Lightning Returns, but she's not going to be in your typical Final Fantasy anymore

Say what you will about the assorted games in the Final Fantasy XIII series (and many have), but you cannot deny that Square Enix has tried to tell a pretty massive story through them.

Say what you will about the assorted games in the Final Fantasy XIII series (and many have), but you can't deny that Square Enix has tried to tell a pretty massive story through them — one that's coming to a long-promised conclusion with the recently announced Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.

"There's always been this effort to expand the world, starting with the novel and assorted DLC we began with from the start of Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Lightning Returns is part of that effort," producer Yoshinori Kitase told Famitsu magazine in this week's issue. "The idea here is that this connects from FFXIII-2 to mark the conclusion of the overall Lightning saga. We wanted to make it clear to gamers that this offers a completely new gaming experience. It closes the Lightning saga, but it's not a game beholden to the rest of the series, and we're building new gameplay systems for it. The title reflects that, and it also brings home once again that this is the last game that will portray Lightning."

The concept for Lightning Returns, as director Motomu Toriyama described it, is to be world-driven. "The first FFXIII was story-driven; it pulled the player through it," he explained to Famitsu. "FFXIII-2 was player-driven as it let the player select the story and move along in his own direction. With Lightning Returns, the world itself is changing with every moment and the player's stuck inside of that situation. He has to decide how he wants to get involved as he's being tossed around by all the changes. That's what we mean by world-driven."

The people in the game are emotionally affected by this sense of immortality, and they've grown to see death in a completely different way.

And what about this world, Novus Partus, where Lightning finds herself at the start? Well, it certainly does change: It goes through a full day cycle in about one or two hours of realtime, for one; for another, it's set to be destroyed in 13 days, a figure that may go up or down depending on Lightning's in-game actions.

"At the end of FFXIII-2, the chaos in Valhalla began to flow into the real world," Toriyama said. "Novus Partus, the setting for Lightning Returns, begins to fall apart as a result of this. Also thanks to this, time stops for the human race; they don't age at all, and this has been going on for several centuries. The people in the game are emotionally affected by this sense of immortality, and they've grown to see death in a completely different way. While I can't talk details yet, we are going to see the other main characters appear as well."

Is this world the same as Gran Pulse from XIII-2? "Gran Pulse is the original origin of this world," Toriyama replied, "although most of it has been destroyed by the ensuing chaos. The sole remaining large landmass has developed its own civilization, and it's this new world that has been named Novus Partus. It's divided into four continents, so to speak: two that are mostly untouched nature, and two which are fully urbanized."

One of these urban areas is the "city of light" shown off in the Lightning Returns reveal over last weekend, featured in an oil painting concept done up by art director Isamu Kamikokuryo.

"It's not quite to the point of, say, Alice in Wonderland," he said, "but I wanted to create this mysterious fairy-tale world, something a bit off-kilter from reality. I figured that something Gothic in feel would be a good fit for the apocalyptic story setting, and that's reflected in the city's design. I put the monorail system into the art because you're traveling freely around this big world and I thought it'd be neat if this mode of transport figured into it. Toriyama and the rest of the team liked the idea enough that they implemented it as part of the gameplay. So you've got public transportation in an FF, which I don't think you've seen much recently. It breathes life into the world, I think, because you see NPCs using it to go to work and so forth."

It's a new world for Lightning to explore, and to some extent, it's a new Lightning for players to customize to their liking, too.

"The game features something known as 'styles' as part of the customization system," explained game design director Yuji Abe. "You can set up several outfits of equipment, skills to use, and so forth, and you fight while switching between them at will. Changing styles and changes your clothing and stats, and during battle, instead of selecting commands, you're pressing buttons that correspond to individual abilities."

So you've got public transportation in an FF, which I don't think you've seen much recently. It breathes life into the world

Sounds a bit like the "dresspheres" from Final Fantasy X-2 long ago, doesn't it? "Dresspheres were more or less like jobs," replied Abe, "but the styles here are more about taking apart the individual elements that make up jobs. It's like asking to player to come up with his or her own job. However, abilities are also different from before, so for example, you can't create a pure 'white mage'-type job here. That's why we are calling it 'styles', because it works differently from a regular sort of job system. You can customize yourself to some serious detail, so you can create a well-balanced character or go full-on attack mode if you like."

Motomu Toriyama stated that Lightning Returns is currently about 30% complete, with quite a lot of gameplay elements still left to be fully fleshed out. "We're proceeding with this as if it's the final game," he said, "something where Lightning can see a happy ending. She's going to face a final trial in this battle, one that pits her against the very legend that she's spent all this time building up. There aren't multiple endings [as in the last game], but you certainly run into bad endings if you run out of time."

"We've been working with Lightning in our biggest games ever since her first introduction at that event in 2006," Kitase added. "She wasn't playable for all that long in the previous game, so we have her figuring pretty big in LR. It all comes down to this, so to speak, so we'd like to make her happy in the end. We've discussed why we changed the title this time around, because of the new game experience and so forth, but ultimately she really is making a 'return' to a fully playable character, and I hope gamers are looking forward to that."


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