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PAX13 – Lightning Returns: FFXIII Hands-On Preview

She must own the mightiest conditioner.

She must own the mightiest conditioner.

One of the games I have been anticipating the most has been Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, as I’ve been eager to experience what new changes Square-Enix has brought to the series formula to freshen things up. Fortunately, I got finally got the chance to play it for myself and I was not disappointed.


The demo that I played had Lightning on a mission in pursuit of her former ally Snow Villiers, battling enemies along the way. Hardly anything was revealed about the plot; the demo mainly focused on the combat, which was stellar. The battle system for this entry employs an eclectic mix of systems spanning across the Final Fantasy series, borrowing a few of the best elements for a tense and dynamic new battle system. In any battle, Lightning has 3 different outfits, or schemas, at her disposal, each with their own fully customizable range of attacks and spells.  Since each has their own stamina meter, the ATB gauge, that replenishes over time, most battles are very reliant on effective use of all three arsenals to turn the tides of battle accordingly.

Enemy weaknesses are still present and a key part of battle. For example, the boss I encountered has a weakness to Thunder magic, so I had to smother him in a barrage of Thunder attacks and then change into another schema to keep the hits coming. Consistently attacking and hitting their weak points or weaknesses causes enemies to stagger, allowing you to deal a hefty amount of damage. Having to switch between outfits gave battles a very fun rhythm, and made battles with strong enemies that much more tense when you have to decide whether to use your actions to attack or play defensively.

She's either in battle or she's tripping balls.

She’s either in battle or she’s tripping balls.

As for Lightning herself, she has also undergone a few changes. One of the biggest things I noticed was Ali Hillis’ voice portrayal of Lightning having changed a bit from the previous games. Perhaps in response to some complaints of the character being too cold before, she seems to have lightened up her tone just a tiny bit. Rather than this new Lightning seeming out of character, she seems like she’ll fit in her world more than ever before.

Another one of the game’s brightest features though was the soundtrack. The music was bold, yet nostalgic, making for an excellent mix to accompany the game’s atmospheres. With a series like Final Fantasy being so often praised for its soundtracks, I am definitely eager to hear the rest of the compositions. Similarly, the graphics have only improved from previous titles. The game had been mostly built from the ground up, and it definitely shows in person with improved textures and stunning visual effects.

If the demo I played is any indication, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII ought to be a well-polished and excellent entry in the Final Fantasy franchise. You can look forward to trying the game out yourself when it hits North American shelves for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on February 11th, 2014.

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