Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female on Male: Averted. A quest in Yusnaan has a songstress named Olga publicly yelling at and beating her errant lover Berdy. The abuse happens offscreen with a discretion shot focusing on Lightning, who is quite clearly disturbed by what she is seeing.
After Combat Recovery: This is also in Lightning Returns, but only in Easy Mode. It is surprisingly averted for the other difficulties, making the game more like previous FF games in the way that HP that you had in battle are kept the same when you win a battle and return to the Overworld. To rub it in even further, having the enemy hit you first on the world map removes 5% of Lightning's HP, which you won't get back after battle.
All Your Powers Combined: How Lightning destroys Bhunivelze once and for all, combining the spirits of Snow, Sazh, Hope, Vanille, Fang, Serah, Noel, Dajh, Mog and the souls of humanity for one fell swoop that sends him hurtling towards the black hole where Nova Chrysalia and the old universe is about to be consumed.
And Your Reward Is Clothes: Taken VERY Literally. Some of the things you can find in item orbs and buy in shops, are new costumes for Lightning. Justified, in the fact that they act as this game's take on Paradigm shifts and receiving them give you new weapons, shields, and commands for Lightning to use.
Leaving Lightning idle for long enough will automatically pause the game, preventing the player from inadvertently wasting time.
Final boss too tough for you? You can use the Crystal Of Atonement to start a New Game+ and level up a bit.
Want to save time or not bothering with the codes for the Luxerion Main Quest? Simply provoke them over the phone by giving them an incorrect code, defeat the monster that appears, and you'll have forced your way in!
If you fail to pick up the Crest of Etro needed to follow Noel into the innermost depths of The Warren, instead of backtracking all the way to the Grave, some Children of Etro members will spawn outside the gate so you can defeat them and gain the item. Even better, you can even skip the whole process and simply attack the gate guardian and defeat him, opening the gate.
Hope went missing 169 years prior to Lightning's awakening, during which time his body was hijacked by Bhunivelze. 13x13 = 169.
The maximum amount of days the world can have before it is destroyed at any given time is 13 days. Though if you play the game right, Lightning can create a fourteenth day.
Lightning's Default Weapon, Crimson Blitz, raises both her Magic and Strength by 130 points. 13x10 = 130.
The quest "Born from Chaos" says that thirteen heroes perished trying to defeat Reaver.
The Ark that Lightning returns to at the end of each day is "Bhunivelze", or the new Cocoon. It is also known as the 13th Ark, that was created in XIII-2 as the new home for the human race. But of course, it was unneeded after the time crash allowed people to live on Gran Pulse, which is now Nova Chrysalia.
Vanille and Fang woke up 13 years before Lightning did.
The "Like Clockwork" sidequest in Luxerion involves checking 13 clocks to make sure they are working properly.
The "Mythical Badge" Canvas of Prayers sidequest is to obtain the supposedly mythical 13th badge of merit issued by the High Priestess of the Order.
Astral Checkerboard Decor: The Final Boss is fought on one of these. Bonus for his own "robe" actually being a part of the checkerboard, and in his final form he literally fuses with the damn floor!
Any area that's under a Chaos infusion also exhibits this pattern on the dome itself.
Attack Its Weak PointFor Massive Damage: Taken more literal in this game than in previous entries. Unlike the previous two games, where you just had to raise the Break Meter by using any spell to boost it up (and physical attacks to keep it raised), here Lightning must chain together attacks and spells the enemy is weak to in order to trigger a Stagger. In many cases, enemies have to be Staggered at least twice for even more damage.
Badass Longcoat: While some Garbs are made of fanservice, and some are made of silk, gold, and awesome, some are this. Particularly the Sacred Knight and especially the Quiet Guardian. You can even recolor Quiet Guardian's long coat to another color, say, red or deep crimson. Even better, both Garbs are not only stylish, but extremely useful; Quiet Guardian for example can be equipped with an Accessory that reduces physical or magic damage by 75%. Quiet Guardian itself already has a built-in 15% damage reduction to both, and so, by combining the effects, Lightning can shrug off even the mightiest attacks without so much as batting an eye.
Back from the Dead: Fang and Vanille. Not that they were technically dead, but they might as well have been, considering there were no signs of either of them escaping their crystal imprisonment for 500 years. How and why they awoke is yet to be seen.
Bag of Spilling: Inverted with Lightning, who is even stronger than she was in XIII-2, in which she was practically as strong as a goddess. Do the math.
Played straight however, in that at the very beginning of the game Lightning has absolutely none of her trademark abilities, and two mediocre garbs. It takes a few days for her to relearn Army of One via an item chest in the Ark, although to be fair, it's now also enhanced by her Divine powers to speed up, and perform a rapid series of Flash Step attacks. This seems to be an instance of Gameplay and Story Segregation, though, as she preforms the upgraded Army of One in the opening cutscene.
Subverted in a meta sense, when having an old save of XIII and XIII-2 will give Lightning back her Guardian Corps and Knight of Etro garb and gear, respectively.
Batman Gambit: Lightning goads on Noel during their fight, telling him he doesn't have what it takes to kill her in hopes that he won't. She's right; he elects to destroy the Oracle Drive instead. Hope asks afterward if she knew this would happen, and she admits that she was taking a big risk by gambling on him doing what she hoped he'd do.
Bayonet Ya: The Secutors have bayonets mounted on, interestingly, submachine guns.
Beyond the Impossible: Lightning does a lot of things throughout the course of her mission as the Savior that are supposed to be impossible. She even runs into things that shouldn't exist in Nova Chrysalia but still do. A few examples are things such as a woman who is able to age and die naturally, Light being able to collect Eradia from a robot and from dead people (the latter one really unsettles her), reversing Snow's Cie'th mutation despite the first game telling us this just can't be done, and best of all, being able to extend the world's life beyond 13 days to 14. And then there's slaying God as well...
