"Satisfying" is the best word I can think of to describe combat."
One of the first games I made a point to play today was Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the third and final entry in the heroine's saga. I'm pleased to say that my impressions were quite positive, with the game's high-energy soundtrack and exciting combat standing out as particularly impressive.
The E3 demo had me controlling Lightning as she searched for Snow in a monster-infested building. I ran through dark corridors, jumping over obstacles and climbing up ladders in pursuit of my (inexplicably) fleeing former comrade. After engaging in several standard battles, I was treated to a cutscene with the enigmatic Lumina, who summoned a boss monster after throwing out a few cryptic words. I have absolutely no way to gauge the game's story based on what little I saw, but it seemed thematically similar to XIII-2, for what it's worth. In short, I expect to enjoy it, even if it doesn't make all that
The demo wasn't about story, though. It was about combat. Despite the fact that Lightning fights on her own, the "Schema" system does a remarkably good job of substituting for additional party members. Each Schema is essentially a "job" (with a corresponding costume) that Lightning can switch to at will. Three Schema can be set at a time, and each has four actions that are mapped to the controller's face buttons, all of which have a different ATB cost depending on the strength of the action. In the demo, the ATB gauge was set to 100, and actions varied in cost from 10 to 40+. Furthermore, each Schema's independent ATB gauge steadily regenerates, so switching between the three is an integral strategic element. It might sound confusing, but it's actually simpler to understand than Final Fantasy XIII/XIII-2's Paradigm Shift system. Better yet, commands are executed instantaneously and have a tactile, weighty feel. "Satisfying" is the best word I can think of to describe combat. It's fast-paced, strategic, and action-oriented.
The music I heard during my brief foray into the world of Lightning Returns was dynamic and full of energy. My faith in Hamauzu, Mizuta, and Suzuki was not misplaced. I heard a catchy synth battle theme and an intense boss theme. I wish there was a way for me to share what I heard, but in the meantime, you can enjoy one of the other battle themes, The Savior, which is now on iTunes
for $0.69. It's pretty sweet — especially the callback to Lightning's Theme near the end of the track.
Will Lightning Returns be the best of the trilogy? It's too early to say, but my time with the game has me desperately wanting more. It's a shame the game was delayed to February 2014. In the meantime, I'll be humming "Blinded By Light" and rocking myself to sleep.