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Combat Mechanics Guide by Ward_Point

Version: 1.0 | Updated: 12/04/2015
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Lightning Returns: Combat Mechanics and Field Tips

If you've found the tips in this Guide useful, please recommend it. It also allows you to leave comments or suggestions.

Introduction

Lightning Returns is the third installation of Final Fantasy XIII franchise. It continues on from where XIII-2 left off. Lightning is the protagonist in the game, and is the only playable character. Being the only playable character resulted in an overhaul of the combat system, and I personally feel that this Dissidia-style combat style is one of the best combat systems that Final Fantasy has produced to date.

There have been many topics on the Forum about how difficult Lightning Returns is. I have to admit, the learning curve is fairly steep. Lightning Returns removes the concept of grinding-to-win and button-mashing-to-win by giving control of Lightning's every action to you. In other words, you control Lightning. Every movement, every attack, and every block is commanded by you. Every win is well earned.

It also means that every failed block, is your fault.

I'm going to say this early in the Guide: Stats are a crutch. In Lightning Returns, stats are an absolute crutch. A multitude of people have completed the game, and there are tons of videos online that give you a demonstration of exactly what you need to do to beat certain monsters provided that you can block and stagger properly. The entire point of this Guide is to hopefully give a new player some tips to help you do exactly that.

Remember

1) Stats are a crutch
2) If you die, don't blame the game. It's your fault.
3) Accept that you've made a mistake, and correct it.

You only gain stats from side-quests, and you cannot simply randomly attack without care. For players who have never played Dissidia franchise of Final Fantasy on the PSP, my advice is to start off on Easy Mode. In comparison to Normal Mode, you actually don't lose out on anything at all, you simply get less gil per fight. If you're playing on Normal, there are some mechanics you can abuse in order to keep your Health up. The 1st section of the Guide is Field Tips, which details some helpful tricks you can use to get through the game. The 2nd section of the Guide is about Combat Mechanics, which is the larger section by far since Lightning Returns' combat mecahnics has depth and a lot of 'hidden' values not explained in-game.

Field Tips for Newbies

First Playthrough

Mostly for Normal players, you do not regenerate Health in the field, so we're going to need alternative methods to regenerate Health. Lightning Returns is an open-world game where you can complete Main Quests in whatever order you wish, but there are a few Garbs you can pick up early to make life easier for you.

1) Fill out your inventory with Potions in Yusnaan: In the opening sequence, after the tutorials against Anubys, a shop appears where you should buy as MANY POTIONS AS POSSIBLE. This is a crutch you need if you're new to Lightning Returns. Anubys has a very long animation for its attack, so you can use that to get used to Guarding, but just in case, Potions will help you.

2) After the series of quests in Luxerion, head to Yusnaan. By the time you are 'released from you obligations' in Luxerion, it should be about 0100. You'll need to head to Luxerion North Station and take the Train to Yusnaan. Once there, you'll need to find a Poster of a Chocbo Girl, and then find 4 Chocobo Girls and talk to them, after which you'll gain the immensely useful Miqo'te Dress. Two Chocobo Girls are located within the Glutton's Quarter, one just East of the Slaughterhouse, and the last one is in the back alley near the Reveler's Quarter. Note that this event is time sensitive. You must talk to all four Chocobo Girls by 0300, otherwise, you must come back on the next day after 1900 to finish up.This Garb has Mediguard and Magic Slash locked into its abilities.

Mediguard, if you recall from past FF XIII games, helps a Sentinel regenerate Health over time. Similarly, pressing and holding down Mediguard makes Lightning take up a defensive stance, regenerating Health at the same time.

Magic Slash is a situational ability, but is immensely useful if you set it up properly. While it's description states that it attacks with both Magical and Physical attributes, its base damage is dependent on your Strength only. Inflicting Deprotect and Deshell improves that damage. More details on how Magic Slash is potentially the most damaging attack in a First Playthrough will be detailed below.

