Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII’s Battle System Is All About Switching Schema

By Spencer . June 6, 2013 . 4:01am


Siliconera recently saw a slice of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, which took place in Yusnaan, it’s like the Sin City in Lightning’s world. Hope acts as Lightning’s navigator and the two characters continually talk as you walk through the map.


The level designers added obstacles to jump over, a ladder to climb, and a pole to slide down. Since this was a demo I didn’t worry about the clock in the right-hand corner, which reminds players how much time is left until the end of the world. I decided to explore the area hoping to find a secret enemy like in the Final Fantasy XIII-2 E3 demo, but alas I didn’t discover anything of the sort. This demo felt similar to a Kingdom Hearts map where you move through one room of enemies to the next.


As you just saw in the E3 trailer, Snow also returns for Lightning Returns. He appears to be an antagonist since Lightning pursues Snow in this mission. Hope explains that the people in Yusnaan call Snow a “patron” and the two discuss how Snow’s desire to protect others has carried over to an entire city. I spotted Snow twice in the dilapidated castle and tried to catch him, but he always escaped before Lightning could grab him.



That said, the Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII demo was really designed to demonstrate the combat system. Enemies in Lightning Returns appear on the map and will chase Lightning if they see her. You can gain an upper hand in battle by striking first. Hit an enemy and they lose 10% of their HP when the fight starts. If an enemy hits Lightning first you lose 5% of your HP. The trick is to strike an enemy from behind which knocks off 25% of an enemy’s HP right off the bat.


Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII only has one character to play as — Lightning. However, you can change her attacks by switching Schema. You do this by pressing L1 and R1 so it’s kind of like having three command sets. The demo had three Schema to try:



Triangle: Thunder

Circle: Attack

Square: Block

X: Galestrike


Dark Muse

Triangle: Electric Blitz

Circle: Heavy Slash

Square: Lesser Guard

X: Light Slash



Triangle: Firaga

Circle: Ruin

Square: Lesser Guard

X: Blizzara


Stronger attacks like Firaga drain more of the ATB gauge than a simple spell like Ruin. Each schema actually has its own ATB bar, so you can spam Thunder in Lightning’s Divinity form, then switch to Dark Muse and do a Light Slash –> Heavy Slash –> Light Slash combo and finally finish an enemy off with Firaga. By the time you cycle through all three Schema, the first one will have recovered about 50% of its ATB bar. Usually, fights against weaker mobs end before you can cycle through all three Schema. If all of the ATB gauges are completely out you have to wait, but you can still walk around by using the left analog stick. Lightning does not recover HP after each fight and she didn’t have any cure spells in the demo either. Fortunately, Square Enix gave demo players a couple of X-Potions, a Bravery Potion, and a Faith Potion.




After running through the castle, I reached the one boss battle in the Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII demo. Lumina appears and steps out of a shroud of chaos (it was like a black mist). She says to Lightning in a slightly curious, slightly taunting tone that Lightning wasn’t one of god’s usual lackeys since Lightning could see her. Lumina then summons the dragon-like Zaltys from the chaos and vanishes.


Zaltys attacked with a lunging bite and a fireball attack. Lightning can block to reduce damage by pressing square right before Zaltys strikes with its jaws. Not all blocks are created equal, though. Block in the Divinity schema reduces more damage than Lesser Block in Sorceress or Dark Muse schemas. The key is to switch schema back to Divinity to maximize the effectiveness of a block so you have to push either L1 and then square or R1 and then square.


The stagger system introduced in the Final Fantasy XIII series is back in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII with a few tweaks. On top of dishing out more damage, Lightning has a chance to stagger an enemy which will knock it down for a few seconds. Players have to repeatedly and rapidly exploit elemental weaknesses to increase the stagger wave and when it’s full the enemy will be incapacitated. I found the easiest way to stagger Zaltys was to block first (blocking also increases the stagger wave), then spam thunder (it’s elemental weakness), switch to Dark Muse to spam Electric Blitz, and then switch back to Divinity to use Thunder.



Actually, there is an easier way to stagger Zaltys. Lightning can use the Overdrive meter by pressing L2 to slow time. After I activated Overdrive it only took two uses of thunder to stagger the beast. There is a limit to the amount of times you can use Overdrive, so you want to save it for big fights.


