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Lightning Returns Creators Discuss Lightning Going Solo, Keeping Battles Exciting

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Posted on October 17, 2013 AT 03:03pm

Of all of the changes coming to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII that contrast with the previous two chapters of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, none may be as noticeable—or as potentially heretical—as having the game’s protagonist be on her own in combat.

For as long as there have been Final Fantasy games, there have been parties of characters banding together to overcome whatever foes they’d come across. Now, Lightning must solo battles both big and small, a change which adds more intimacy and threat to monster encounters, but which also causes Lightning Returns to, at times, feel much more like an action adventure and less like a traditional RPG.

“[Final Fantasy XIII director] Toriyama-san may have a different opinion, but in terms of my perspective and coming from a battle design point of view, I already had in mind the idea that Lightning would be the sole playable character,” Yuji Abe, Lightning Returns’ game design director, answered when I asked him if having only one main character in the game was a decision he’d always felt confident making.

“In terms of immersion, I personally prefer to have a more first-person point of view—versus, instead, switching between one character to another. Plus, I wanted to make battles easier to grasp with direct reposes from button presses, so it kind of worked hand-in-hand and allowed for me to move forward with Lightning as the sole playable character.”

Lightning Returns producer Yoshinori Kitase then spoke up, noting that he’d never really set any restriction such as “Because this is an RPG, it must be party-based” on Abe and his team. If Lightning being the sole playable character worked, then he thought he should encourage that direction for the game. He did, however, have at least one concern about how battles would be affected if they only featured Lightning—a concern he shared with Toriyama.

“We were concerned that having Lightning as the only party member per say, it kind of lacks in the visual aspect. You don’t have a party there, so it does feel like something is missing,” Kitase explained. “I did make a request to the development team to give the visuals more impact, and so, they’ve kind of supplemented that lack of party members by enhancing the animation and the motion that goes into battle scenes, as well as the visual effects of the different spells or different effects that happen on-screen. I feel that what the dev team delivered was something that’s very satisfactory, and they were able to pull off having a very visually entertaining battles, even with just one person in the party.”

Another aspect that helps keep combat feeling exciting in Lightning Returns are Schemata, the various ability sets that Lightning can equip to give her difference offensive and defensive options, particular stat benefits, and access to the game’s over 80 outfit choices. While that last option isn’t new to the Final Fantasy mainline series—Final Fantasy X-2 saw its heroines changing jobs by changing outfits—it’s the first time the idea has shown up in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy.

However, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t considered before.

“In terms of the concept of changing the different outfits, that conversation has already been brought up the previous installments, when we were doing the paradigm shift system,” Abe explained. “There were talks on the dev team about, ‘what if we were able to change the look depending on what role we assign our characters.’ At the time, we didn’t have the capacity to incorporate that into the actual game system and the game mechanic. But with Lightning Returns, and Lightning being the only playable character, we were able to bring that conversation back up—and try to find a way to incorporate the idea.”

“We’ve been depicting Lightning as this strong, powerful character in the previous two installments,” Kitase added. “So, with this third installment, I had asked the development team if we could expand more on her human side—that was another concept that was added when we were considering the different outfits to have her wear.”

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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