Lightning Returns staff talk story, gameplay, and worldview

Famitsu took another turn with the Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII development staff in an all-new interview this week. With the title expected to launch some time in 2013, Director Motomu Toriyama, Producer Yoshinori Kitase, and Game Design Director Yuji Abe sat down to discuss new and future developments for the final chapter in Lightning’s journey.

The advent of the Internet means that user reaction is more visible than ever – something even further advanced by the popularity of social networks like Facebook. Following the official announcement in September and the launch of the teaser site, Kitase noticed that the majority of people writing comments were actually from overseas. But what kind of things were fans asking?

“I want to hurry and see a trailer,” or “What happened to characters from the other games?” just to give a couple examples. The former has already been answered now, but the question of other characters remains. Even though the player will only take control of Lightning this time around, main characters from the previous two games will have their own episodes which will conclude in a manner that will satisfy users, according to Kitase.

Famitsu noted at least one returning character present in the recently released screenshots already – Chocolina. She is said to be there supporting the player once again, but instead of a shop keeper, she’ll fill a much different role.

The concept of LRFFXIII came about from an effort to extend the current FFXIII saga, which includes FFXIII, XIII-2 and its associated downloadable content as well as various novels. All of this was conceptualized once the team started work on FFXIII-2. The character of Lightning has continued to appear in each entry, with each game becoming something fresh each time. As such, Kitase says that there is this sort of “obsessive fixation on Lightning,” with the one concept being the “rebirth of Lightning.” It’s for that reason why they chose to call the game LRFFXIII as opposed to FFXIII-3.

Lightning’s revival has seen her appear in a new costume – the likes of which have finally been revealed. For XIII-2, Art Director Isamu Kamikokuryou designed Lightning’s armor, but for her final outing, character designer Tetsuya Nomura was tasked to create something different. Toriyama wanted to emphasize the red and white components of her FFXIII outfit, so using that as a base, her new look was born. Using the color red in the linings, he wanted to create something of an impact. The final result is about half white and half red.

The outfit itself is quite revealing in the battle scenes. Toriyama says that the costume gives different impressions whether it’s in motion or at rest. “When the cape is fluttering, it looks great!”

The outfit itself has a certain history. This time, Lightning has been burdened with the role of being a “liberator.” Her clothing was given to her by a god as was the role itself. But who has given her this mysterious task?

Toriyama reminds us that the world of LRFFXIII ends within 13 days, but at the same time a new world will be reborn in its place. Bhunivelze, a god of the crystal, is the one who bestows the liberator their task of guiding souls to this new world. In XIII-2, Lightning was the knight of the goddess Etro, but here she now embodies the will of Bhunivelze. While the crystal mythology of Fabula Nova Crystallis involves many gods, out of the ones concerned with the “Lightning Saga,” Bhunivelze will be the last to appear.

The world has become known as Novus Partus – a place that lived on following the Chaos that was unleashed into the visible world. There are four continents, each with their own look and feel. On one of the continents rests the city of light, Luxerion – a place where residents quietly wait for the end of the world. However, serial murders start occurring around town by a certain organization – one that aims to oppose the liberator and Bhunivelze’s creed.

That liberator is Lightning and Toriyama says she is the only one there is, but everyone does not know that yet. Perhaps then, are these events being orchestrated to lure Lightning out? Without revealing too much, Toriyama says that each continent will have its own theme. The theme of Luxerion is “murder” because the team wanted it to be more appealing to a mature audience.

500 years have passed since the end of XIII-2 but people seem to have become unaware of that fact. Additionally, the cycle of life has been interrupted in this world. No new children can be born, nor can people die from age. The people in this situation have come to realize that the world is going to end, however, unaware of the 13 day deadline.

Luxerion is one of the cities present in the beginning of the game, and will be the first of four continents that you can explore according to Toriyama. The layout of the map is nearing completion, with necessary adjustments to the game being made here and there.

When asked about the other three continents, Toriyama played it safe. Telling readers to “look forward to it,” he referenced the concept art of Novus Partus while reminding us that each will be revealed in separate announcements.

Exploration seems to be playing a big part of LRFFXIII. With each continent connected by monorail, Lightning can travel the world over. You can walk around freely if you wish as well, even without having cleared a given area. As with any Final Fantasy, chocobos will also be available for riding at some point.

Yuji Abe touched on some of the game’s play mechanics, including action and battle elements. The addition of action game elements allows Lightning to explore environments freely, with things like treasure chests now hidden in places she must jump or climb to. There is some concern, however, due to the game’s reliance on time limits.

As the game ends in 13 days, it seems that the time to move about is limited, especially if you’re trying to explore everything. So is it possible? Abe says it’s all about trial and error.

“At the time of the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary Exhibit, we showed the alpha version and as time rapidly decreased you could sense the irritation,” says Toriyama. “We’ve since added a mechanic that will increase the remaining time in the world through quests and battles. By actively completing quests and battles, the time available to you will increase.”

