I used to be a fan of Square, their titles showed a true imagination that just wasn't around at the time, however of recent this interest has dwindled, in my opinion they have yet to capture the carefree spirit of games like Final Fantasy IX or even VIII, but then maybe I wasn't as taken with the PlayStation 2 as I was with my hardy PS1.
However when Square Enix revealed Lightning Returns, a game based on one of the characters in Final Fantasy XIII who to be fair I couldn't give a damn about, there was something else that peaked my interest, because our protagonist Lightning wakes from a five hundred year slumber in crystal stasis, and finds out that she's got 13 days to save the world from destruction.
Now I am a big fan of games that contain story arcs that lead to inevitable destruction, Majora's Mask is by far one of my favourite Zelda titles, and you feel far more investment in your characters and the world you inhabit simply because you have an exact timeframe that they will exist, similar to the Whispered World's eerie prophesy 'you will destroy the world' it gives you a true goal that you need to achieve, after all being confronted with a 'villain' in most games will only lead you to believe they will never succeed, however make your villain the world around you, and you'll try everything in your might to stop it.
Unfortunately in the demo they had of Lightning Returns on the show floor at E3 this whole aspect of precious time was not present, instead what we were given was a taste of the fighting system which as I am told is a crazy mix of the standard ATB, the paradigm system from FFXIII and the dressphere system of FFX-2. Now feel free to tell me off, but I have played none of these games, in fact it was at FFX-2 that I stopped following the Final Fantasy series altogether.
However the wonderful mix that Lightning Returns is using for its attack system is brilliant, in the demo you had access to three of the Schema outfits of which there will be twenty to unlock in the full game, each has its own separate AP meter, and three attacks that can be magic or physical based as well as the very important block, each move will drain your AP, however when you're out you simply have to switch to your next Schema, fantastic!
Other than your standard enemies our heroine Lightning came face to face with a rather strange being of the chaos who shortly gives way to a large reptilian boss Zaltys who has a bit of a weakness to thunder which introduced us to two other elements in the game; staggering and overclocking, no Lightning isn't a PC, but if you manage to wield enough damage you can stagger your enemies for maximum damage, and over clock Lightning so that she moves so fast that enemies move to a crawl in her wake, suffice to say, the series has most definitely evolved.
Its not only the battles that are a far cry from the old days of Final Fantasy, Lightning Returns also blends traditional RPG gameplay with your standard action games outside of a battle, which means you'll find yourself jumping, climbing and even using ladders on your quest to save the world.
Compared to Final Fantasy titles in the past, Lightning Returns has more of an open world style of gameplay, this means that because the game is solidly rooted in its time frame, when you visit towns you'll notice that NPCs are not always in the same place, and similarly they won't simply wait for you to accept their quests, putting a whole new spin on a series that was starting to get a little dry.
I'm not ashamed to say for the first time in over ten years I am looking forward to a Final Fantasy game, it may be a spinoff, and because of the unique story elements of Lightning Returns but I can't wait to see more of the game before its release February 11th 2014 on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.