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Lightning Returns Roundtable Discussion - Hands On Preview

Minutes to midnight.

Like the world of Final Fantasy XIII, the seventh console generation is approaching its end. One of the last big releases exclusive to PS3/Xbox 360, Lightning Returns sees its eponymous heroine back for one more adventure. A demo hit PSN and Xbox Live on Tuesday, and a few of PixlBit's Final Fantasy enthuiasts are here to share their impressions.

Let’s start from the beginning. Lightning Returns is the third chapter of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. How did your opinions of its predecessors shape your expectations going into the demo?

Dan: I’d say I approached the demo cautiously optimistic. I might be the minority, but personally I thought XIII-2 regressed from XIII. Although I still enjoyed it overall, I disagreed with several aspects of its design and finished profoundly confused by the story. I could see Lightning Returns going the same direction, but I could see it surprising me too. Either way, I still can’t help but get excited about a new Final Fantasy game, so I rushed to download the demo.

Matt: I'll be honest: I approached the demo with VERY low expectations. I did not like the two previous games, especially the first one. I enjoyed XIII-2 more but not enough to finish it (I finished XIII, but only once—the only Final Fantasy game I haven't played multiple times). I'm a longtime Final Fantasy fan; been playing these things for close to 20 years. XIII is the only one I DON'T like. The battle system and lack of exploration really killed me—to this day, I don't understand the decisions between these designs. So basically, yeah, I expected very little from Lightning Returns.

Julian: As the resident Final Fantasy fanboy/apologist at PixlBit, I've enjoyed XIII and XIII-2. They rank low on my list (nothing will top my hatred of FFII), but I really loved the characters and the battle system. So I've been looking forward to Lightning Returns, even though the AWFUL ending of XIII-2 left a bad taste in my mouth.

Travis: I've still got XIII-2 on ye olde backlog, but I am an unrepentant lover of XIII. I loved the battle system enough to make me ignore Vanille, and that's saying a lot. It was a frenetic, interesting change on Active Time Battle that was much more nuanced than a lot of people give it credit for. I completely forgot what scraps of the story I understood after finishing XIII, so I'm not worried about missing out on any continuity here—I just don't care about this story. I was hoping for some new slight variation on XIII's battle system in Lightning Returns, and I figured that having a single character would probably give the combat the kick in the pants it needed to make it interesting. I didn't go into it expecting to be amazed, only hoping to get a real taste of what this costume-based combat might be like.

JD: I was part of the camp that enjoyed the gameplay of XIII but felt that the story became way too overblown by the end. When XIII-2 came out, I was curious about it, but I couldn't bring myself to get into it due to the convoluted story. When I heard about how the game ended, it only decreased my interest, which is a shame, since I heard the game was better overall. I felt the same about Lightning Returns overall. It seemed to me like the effort to make Lightning larger than life was more important than the story itself. I definitely went into this demo expecting to be turned off by it.

The battle system didn't change a whole lot from XIII to XIII-2, but Lightning Returns is a one-woman show. How does the new Schemata system stack up?

Dan: I found combat to be a little bit overwhelming initially, mostly due to the foreign interface. Once I got into the rhythm of battle and realized the Schemata system is simply a natural evolution of the Paradigm system adapted to accommodate the single-character design, I started to have fun. I like how the new Overclock gauge complements (or supplements) the familiar Stagger mechanic. I like how defense is a more active part of battle. Finally, I like the simple option of holding a button to repeat an action instead of having to press it repeatedly. Unfortunately, the demo’s limited number and types of enemies didn’t really give me a sense of each schema’s uniqueness or how to use them in conjunction effectively. I also couldn’t discern a reason to move around the battlefield. I anticipate the full release will address both of those shortcomings from the demo.

Matt: I love it. It feels like a real Final Fantasy game, and it looks and moves like I imagine an old Final Fantasy game would look like in real life. It isn't just that you can actually put in commands again (I love my turn-based, menu-based systems), but you can move around, block, and change dress spheres—ahem, I mean schema. It's action-packed but also reminiscent of the old Active Time Battles, and all the Final Fantasy staples are there with the fat trimmed off. It really goes back to what Final Fantasy fans grew up with but with a modern spin.