Speaking of battles, if you’ve seen the latest trailer you might have noticed the user interface appears much different than the previous games. There are details Abe cannot talk about yet, but he wishes to do a little more tweaking first.

It must be said that LRFFXIII is not an action RPG, although action elements have become quite prominent throughout the game. Battle abilities can be input directly, coupled with action elements. The ATB system from FFXIII and XIII-2 have been evolved even further – the new system tentatively known internally as “amazing ATB.” Toriyama says there is more he can’t talk about yet, but each ability can be mapped to different buttons on the controller, and must be executed with the right timing in order to be effective. For example, you can master Defender-type abilities like guard or evasion in order to tackle difficult enemies.

The break/stagger system will return for LRFFXIII, but unlike XIII and XIII-2 in which the chain gauge accumulated by continuous attacks, more than one condition will be required in this new title – an element that will help players develop multiple strategies according to Toriyama.

When asked about Quick Time Events (QTEs), a feature that was put to heavy use in XIII-2, Abe says that LRFFXIII will not include them this time. There will, however, be something similar to Scene Drive.

In the previous games, Lightning wielded a gunblade for ranged fighting. Abe says that this time she will only have access to short range weapons, and that magic will fill the role of long-range attacks.

The idea of the “amazing ATB” gives the player a feel of realism and strategy all in the same, according to Kitase. The previous two titles had three people per party, although two of the NPCs were controlled mostly by AI. Despite the reliance on Lightning as a solo player, it still feels as if you’re controlling a multiple man team. Much of the battle system remains to be seen, so we’ll have to wait patiently for more information.

Enemies will appear in unexpected places, which Abe says will cause a feeling of tension. Enemy types vary depending on the time of day, with even stronger monsters showing up at night. Moreover, special occurrences known as “eruptions of Chaos” will signal the coming of even more powerful monsters, even in locations that might have been previously safe.

One such night enemy was described by Abe as a “furball bat,” and was recently officially named Gappuru (Niblet in English). Another new monster is known as Anubys, and even more are said to be in the game. Toriyama explains that this time approximately half of the enemies that appear will be new, although he hasn’t been able to determine an exact number yet.

Abe says that range will not affect the outcome of a battle. For example, if you select “Attack” Lightning will move automatically. LRFFXIII’s battle system will require you to switch commands depending on the situation, and if you had to factor in something like distance, then it might get a little complicated. Rather than range, Abe says it’s important to observe the enemy in order to find the right strategy to defeat it. You’ll want to watch an enemy’s specific movement, especially for those bigger monsters. Once you know the state it’s in, you’ll be able to deal with it accordingly.

Lightning will have so many different costumes, weapons and other equipment available to her throughout LRFFXIII. To that end, there are many shops in the world of Novus Partus. Later on you can also gather and assemble raw materials. For the equipment you’ll have the ability to change the color of each part, so a great deal of customization comes into play. You might find yourself sucked in by the amount of time spent customizing in the menu.

Despite time continuing on and playing an important role in the game, whenever you open the menu, time will pause to allow you to fully customize Lightning. Decorations such as Lightning’s sunglasses from the trailer will also be made available.

In regards to Lightning’s growth system, for the most part it’s connected to the completion of quests given to you throughout the game by various people. Unlike the previous two games, leveling won’t be connected to battle results. Battles will net their own rewards in the form of items you can use to strengthen equipment. Points will also be given to delay the impending end of the world, although Abe says there is still a lot he can’t talk about yet.

When pressed about the possible inclusion of mini-games, Abe dodged the question somewhat, while Toriyama says that, for now, they’re focusing on the main game. For LRFFXIII, one play cycle will vary greatly depending on the player’s action. How you go about doing so is left up to the player. The current version of the game is difficult to clear because the story for each continent has taken play testers 3 to 4 in-game days to complete. Current development completion percentage sits at about 25-30% according to Abe, with development rapidly growing for the second half.

Famitsu of course looks forward to next public reveal, and have asked the team to share some closing thoughts. Abe says that creating something like a half action game, half RPG is somewhat confusing, but eventually led to the creation of the “amazing ATB.” Toriyama promises that LRFFXIII will be a complete package, as opposed to FFXIII-2 which relied on additional story DLC to wrap up any loose ends. He says that this time they revealed Lightning’s new costume, and soon they’d like to show even more of them. Kitase says that with LRFFXIII being the latest installment in the series, he’d like to deliver a fresh experience. He promises that, experience aside, the completion of the story for previous characters in the series will be wrapped up in a satisfying conclusion. He hopes you anticipate it.

About the Author

Erren Van Duine As a self-professed Final Fantasy fan, Erren created Nova Crystallis in 2009 as a place to collect the latest information on her favorite series. As owner and Editor-in-Chief, she also spends her time as a freelance illustrator.