BFS: Some of the swords Lightning can wield this time around are huge. And the de-facto BFS of the series, the Buster Sword, appears as DLC.
To say nothing of Caius's sword and especially the Behemoth Sword.
Lampshaded in Yusnaan where an announcer tells people to be on the look out for Lighting, describing her as a rose haired woman that "...[carries] an enormous weapon".
Blade Spam: Compared to most other Limit Breaks in the previous games in the series, this game's version of Army of One easily tops any others: it hits 50 times on its own, double the maximum number of hits of the previous record holder Squall.
Bloodless Carnage: Monsters retain their default appearance throughout battles, regardless of the amount of damage taken, and vanish into thin air when defeated.
When both Lightning and Noel defeats many of the Children of Etro members, none of them look hurt, nor did any blood appear to be spilled.
Bonus Boss: The Aeronite in the Dead Dunes and the Ereshkigal at the end of the Ultimate Lair. Also, meeting certain conditions on Hard Mode will allow you to face a drastically stronger version of the final boss (Who's already stronger under normal conditions). Delaying certain main quest objectives long enough will also cause the end bosses to become a "+" version of themselves* usually after Day 7 is when it happens for most bosses, Noel, The Dead dunes main quest boss and Snow are the only ones affected by this, Caius does not change, and Snow gets a SECOND Plus version after Day 9 , that are much harder but give better rewards.
Thirteen days preceded the first game, and thirteen days are now ending the trilogy.
The original also had Vanille and Fang (from Gran Pulse) awakening from crystal stasis into a new world (Cocoon) after 500 years. Here, Lightning (from Cocoon) awoke in a new world (Nova Chrysalia) after 500 years in crystal stasis.
Not to mention, Vanille and Fang woke 13 years before Lightning, so this applies for them again along with Lightning, since they were from Gran Pulse and now wake up into a new world (Nova Crysalia).
Also, Hope was 14 years old in the original XIII, grew into a 27 year old man in XIII-2, and now he's back to his 14 year old self for this final installment.
Finally, the trilogy opens with Lightning infiltrating a train containing victims of the Purge in order to find Serah. The ending of this finale has her stepping out of a train and into the new world she and her friends created, presumably to find her friends and sister again.
When she arrived in Luxerion, Lightning steps off a train. When Lightning is reborn in a new world, she also steps off a train.
Boring Yet Practical: The Cloud outfit for hard boss fights. When in boss fights with the Cloud outfit, the easiest thing to do is just stagger them, then use Overclock to speed yourself up and slow them down, and then just spam Heavy Slash, the locked ability mapped to the Triangle/Y button in the Cloud outfit. It has a passive ability that says when your enemy is staggered, it changes into the Slayer ability, which multiplies the damage output exponentially, and when you have your enemy slowed down with Overclock, you can spam the attack For Massive Damage. You can take out hard bosses like Noel and Caius in mere SECONDS by doing this.
Soldier of Peace garb, too. Granted, its starting ATB is 0 (And even then, there are accessories that overcome that), but Artemis Arrow is DEVASTATING since it adds another damage multiplier on top of already strong Heavy Slash, seems to at least partially ignore enemy defenses and unlike the Cloud outfit, it has no prerequisite condition (although it does have a more random damage variation), allowing you to utterly savage even strong creatures like the Eaters.
Boss In Mooks Clothing: The Eaters. High hit points, requiring two staggers to successfully take down, and very powerful attacks. Thankfully, in the areas they're native to, Fang and the Angel of Valhalla are guest party members, making the process to kill them a bit easier. ...Unfortunately, your allies are nowhere nearby in the final dungeon, where you're forced into a fight against a maximum power Earth Eater if you want the Infinity+1 Sword assuming you didn't drive them extinct earlier.
Bruce Lee Clone: Interestingly enough, one of the available Garbs is colored and patterned exactly the same as Bruce Lee's iconic Game of Death yellow-and-black tracksuit. It even transforms the game's "Punt" Ability into "Whirlwind Kick" Ability; the (ab)use thereof is key to beating the game's hardest Bonus Boss. See Difficult but Awesome below.
Call Back: When Lightning goes to the Wildlands, one of the main quests has her fighting Caius at Etro's Throne once again. Yeul* Or at least, one of them wants Light to free Caius's soul, so he can finally die. This prompts Light to find him at Etro's throne and he tells her that if she wants his soul, she has to fight him for it. This obviously is a nod to their battle in XIII-2'sRequiem of the Goddess episode, with Caius even turning into Chaos Bahamut for an attack.
Bonus points for if you have a XIII-2Save file so you can use Lightning's XIII-2 Goddess outfit for this fight.
The attack Lightning uses to free Hope from Bhunivelze's body is Hope's Full ATB Skill Last Resort: this is made more obvious in Japanese, where she calls it out.
Cast from Hit Points: The "Thorn" accessories buff Lightning at the cost of a small amount HP at the beginning of battle.
Chekhov's Gun: Remember Lightning's Survival Knife given to her by Serah in the first game? It's used by her in the final battle to free Hope's soul.
The Chosen One: Lightning once again. Considering that her old boss bit it in the last game, she is now the savior of Bhunivelze.
Chronoscope: There is one last Oracle Drive left in the world, showing a prophecy of Lightning being a Destructive Savior that will end the world. Noel and the Children of Etro have been watching this prophecy obsessively and are out to kill Lightning because of it. After fighting Lightning, Noel chooses to destroy the Drive instead after realizing he can't let this "prophecy" control his life forever.
Church Militant: The Secutors, who are the Order of Salvation's armed wing.
Combat Stilettos: Rather surprisingly averted, given the general tone of the physical appearance tropes. Most of Lightning's garbs give her boots with low or medium heels.
Cool Hat: Lightning has many to choose from, including two different Red Mage hats.
