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Lightning Returns: a more vulnerable heroine running out of time

Game design director Yuji Abe believes the Lightning players control in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 has become more vulnerable, being deeply affected by the great losses plaguing her past.

Abe shared with Polygon the reasoning of director Motomu Toriyama: this woman, less rough and stoic than her previous two game appearances, has already begun to crack under the weight of sorrow, anger and her own great burden of saving the world.

"If you feel that new Lightning is slightly less masculine, or she's a little bit more girly, it's because of two reasons: I think in Lightning Returns, we want to depict her in different lights, not just as one single character behaving the same way all the way through [the Final Fantasy 13 games]," Abe said. "We get to see her and experience different sides and elements of her, maybe one of them being fairly feminine and girly.

"The other reason I can't get very much into without spoiling the story, but in Lightning Returns' story, Lightning has lost a lot of valuable things in her life," he added. "That sense of loss might come across here as a kind of vulnerable part of her character. Maybe that's why you could think she seems a bit more feminine."

Time — and no one seems to have enough of it — is a key theme of the Final Fantasy 13 trilogy. In the first title, there is only so much time a person has between being branded as a l'Cie and having to complete the task assigned to them; they can either do a demigod's wishes and have their bodies turned to crystal, or turn into an unfeeling creature doomed to walk the earth for eternity. In Final Fantasy 13-2, Lightning's younger sister Serah travels through time searching for a way to help her, defying time and space to set things right. Lightning Returns follows our heroine on a 13-day quest to save the world, and completing the game's various missions can add or subtract to that timeframe.

"We brought in the element of resource control early on," Abe said, noting they applied the idea to time. "Toriyama decided the game would be world-driven and we sat down to figure out how to best achieve that. And I said, 'If it's world-driven, that sort of relates to the idea of running out of time, and how much money you have and what you can and cannot do in any given time. That's how the idea started. We want to give the player the opportunity to think about their limited resources and try to make the best of those intimate resources. So we applied that to the [game's time.]"

Abe also suggested that Toriyama's work on Final Fantasy 10-2 and its well-received dressphere mechanics — an outfit-based job class system that allowed players to switch classes at will — may have had an influence in Lightning Returns' wardrobe-powered ability mechanics.

"We were very fond of the paradigm system from Final Fantasy 13, and we wanted to stick with it," he said. "Obviously Final Fantasy is all about [the job classes.] When you switch to another persona, that change should be reflected visually in what she wears. So that's the idea that Toriyama came up with — he was director of 10-2, so I wouldn't be surprised if he was inspired by [his work on 10-2] in making Lighting Returns."

Abe added that the game's combat mechanics were refined to allow players to move around screen during battle and offer more freedom to dodge, block and attack.

"We really wanted to change the mechanics and we wanted to do a new battle system," he said. "We tried a new battle system with 13, giving [players] two AI companions. But that was a complicated system for users in Japan, it was difficult to understand how it works and they didn't really find the best way to be with it. So we just wanted to simplify it and let players enjoy it more intuitively without worrying how it works."

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