500 years have passed since FF XIII-2 and things have gotten dire. The world rapidly approaches its end and Lightning has to stop it. However, she only has a limited amount of time to do it and all her actions will affect how much time she has to complete the simple task of saving the world from ruin. It is like the highest stakes version of the Butterfly Effect. So, player’s choices have consequences on how much they will be able to do in the game. The world is split up into four regions, one being a pleasure capital where Snow is the head protector and despot. The PAX demo had Lightning running through a dungeon chasing down Snow with aid from Hope via a radio.
Running through the palatial dungeon saw Lightning running into enemies that appear in the dungeon as rendered models. Much in the same way they have in prior iterations of the FF XIII series. Players will be able to get an advantage on enemies by attacking them before engaging in battle. Conversely, if the enemy sneaks up on Lightning they have the advantage. Lightning Returns battle system uses Active Time Battle to limit the amount Lightning can attack an enemy. Each move has its own ATB gauge use with weaker attacks using up less of the gauge.
The main tweak Lightning Returns does to the combat system is that it changes the paradigm shifts to a dress sphere/class change to better fit a single party member. Meaning that as players switch paradigms in battle, Lightning will change into a different outfit/class (similar to Final Fantasy X-2). In the demo, there was the commando, mage and ravager classes that offered different spells/actions to use and their effectiveness depended on the particular enemy. Switching paradigms reset the ATB allowing Lightning to attack without waiting for the gauge to refill, which was weird. At times, it made things a little too easy. However, since the game’s goal is to make combat quicker, that quirk makes sense.
During the boss fight, the game introduces the stagger mechanic once again, which allows the player to stun an enemy greatly by exploiting its weakness causing the stagger gauge to fill. Once the gauge is full then the enemy is more susceptible to attacks and magics. While the move is available at the beginning of the demo, this is where the demo introduces how the Overclock ability works. Essentially, it is a special mode that allows Lightning to attack without consequence of the ATB gauge for a limited amount of time when activated. Combining the stagger and Overclock ability makes quick work of the boss.
Nothing about combat was particularly innovative, but it was solid. The system is a logical variation on the Final Fantasy XIII battle system made to handle a single party member and Lightning Returns more action-adventure focus. The story seems predictably convoluted, but the victory poses for the character and the sexualized costumes for Lightning are a weird choice given how Square has written that character for the past two games. Ultimately, Lightning Returns looks good, plays solidly and smoothly, and naturally progresses to where Square wants to go with the formula. However, nothing seems particularly exciting about it. Somewhere during the development of Final Fantasy XIII, Square seemed to have lost sight of what makes these games interesting. They seem to be making what they think people want out of a Final Fantasy game without actually making what people want out of a Final Fantasy game.