After defeating Zaltys, I asked a Square Enix representative where in the game did the demo take place. The rep explained that due to the open ended structure of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII you can visit Yusnaan in the beginning of the game or in the middle.


Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was bumped back from fall 2013 to February 11, 2014. The game will be released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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  • negineBIT

    Cool battle scheme. A winner for me if the Schema is customizable.

    • Noctis Caelum

      you can custom your own schema. ;)
      But not in the demo.

  • iamakii

    Next. XV please.

    • agreed but this is pretty good too

    • XV will be introduced at E3.

  • ReidHershel

    Man, those graphics look amazing, really wish they’d apply them to a new FF. XIII is becoming the new VII in terms of saturation.

    • Solomon_Kano

      I dunno about that. There was a whole lot more VII, it was just spread over a greater period.

  • d19xx

    Snow’s getting punched… again…

    • SunOatBoatMatadorQuattro

      I blame the writing that exploits Light

      • ShawnOtakuSomething


      • Virevolte

        That exploits ? Could you develop ?

        • SunOatBoatMatadorQuattro

          Only one character to save the world unlike common games that have parties of at least 6 characters. All the good guys have become bad. The other girl who tried to save it died.

          • I agree. If it were me I’d just write it so Noel and Snow are trying to find a way to save the world but are all working solo. And at different points in the game they’d cross paths and compare notes on their findings. That way they cover more ground.

          • KiTA

            The specific trope you’re looking for is “Creator’s Pet” or “The Scrappy.” Basically, the writer of FF13 / 13-2 / 13-3 *Really* likes Lightning, and is absolutely gobsmacked that the rest of us find her to be kinda… bland.

          • Altin

            And that’s describing her in a halfway generous way.

          • Altin

            The most sensible theory is that all those “Sequels” are nothing but fanservice for Mr. Nomura and Kitase and their obsession of adding Lightning. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to see here in one way or other in Versus XIII – if that is ever to come out of course.

          • Randy Marsh

            Why do people always bring innocent Nomura into these XIII bashings as if he is the director, he just does some character designs. Point fingers at Toriyama, he’s the one with the Lightning crush.

          • I agree.

          • Altin

            Oh right, that’s why he decided to make a sketch of Lightning for the 25th Anniversary of the franchise. Because an anniversary is not supposed to honour memorable characters.

          • KiTA

            That’s the problem.

            Lightning is *NOT* memorable. At all. Nor is her characterization consistent. That’s worse than just not being memorable.

          • KiTA

            Supposedly, the reasoning is because they spent so much money on the engine for FF13-1, that they had to recoup some of it with cash grab sequels when 13-1 didn’t break all sales records in the history of gaming to pay for it..

    • TheExile285


  • Lexaus_the_Alchemist

    I like the sound of the Schema setups (I hope you can customize the actual abilities used within each one), but I do miss not having other team members.

    Unfortunately I’ve no longer cared for the trilogy’s “story” anymore, but if the battle system is fun, I’ll bear with this one.

    • creators said you could tweek the setup to make it to your likely in any way you wanted. You could make one schema or many. You’ll have full freedom. I think I’ll have Light use a little of everything, but most melee and lightning moves and healing. Just fits.

  • Noctis Caelum

    you can customize your own schema. ;)

  • ShawnOtakuSomething

    Why do I have a odd (KH) feeling about this game

    • Virevolte

      The shield of Lightning and the weapon of Snow made me feel the same.

    • Snow looks like Riku now.

      • …and Riku was against Sora at first. Must be the reason. But I think all and all it’s just Square and Anime way of doing action and drama.

  • Armane

    Noel’s back? I really don’t understand what the FFXIII team are thinking. Oh well, if the combat system is fun, it doesn’t matter.

    • Anime10121

      Why is it surprising that he’s back, he never died or anything?

      • Armane

        I was under the impression that no one cared for his character. But I guess the Kingdom Hearts series is still very popular.

        Joking aside, with the story being as it is, I thought they were going to avoid bringing back characters. Giving Lightning a feeling of being alone; kind of cheapens that if the story has her constantly clashing against people she knows.

        • Anime10121

          I liked Noel, and what pray-tell does Kingdom Hearts have to do with Noel? Please dont tell me you’re one of the people who say he looks just like Sora (they dont, the only similarities they have are eye color).