Cool Crown: She also gets a handful of tiaras and circlets to wear
Cool Shades: Lightning wears some in the opening cinematic. She also has tons to choose from in the form of adornments, including the ones from the opening.
Corrupt Church: The Order of Salvation isn't as good as they seem. They deliberately kept the truth of the Soulsong from Vanille in order to instigate a mass Cessation of Existence ploy in order to purge the unworthy in preparation for Bhunivelze's new world.
The Corruption: For the last 500 years, Noel had been receiving visions from the Oracle Drive, convincing him that he has to kill Lightning if he is to see Yeul again on the new world. After Lightning defeats him, he decides to destroy the Oracle Drive, realizing he needs to take control of his own destiny.
Crapsack World: While the areas of the Nova Chrysalia aren't all that dark and gritty, the world is a terrible place now. Time doesn't flow for anyone, no life is born, nobody ages but they aren't immortal, so things like disease and injuries, and murder, can still kill someone. This has been going on for 500 Years for these people and majority of them have become very lethargic, if not apathetic. Not that anyone can blame these people.
Crystal Dragon Jesus: The primary religion of the world is dedicated to Bhunivelze, who is referred to largely as "God" by most characters, though his real name is also used regularly.
Darker and Edgier: The first major story mission has you investigating a series of serial killings occurring across Luxerion, and the first thing you see is a young woman laying dead with a note pinned to her back with a knife. Almost immediately after, the murderers hang a dummy resembling their target off a tower with a death threat. Not exactly how you'd expect a Final Fantasy game to start.
Snow is on the verge of this as well. As noted below under Despair Event Horizon, he's been struggling for 500 years of deeming himself a Failure Hero. The only thing keeping him going is his desire to protect the people of Yusnaan. By the time Lightning meets him a second time, he reveals he plans to absorb a massive amount of Chaos, and wants Lightning to kill him to prevent himself from going full Cie'th. Thankfully she brings him back at the last possible moment.
Despair Event Horizon: Serah's death had an incredibly profound effect on Snow, who spent the next few centuries brooding over it to the point of being possessed by Chaos. In fact, the achievement gained from defeating him and knocking him to his senses is called "Hope at the Edge of Despair".
If you spin in place for a few seconds Lightning will stop moving, hold the side of her head and grunt, indicating she's getting dizzy.
If you're using a main schema with a dress when riding the Angel of Valhalla, Lightning will ride him sidesaddle much like Fang does if she's the lead character and riding a chocobo in Final Fantasy XIII.
Didn't Need Those Anyway: A minor example, you can dismember Zomok's and Zaltys' tails by hitting them from behind, causing a short stagger and allowing additional item drops as well as making them unable to use it for their attacks, naturally. You can also destroy both of Dreadnought's arms by hitting them with strong attacks after avoiding their punches, reducing its defense and arsenal of attacks.
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Yes, Lightning does, with the help of her friends and the souls of humanity, freeing them from Bhunivelze's control once and for all.
Perfect Guarding. If you can put your shield up right as the enemy's attack lands, you take a lot less damage, and will automatically stagger some enemies. Your window of opportunity is one-sixth of a second. There is an accessory which will expand this to a whole quarter-second.
This applies even more to Just Attacks, which is the above except applied to both spells and physical attacks. The key is hitting the attack button just after the last attack's ending frame. While regular attacks are easy enough to master (for relative definitions of "easy"), quick attacks are more difficult. The biggest example is the Whirlwind Kick Ability given from Martial Monk/Fatal Monk Garb. It turns a lowly Punt attack (low attack Ability but spammable due to its low ATB cost) into a better version of it. However, it only truly shines when one masters the timing ability required for it, as it can hit an enemy as quickly as 3-4 times per second. If the player is able to do so, it turns the already strong Ability into the single highest DPS-dishing ability, capable of defeating Chaos-infused Aeronite in just 6 minutes or less. Yes, Chaos Aeronite, with its time limit and 38,000,000 HP, defeated by a series of kicks.
Difficulty Spike: Saved for the very end. If you're playing on Easy, you can beat all of the main quest bosses and some very tough monsters by debuffing and bashing them. You can beat the first three stages of the final boss the same way. However, this strategy has no effect on the final stage of the final boss, and to beat it you need to be good at Staggering ... which you may not be, if debuffing and bashing have been doing the job for so long.
Disc One Nuke: With enough patience and correct planning, one can very easily farm three (or more) Shard Blades by slaughtering Reavers (which add huge amounts of both Strength and Magic) extremely early in the game (and, by killing these Reavers, one can get a large amount of EP per kill, thus removing a worry about losing days farming for weapons via Chronostasis use). Things suddenly become a lot easier after this.
Additionally, if the Last One of the Reavers is killed, the Flesh Render is dropped, which grants such a huge power boost that it remains viable all the way until the fight against Bhunivelze.
Dropped a Bridge on Him: The fal'Cie Titan from the first game is inexplicably dead in this game, and parts of him can be found scattered across the Dead Dunes. Meanwhile, the fal'Cie Atomos is also present in the same region, but has rendered itself immobile and the only indication that it may still be alive is its glowing spikes during the night.
Dub Name Change: Nova Chrysalia is known as Novus Partus in Japanese. Ditto Luxerion/Luxerio, and The Wildlands/Wilderness. Not to mention the numerous NPC characters in the game.
Earn Your Happy Ending: Word of God says that the game is the last of Lightning's story and will have a decisively positive ending. Considering the last game'srather brutal ending... and it finally shows. Lightning, aided by her friends, frees humanity from Bhunivelze's grip once and for all. In a final act of redemption, Caius allows Noel to take the final incarnation of Yeul with him to the new world, while he and Yeul's other incarnations stay behind with Bhunivelze's corpse to be consumed together with the Nova Chrysalia (with the latter taking over Etro's role as guardians of the threshold). The Farron sisters are finally reunited, Dajh has awakened, and Fang and Vanille are back for good. The series ends with Lightning stepping off a train and into what looks like a real-life French countryside.
