Lightning is back... again.
Square Enix has been pouring a lot of time and effort into the Final Fantasy XIII universe. After following up FFXIII with a direct sequel, the studio has put together yet another game staring the super powerful sword-swinging heroine, Lightning. Fortunately, the developer has mixed things up this time around in a big way, retooling the combat mechanics to make it feel far more involved and engaging.
I must admit, I was quite skeptical when I first approached the demo station for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Having not been a major fan of Lightning's first adventure, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this new game. But when I got my hands on the controller and started playing it for myself, I was totally won over.
After flipping through a few tutorials to familiarize myself with the gameplay changes, I was thrust right into combat, slashing at my foes with the tap of a button. Unlike your typical JRPG, Lightning Returns is a much more active game experience. Instead up queuing up attacks and waiting for the character to carry them out, you have full control over Lightning within the confines of the battlefield. You can move further away to distance yourself from an enemy's attack or run up close to inflict serious damage with the edge of your blade.
In the demo, Lightning had three different "Schemas" I could cycle through, which change the character's costume and set of attacks—think Final Fantasy X-2's outfit swapping. Each Schema provides the player with four unique abilities, all of which are conveniently mapped to the face buttons. Some are basic attacks, while others allow Lighting to block or send out a burst of magical damage. The immediacy that comes with the press of a button was incredibly rewarding, and managing my attacks wisely as to not drain my ability meter too quickly, proved to be tense and engaging as well.
After progressing through a dungeon of sorts, decimating every foe that came my way, I encountered a far more formidable opponent that looked like some sort of large glowing dragon-like creature. Needless to say the thing was awfully intimidating, so I knew I would need to be a bit more strategic in how I handled the fight. So I decided to hang back at a safe distance and bombard the beast with thunder spells which eventually stunned him. At this point I was able to rush in for a quick kill. It was immensely satisfying in a way I had never experienced in a Final Fantasy game ever before.
While I'm sure many of you are sick of the Final Fantasy XIII universe at this point, I suggest you keep Lightning Returns on your radar. It's different enough that you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.