Sometimes a time-traveling god-like hero needs to work on a smaller scale. In my demo of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning was tasked with looking into what was eating nearby chocobos by some chocobo ranchers. After getting the gist of the situation, I wandered from the expansive safe field to the areas where monsters roamed.
Having played through Final Fantasy XIII and very little Final Fantasy XIII-2, it was somewhat surreal to wander out into a big field and actually get a little lost with Lightning. However, once I got on track, things moved pretty quickly towards my ultimate goal.
Battles were significantly different than I expected. Enemies wandered around the fields, and if you struck them with Lightning’s sword, they would start the battle with less health. Hit them as soon as you see them and they’ll start the battle with 30% less health. Hit them a bit later, and they’ll lose 10%. If they get the jump on you, you’ll lose some health before the fight begins (which is pretty dangerous, since this is the first FFXIII in which health doesn’t fully recover after each battle).
Combat isn’t quite what we saw in FFXIII, but it’s not quite your average action RPG either. For instance, while FFXIII’s beloved/hated stagger system didn’t seem to have a direct analog here, hitting an enemy hard, repeatedly, or with the right element would lead to a “knockout” which would leave them stunned for a while and (in the case of the weak slimes most of my demo had me fighting), open for a quick kill.
While attacks used a number of the same animations as they did in FFXIII, executing them was quite different. Skills were mapped to face buttons of the controller, and linked to each costume Lightning was wearing. For instance, her default outfit had Guard, Thunder, Attack, and Sparkstrike; but swapping over to her dragoon outfit would give her access to a Jump and a Slow spell. I realized with Slow, that (for the most part) as long as I held an offensive skill button, Lightning would keep performing that skill until she ran out of AP for that particular costume (each attack uses a set amount of which facilitates costume switching to stay on the offensive as your unused costumes restore their AP automatically).
Curiously, holding the Dragoon’s Jump after the fact would change that attack into a series of strikes called “Beatdown”…
Battlefield placement was also significant. The left analog stick would allow you to slowly strafe around your locked target or close or increase distance. Unlike Final Fantasy XII (which also let you move your characters around in combat), melee attacks wouldn’t strike your enemies if you were several feet away. Melee attacks would automatically send Lightning running toward her target. I found it was best to hold back as long as possible and pepper close-range enemies with spells until they ran up to me and I could guard against their attacks.
With the right timing, I could negate the entire attack. If I was a bit early, it would just soften the blow. While most of the costumes I could use in my demo had some form of guard, Heart Stealer (which looked a lot like Zidane from Final Fantasy IX from behind, given its tail) could dodge out of the way of incoming attacks, and Red Mage charged its AP.
Finally, I ran across the Chocobo Eater (yep, that was its name) brutalizing a white chocobo. The fight was a challenging one. Even though his main form of attack was trying to take a bite of Lightning with his giant mouth, I couldn’t quite get the guard timing right. In between attacks, I tried shifting from costume to costume (with a tap of L1 or R1) to maintain a constant stream of aggression and ensure that I didn’t use any of the electric attacks he was strong against, but my impatience ended up leaving me mostly drained of AP to the point where I couldn’t even block and left myself open to being bitten. I actually had to use the one potion the demo provided me to get through this fight.
After a cutscene involving the chocobo ranchers tending to the bloodied chocobo, I had a little bit more time to explore, but my progress was quickly halted by a Behemoth. However, my brief time experimenting with the costume changing combat definitely makes me curious as to how the game will play when all of the costumes are unlocked.