Easy Logistics: How the people of Nova Chrysalia get food. Much of the food & basic supplies people rely on is produced by the fal'Cie Pandaemonium in the heart of Yusnaan. Snow oversees the production process and ensures supplies are distributed in an orderly manner. Hope also reveals that Pandaemonium uses Chaos energy as the raw materials to produce food, which makes Lightning somewhat disgusted at the fact that people are literally eating Chaos. Hope also notes that some people refuse to take Pandaemonium's supplies and grow or hunt their own food (such as the residents of the Wildlands & the Dead Dunes) but they are a minority.
Early Game Hell: The game is awfully difficult when you begin: you have almost no money, the garbs and equipment you begin with are very very bad and must be replaced as soon as possible, you are in dire need of better skills, you must adapt to the new combat system which requires way more reactivity than its predecessors, and on top of that you have to be careful about the time. Not to mention that monsters bigger than gremlins can take you several minutes to kill. Once you get better equipment and a few stats boots, things get easier, but prepare yourself for a difficult journey.
Eldritch Location: The Temple of the Goddess, filled with a surreal combination of Scenery Gorn that is also Bizarrchitecture. Justified in that the Temple is the largest concentration of the Unseen Chaos in the entire world.
The End of the World as We Know It: The world is due to end in thirteen days due to the events of the previous game. Lightning's goal for most of the game is to make sure it doesn't end before that so that when Bhunivelze awakens on the thirteenth day he can make a new world for everyone to live in.
Lightning Returns is unique in this respect in that you are working against not one, but two Doomsday clocks. The first being the Thirteen Days until Bhunivelze wakes to create the new world and destroy this one. The second being that the Chaos is consuming the world at a rapid pace, causing it to potentially end before God awakens. Therefore, you are trying to beat one Doomsday clock...to meet another one.
Enemy Without: Not exactly an enemy, but Lumina is revealed in the ending to be the manifestation of Lightning's inner pain and her own need for salvation. Once Lightning finally accepts that long-repressed part of her, Lumina peacefully merges back into her as she calls on her friends to defeat Bhunivelze once and for all.
The Evils of Free Will: Bhunivelze's philosophy goes down to this. By tasking Lightning with saving souls, he culls them to rid them of free will, making them nothing more but dolls, and even plans on robbing Lightning of hers, turning her into another Etro, a living balance between the worlds of the living and the dead. Alas, Lightning will have none of it.
Exponential Potential: Your offensive kit is organised in "Schemata." Each Schema consists of a garb, a weapon, a shield, two accessories and four abilities (most garbs have one or two abilities locked in, and some abilities are only available from particular garbs). Including Old Save Bonus, New Game+ and DLC, there are 92 garbs, 87 weapons, 57 shields, 32 head accessories, 37 arm accessories, 34 physical abilities, 35 magic abilities , 11 defensive abilities, and 19 ailment abilities. You have 3 active schemata and up to six in reserve. Good luck working out the best combinations.
Fanservice: The◊ Miqo'te Outfit◊. The costume itself shows off more of Lightning's body than normal, and she strikes a sexy pose during her Victory stance whenever you win a battle in that specific costume.
For fans of the male body, taking long enough while fighting Snow will result in him turning half-Cie'th, tearing off his shirt and resulting in him being shirtless in the ensuing scene.
Also, in a non-sexual way, the Soldier◊ 1st Class outfit◊ and the Summoner of Spira outfit◊. When you win a battle wearing either of those costumes, they have Lightning doing the same Victory poses as the characters who the costumes were originally for, and even have the VICTORY THEME from those respective games play in the Results Screen instead of the normal Victory theme.
The Miqo'te outfit has the Final Fantasy XIV victory theme (played when finishing a dungeon) and a emote from said race. The Midgar Flower Girl and 1st Class Soldier have the Final Fantasy VII music and Aerith and Cloud's poses. The Summoner of Spira and Sphere Hunter have the Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 victory music respectively while the victory poses are from Summoner Yuna and Warrior Yuna/Tidus respecitivly
Fan Service Pack: In an interview the developers said Ligtning's bust was increased from a C-cup to a D-cup, which translates to her going from a B-cup to a C-cup using the North American measurement system.
The Breast Expansion part is played straight and inverted; some Garbs accentuate her curves, while the masculine garbs actually decrease Lightning's bust size so she looks like a Bifauxnen.
Fetch Quest/Twenty Bear Asses: It's a game largely focused on sidequesting and time management, so it shouldn't be surprising that a big chunk of the sidequests as well as the entire Canvas of Prayers board consists of these. Even one of the Main Quests is a big fetch quest (finding Dajh's soul fragments). Thankfully drop rates for items needed in these quests are fairly high.
Foreshadowing: During the 500-year gap between XIII-2 and Lightning Returns, Noel found an Oracle Drive, which says that if a certain objective if fulfilled, a peaceful future will be created. This objective is most likely to defeat the Savior and stop them from destroying the world on the final day. This convinces Noel that he will kill Lightning on the final day to create a happy future and save the world.
In the first Final Fantasy XIII, when Lightning, Hope, Snow and Sazh turn into a Cie'th, they immediately get changed back to humans afterwards. They all said that they had a vision of the future in which all of them, plus Vanille, Fang, and Serah, were all living happy, peaceful lives. But since the ending of XIII nulled that possibility due to Vanille and Fang getting trapped in Crystal, it could still mean that the vision the l'Cie Quartet had was meant to take place farther in the future... and it does.
In XIII-2, there is a fragment called the Violet Crystal which possesses the inscription: “When Valhalla consumes the sky, a new star flashes like lightning, and in the heavens twinkle distant hope.” It should be obvious enough by this point which two people the prophecy is referring to.
