Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII released a demo today, and it being the job, we played it. And the takeaway is that this might just be the game that the Final Fantasy series actually needs. This will be spoiler-free, for those waiting to try it when they get home.
The Combat System Is Weird… But Compelling
Lightning Returns ditches pretty much everything you know about FF combat, which is good if you found combat in the Final Fantasy games to be boring. It’s not quite a real-time combat system, though. Yes, you press a button and things happen, and timing is important, but your abilities change depending on your garb and your ability to move (and thus dodge attacks) is somewhat limited. Also, as your garb runs out of power, you’ve got to switch. You can also run away from fights more easily.
In other words, it’s not a true action RPG, but it’s a lot more dynamic and demands different strategy out of you than paging through menus on a time limit.
It’s All About Completing Quests
The time limit isn’t really a factor in the demo; it mostly just introduces you to the concept. But it’s interesting to see how the clock has defined the game. You get the most stat boosts by completing main story quests, and you are going to need those stat boosts; you get seven hours to finish the game overall, although battles, cutscenes, and conversations freeze the clock and you can add days, up to thirteen. But as each day progresses the enemies get tougher, apparently.
If You Hate Final Fantasy, You Might Actually Like This Game
Even from the demo, it’s obvious that Square Enix is targeting a lot of this stuff towards fans and people who have actually played the series right from the start, instead of those of us who hate menus and want them to die. There are little gags and shout-outs and there’s probably a lot that I’m missing. But the key thing about the game is that it’s surprisingly easy to pick up, and everything is tilted towards picking up the damn pace. The world is wide-open and you can poke around, but obviously you’re going to need to get with the program.
In short, it seems like Square Enix challenged themselves to make something genuinely different with the series, and so far, it works. We’ll know for sure in February.