Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 is a crash course in time management

Monday, 16 September 2013 07:55 GMT By Dave Cook

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 players will need great time management to see everything it has to offer. VG247’s Dave Cook speaks with design director Yuji Abe to find out how it works.

Lightning Returns: FF13

Developed by Square Enix, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 is coming to PS3 and Xbox 360 February 11, 2014 in North America, and from February 14 across Europe.

It is the final instalment of the Final Fantasy 13 trilogy, and comes with only one ending.

The franchise creators recently published this making of video that delves deep into the game’s development.

We’ve also got a gameplay trailer that shows off missions, Chocobos and more. Check it out here.

With only 13 days before the world ends and many different people trying to kill her, you have to assume that Lightning’s going to have a pretty rough time in Square’s trilogy-closer. To make matters worse, the populace have no idea that the world is collapsing around them, so the pink-haired hero is pretty much alone in her struggle. It’s a dark premise.

At its heart is a time-management system that sees the seconds slip away while you run around the world, entering into battles and solving quests in a bid to avert the apocalypse. But how does the system work? That was one of the big question marks that hung over Lightning Returns as I went to meet the game’s design director Yuji Abe for a chat.

He told me that yes, the time system does tick away while you’re roaming the world in search of new tasks, but that it freezes while you’re in battle. Completing quests will top up the counter, so there’s always a pressure to keep chipping away at both core and side-quests as you progress. There’s even a whiff of Dead Rising in there, as certain challenges demand you be in the right place at the right time. I’m already stressing about it.

“Our main concept with the new game is that no matter what you do, time ticks on,” Abe explained. “As you march on, you decide what to do and every single action you take has a consequence and this changes your path through the major story. If you want you could just sit still and do nothing and just watch the world as it collapses and comes to an end, that’s fine. But there are lots of things you can do, and you can decide what you want to do to keep the story going.”

It’s a neat mechanic, and some might say that this pressure is at odds with the classic notion of Final Fantasy grinding, but it’s a new spin nevertheless. Lightning herself is going to face a rough time through it all, and I was told that this is going to be the most personal tale in the trilogy, as the typically hardened hero really starts to feel the strain of her charge. Preventing the apocalypse is no small task, after all.

Part of this desire to peel back Lightning’s tough exterior and dig deep into her emotional side comes from just how popular she has become. Abe explained that Square recently held a poll in Japan to gauge the series’ most-celebrated characters. Lightning topped the female vote, while she came second in the mixed-gender ballot only to Cloud Strife. Love or hate her, it seems there’s a lot of affection out there for Lightning.

As you cut through the quest-line Lightning will be reunited with familiar faces from across the trilogy such as Snow, Vanille and Fang, and these encounters will resolve old plot strands and hopefully give the arc a warm send-off by the time the credits roll. What’s neat is that – in something of a ‘Mega Man’ twist – you can tackle many of the core missions in an order of your choosing. With that in mind, Abe cautioned me that you will absolutely miss things on your first play-through.

“This is going to be quite a personal experience,” he explained. “The main story is obviously there, and there are some certain things you really have to do to get through to the ending. But, you can actually do it in your own order. You don’t have to do this and then go there or any set order. You can choose the order in which you play all these important paths.

“What that means is, depending on how you play it, and what order you play through the main progress, inevitably there will be some elements you will miss because the game encourages you to explore the world.”

This is where the ability to enter new game-plus comes in handy. Without knowing the most efficient way to time-manage and where you need to be when certain timed elements trigger, it’s likely you’ll overlook a lot of the game’s content. But one thing is certain; each player will take a unique, personal path through the story from their friends. That’s definitely a positive, expansive step, and a vast improvement from Final Fantasy 13’s many hours of initial linearity.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 is coming to PS3 and Xbox 360 on February 11, 2014 in North America, and from February 14 across Europe.