Also, in XIII-2, the Datalog, it says that the people trapped in the Coliseum (like Snow Villiers) would be trapped there until the "Day of Reckoning" occurs. The Day of Reckoning is the day when Time is destroyed, and Valhalla spreads to the skies, which occurred in the ending of XIII-2. Then those people would be freed, and would join in the Battle between Bhunivelze and Mwynn. The Arbiter of Time also stated that there would be a great battle at the end of time. So after the "event," (being the Day of Reckoning) the warriors and gods of history would duke it out (hence why Snow and the other people trapped in the Coliseum are freed). Also Bhunivelze would be the final boss. You do the math.
How Lightning gets into Snow's Palace may also qualify, mainly she hijacks a play by supplying some fireworks and becoming the lead actress, and her lines are (paraphrased) "I will serve God, but if he lies to me, I'll kill him" Right before stabbing the head of the statue. Needless to say, not only did Bhunivelze "lie" to Lightning about her role (To gather souls so that he can purge them of free will) but he is the Final Boss. Guess how you finish the battle.
It's established early on that for whatever reason, Hope cannot see Lumina. Interestingly, he is the only character who cannot. Now recall a few things, namely that Hope is acting as "God's eyes" and that Bhunivelze was also stated early in the game as being unable to see human souls. Suddenly The Reveal regarding both Hope and Lumina ties up quite nicely.
Hope's eidolon is Alexander, who in the series has used the Holy / light element. Bhunivelze is the God of Light.
On Day 8, when you head out for Nova Chrysalia, Lightning encounters Lumina once again. In this conversation, Lumina blatantly states that the Serah that Lightning has seen the few times up to this point is a fake, Hope is no longer the Hope she once knew, and that her role as the Savior is not at all what it was said to be. It turns out that Bhunivelze made a fake Serah to fool Lightning into thinking he really had her soul, He kidnapped Hope 169 years earlier and molded him into an unfeeling pure being to be his host, and Lightning was saving souls for the new world so Bhunivelze could purge them of all feelings and more or less turn them into unfeeling, controlled robots.* Not actual robots, but in the sense that they are completely controlled and have no free will of their own, like a robot.
Related to the above, when Lightning meets Lumina in the Ark after completing Snow's arc in Yusnaan, Lightning states that she can feel that Serah is nearby. In contrast, whenever Lightning meets fake Serah in the Ark, she bemoans her lack of emotion, even when she's supposed to be meeting her own sister. This ties nicely to the fact that the fake Serah is a soulless replica and Lumina is Serah's Soul Jar.
Fountain of Youth: While everybody can't seem to age anymore, Hope regressed back to his 14-year old self. Word of God states that this is going to be a core theme in the game, as it's been 1000 years since Hope and Lightning have seen each other since the original game and now Lightning gets to see how much Hope has matured.
New light has been shed on Hope's situation. 169 years before Lightning awoke, Hope went missing, during which time his body was hijacked by Bhunivelze (though his soul is still intact).
Gainax Ending: The game ends with Lighting stepping off a train at a station that appears to be real life France.
This is because it's heavily implied that the new world Bhunivelze created is actually Earth.
Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: The reason Lightning fights Noel and Snow, both wallowing in guilt over their failure to save Yeul and Serah, respectively.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: An NPC in the Dead Dunes speaks in a fiendish cipher that even Hope, the finest scientific mind of humanity in the previous game, is unable to unravel: "Mothing nuch. Just gilling my sputs for hall to ear. Dat are dou, youing, whumbass?" When Lightning asks whether he can speak normally, the NPC replies with "Sho nit."
A Girl And Her Chocobo: The Angel of Valhalla sidequest has elements of this. As a bonus, the chocobo is also revealed to be a reincarnation of Odin, Lightning's trusty Eidolon.
Gladiator Games: The Slaughterhouse, where you can fight strong monsters for recovery items early in the evening, and weaker monsters or hostile people for lesser rewards as the night wears on. Some quests also require you to take part in matches.
Glass Cannon: You can create Schemata with high-power attacks and items that maximize attack power at the expense of HP boosts and defensive abilities. The Cosmo Curator DLC garb takes this Up to Eleven, granting significant attack power boosts but reduces Lightning's max HP by 95%.
Hotter and Sexier: A couple of Lightning's outfits are more revealing, the poses she strikes in them are more gratuitous, and Word of God has said her breast size has been increased from the last two games. The ability to customize her clothing and take screenshots directly from the game to share with friends is actually a feature too.
100% Completion: Obtaining every Achievement/Trophy awards the player with the Pallas Athena garb.
Averted with the quests. One sidequest can only be obtained by failing another quest by reading the journal you were asked to find. Given that the subsequent sidequest gives much greater rewards, including the otherwise Lost Forever (on the current playthrough) Dark Knight garb, it's best to fail The Avid Reader in order to get To Save the Sinless.
Hyperactive Metabolism: Healing up by resting an inn is still possible as per standard RPG conventions, but the time limit in this game may make that impractical for some. Not to worry; Lightning can still regain health by buying food from various vendors.
I Cannot Self-Terminate: Caius, again. Even though he has lost the Heart of Etro, he still cannot die because of the Yeuls that wish to keep him alive. He even does a demonstration for Lightning by impaling himself with his own sword. It only takes a few seconds for the Yeuls to pump Chaos energy into him to revive him.
Immortal Procreation Clause: Ever since Chaos enveloped the world and turned everyone immortal, no new life can be born. Eventually revealed to be not because of Chaos, but because Etro died at the end of XIII-2. As the Goddess of Death, she was responsible for watching over souls that died and returned to Chaos, and for reincarnating them. Without the Goddess of Death, the reincarnation process does not happen anymore, and this is why Bhunivelze is grooming Lightning to replace Etro.
