Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the third game in the Final Fantasy XIII series, concluding Lightning's story and continuing to evolve its mechanics, including more action-oriented combat, more open-ended exploration and a clock counting down to the end of the world.
Like Final Fantasy XIII-2 before it, Lightning Returns continues to reinvent the Final Fantasy formula while continuing the story of Lightning, who emerges long after the events of XIII-2 and has 13 days to save Novus Patrus, the realm formed by the merging of Gran Pulse and Valhalla.
While the changes in place deviate further from the traditional Final Fantasy template - battle controls are more action-oriented, and exploration is more open - none-the-less they're exciting, welcome additions with plenty of potential.
Here are the features and changes coming to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
Searching clues and more open adventuring
Final Fantasy XIII was heavily criticised for its linear environments, and XIII-2 remedied that with a time-spanning adventure that saw players hop between different eras in a confusing but exciting non-linear fashion.
Signs point to Lightning Returns being the most open-ended adventure yet. One of four main areas connected together by a monorail, Luxerion is a fully explorable city with multiple districts packed with shops and characters to interact with. Exploration's revamped, too, with the ability to sprint and jump to explore new areas.
Another two areas were briefly revealed - the Wildlands and Dread Dunes - which are full of forests and camps or rolling desert sands and ancient ruins respectfully. Apart from a tutorial at the game's start, it's possible to freely visit other areas whenever you like.
Each one is also said to feature different gameplay styles. Luxerion's missions see Lightning investigate a series of murders through finding evidence, talking to eyewitnesses and following suspects from the shadows, while Wildlands and Dread Dunes offer traditional exploration and dungeon-crawling.
Changes to combat and customisation: Single-button combat and costumes
Perhaps the most significant change in Lightning Returns is to combat. With Lightning fighting solo, it paves the way for a more direct and action-oriented approach, where comments such as melee and magic are now assigned to face buttons and not a menu.
Lightning is also directly controllable in battle to evade attacks and target specific locations.
This isn't a hack-and-slash title like God of War, though; Lightning can be dressed in different costumes, each with their own moves and stats.
These replace Paradigm Shifts, whereby switching between three costumes provides access to a variety of tactics in battle.
Each one is governed by an ATB (active time battle) bar, meaning battles look to be a case of holding back the most appropriate costume attacks for the right time.
Elsewhere, equipping different swords and shields can change Lightning's stats, and the ability to tweak costume colours allow you to customise her appearance.
So while combat is definitely more hands-on and action-oriented, it's still tactical and customisable in the way you expect from a Final Fantasy game.
Time ticks away: How Lightning Returns handles the end of the world
The idea of time ticking down to doomsday is a novel one but not exactly new in games, with the likes of Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask and Dead Rising as well-known examples.
A problem with these games is that they're often stressful, which is something director Motomu Toriyama wanted to avoid.
"With some of the games, we felt the time limit within you have to do something is a little bit too strong, it pressures the player a little bit too much, and we wanted to avoid that," he said.
"It doesn't always sit very well with free side quests either, there's too sets of time going on. It's not a strict sense of time, it's more like, in order to do this, you've got three days, so you got to achieve this in three days. It's on a day-by-day basis."
Lightning Returns has a full day and night cycle, where certain events only happen at a particular time. Time doesn't just run down, either, where under some circumstances - such as side-quests - it can be sped up or rewound.
Whether you'll able to see and do everything in one playthrough is unknown, but it appears that Lightning Returns will be replayable with a 'New Game Plus'-style system.
A "completely new title" that continues the XIII story
As the name suggests, this isn't simply Final Fantasy XIII-3. While obviously a sequel, Lightning Returns is a game also targeting new audiences.
"There are different reasons [why it's not called XIII-3], but the main one is that this is a game that anyone can enjoy, even if you haven't played the Final Fantasy franchise, not to mention Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, so anyone can enjoy it," explained Toriyama.
"We want to encourage people to play this game as almost like a brand new game, so we just wanted to express that information."
While we find attempts to label sequels as being appropriate place to begin for franchise newcomers to be a little dishonest - Mass Effect 3 being a recent example - Lightning Returns's many new mechanics and story set-up means it's better suited as a starting point than most.
It does, obviously, continue the story of XIII, as many key characters, monster types and more will return.
While Lightning investigates the cult that seeks to bring on the end of the world, she'll be joined by Hope over the radio, and encounters two new characters – Lumina and the Shadow Hunter - who look awfully similar to Serah and Noel.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will be available on Xbox 360 and PS3 from autumn 2013.