3) Canopus Farms, Wildlands: Here, due to Gil issues, you should first seek to pick up Ignition and Electronica, which provide FIre+ and Thunder+ respectively. These + abilities transform the basic Elemental spells into a -ra Finale, giving a much needed boost to Stagger Power. Fire and Thunder, in the early game, are the most useful in inflicting damage against enemies in the forested areas of the Wildlands, furthermore, Thunder and Fire are also the two elements that two bosses are weak to, so it is definitely a worthy expenditure.

4) Jagd Village, Wildlands: You should have beaten the weakened Chocobo Eater by the time you reach this point, but if you haven't, the Hunter of the Wild garb is a good crutch if you still haven't gotten used to the combat system yet. It regenerates 5% of Lightning's HP upon defeating an enemy. It also comes with a locked Heavy Slash, which is fairly powerful in the early-game.

5) Dead Dunes: After picking up the Elemental Garbs, making a run around the Dead Dunes is particularly useful. Many of the monsters here drop Debuff abilities, which is essential to making your life easier. If you hate Miqo'te Dress, you can pick up some extra Mediguard from the Gurangatch enemies that appear around here. At the same time as you're farming Debuff abilities, be sure to activate the Cactuar Waystones on your way to Ruffian.

6) Limit your Monster Hunting: Monsters don't provide you with EXP. They drop Gil, items and Abilities. As the days pass, monsters grow stronger, and the amount of Gil and the quality of Abilities that are dropped are also improved.

7) Keep Outerworld on where possible: Outerworld is one of the best sources of the extremely useful and cheap Turbo Ether. It restores 7EP, and only costs 3600 Gil. Once you buy a Turbo Ether from Outerworld, be sure to put it on sale as well. Pass on the good karma.

General Field Tips

If you've already cleared the game once, you should skip straight down to Tip. 4. You would have done the first three in your playthrough.

1) DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE 'TIME LIMIT': This has to be re-emphasised over and over again. The time limit in Lightning Returns is lenient. It is VERY VERY LENIENT. Yes, the clock is counting down, but you need not worry. There are monsters which you can eliminate for EP to use Chronostasis, and even if you cannot complete it 'today', you can just go back again 'tomorrow'. Do NOT let the clock hang over your head. I have a personal theory that the theme of FF XIII is all about how time is precious. In XIII, it was about the countdown to becoming a Cie'th. In XIII-2, it was Serah getting closer and closer to death with every vision she saw. In Lightning Returns, it's a literal countdown for humanity to be reborn. It is just a THEME of the series.The clock does dictate some of your actions (Some quests are only available at certain times of the day), but don't let it completely dictate your playthrough. There is more than enough time to clear ALL sidequests, ALL Canvas of Prayer quests, and extinct ALL monsters. In fact, you'll find yourself skipping fights and resting just to let time pass.

2) Keeping HP high: Mediguard, as obtained from the Miqo'te Dress, is a lifesaver if you happen to make a mistake. Only one other Garb has Medigaurd locked in, and it is the DLC Midgard Flower Girl garb. When using Mediguard, Lightning takes a defensive stance and regenerates HP. Remember, Time does not flow in battle. If you're low on HP after a big fight, pick a small fight with a small scale monster and just use Mediguard to regenerate HP. Extend the battle for as long as you can until your HP is back to full, kill the weakling, and go on your merry way. Mediguard is also dropped by Gurangatch in the Dead Dunes, and Flanitors in Yusnaan. If you're lucky, when you're running around Yusnaan trying to get Miqo'te Dress, you'll get a Mediguard as you defeat a Flanitor. In the long run, using Mediguard saves you gil that you would otherwise spend on potions, or on food to heal Lightning.

3) Abusing Chronostasis: In a Easy/Normal playthrough, you should seek to prolong the available time by using Chronostasis. Note that Chronostasis ends the moment you board a Train, so take note of that if you know you're going to board a train in the next five minutes (In-game time). Large Scale Monsters reward you with 4 EP (Easy) and 2 EP (Normal) with every victory. So if you're low on EP, please find a Large Scale monster to defeat. From experience, you tend to need Chronostasis in the Wildlands and Dead Dunes more than in the City areas, where you actually need time to flow. Reavers and Gurangatchs in the Wildlands and Dead Dunes respectively help you keep Chronostasis up.