          About the story part, they always said that she would run into a lot of people from her past, and that many of them would be corrupted by the chaos, the story from XIII-2 fits in with their explanations, i dont wanna explain how as some people evidently (not referring to you) in this thread still havent completed XIII-2, so I dont wanna place spoilers for anybody.

          • Armane

            Lighten up, I said I was joking. He bears some similar design traits though, so I can see why people said it.

            “they always said that she would run into a lot of people from her past”
            I guess I forgot that then, or missed it somehow.

            I’m sure it’ll make sense in terms of the story though, and it certainly fits in with what we know from XIII-2. I guess I just don’t like the characters they seem to focus on.

          • Anime10121

            My bad, I see so many people saying that, and actually meaning it that I missed the part where you said you were joking. I just dont get how people say they resemble each other at all, considering everything about them, barring eye color is different.

          • When characters have designs based on anime or shibuya stuff they run together in some people’s eyes. I like Noel and Sora. And I don’t think he’s like him. But in my hood a lot of people see any character as a fake Goku. Like Cloud or Tidus. I can’t tell you how many people care so little about figuring characters out that they refer to Wolverine as simply “that X Man”.

          • Anime10121

            I know right, the only artist who I ever said that about was Akira Toriyama, back before I got into anime big time (I was also like 10),I saw a picture of Super Saiyan Goku, Super Saiyan 2 Gohan, Super Saiyan Vegeta, and was like, how the hell do you tell them apart. I was mainly just a Sailor Moon and Pokemon kinda guy back then, (I didnt even know the term anime). I still think his art is kinda “samey”, as his Dr. Slump, Dragon ball, Blue Dragon and Dragon Quest series all star characters that look like they fit in the same universe.

          • You’re right it all runs together. But at this point, people are so able to identify it they don’t want it to change. So it stays as it is. It’s bad that a lot of chara in the same show look the same. But I really don’t think Cloud or Tidus are SS Goku knock off. But there will always be some truth in it as long as people have similar tastes in anime style characters.

          • Anime10121

            True dat, i guess.

  • KingGunblader

    Despite my initial apprehensions, the combat actually looks really fun. if it’s as entertaining as it seems, I can put up with whatever schlock is being referred to as a “story” in this game.

  • Neophoton

    I dare say the game actually looks fun. I’ll keep an eye on the game until release and see how I feel about it. I didn’t care for XIII-2, but this looks to be more entertaining.

  • DesmaX

    Oh, just on my birthday…

    And, hey, that combat looks fun. Story already looks awfully amusing like XIII-2, but I guess I could pick this up, if February doesn’t have any other interesting game

  • natchu96

    From Paradigms to Schemas, what random word involving ideas would they come up with next?

    • StarWarudo

      It’s not as bad as Tales games, lol.

      • what? they call their moves Artes. What’s wrong with that?

  • artemisthemp

    I hope Square Enix will release a demo of FFXIII-3, like they did with FFXIII-2

    • Anime10121

      Yeah me too, especially since its being delayed so far into the future :(

  • OathkeeperSoraXIII

    ‘You can gain an upper hand in battle by striking first. Hit an enemy and they lose 10% of their HP when the fight starts. If an enemy hits Lightning first you lose 5% of your HP. The trick is to strike an enemy from behind which knocks off 25% of an enemy’s HP right off the bat’

    Yes! This sounds pretty sweet. So do the enemies appear on the field like they do in XIII or is it still random spawning in like in XIII-2? Because I wasn’t a fan of the random spawning in.

    I’m kind of glad they pushed the game back to 2014 it’s not very often nowadays that game’s get pushed back, in this day and age they usually get released full of bugs and glitches then patched months down the line. It makes me wonder though if they’re going to release it for PS4 as well.

    Also, from what I read an interview a while back you are able to customize the schema. To what degree I don’t know, I know you can re-map what button does what attack etc. Good to see the visuals have also improved from the last gameplay trailer we saw. They look more like the XIII graphics than the XIII-2 ones which I’m happy about.

    Snow’s crystal weapon is f*cking badass, so glad he kept his L’Cie powers

    • Yes Snow’s weapon looks pretty sweet.
      And a release date at all is good with me.
      Battle system seems decent too.
      If she has a chara level I’ll be fully sated.