Julian: I'd like to know what Matt is smoking, because I could use some of that. This feels nothing like a Final Fantasy game, but then again that's kind of the point. The series is always changing, and the sequels go even beyond that. And hey, I love FFX-2, so that's not a bad thing by any means. As someone who puts a premium on a diverse party, the rapid shrinking of the XIII party is disconcerting to me. Having one character to control doesn't thrill me, and I got a very button-mashy vibe from this demo. Switching jobs on the fly is cool, and managing three ATB gauges can open up a ton of strategic options, but I don't think the demo does a good job of showing that off. It's over way too quickly, and the story makes no sense out of context.

Travis: I can see where both Julian and Matt are coming from. It feels a lot like the XIII combat but with little dashes of the past mixed in. I'll never have the Final Fantasy cred of the rest of you guys, but as an admitted dabbler, this tastes like the series to me. There wasn't much of a chance to dig into what looks to be the most interesting parts of the battles, fiddling with schema and loadouts, and then putting it all into practice in some pretty zippy fights. I'm hoping that getting the perfect schema situated will be a lot more satisfying than the crafting system in XIII that left me cold. It looks like it will be pretty interesting.

JD: I was surprised by how much fun I had with the battle system. In many ways, its a SUPER simplified action game, which in this case works due to the Schemata system. The Schemata system work very much like the Paradigms in XIII but seem to offer a bit more customization. I like the idea that they're tied into Lightning's clothing, but I also feel like many of her looks are pretty ridiculous. Overall, it feels very similar. Fight until the meter is almost up, then switch schema to refresh your options and continue the assault. I definitely feel that this was one of the best parts of the demo.

How about outside of battle? Do you see yourself spending a lot of time creating and customizing Schema?

Dan: I appreciate a certain degree of customization, although I often go with defaults too. If the game provides a strategic advantage to customizing schema, I think I’ll enjoy choosing the right abilities and combinations of schema to bring with me into battle. Regardless, I’m happy to see all the costumes I’ve watched Lightning parade around in since the game was announced serve a purpose. I was kind of bummed the demo didn’t allow me to create a schema from scratch because it’s such a big part of the game, but at least I understand the concept.

Matt: Outside of battle was a little lackluster, and I hope it isn't the same way for the full game. I want to explore a fantastic world, talk to characters, and get to know the stories inside the game. I hope there are quests and side quests and towns, etc.—but none of that was in the demo.

Julian: As far as the Schemata system, I really hope there's some sort of leveling progression. Not getting experience points after fights is worrisome for me. While I appreciate this stylish take on the Final Fantasy job system, I have serious issues with the ridiculous costumes Lightning is wearing. It's not that I'm against some fan service and sexy outfits, but it seems completely antithetical to her character. Maybe if Vanille was the main character, but I'm probably the only person in the world who would play that...

Travis: When I wasn't battling, I was kicking myself for not playing XIII-2. Good God, this game is beautiful! Even if half of what the characters are blabbing is vapid nonsense, I can listen to it all day when I'm staring at the amazing graphical work in the cutscenes. The same goes for the environments: Even though the demo was stuck indoors, there were enough glimmers of what might be to come to remind me of my wonder at XIII's landscapes. I'm looking forward to heading back into this world and seeing what they created and how gorgeous it all looks.

Julian: Travis, I have to ask: What game were you looking at? My initial reaction to the graphics was, "Wow, I hate that they went multiplatform, because this game looks like garbage compared to XIII." It has muddy textures, boring geometry, and character models that somehow seem like a downgrade from XIII-2, which was already a downgrade from XIII.

Travis: Maybe I got thrown off by playing FFXII most recently. I liked what I saw in the environments enough but was probably most wowed by the cutscenes. Maybe my enchantment with those just carried over to the environment, which wasn't stellar but gave me hope.

JD: I think the amount of customization is pretty cool. I can see myself messing with different schema to come out with the most optimal combinations. It seems simple enough to the point where I wouldn't mind experimenting with different classes and combinations to find my most comfortable play style.

To circle back to the first question, have your expectations changed since you have played the demo? Is there anything you’re particularly curious or excited to see from the full release?

