My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII hit store shelves all across Japan yesterday and you can bet it has already found a home on my PS3. So last night, I sat down and spent a good five hours with the game—all the while jotting down notes and taking pictures for your enjoyment.

[Spoiler Warning: Of course, this little photo diary by its very nature does spoil certain aspects of the first few hours of the game—though honestly, if you’ve seen the trailers for Lightning Returns, you already know more about the plot than I will be talking about here.]

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

Ah yes, the opening cutscene where we are reintroduced to Lightning and Snow. Snow, for his part, sits on a throne—king of his own little city—looking down at a dance floor filled with more than a few stripper poles. I think that says a lot about whether Snow is cut out for ruling anything.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

Alright, this is exactly what I am looking for in game tutorials. You put me in a battle, tell me what to do, let me do it, and never mention it again. The tutorials are numerous, self-contained, and easy to understand; they teach while keeping the action-packed pace going. I also enjoy being able to skip every tutorial I run across should I so choose.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

After an exciting chase, tutorial battles, and my first boss fight, it’s time for a good ten minutes of exposition. Though honestly, it’s not so bad. It quickly covers the events of FFXIII-2 in relation to Lightning, tells us what happened after (i.e., being resurrected by a god for the purpose of gathering souls before the world ends), and gives us a peek at her motivations for accepting (i.e., finding her sister’s soul). It also serves to reintroduce us to a de-aged Hope who will be the “voice in our heads” for this outing.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

Okay, cards on the table. At the time of this picture, I have already spent the 30 minutes since the exposition ended in the costume menu. First, I got my special DLC costumes/equipment (a red samurai and Cloud’s FFVII costume) as well as my FFXIII/FFXIII-2 save data costumes/equipment. Then I set about min-maxing Lightning’s weapons and costumes to give her the best stats I could in each of her three equipped forms. Now, I am messing around with the costume colors feature. We wouldn’t want anything to clash now, would we?

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

Back in the plot, I have entered a new city and am immediately witness to the aftermath left behind by a group of serial killers who seem to be targeting pink haired women for some reason (hint, hint). Detective Lightning is on the case! (…Which is good as the police are horribly inept.)

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

After using my great detective skills (read: talking to everyone and exploring everywhere I was able to go before returning back to where it all started), I have caught up with the serial killers. Apparently, Assassin’s Creed is as popular in the world of FFXIII as it is in ours.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

Oh. My. God. When you win a battle in Cloud’s costume, it plays the FFVII victory music.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

I have just discovered that instead of leveling up in a traditional fashion (i.e., by killing every human and animal under the sun), Lightning levels up in Lightning Returns by completing quests and collecting the souls of those she has helped. Battles are still useful, however, as they grant you the items needed to complete many quests.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

While wandering around after beating those Assassin’s Creed rejects, I have come across this ringing phone booth in the middle of a deserted park. Is it time for Lightning to log out of the Matrix I wonder?

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

After spending a good hour doing side quests, Hope has called me back to base to show off the Yggdrasil tree he’s been caring for. The souls I gathered have added two days to the doomsday clock after they were absorbed by the tree. I have also taken the opportunity to re-min-max my (now vastly larger) wardrobe—and add a pair of glasses.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

The loading screen is making me woozy.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

Okay, this city is huge; and hunting for these numbers painted on various walls for the main quest is borderline unbearable. Worse yet, even after I find them all, I will have to wait until midnight for the Matrix phone to start ringing again before I can proceed with the story.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

I’ve killed most of the day by running laps around the city, killing monsters, and trying to complete various quests. As the day has gone on, quest NPCs have occasionally appeared and disappeared; so areas I have run through five times have occasionally had a new quest for me. Part of me wants to just head to an inn and fast forward time to midnight so I can continue the main quest. However, as there are only a maximum of 13 days of game time till the end of the world (and thus the game), it feels wrong to waste time like that.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

Jem, here, has had her soul put into the body of this cat. I just thought I’d mention that.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

After finally opening the graveyard past the Matrix phone booth, the first thing I ran into was a mini-boss Dragon. I am now completely out of healing items.

My First Few Hours of Lightning Returns in Pictures

At the end of the graveyard, I find myself crossing swords with Noel. I don’t want to make him feel inadequate or anything, but mine’s bigger.


Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was released in Japan on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on November 21, 2013. It will be released in North America on February 11, 2014, and in Europe on February 14, 2014.