With Lightning Returns, SquareEnix is finally back to the basics

The 25th anniversary of the Final Fantasy series sheds some light on SquareEnix’s dark western ambitions. But before we get into the good news, let’s review the publisher’s gloomy summer.

It begins with a dismal E3, where the hellish trio Sleeping Dogs/Tomb Raider/ Hitman reigned supreme. The next-gen tech demo Agni’s Philosophy nevertheless saved the day and added some interest among SE’s terrible line-up. Then comes the summer releases. Heroes of Ruin bombed, as it didn’t even reach 100K globally. Even worse, the musical spin-off Theatrhym also did poorly, especially in the West, surely because of the obvious lack of serious art direction. In July, Kingdom Hearts 3D fares better, but remains leagues behind the Playstation episodes. Eerie rumors began to surface, like the development of FFXV or the cancellation of VersusXIII. They spread rapidly and lead to such nervosity that the CEO of SquareEnix himself had to deny them in person. VersusXIII is officially still in the works and progressing smoothly, but they can’t show it : it won’t be at TGS this year. Sleeping Dogs seemed to be a success, but we can’t rejoice since it betrays Square’s heritage. There has been one last blunder lately : Final Fantasy Dimensions for IOS costs 22€. Pretty expensive for a SNES game…

One day, the guys at SquareEnix suddenly remembers that they have an traditional fanbase waiting for good games in anger. The firm finally reacted and here we are, on september 1st at 4 a.m, to discover the game that will end story started in Final Fantasy XIII. 

In Lightning Returns, the returning heroin will be the only playable character, but will benefit from deeper customization possibilities (i.e. classes, weapons, armor & outfits). The game will have a limited time frame of 13 days, at the end of which the world is said to collapse. Time management is therefore crucial, and any awkward decision, as well as game over screens, will have you lose some hours. You also will have to adapt the environment (public transportation schedules, open/close time) and therefore optimize your actions/choices for the best gain. The devs clearly want this newest Final fantasy to be more open and realistic, with the addition of a dynamic night/day system and various weather conditions.

The bizarre kitsch world, almost Victorian, is really fascinating and reminds me of FFVII’s dark Midgar. Those elements are well enough to build hype around a title that looks both addicting, deep and innovative. The wait is going to be long until the end of 2013 (likely release window).

The series of conferences ends with the oddly named «future of Final Fantasy». Those interviews of some high-ranking SE staff were actually a lot about the past and included a gigantic joke, being a dating sim in the world of Final Fantasy Type-0. Called トキメキ魔導院 (Tokimado for short), this game features a young female wizard studying at Suzaku, where she is the only girl student. The devs seemed to have worked a lot on the concept already, as you could see numerous artworks, but it was made clear that it was a fake once they told it was running on Luminous Engine. September’s fool…

Both conferences showed that the Japanese publisher can still impress us and make wonders, even though I’m disappointed for Tokimado. That said, we can still ask them to change their mind…

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