Dan: I’m still cautiously optimistic. RPGs are notoriously hard to demo because they’ve got a lot to compress into a small package. So although I like the demo, I’m also yet to experience major aspects of the game. Of those, I’m most curious about where the story will go. XIII-2, in my opinion, fragmented the story quite a lot. Lightning Returns is a chance to piece everything back together. From the gameplay side, I’m curious about exploration. Linearity was the buzzword surrounding the original XIII, and I couldn’t help but notice the demo pushing me down a pretty set path with few opportunities to branch off. I’d like to see how the clock affects the experience too.

Matt: My expectations have changed a lot, and now I can't wait to play the full game. I'm going to buy it without a doubt and devour it ravenously.

Julian: The demo hasn't changed my feelings either way. I think it's a terrible demo that does little to show what the game is about and is over way too soon. While Bravely Default's demo was an exhaustive look at the combat and mechanics with no story, the Lightning Returns demo is a big chunk of nonsensical story with a little bit of gameplay. As someone who played and understood (yes, understood) what was going on in the previous games, I can't tell what this game is about from what I've played. I'm still buying it day one, and I'm still going to play the hell out of it, but I'm basing that on the pedigree of the franchise and not on this demo.

Travis: I was only partially paying attention to the build up to Lightning Returns, even though I was pretty excited when it was announced. After playing this demo, I'm not only excited about playing the real deal, but I'm actively trying to squeeze XIII-2 into my schedule. I'm also ecstatic that Julian wasn't involved in making this into a Vanille-centered abomination. The company might have a chance!

JD: After playing the demo, I definitely am more interested in playing the game now than I was before. Previously, I had no interest in the game at all. While the story still angers and confuses me, I would be willing to give it a try just to see how the gameplay evolves over the course of the adventure. The fact that my favorite character of the XIII series (Fang) is back is a huge plus too. Finally, I'd just like to see how this story manages to wrap itself up.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII releases February 11.




01/27/2014 at 11:53 PM


Travis Hawks Senior Editor

01/28/2014 at 08:34 PM

This reminds me... Lightning is wearing sunglasses at times. Booooooooo!


02/01/2014 at 04:24 PM

I'll be honest.  This game could be the best game ever made and I will not experience it.  SE isn't getting anymore money from me on FFXIII.  I am still pissed off by the end of FFXIII-2.


02/01/2014 at 04:28 PM

Amen brother. Amen. Bad Dudes on NES had a better ending than that garbage. That ending pissed me off so much I couldn't get rid of it fast enough.Yell


02/06/2014 at 09:55 PM

I'm afraid I'll love the combat but be lost and frustrated by the story-line. I miss the days where the FF stories were somewhat complex but still easy enough to understand.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

02/06/2014 at 10:32 PM

Just focus on the outfits! 


02/07/2014 at 02:59 PM

That'll work for me! I'm terrible,bro. lol. 


02/16/2014 at 09:06 PM

I must have missed this. I have played several hours of the main game, and here are my 2 gils!

Question 1: To be honest, my expectations weren't that high. Although, they were hopeful. The first one was competent enough, although it was so linear that it was hard for me to finish it. As far as the second one goes, I really liked it. It was much improved for me, and the cast much more likable that time around. For the third one, I knew that Lightning was back in it, so I didn't really follow any of the previews. I didn't really like the fact that they made her all powerful. I would much rather have seen a party of comrades rather than a one person army.

Question 2: Like was said earlier, the Schema seems interesting enough. It's basically Dressphere 2.0. Although, there are a lot of fluff outfits that aren't really good. They delayed the game by 6 months just so they could work on this, and they could have added in some more classic jobs. At the end of chapter one, I have only seen 2 of them - Red Mage and Paladin. Hopefully, there are more to be unlocked.

Question 3: I have seen myself spending more time on the Schema than I would have liked. That's not to say that I dislike it, because I don't have a problem with it.  More time has been spent on figuring stuff out more than anything. For instance, why do I have to sacrifice abilities in order to level up the same abilities? Also, the shield and weapon system are still confusing to me, even after several hours.

Question 4: As far as my expectations now, I would say that I just want them to finish out the series and bring everything to a close. No more unanswered questions, please. I have seen part of the ending already, and will just say that it feels a lot like Sailor Moon. I am most curious to see what has/ will happen to the characters.

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