[Sneak Preview] Hands On Combat Review of FFXIII: Lightning Returns

At a pre-NYCC 2013 event Square Enix gave me and my Comic Con partner-in-crime Steve the opportunity to get my hands on a short demo of the new Final Fantasy XIII sequel, Lightning Returns.

After entering the world of Lightning Returns I was keen to get to the most contentious aspect of the footage shown of the new game: The combat system. After I was given a little bit of context – a monster eating the chocobos (or as Steve called them: Chicken-Horses) that belong to the neighboring residents – I was on my way to battling  monsters.

What Combat is Like in FFXIII

The battle system begins with a wager event of sorts

In the overworld if you strike an enemy before they strike you they’ll loose a percentage of their overall health. Of course if you’re not mindful an enemy can sneak up on you and give you the same treatment. After initiating combat the standard turn based RPG event of entering a battle unfolds. But when you actually fall into the fray it couldn’t feel more different. 

You have full control of Lightning’s body and are able to attack or defend whenever you see fit. This gives the action a slightly more aggressive feel – you have the power to be entirely combative or bide your time and wait for the perfect opening to attack and exploit a weakness.

By pulling the right trigger (I played on a 360) you can view a more in depth overview of an enemy – letting you see it’s known weaknesses to specific attacks and elements. The weaknesses don’t stop at a basic elemental list – for example the chocobo-eater has its most tragic weakness exposed when the beast’s mouth is agape, preparing to strike. All of the moves at Lightning’s disposal are also mapped to the face buttons, giving the ability to quickly assess the enemy versus your moveset and strategize on the fly accordingly.

**Standard case of acid reflux. I feel his pain.**

What if you’re facing an enemy that’s has a weakness to electric-based attacks with no moves that satisfy the electric criteria?

Well, sir – maybe you should just switch your class.

Lightning can change her class on the fly, from a magic heavy moveset to a physical attack based moveset and everything in between. In addition to the layered weaknesses of the enemies Lightning has a versatile class system that you can change whenever you want or need to using the shoulder buttons. That way if an enemy is weak to a certain element or skill Lightning can bust into the necessary class at a moments notice and wreak havoc.

Greater strategy enters into the gameplay due to the time limit on the classes. There are several gages on the bottom left of the screen that represent each of your classes and slowly decrease as the corresponding class is in use. So if an enemy is weak to a fire based attack and Lightning only has one class with that ability you have a limited amount of time to take advantage of said weakness.

The combat overall is a unique twist on the tried and true cornerstones of the turn-based JRPG that I, as a fan of the action genre really appreciate.Yet...

Combat Issues

The most distracting thing about Lightning Returns is the HUD. The aforementioned gages are obstructive to say the least. They are huge to the point of being nearly in the center of the screen. Some kind of timer is obviously a necessity given the nature of the combat system, but it needs to be minimized to a degree so the cinematic combat can be framed better.

**Some of the battle animations are really huge and distracting.**

Another concern is the camera position while in battle: It is painfully close to Lightning’s back. I think the developers are going for a very visceral feel while controlling Lightning, but the closeness of the camera isn’t conducive to the cinematic sweeping of the attacks. This also causes a lot of the attack animations to seem really huge – as if they’re taking up the entire screen. It’s not a game-breaking issue by any means, but it’s obnoxious and detracts from what is otherwise a really promising system.

A lot of fans of the Final Fantasy XIII series have been vocal about concern with the changes to the combat, but give it a chance; you may find that it is a pretty natural evolution to a combat style that’s been around since the beginning of gaming.

Cause for Cautious Optimism

I more than anyone am critical of JRPGs, which makes it even more impressive that I have high hopes for the outcome of this game. A lot of fans of the Final Fantasy XIII series have been vocal about concern with the changes to the combat, but give it a chance; you may find that it is a pretty natural evolution to a combat style that’s been around since the beginning of gaming.

My time with the game wasn’t that long, but I went in with zero expectations and left pretty satisfied. The core of any game lies with its gameplay and with some tweaking Lightning Returns could turn out to be a surprise for both the die-hard fans and myself.

Are you concerned with the changes to the combat in Lightning Returns, or are you excited to see a different take on an old mechanic. Sound off in the comments down below and maybe I’ll give you a cool costume that lets you shoot lightning at monsters.

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Published Oct. 14th 2013
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