  • Chris Cruz

    Very similar to the VWNM Stagger concept done in FFXI

  • Sounds pretty cool. That monster in the first pic reminds me of Zubat lol

    • Anime10121

      Looks more like a round Golbat to me, but yeah, somebody needs to tell Light to stop killin mah PokeManz!!!

      • Godman

        Actually it looks much more like a Woobat with a tail lol

  • KaraOhku

    That seem fun. I can’t wait.

  • KiTA

    Still don’t care. When are they dropping this stupid sub-franchise for greener pastures?

    • DyLaN


      • KiTA

        Close. It’s more along the lines that I am very, very tired of FF13, especially tired of Lightning, whom I find a cardboard cutout of a character.

        I get that they have to make a few FF13 games to pay back the huge investment they made in the FF13 engine, but they could do that with 2-3 side franchises instead of desperately attempting to get us to care about the FF13 storyverse.

        I enjoyed FF13-1, thought FF13-2 was brilliant, but enough is enough. It’s time to move on to a new setting.

      • Damarius Wingfield

        *Angry*…You sir! *Giving props* just earned your self a DRINK!

  • Herok♞

    I would love to get the demo to try this out because it sounds really fun.

    • XiaomuArisu

      The released a demo for XIII-2,so I think they will give us ,the common folk,a XIII-3 demo.
      I hope its fun as its sounds,the first two were boring.

      • Herok♞

        I liked them but in your opinion what made them boring?

        • XiaomuArisu

          Hard to explain…it was not really fun.
          For example the battlesystem,you press X attack is executed press X and so on.
          Why use strategy when its enough to attack over and over again.
          Getting new skill like:If you use attack on a staggerd enemy you will smash him on the air.
          New skill:If you use attack on a airborne enemy you will smash him in the ground.
          Long story short:Just use attack,if the game feels like it it will be a different attack.
          And the story:couldnt get into it.Lacie falcie find it out yourself if you wanna know what all the cie´s are,
          things like that.

      • i think the original was really good. XIII-2, however was disappointing to me, as someone who defended the XIII series so strongly, simply because the pacing of the game was not very good and the story didnt make me care, like it did in the first XIII. i think i will give this one a chance, though. it seems different enough to be judged independently from previous entries.

  • MasterScrub

    Sounds fun, but I’m getting REALLY tired of FFXIII. I might pick this up when it goes on sale, since I can’t really justify spending $60 on a game full of characters I’m not all that fond of.

    • Godmars

      Head of nail meet hammer.

    • With a lack of my kinda RPGs coming out these days, I’m gonna try it. I think any kinda of dying breed deserve attention before it goes. It looks like the West is taking over RPGs and mixing guns in a lot of it. So Games like this with anime-inspiration and martial arts and light magic I’ll always be more drawn to.

  • FFmax

    This game is feeling more and more like Kingdom Hearts.

  • so the battles are more action oriented, right?

    • yeah, think Star Ocean and Dragon’s Dogma battle system

  • Solomon_Kano

    This battle system sounds great, so I hope they release a demo. I really didn’t enjoy playing XIII, though I liked some of the characters and the music, so this is a godsend to me.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    So it’s the combat system of FFXIII and XIII-2 combined with Kingdom Hearts and the time limit of Majora’s Mask? Count me in.

    • It sounds quite intriguing doesn’t it?

  • TheExile285

    I wasn’t sure how this battle system would work but the Schema system sounds nice.

  • Maumac77

    Glad this comes out on my birthday. Gives me time to play through everything coming out for the rest of the year :p

    • agree, lots coming out late this summer

  • ShadowDivz

    Im glad i get to play ONLY as lightning(in awesome looking armor)
    I hated how in 13 one i was constantly switching characters.

    • yeah, it interrupted my training of them to get their stats and gear right. Plus I only liked playing as Fang, Hope or Lightning. I could never master Snow’s def moves and Sazh only had a few things I liked about him (rapid shot Blitz and his move Cold Blood).

    • new_tradition

      I actually liked the switching POVs myself, but the game does let the characters that weren’t available or unusable gain all the CP other characters gained, so it wasn’t unbalanced ^^;

      • ShadowDivz

        I didn’t say it was unbalanced(thank god it wasn’t). It’s just that i ONLY wanted to play as lightning so i was kinda annoyed switching all the damn time.

  • Guest

    as i read on, i am reminded of DMC3’s style system.

