Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the third and final installment of this oft-criticized trilogy. As someone who has completed both Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, I have been eagerly awaiting this final installment. As much as I enjoyed XIII-2, the end of the game left me severely wanting for more, so I was excited to be at E3 this year to get my hands on Lightning Returns.

From what I’ve seen and played of Lightning Returns, it appears that Square Enix is making a slight departure from the battle system of the previous two iterations in that you fight alone as Lightning as you no longer have the 3-person team. One of the beauties of the XIII battle system is its use of the Paradigm system. In a paradigm, each of your group members had a specific role and fought accordingly to achieve the paradigm’s goal. In Lightning returns, it seems each of the paradigms is in you.

As Lightning going into battle, I noticed that I had 3 different schema or stances: Sorceress, Divinity and Dark Muse. Each of these schema had four actions assigned to the face buttons and were easily switchable using the L1 and R1 buttons. Each schema had its own ATB gauge. So, I constantly found myself switching between schema and using up the ATB gauges. At first it felt clunky, but after a battle or two, I found myself able to quickly peek down and see which schema had some ATB available. I will admit that while I became more comfortable with it, I hope it eventually becomes something I do in the back of my brain as the idea of watching ATB lines fill up in the bottom of the screen is unappealing.

I really like how the battle system felt in Lightning Returns. As a huge proponent of the paradigm system, the schema system feels like a re-purposed paradigm system for one person. Even with only 12 actions to use (3 of those were block), I still felt like I had an arsenal I could call upon to bring destruction to my enemies.

What I saw of the story felt like it fit into the FFXIII canon, but being just a slice, it was hard to really understand what was going on. The graphics look improved from XIII-2 with plenty of detail on Lightning’s appearance and movements. For a game coming out next year, it is already looking very polished.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII looks to be shaping up nicely. Even though the demo itself was short, it was the right combination of story, game play and battle experience to have me drooling for more. It’s too early to say whether or not Lightning Returns will win over the skeptics or capture back lost fan base, but as a fan of the series and after my playthrough of the demo, I can easily say that February 11, 2014 cannot come soon enough.

Lightning Returns E3 Trailer