When I was at Japan Expo 2013 (Paris, France), I had the occasion to try Lightning Returns, which I look forward intensely. I threw myself on the thing as soon as a PS3 stand became free (there were X360 versions of the demo for some reason).
Unsurprisingly, that was the E3 demo. But whatever, since I wasn’t at E3. After a few engagements, it is very clear that the new system is even more dynamic and immersive than before. Lightning’s outfits work almost exactly like FFX-2 dress spheres : each one has some specialty and you can switch between them at will. I even saw one (not in the demo but in the live gameplay on stage) in which Lightning has a staff whilst I had assumed they would always be swords. The change between costumes must be very frequent to achieve sufficient lever to cause Break status on your opponent. The base outfit was somewhat balanced between physical attacks and (weak) magic, the second one had rather ATB costly but powerful blows and the final available one was deprived of physical attacks and relied on elemental magic. The common point between each job (let’s call them as such) is the guard command on the square button. Lightning rises her buckler when you push it, and by doing it with the right timing you prevent all damage and can even throw your enemy unbalanced for some time. Another new thing, you can now move Lightning within the battle area with the left stick. Something I easily forget since I’ve been used to play unmoving characters for 15 years of Final Fantasy.
Let’s talk about Break, which has changed quite a lot. You no longer have figures to determine when the Break status will come but instead you’ll have to observe oscillations around your opponent’s life bar (yes, they seem to have a life bar now). The stronger it’s oscillating, the closer you are from Breaking. Furthermore, the Break is now not only a matter of threshold : weak spots make it a lot faster! Up to you to identify those knowing that the oscillations go red when your strike one. The boss fight showed some ability called Overclok. This apparently rare occurrence freezes time a bit like in Toki Towa, allowing you to strike at your will since you’re freed from ATB limitation. The demo in general was pretty easy, but I suppose it was to be expected since SquareEnix definitely can’t have people lose when discovering the game on a showfloor. Still, let’s hope that it will be (a lot) harder than FFXIII-2 which terrible in terms of difficulty setting. One quick word on Lightning’s movements, she can jump (like in FFXIII-2) and sprint, which is new. She also automatically grabs and climbs ladders (i.e without pressing any button).
Graphically speaking, I can only confirm what everyone has realized already. In the sort of castle/bunker where you chase Snow, textures were a bit terrible, with low level of details and aliasing is rife. It’s a lot better in battle and character modeling seem still good (depends on the importance of the character though), but Lightning Returns is not likely to repeat the technical prowess of its predecessors. Needless to say, this episode puts a lot of focus on Lightning. And not only psychologically speaking, if you know what I mean… Lightning’s clothing and victory poses haven’t been made on random : they expressly exude fan-service in more or less direct way. Therefore, this game has been mostly made for Lightning’s fans and them alone. Another very good news, I must stress the comeback of the traditional victory fanfare which had disappeared without any real reason since FFXIII. I don’t refer here to the Cloud pre-order DLC : what I could hear in the base game was undoubtedly Final Fantasy victory fanfare, although a little remixed.