  • Guest

    as i read on, i am reminded of Dante in DMC4.

  • ImminentBread

    Sounds like a joy to play. I’ll be very interested to see the role Noel, Snow and Lumina play throughout the game.

    One question: how do you switch targets in combat? Do you use the right stick or the D-pad, or does it auto-target enemies somehow?

  • RablaAndrews

    So let’s roll call. Lightning has missed the last 500 years, and has awoken 13 days out from the end of the world. Hope is acting as her support, so they must meet up at some point.

    Snow is now protecting a city, but in doing so seems to have gotten in the way of something Lightning needs to do. We don’t know if Snow is an antagonist or just trying to reach his own version of what’s right yet, but he’s an enemy in the player’s eyes.

    Noel seems to think he’s The Hero from the prophecy, and is trying to stop Lightning, who is The Saviour. Noel also doesn’t believe that you are the “real” Lightning, something mentioned in the previous trailer.

    Ser- er, Lumina, seems to be some mix of a new Yuel incarnation and an enemy. We now know from this demo she summons monsters to fight Lightning, so she’s not entirely on our side.

    Chocolina was seen briefly in the first trailer, and developers confirmed a while ago that Sazh would appear at some point.

    So we’re only missing Vanille and Fang at this point. We know they’re not in the pillar, because, well, the pillar’s not there any more. Hope might have their crystals with him.

    • That all sound accurate as of right now intel. Chocolina sells new skills I hear. So the only REAL bad guy is Chaos and his right hand Lumina. Everyone else is just misunderstood.

    • Ehren Rivers

      Hmm, where did you read about the Sazh thing? Just curious, as I would love to be able to nail down a list of confirmations myself.

  • Guest

    No more paradigm shifts?
    < / 3

  • new_tradition

    Switching Schema and using the blocks reminds me a bit of the RotG DLC episode from FFXIII-2, especially since you were controlling Lightning who had no party members.

    I remember having to keep switching Paradigms in battle so I could stay alive. Personally, I really enjoyed that battle because of having to constantly switch up Paradigms, so if LR has something like that, I’m down with it ^^

  • Sardorim

    Thank goodness Hope didn’t abandon Lightning too. Maybe she can still have a happy ending after all.

  • RichyGaming

    I was expecting more FF13 hate in this article. Good job SE

  • Colonel Custard

    Wow that battle system seems similar to BRS:The Game’s combat system which had its up and downs but, this seems like a more fleshed out version of that. I can dig it. I just hope fights don’t drag.

  • The battle system sounds quite interesting. I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye on the game to see how it turns out. May even preorder this one. Especially if we’re given a set like the Japanese one with the awesome covers and the Lightning PAKai figure.

  • Homero Alejandro Santiago Ruiz

    the combat system looks somewhat interestig, i hope they release the demo to try it


    so? KINGDOM HEARTS style??? maybe this is a “PROLOGUE” for VERSUS XIII? :3 omg FEBRUARY WHY SO FAR?

  • Kelohmello

    The battle system does sound alot more interesting now. The problem with previous games was that even though it had such a nice realtime system it was really slow and in general you sat in one or two paradigms most of the time. Actively needing to switch back and forth between paradigms was something they definitely gave some attention in XIII-2 with the buffs to defense they gave Sentinel for example making you need to block some heavy attacks in that paradigm, but it looks like they’re taking it a bit further with this new system.

    Really hope this game turns out good. Please give me something I can be satisfied with Square, I want your series to at least go out with a spectacular final game.

  • snow_man_63

    Anyone that was planning to import the Chinese version again to get Japanese audio and English subs, you may be disappointed. The lastest press release from SCEHK shows that the game seems to have Japanese audio and Chinese subs only, unlike FF13-1 and FF13-2 which had Chinese and English subs. This seems to directly contrast what SCEHK said in a previous post a few months ago, that Lightning Returns would also feature both Chinese and English

    It is possible that this is due to the change in release dates. The HK version is releasing same day as Japan in November, but the USA/EU release isn’t until Feb 2014.

    Either way, it’s a bit disappointing. Hopefully this is just a mistake.

    • Kobracon

      Aw crap….I hope this is a mistake. WAAAAY too used to the Jap VAs by now…

  • I hope there are dlcs which allow others to be playable.

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