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Lightning Returns is a bold new take on a troubled series

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Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 comes off as less of a sequel in the series, which Square has dubbed Fabula Nova Crystallis, and more like its own affair. It sports a brand new, more action oriented battle system and a clock that is constantly ticking down to doomsday.

It’s not just the naming scheme that has been shaken up here; Lightning Returns is a strange and bold new step for the franchise. This is the final chapter in the story that began with Final Fantasy 13 in 2010, yet they hardly resemble one another. This observation intended by design, though Square is being very reserved about the plot. What little we know is that the game takes place several hundred years following the events of Final Fantasy 13-2. The world’s populace has attained immortality. It’s Lightning’s job to assist these people in effort to delay the end of the world.

Lightning Returns is set within a sprawling metropolis called Luxerion, considered a holy city but its citizens. There are thirteen days until the impending apocalypse. From the beginning the clock never stops running down, so effective time management is crucial to getting the most out of the game. Completing every task in a single play through won’t be possible, and players will be able to repeat the story and carry over some of their progress from a previous run.

To prolong the world’s existence, Lightning will have to complete sidequests, which involves memorizing the schedules of key characters throughout Luxerion. Their locations and actions change along with the time of day, so tracking them down will be the first order of business in most scenarios. Square has been pretty tight-lipped about the sort of quests Lighting might need to complete to help ward of the world’s end, but several writers who have been shown demonstrations have suggested that they aren’t as combat focused as you might believe:

“In the portion of the game I saw, Lightning essentially takes on the tole of detective, prowling the streets of Luxerion and interrogating witnesses to find clues to a series of grisly murders,” writes Polyon’s Phil Kollar. “No, really. It’s nothing like what I expected.”

Lightning Returns introduces a new battle system into the series, this one being considerably more action oriented than those used in its predecessors. The active time battle (ATB) gauge is still present, though in a different capacity. Lightning can switch between three combat styles, and as she uses one the ATB gauges for the other two will slowly fill back up.

The paradigm system featured in 13 and 13-2 is also absent. The skills available in battle are instead altered via different outfits Lightning can wear, each representing a different combat archetype in a manner reminiscent of the job system used in games past. Using these outfits, battle becomes centered on knocking down enemies by exploiting their weaknesses. Players can stand back and cast Blizzard to knock down a Bomb, for example, and rush in for a melee kill.

Square hopes that the fresh mechanics and the new naming scheme will set up Lightning Returns to pull fans back in to the series. It’s so radically different from everything that has preceded it that it just may work. The question remains as to whether or not this title will appeal to the sizable fanbase that has remained loyal through the years.

For a series whose purpose is often to recycle fan favorite mechanics with each installment–one that is becoming increasingly troubled because of that fact–the innovations being made with Lightning Returns are a bold change of pace. This is new territory for Square Enix, and regardless of whether or not they can pull it off, it will be interesting to see the finished product.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 is slated to release for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 worldwide this fall.

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