4) Abusing Chaos Infusions: In a Easy/Normal playthrough, Chaos Infusions are a good source of EP for Chronostasis. However, that's not all they're used for. Monsters are stronger in a Chaos Infusion, but drop rates are doubled in a Chaos Infusion, raising ability drop rates of 15% up to 30%. Gil reward is tripled. This is important when farming abilities, especially for Thundara and Thundaga (If you're so inclined), since Hanuman is the only enemy that drops it.. The following section details the effects and locations of Chaos Infusions.

Monster Modifiers

Difficulty Modifiers

The following detail the modifiers applicable in specific difficulties. On Easy, enemies are weaker, and you can use your special EP abilities more often. In Hard, EP is more difficult to come by, and you are expected to clear most monsters without relying on EP as a crutch. However, as monsters are more difficult, the rewards for defeating them are also increased, and this comes in the form of increased Gil, drops and drop rate.

EasyNormalHard
EP Recoveryx 2.0x 1.0x 0.5
Item Drop Quantityx 1.0x 1.0x 1.5
Item Drop Ratex 1.0x 1.0x 1.5
Gil Rewardsx 1.0x 1.0x 3.0
Enemy HPx 0.8x 1.0x 3.5
Enemy STR / MAGx 0.6x 1.0x 2.5
Stagger Decayx 0.5x 1.0x 1.0
Preservation Decayx 0.5x 1.0x 1.0
EP Cost: Teleport233
EP Cost: Curaga122
EP Cost: Arise233
EP Cost: Overclock122

Timeline Modifiers

The following table details the modifiers that are applied to monsters as time passes. As you play through the game, monsters get stronger. They also drop higher levelled Abilities. For more information about abilities, please take a look at the Ability Guide.

Day
Parameter1 - 67 - 910 - 121314
Gil Rewardsx 1.0x 1.5x 2.0x 3.0x 5.0
Enemy HPx 1.0x 1.6x 2.0x 3.0x 5.0
Enemy STR / MAGx 1.0x 1.3x 1.6x 2.0x 3.5

Modifier Mechanics

Modifiers across tables stack additively. A Cactuar drops 5000 Gil on defeat by default. If a Cactuar was killed on Hard Mode on Day 13, the formula would be (5000 x 3) + (5000 x 3) = 30,000 Gil.

There are some monsters which are not affected by any Modifiers, Timeline or Difficulty. Such Bosses include Cactair, Ereskigal, Aeronite or any Main Quest Bosses. Aeronite, however, can still be affected by Chaos Infusions. So if you're looking for a substantial Gil boost along with a corresponding challenge, fight Aerontie in a Chaos Infusion. This can be done on Day 7 by abusing certain mechanics. This particular method is outlined below, in the section of Damage Calculations.

Chaos Infusions

The in-game Tutorial would teach you a little bit about Chaos Infusions. But there's more. Monsters are 1.5 times stronger in a Chaos Infusion, but they drop more Gil and have an increased drop rate for items. Furthermore, Abilities that are dropped by monsters within Chaos Infusions may have Auto-Abilities that are one level higher than usual. For more information about Auto-Abilities, take a look at the Ability Guide in the FAQs.

ParameterAdjustment
EP Recovery+ 1.0
Item Drop Ratex 2.0
Gil Rewardsx 3.0
Enemy HPx 1.5
Enemy STR & MAGx 1.5
Enemy Keep+ 20
Duration of Ailments inflicted by Enemyx 1.5
Duration of Ailments inflicted by Lightningx 0.5

The following tables detail the locations of possible Chaos Infusions.

Random Chaos Infusions

LocationTimeProbability
Luxerion0300-1800Low
1800-0300High
The Wildlands0600-1750Low
1750-1800High
1800-0250Medium
0250-0300High
0300-0600Medium
All HighwaysAll the TimeHigh

Recurring Chaos Infusions

Recurring Chaos Infusions occur in the following areas within fixed hours. Once they have been dispelled by defeating a monster inside, you have to wait till the next day before it reappears. These recurring Infusions are among the best places to hunt for Chaos-Infused Auto-Abilities in Hard Mode, as they are in fixed locations.

