid fight was quick and easy — just the touch of a button — and come with full costume changes like they did in X-2. Each job has its own ATB, meaning quick players can really lay a barrage on the enemy. There’s ample incentive to constantly be on the switch, as well, because using one job replenishes the power of your other jobs. Are the bad guys winding up for a big attack? Quick, switch to something with good defense! Things like that make fights a good combination of strategy and finger skill. From the looks of the menu’s guts, you can highly customize your jobs, as well.

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Older Final Fantasy players might appreciate some of Lightning’s costumes. Of the ones I was able to use, one was definitely a hat-tip to Final Fantasy IV‘s Kain and another to the classic FF Red Mage, which made its series debut all the way back in the original Final Fantasy. More recent additions like the Aeris outfit and Yuna costume were not demo-ready, from what I could tell.

As a TGS demo, I could tell there was a certain course of action that I was “supposed to” take. A both attendant even pointed in the general direction, as all TGS both people tend to do, but I politely nodded and ignored his advice. I wanted to go my own way, have my own adventure, and test this game out Heath style — you know, indicative of how one might actually play a game. This place was big, especially for a demo. I decided to make my way toward a big castle off in the distance. One thing I didn’t like — and I seem to be the only one who felt this way — was the graphics. There were jaggies on the edges of most buildings, flora, and fauna, and overall it just looked slightly inferior to the way I remembered XIII and even XIII-2. On the one hand, there were wide open, scenic views everywhere you turned, outside of town. On the other, getting too close to trees just didn’t look as good as the two previous games.

I’m open to possibilities here; something could have been weird on the TV, or I could have been tainted by the fact that I’d been playing gorgeous PS4 and Xbox One games all day before playing this. Whatever happened to me or my TV, I remember looking at Lightning Returns and thinking, “Really?” It didn’t look like the screenshots or videos. It’s not that it looked bad, but to me, it wasn’t touching either of the other games in this sub-series.

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I felt that Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 were average-level RPGs, with the second being the better game overall. To me, they were worth playing, and I don’t regret my time with them at all, but they don’t come close to being my series favorites and I’m probably not going to replay them. The third time might be the charm, as LR: FFXIII looks to be another step up, if this TGS play was any indication.

Lightning Returns is set to arrive on November 21 in Japan, while you West-dwellers are getting ready to play your PS4s. It’ll make its way to North America on February 14, while we Japan-dwellers are getting ready to play our PS4s.