During Comic Con in New York City we got to sit down with two of the developers for the upcoming finale to the Final Fantasy XIII Trilogy, Lightning Returns. We spoke with longtime Final Fantasy producer Yoshinori Kitase, whose been working on the series since Final Fantasy V, and game design director Yuji Abe who, among other things, created the battle systems of the FFXIII series.

 

...it felt like we were making the game with the players

 

 

Lightning Returns brings a new element to the series in the use of time. Players have 13 days to save the world and what quests they choose and the paths they pursue have an effect on the how game will play out. For example certain characters will only be available during certain times, like during a fireworks display in a certain city at night, so players must judge the value of their time and use it wisely in saving the world.

The battle system in Lightning Returns has also changed. Gamers will only play as one character, Lightning, but she can switch between three different sets, or Schemas, represented by outfits that are fully customizable. These can be unlocked or purchased within the game. Switching between Schemas during battle is fluid, happening instantly and results a much faster pace of battle than we’ve seen in previous FFXIII games. The rapid-fire assaults are only slowed during times when Lightning must shield herself form oncoming attacks.

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Fans of the series will love the setting and open-ended nature of Lightning's travels as she rediscovers herself and a new world. New players will love the more direct battle system that doesn’t wait for turns or set animations, giving the player a feeling of direct control.

Time plays a big part in this game, why did you want to bring the element of time into Lightning Returns?

Yuji Abe: The game director came up with a word “world drive”, we wanted something to press the motivate the player forwards and to emphasize that time moves regardless of what the protagonist is doing. Time moves in a normal flow but it effects many aspects of playing the game.

For players that are used to spending as much time as they want to play Final Fantasy games, are players able to freeze time during play? Or will there only be a certain number of side missions that a player can take on?

Abe: If you were to complete all the quest in one play, you’d have to very specifically use the time available. There are some instances where quests must be completed within a certain time frame.

In terms of multi-playability, you can challenge yourself to see everything in one play-through, but you can go back and play the game many times and not see everything. What happens is once you come back to the game, you can strengthen and power-up your character, so you can complete quests more efficiently but also by going through multiple times you can advance your character and do more quests during each play-through.

Can players start on any of the four continents in the game? Does the story change if we bypass many of the beginning quests to explore the other locations?

Abe: In terms of where your character is first placed, all characters will start in the same location but your character can skip quests if you like, you can also start quests then skip them if you decide you don’t have time and come back to them at a later time.

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Time management is a very important element in this game, I encourage gamers to look at which quests are the most important to the main story versus the others [side missions] and see what quests they can complete in the time they have.

What are the biggest changes to the battle system in Lightning Returns?

Abe: In terms of the battle system within the XIII series, they have a system called “paradigm shift” in which you switch between different roles, throughout the series we were going for a well-paced and realistic battle. Although it’s also important to keep the strategy of the battle in mind, the big picture.

The feedback [from gamers] for the battle system for FFXIII and FFXIII part 2 was that is was a bit difficult to grasp, especially for the casual gamers. It was a hard concept to think about switching the roles of the different AI’s [characters]. Keeping that in mind and also trying to stay true the original battle concept of the Final Fantasy series, we wanted to it and give it a more direct response feel, so with Lightning Returns we’ve changed it to a system in which your input is more direct and you can switch between your offense and defense by switching your different Schema during battle. I hope that by using this more direct approach in Lightning Returns that fans will go back to the prior 2 installments and see how the battle system is fully represented in the FXIII series.

The stories of Final Fantasy take place in a large and complex universe. Will new players be able to keep up with the story of FFXIII Lightning Returns?

Yoshinori Kitase: The story will be easy to jump into because the world is set several hundred years after the second installment. During that time, Lightning, the main characters as been asleep – crystallized - so Lightning has no idea what’s been happening in that time. The gamer will be playing in Lightning’s perspective, as the character learns the story so will the player. So it will be easy for first time players to jump into Lighting’s role, but the more you know about the characters in the series the more rewarding the interactions with the many returning character in the game will be. Because every character has a story to tell and a pain they hold in their hearts.

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As Lightning meets previous characters from the series, their conversations will reveal much about the past installments, but again, the characters and player will learn the story at the same time, so it’ll but easy for first time users to understand.

Because of the delay between the Japanese and North American version of the game, are there any changes in gameplay or all changes just voice-over translation?

Kitase: In terms of build, they were done at the same time, so there is no difference in gameplay. The difference in release time is because of localization, the translation from Japanese to English, and especially with Lightning Returns. Even more than other games in the series, it has a lot of text. This installment, because of the passage of time, dialogue will be different for each time of day, so NPCs have many different variations on speech. The delay is only because of translation and re-recording of voice-overs.

What are you most proud of with FFXIII Lightning Returns?

Abe: This series began with the first Final Fantasy on the current-generation of consoles (being the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) in switching systems the development process took a lot more time, so we weren’t able to do everything we wanted in Final Fantasy XIII. So through the trilogy we’ve been able to keep working and tweaking to get everything just as we wanted it. We feel we were able to fully use the potential of this generation of consoles, resulting in our team being able to quickly create a new installment that is very different than the previous ones in a relatively short amount of time.

Kitase: This series is not what you would expect in a traditional Final Fantasy title, we were able to take the gamer’s feedback and incorporate those elements into the game. Because we were able to do it in multiple installments it felt like we were making the game with the players. We were able to evolve with the feedback and turn into something we are very proud of.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII drops in North America on February 11, for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.