LocationTimeArea
Luxerion0600-0000North-South Corridor
0000-0600Arcade
0000-0600Pilgrim's Causeway
Yusnaan0600-1200Lower City Waterfront
0000-0600Palace Garden
Wildlands0600-0000Grasslands, between Canopus Farms and City of Ruins
1200-0000Northern Path, between Jagd Woods and Rocky Crag
1200-0000Path between Rocky Crag and Eremite Plains
0000-1200Rocky Crag
Dead Dunes0600-1800Between Giant's Sandbox and Dry Floodlands
1200-0000Between Atomos' Sands and Grave of the Colossi
1800-0600Between the Giant's Sandbox and Grave of the Colossi.

Status Modifiers

Debuff Limit

An enemy monster can only be affected by a maximum of 5 Buffs/Debuffs at any one time. Therefore, fighting an enemy in a Chaos Infusion reduces the number of applicable debuffs on an enemy to 4, as the monster gains a permanent Regen Status. For example, in a Level 4 Stagger on Aeronite in a Chaos Infusion, Aeronite is afflicted by 3 Stagger Effects and Regen. Thus, you may only apply one more Debuff on Aeronite. Any further Debuffs will only replace the debuff with the shortest remaining duration.

Enhancements

These buffs are typically only available to Lightning through Recovery Items or by triggering specific Conditions, such as Transform, or Critical Abilities. The values that you see here are also used in the damage calculation formula. Some monsters can buff themselves, and when they do, always try to steal these buffs for yourself. These buffs can also be used to neutralise Ailments which have been cast on you. Typically, when these abilities are triggered on yourself, they don't last for a very long time, so trigger offensive buffs after a Stagger for maximum damage.

StatusEffect
BraveryStrength x 1.5
FaithMagic x 1.5
ProtectPhysical Damage -33%
ShellMagic Damage -33%
HasteATB Speed +100
VigilanceKeep +25
RegenHeals 0.4 max HP per second
VeilAilment Resistance +90%
ReraiseRevives Lightning automatically at 18% HP after KOed.
En-ElementImbues non-Elemental attacks with corresponding Element. Strengthens same-Element spells by 30%, strengthens same element physical abilities by 60%. Automatically removed if Target susceptibility to Element is 70% or below.

Ailments

Ailments can be inflicted by Lightning, or on Lightning. Regardless, they have the same effects. The values are also used in the damage calculation formula. Ailment abilities can be used to neutralise Enhancements that are applied on enemies. For example, Deprotect can remove Protect from the enemy, and a second successful infliction can hit it with Deprotect.

AilmentEffect
DebraveStrength x0.33
DefaithMagic x0.33
DeprotectPhysical Damage +33%
DeshellMagic Damage +33%
SlowATB Speed -50
CurseKeep -15
PoisonDrains 0.5% max HP per second.
ImperilElemental Damage +50%
DazeCannot use any abilities. Applies 2x Damage on next hit, effect ends on hit.
DispelRemoves Status Enhancements
PainCannot use Physical abilities, including Counterblow.
FogCannot use Magical abilities, including Counterspell.

Stagger Effects

Only triggered when an enemy is staggered, and stack with similar effects. Unprotected stacks additively with Deprotect, which is the reason for the addition signs, similarly to Unshelled.

EffectEffect
UnprotectedPhysical Damage +50%
UnshelledMagical Damage +50%
ParchedFire Damage +75%
ExposedIce Damage +75%
ConductiveLightning Damage +75%
BrittleWind Damage +75%
BrokenIncoming Stagger Power +50%
InfectedAilment Resistance -50%
HinderedMovement Speed -30%
ConfusedEnemies may attack each other.
CursedKeep -25
DazedIncapable of action. Can be removed by being attacked, but damage taken for that attack is doubled.
PainedCannot use Physical Abilities
FoggedCannot use Magical Abilities

Damage Formula

The same damage formula is applied to both Lightning and enemies. The only difference being that Lightning is able to Guard attacks, and Monster damage modifiers are only known for a specific set of monsters, such as Bosses.