Irony: Snow, the most cheerful and optimistic of all the protagonist's in the first 2 games, is now the one of the only protagonists who has given up all hope. He is completely depressed and broken man due to Serah's death and the world's current state. And despite what he and Lightning went through in the first game, he opposes her now, despite her being Serah's only remaining family.
Jiggle Physics: As part of her increased bust size, Lightning's breasts will jiggle, thankfully it's fairy realistic, and the degree of which they do so depends on what she's wearing.
Jump Physics: Lightning will be able to free-run and perform various jumps off of objects and buildings, similar to the Assassin's Creed series.
"Midnight Mauve" is a purple silk ballgown, which has to be worn for one part of the main quest. It also comes with a useful fireball spell.
"Champagne Gold" is the same style as Midnight Mauve, but in gold.
"Splendid Admiral:" Gold braid ahoy!
Lag Cancel: Some moves can be canceled into a Guard-type Ability before resuming another attack faster; usually a domain of Hack and Slash games a la Devil May Cry. The best Ability to cancel into is Steelguard with its low cost, although any Guard Ability could do the job. It can boost the damage per second inflicted by Slayer Ability from Soldier 1st Class much, much higher than simply queuing the attacks regularly does.
Last of His Kind: Snow is the last l'Cie left in the world. Aside from that, Yusnaan is also where the last living fal'Cie in the world, Pandaemonium, is located.
Also extended into a gameplay mechanic with the Last Ones: there's only a finite number of monsters of any given species in a single playthrough, and once you kill enough of them, the last one of them becomes superpowered. If you beat that monster, they give a nice amount of EP and Gil, leave behind an unique item and since you've driven them to extinction, they won't appear in the world any longer, allowing you to explore the world mostly unopposed once you've finished killing off most of them.
Light Is Not Good: Bhunivelze is considered to be the God of Light. But he's really an evil dictator manipulating Lightning and intending to purify all souls of 'uncleanliness', not saving them.
Lost in Translation: The Japanese dialogue between Lightning and Bhunivelze at the end of the game was heavily altered for the English release, including the removal of several lines that were sexual innuendo towards Lightning.
MacGuffin Delivery Service: Predictably, right as Fang and Lightning finally open the Sacred Gate to get the clavis in the Dead Dunes, the Secutors show up and snatch it away from them. Though interestingly, they didn't know the gate was open until Lumina tipped them off.
Madness Mantra: From The Avid Reader, if you choose to read the journal: "Justice will be served."
The Main Characters Do Everything: Lightning has to be a guinea pig, errand girl, detective, food taster, assayer, hunter, stand-in date, actress, gardener, therapist, mediator, confidante, you name it. Lightning literally has to do absolutely everything by herself. It's no wonder that she finally loses it in the end.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Lyla admits that she was the "talking chocobo" that saved Nadia's life in the past. She does it again in the course of the game. But when Lightning quotes her words back to her, Lyla says she only said the first part of the speech, and that the second part wasn't something she said and didn't even know about. Maybe chocobos can talk.
Meaningful Name: The weapon the final boss uses is called "Double Deity" in English. However, the Japanese name of it has one additional kanji to it that translates as "ceremony" or "ritual", which means the weapon's full name is more accurately translated as "Ceremony of the Two Gods.".
The song that the musician in the bar in Ruffian plays is "Eternal Wind", the main theme of Final Fantasy III, with added lyrics.
New Game+: This feature is unlocked either when you run out of time or beat the game the first time around. You bring over all content from your previous save, including Garbs, Weapons, Abilities, Shields, Gil and Items. Hard Mode is strictly tied to New Game+, and cannot be done without it. Even though there's only one ending, the game encourages multiple playthroughs since you can't max out your EP or item slots without a second playthrough and the option to power up your weapons, shields and accessories isn't available until then.
No Hero Discount: Before the final boss battle, one of Lightning's friends will sell her recovery items and spell synthesis at standard prices. What is he going to do with the money? It's the end of the world, and he won't have to repay his suppliers.
Inverted during the tutorial stretch, where a shop will sell you potions for a low, low price of 0 Gil.
Non-Combat EXP: In this game, the concept of earning CP from enemies to level up your characters is completely dropped. Lightning "levels up", though the concept of numbered levels is gone, through doing Quests which raise her stats once you complete them. And instead of gaining abilities and commands when you level up after doing quests, you gain them by either drops from monsters or synthesizing existing one. You also upgrade your abilities to make them stronger.
Non-Standard Game Over: Running out of time before the world ends, automatically gives you a game over and forces you to make a new save file using New Game+ to bring all the stuff in your previous playthrough to your new one, and starts you off in the ark on the first day, after the tutorial at Snow's Palace.
Not So Stoic: Lightning breaks after she realizes she will be left all alone if she becomes the new goddess after confronting Lumina for the last time. Hoperescues her afterwards, even though she told him to leave her.
On a more humorous note, Lightning visibly breaks her stoic demeanor when being asked by Hope to be the star in the Goddess Play in Yusnaan, and she becomes more and more embarrassed whenever she has to say "Meow-meow Choco-chow", even trying to speed it up so that Hope (or anyone else) can't hear it.
Numerical Hard: On Hard Mode, enemies have 2.5 times as much Strength and Magic as on Normal, and 3.5 times as many hit points. They have better drops, but no special moves.
Old Save Bonus: Her outfits from the previous two games will be available for her to wear if the player imports save data from the games in question.
Only The Chosen May Ride: The Angel of Valhalla, a white Chocobo spoken of in legend in the Wildlands that can only be tamed by its one true master. This of course turns out to be Lightning. Justified since the angel is actually the reincarnation of her Eidolon, Odin.
Psychic Powers: When she awoke Vanille gained the ability to hear the souls of the dead.
Punny Name: The ultimate garb, with the Ultima magic, is called Ultimatum/us.
