Calling it now. FFXIII-4 will be Lightning Forever.
Only if they throw up their hands and say "Fuck it! We don't know how to make games anymore. Quick, get the guys over at Platinum to make it for us."
Anyways I've been reading on impressions thus far and....
More to the point, though, the title "Lightning Returns" speaks to broader changes to the series. While it looks to be running on a modified Final Fantasy XIII-2 engine, its play mechanics hint at fairly radical changes to the entire concept of Final Fantasy. For starters, Lightning Returns really is Lightning's game. She's not simply the main character, she's the sole playable character. Not unlike Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and its hero Zack Fair, the entire game revolves around her; she explores on her own, fights combat solo, and singlehandedly bears the burden of saving the world from a looming apocalypse. Surprisingly, the combat system takes an even more action-oriented style than Crisis Core. Square has completely swept away the menu-driven, hands-off system that served so effectively in the first two chapters of FFXIII, pouring its resources instead into a system that allows players to control Lightning directly in single combat against foes.
Menus are out. Instead, players instead can assign four skills or commands to the controller's face buttons and execute them instantly. If this sounds suspiciously similar to Kingdom Hearts, realize the overlap only goes so far. Lightning fights in a far less button-mashy style than Sora and friends, with considerably less air-combo time, and she's not limited to a single use of each power followed by a cooldown period. Instead, her commands run on a Active-Time Battle gauge in the classic Final Fantasy style, and each ability comes with a corresponding ATB cost. This system doesn't employ the same fixed costs as in FFXIII and XIII-2, though, and the meter isn't segmented as it was in those games. The result is a faster-paced battle system than in any previous Final Fantasy, but a far less manic one than in the earlier FFXIII titles. There's far less screen clutter and extraneous information flying about, and the battle camera stays fairly fixed on Lightning rather than cutting to dramatic angles in the heat of combat.
I'm not sure if this is a crazy pseudo-action-RPG or the description for the world's most involved QTE.
Also this is how the time mechanic works:
And time is of the essence in this game. Just as FFXIII spanned 13 days (revealed through flashbacks sprinkled throughout the story), LR:FFXIII also takes place across 13 days. In this case, however, that period of time serves as a countdown to an apocalypse. In just shy of two weeks, the world will end, and Lightning's goal is to prevent it.
This may sound awfully reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, but I think a better comparison might be to Valkyrie Profile or Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. As in Valkyrie Profile -- a game created by tri-Ace, who incidentally co-developed FFXIII-2 -- Square tells us that if you reach the end of the 13-day countdown without having beaten the game, you may be thrust into the final battle regardless. On the other hand, you may also be able to start over, potentially carrying across skills and materials (the developers have yet to determine the specifics). In that sense, LR:FFXIII reminds us more of Dragon Quarter, a game designed around the assumption that you'd screw things up and need to restart, replaying the quest with enhanced strength and abilities that built with every new attempt.
What makes LR:FFXIII particularly Dragon Quarter-like is the way it treats time as a sort currency. Treasures cost time to access (the more powerful the item within, the more time required). Overclocking apparently burns several minutes per use, much like abusing the ability to transform into a dragon in Dragon Quarter added to the constant advance of Ryu's deadly D-meter, marking your progression to the inevitable end of your quest. And should Lightning fall in combat, it's not necessarily game over; rather, a menu appears that allows players to choose to quit or cast a healing spell. The rub? Casting a spell like Arise costs 100 minutes, a not-insignificant investment when you're on a 13-day deadline. Is it worthwhile to burn time and continue or simply accept failure gracefully? Trade-offs like these give Lightning Returns the potential to force interesting decisions on players, requiring consideration and long-term strategic thinking.
For the combat description, I'm going to defer to the goonpinion that this will either be something like Dynasty Warriors or that entirely QTE driven Ninja game Ninja Blade.
And I'll defer to the 1up dude that this game indeed sounds like a more Dragon Quarter-ish version of VP1 (and it even stars a Lenneth knockoff :v), however, I will add that I can totally hear the OCD pack-rat poison being poured into the bowl from here with how they're going to make you obsess over every little expenditure of time to get everything and Platinum the game with almost SaGa-ish levels of dickishness.
Also I will totally lol if this gets the 3rd Birthday treatment since the entire point to eliminating everybody but Lightning from the plot is so that nothing can stand in her way from being the rightful fan favorite she was destined to be (and constantly robbed of by having the personality of wet cardboard with a stick shoved up her sand laden neither regions). Of course if that did happen then I would have to get it just so that I can point at it still in the shrink wrap and say "And this is the exact moment when the Final Fantasy series had its final fantasy." (which is more than what I can say about the Megaman series since Legends 3 never came out).