Lightning Strikes – Final Fantasy XIII-3 Hands-On Preview

13 Days to Live

Five hundred years following the tragic end of Final Fantasy XIII-2, our fabled hero, Lightning awakes from her slumber to heed the call of Bhunivelze, the God of Light, to bear the title of “Saviour” and save a dying world that has been consumed by Chaos. With only thirteen short days before the world meets its end, Bhunivelze will create a new world and Lightning has been tasked with saving the remaining souls, so they can be born again in Bhunivelze’s new world.

You might have guessed that Lightning Returns does not really have much relation to its predecessors, and you’re right in that assumption. Aside from the return of a familiar roster of characters and a few contextual plot points, Lightning Returns has a completely new story line as well as a number of new mechanics, keeping things fresh and interesting.

Lightning is against the clock in her holy quest, with only thirteen days to save a world full of souls, time is extremely valuable and even becomes a resource in its own regards. Everything in the game, from completing quests, exploring new areas, engaging in combat and bartering with merchants expends time; however, how you spend your remaining thirteen days is up to you – some actions can also restore lost time. This new sense of freedom shatters the highly linear gameplay of the previous two titles and gives an open-world feel, while still keeping you focused on the main goal. With four distinct continents to discover, the diverse landscape is begging to be explored, have its treasured unlocked and, of course there will be locals who need a helping hand. As you continue your exploration, you’ll frequently encounter hostile enemies who will passively reduce the number of potential souls you can collect during your remaining time. As always, there’s always one way to put an end to them and it’s what Lightning does best – combat.

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Lightning Returns casts aside the familiar Command Synergy Battle (CSB) system of the previous two titles and reinvents the traditional Active Time Battle (ATB) system of past Final Fantasy series, to create the new Style-Change Active Time Battle (SATB) system. It also moves away from a traditional party-based combat arrangement and throws Lightning into the fray as a lone wolf, but provides her with the necessary tools to perform all the roles of a traditional party, in the form of the “Schemata” system.

The Schemata system is the key source of customisation in Lightning Returns allowing you to select a specific garb, which acts as the base role of the Schemata, then selecting an accompanying sword, shield and accessories to complete each arrangement. Each equip-able item has stats based on Strength, Magic and Health – the three key attributes – allowing you to tailor each specific arrangement to their desired combat role. Lightning’s combat prowess is dependent on the abilities equipped to each specific Schemata, where each one can equip any four abilities available in your inventory, ranging from basic attacks, guarding abilities, offensive spells and supporting spells.

“Lightning Returns has a completely new story line as well as a number of new mechanics, keeping things fresh and interesting.”

Lightning can carry any three Schemata arrangements with her into battle and can freely switch between each during combat. Each one has its own Active Timer Battle gauge – the resource consumed to use an ability – and continually regenerates its own gauge as combat progresses. Do you remember switching to your offensive Paradigm and unleashing hell on an opponent after they’ve become staggered? Imagine if your combat gauge was empty once they became staggered. Whoops! While the ATB combat system is not a new concept, merging three independent ATB gauges to the one character raises the challenge of efficiently managing multiple resource gauges while still effectively responding to key combat triggers and capitalising on momentary weaknesses. Lightning is now free to move around the combat stage and, with the addition of an active guarding ability, the combat feels more reactionary and favours well timed executions – a pleasant change from the repetitive combat mechanics of the previous two titles. Oh, and don’t go jumping head long into a brawl either! Unlike its predecessors, Lightning doesn’t automatically replenish her health between battles, so you can’t be too careless!

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Lightning Returns does away with the mind boggling Crystarium System and instead rewards players with an increase in stats for completing quests, saving souls and successfully defeating enemies. In lieu of the Crystarium to increase the strength of Lightning’s abilities, players merge together two identical abilities (eg Blizzard Lvl 1 and Blizzard Lvl 1) to create a more powerful version of the same spell, with an increase in stats; however, this mechanic does not create new spells. The passive increase in Lightning’s combat strength and the ability to upgrade her abilities is not something to be taken lightly, as with each passing day the enemies you face will grow in strength alongside you. Time is of the essence in all aspects of Lightning Returns.

With an interesting story concept, a new engaging action-heavy combat system, extensive character customisation and a more open-world feel, Lightning Returns shapes up to be an extremely exciting title with numerous styles of gameplay.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII-3 will be released on February 11th in North America, February 13th in Australia and February 14th in Europe for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

Previewed by Peter Du. He’s so new, we haven’t even made an account for him yet. Follow his personal Twitter on @OeSCrucius

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