Purple Is Powerful: All the Last Ones glow bright purple-pink, as do the weapons you get from a select few of them.
The Garb Purple Lightning is a ninja-themed purple-colored Garb. It is amazingly useful and powerful, especially when combined with the Katana-type weapons since high attack powers mesh well with the Garb's locked Ninjutsu skills.
Rainbow Pimp Gear: While most Garbs are designed to be stylish, some achieve this effect. For example, the Garb Carnaval Crusher has Lightning wear what is essentially rainbow-colored feathers attached to a swimsuit. Ditto Rhapsody in Rose, except with pink feathers. Even worse, while the examples above can be recolored, no such option exists for Soldier of Peace, in which its jungle-themed mishmash of colors will look great in the few jungle-themed places that the game world has, and nowhere else. Which is a shame, considering how powerful Soldier of Peace is.
Save Scumming: Abusing the Crystal of Atonement can have a similar effect. The crystal becomes available on the Ark on a New Game+, and allows you to start a new New Game Plus. If you missed some collectables on your first playthrough, you can spend a few days rounding them up and ignoring the quests, and then use the crystal to start a new new game with all the goodies. If you feel particularly shameless, you can also indulge in some vanilla Save Scumming during this period.
Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Lightning agrees to become the savior in order to rescue the soul of her sister, and agrees to also save souls of other human beings to bring them to the new world where time is flowing as it normally should. She has 13 days to accomplish this, after that amount of time is up, the current world will die and cease to exist, and all of the souls Lightning fails to save will also be destroyed forever, including Serah's.
Sequel Difficulty Spike: This is definitely the case with Lightning Returns, BIG TIME. You don't get your HP restored after battle, you can't just heal yourself whenever you want in battle, as it costs EP, which you must earn by fighting, and you only have a maximum of 5 EP at the start of the game. If you don't pre-emptive strike enemies, they can and WILL pre-emptive strike YOU and cause you to lose a certain percentage of Health that carries on into the start of battle and after you win it. Not to mention that now, Lightning is the only playable character, so you're fighting alone for the whole game. And also, there is a new Hard Mode included in the game.
There is some reprieve though. When you get called back into the Ark, you're fully healed, and you can use your now-full EP to buy powerful healing items. As you level up through quests, you gain more EP and Item Slots. You can pre-emptive strike enemies on the overworld, they'll lose 10% of their starting HP if you strike them before they can attack you, and 25% if you can preemptive strike them before they notice you (such as attacking from behind). In certain story missions, you will get other XIII characters to join your party for a time, and they will help you fight in battle. During battle, you can move Lightning around the field, Guard against attacks and Dodge Roll anytime in battle to avoid taking damage. You can also expend EP to use Overclock which speeds up Lightning and slows down all enemies on the field, allowing you more time to attack them, which helps when they are staggered. Using EP also allows you to revive yourself if you die, and use special attacks, like Lightning's ''Army of One'' technique which does a lot of damage and heals you for 10% of the damage done for all except the final hit. Hard mode is also directly tied to New Game+ and cannot be done without it, making it easier on you.
That being said, the game has been found to be almost laughably breakable with the right garb/ability combinations, to the point where some combinations (see the Game Breaker entries on the YMMV page) allow you to outright cheese even some of the strongest bosses. Justified as Toriyama did say that if you knew what you were doing with the game's mechanics, you could essentially make yourself an unkillable demigod in gameplay.
Finally, if you're not up to the challenge, you can just play the game on Easy, which heals Lightning back to full after every battle, lowers all enemy stats to 0.8x of normal, increases the amount of EP you get from killing enemies and decreases the cost of most EP-consuming abilities.
Shaggy Dog Story: This game retroactively turns the entire fal'Cie plot to bring the Maker back into this. We also see at the end of the game that bringing Lindzei back probably wouldn't have done anything, considering he is part of a weapon that is wielded by Bhunivelze.
She's Back: Lightning... returns to the protagonist role for this game, as opposed to her role as the Big Good in the second game.
Shifting Sand Land: The Dead Dunes, a massive expanse of sandy dunes dotted with ancient ruins.
Ship Tease: After a side-quest where Lightning meets Vanille after 1000 years, learning of her ability to speak to the dead and the sheer mass of dead souls swarming the inside of the cathedral, Hope says it's great to see her again. And this happens:
Lightning: You actually sound happy, Hope. Someone have a little crush?
Hope:(with a hint of uncertainty) W-What? No, of course not!
In the Japanese version, Hope responds with :
Hope:(with a hint of uncertainty) Don't tease me like that, Light!
There's a sidequest in Yusnaan where a guy who got dumped by his fiancee asks Lightning to dinner with him just so that the second reservation he made at the Lord of the Banquet restaurant doesn't go to waste. After she accepts, Hope is uncomfortable with it, even after she insists that it's not a "real" date and she's more looking forward to eating steak at a fancy place.
Even more Hope/Light teasing after completing the "Family Food" sidequest: Hope asks if the food Gordon Gourmet makes is as great as it's been reported to be. Lightning offers to get him some takeout so he can judge for himself, but Hope politely declines and instead asks if Light can cook him something of hers. Her answer is that fancy meals aren't her thing, but if it's something simple, she can do that. Such as a grilled Behemoth steak.
In Japanese, Lightning's response roughly goes like this:
Lightning: (Upon hearing that Hope is more interested in what Lightning can cook) "What are you implying with that? I'll have you know that while I'm not as good as Serah, my cooking skill is only...below average."
Hope also promises to stay on Lightning's side even if the whole world turns against her. Mirroring a certain other FF couple.
Not to mention during the final day where Hope appears before Lightning one last time to say goodbye. The first thing she does is to reach out and interlock their fingers, but only managing to ghost through them instead. After Light confides in him and laments her inability to protect him, he asks her if she still remembered their first meeting, thus revealing that he actually does remember what Light meant back in Yusnaan about him "watching her back". He confesses that she's been his driving power all this time and expresses his gratitude for having met her before disappearing.
It's pretty clear the whole game is filled with teasing for Hope & Lightning. The bombtter Twitter account, which tracks popular tags in the Japanese Twitter-sphere, reportedly noted that the "hopurai" tag exploded in popularity when the game was released in Japan.
One of the locations you can visit is called the Grave of the Colossi.
You can kill the many lizards that run around the area. These lizards have similar markings to the normal lizards in Shadow of the Colossus, Lightning kills them the same way Wander does and like him, she also collects their tails afterwards, although they're for sidequest purposes and aren't useable items.
A series of sidequests involving opening up the highways that connect the world are handed out by NPC's named Ford, Dent, and Zaphod.
Both a shout-out to the game and the series' development: After completing the quests with Dr. Gysahl and his numbered apprentices, one of them, Thirteen, will be ecstatic to learn that Dr. Gysahl knows her real name (Claudia), a sign that she's made an impression on him. Talking to her again has Thirteen say something like "Maybe one day I'll finally be as good as Seven. It was a known fact going into FFXIII's development that Square was aiming to top FFVII.
The fact that the farmhands at Canopus Farms are named after numbers may also be a reference to the main cast of Final Fantasy Type-0.
Silliness Switch: Some of the costume options and adornments appear to go in this direction. You can have Lightning cosplaying as Cloud Strife, or performing Parkour in a ballgown. All the while wearing a silly hat. The Moogle Queen outfit, an outfit with Moogles attached to a bodysuit, that makes Moogly sounds, is the pinnacle of the silliness.
Spiritual Successor: In fact, this game has a lot in common with the Valkyrie Profile series, as noticeable from Lightning's Valkyrie motif and the use of four face buttons for different attacks.
Also averted with sidequests, starting one and then failing to finish it ASAP can result in a failure, and if failing it ends in the quest giver's death, the game will chew you out for it via Lightning blaming herself for it.
Suspiciously Specific Denial: While not necessarily a denial, per se, Hope spends a lot of time reminding you that he's on your side, no matter what...
Time Crash: Time has stopped flowing for normal people, resulting in them not aging since XIII-2 despite the fact five centuries have passed.
Timed Hits: You can Guard against attacks to reduce the amount of damage you take, at any time. As an added bonus, if you use Guard at the exact same time an enemy hits you, the word BLOCK will appear on screen, meaning you take no damage from the attack (there's even a trophy for doing this). You can also use the Evade command to dodge attacks.
And while it's not hinted at, attacking enemies with the right timing with also get a PERFECT rating, increasing damage and stagger power considerably.
It's so rare that it seems almost a waste to use it, doesn't it?
Took a Level in Badass: Although there's no doubt Lightning was badass since the very beginning, she definitely gets to show off in this game, taking on and defeating powerful enemies all by herself. Made more prominent with more familiar enemies like the Dreadnaught, which took up a level itself this time around, and used to require a party of three to defeat!
This also applies to some familiar boss characters such as Noel and Snow, who employ several strong techniques not seen before in the previous games, and will also get an advanced Noel+ and Snow+ form for the boss fight if you let too many days pass by before fighting them. And while Caius will always be at full strength no matter the day you fight him, he is much tougher than he was in XIII-2, bringing every old ability he knew while using several new powerful magic abilities as well, and takes an even more aggressive and offensive assault than he ever did.
Troll: Lumina. The fact that she trolls every major character in any way possible is an understatement to what she can actually do. In truth, she is actually helping them and Lightning to be able to oppose god, so she is not actually a troll even if she does appear so.
Victory Pose: One for each garb type. The pre-order outfits that are taken from other FF protagonists use the victory poses of the respective characters and the victory theme from the game.
Video Game Cruelty Potential: In the Dead Dunes, occasionally you come across tiny little lizards off the beaten paths, who are absolutely no threat to you whatsoever... that you can kill by attacking. And with every one killed, they either drop a Lizard Tail (for side-quests), or unappraised items (which when appraised, are good sources for gil and some rare consumeable items). If you kill enough lizards, you get an achievement.
Villainous Valor: During the finale, the guards fighting you know Lightning is insanely powerful and that she can easily kill them. They're not fazed in the slightest. After all, as the first guard to challenge her says, the world is minutes away from ending, so they're all going to die anyway.
Virtual Paper Doll: Lightning can change clothes like Serah and Noel back in XIII-2, but in this game they have an actual impact on her abilities. They also serve as this game's take on the Paradigm Shifts from XIII and XIII-2. Adornments also return from XIII-2, allowing you to put hats and other things on Lightning.
We Do the Impossible: Gathering enough Eradia (which in Game terms requires you to complete all 5 Main quests and do 40 Side quests, not counting Canvas Prayers) allows Lightning to extend the world's lifespan to a fourteenth day — one beyond what was supposed to be Nova Chrysalia's time limit by the time she woke up from her crystal stasis. There's even a trophy for achieving this.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Aside from a few adornments, and one sidequest, the 4 members of NORA aren't mentioned at all in the game. Yaag Rosch, Jihl Nabaat, Barthendelus and Orphan are not mentioned at all.
Most of the fal'Cie are missing as well, notably the fal'Cie Fenrir who was blocking the sun in the previous game and the fal'Cie Cactuar who branded Snow a l'Cie again. One of the side novels more or less states that Cactuar vanished once Chaos overtook the world and even Snow is not sure where he is or if he's even still alive. The statue of Cactuar in Yusnaan is meant to be a tribute to him.
World Tree: Inside Hope's Ark is Yggdrasil, a "holy tree of life". When you're in it, time stands still for Lightning and completing quests in Nova Chrysalia gives strength to the tree and enables it to prolong the life of the world.