[ A * B * C * ( 1 + D + E + F ) * G * I] - J

A = Strength/Magic. A physical ability uses Strength and a Magical Ability uses Magic
B = Damage modifier of ability. The Power of the skill. For example, Magic Slash has 0.80 Power
C = Effect modifiers (Bravery, Debrave, Daze on enemy.)
D = Perfect Timing Bonus, Positional bonus
E = Attribute Modifier (Elemental Damage+)
F = Situtational Modifier (Eg: Enlister/Sniper gloves, Strength in Numbers, Multiple Targets... All Garb Effects: Sweet Spot, Climatic)
G = Susceptibility (Physical susceptibility, Magical Susceptibility, Elemental Susceptibility)
I = Damage Resistance (Applies to Lightning only)
J = Guard Defence

The Nitty Gritty

We'll take a look at a few examples, because seeing them in action is far better than just looking at a formula and thinking about how multipliers stack with each other. We'll look at two cases where Lightning is on Offence, Magic Slash and Whirlwind Kick, and one where Lightning is Guarding.

Magic Slash

The Situation: Lightning is facing Aeronite in its 4th phase of Stagger, where its base Physical and Magical susceptibility is 5.0x each and 1.0 for Elemental Susceptibility. In its 4th phase of Stagger, Aeronite is Unprotected and Unshelled as well. Assume that Deprotect and Imperil is inflicted, and Lightning has Bravery and Enfire activated.

A = 2000 (Strength)
B = 0.80 (Magic Slash's Power)
C = 1.5 (Bravery)
D = 0 (No Perfect Attack, no Positional Bonus)
E = 0 (No Attribute Modifiers)
F = 0 (No Situational Modifiers)
G = [5 (Base Physical Susceptibility) + 0.33 (Deprotect) + 0.5 (Unprotected)] x [5 (Base Magical Susceptibility) + 0.5 (Unshelled)] x [1.0 (Base Elemental Susceptibility) + 0.5 (Imperil)]

The Formula is reduced to

2000 x 0.80 x 1.5 x 5.83 x 5.33 x 1.5 = 2000 x 0.80 x 76.475 = 111,866

Magic Slash is a unique attack that factors the enemy's Magical and Physical Susceptibilities into its damage, which is the reason why it's most often used against Aeronite on First Playthroughs. There is no other monster in existence where Magic Slash can be used in this manner. As you can see above, Deprotect and Unprotected (A Stagger Effect) stacks with its base Physical susceptibility additively. The sum of the Physical susceptibility is then multiplied by the sum of the Magic Susceptibility, and multiplied again by the sum of its Elemental susceptibility. This results in a multiplier of a whopping 76.475 to your Base Damage (Strength multiplied by ability modifier).

Whirlwind Kick

The Situation: Lightning is facing a Staggered Dreadnought with both its arms destroyed. Lightning uses Punt Lv.5 with 1.00 Power, and the she gets a Perfect Attack on the Finale. EnFrost is up, and Lightning has a Froststrike with Ice Attribute Attacks +20% also equipped on Martial Monk. She has 5000 Strength, Enlister's Gloves equipped and Bravery activated.

A = 5000
B = 1.00 x 1.3 (Whirlwind Kick Multiplier) x 4 (Finale Multiplier) = 5.2
C = 1.5
D = 4 (Perfect Attack Bonus)
E = 0.2 (Ice Attribute Attack +20% due to Enfrost)
F = 0.2 (Enlister's Gloves)
G = 2.0 (Physical Susceptibility after both arms destroyed) x 1.5 (Ice Element Susceptibility) = 3.0

5000 x 5.2 x 1.5 x (1 + 4 + 0.2 + 0.2) * 3 = 5000 * 5.2 * 1.5 * 16.2 = 631,800

This case highlights some of the weaknesses of arm Accessories and Attribute modifiers. They just aren't as effective as they go inside the bracket as additions, and not multipliers. This makes Enlister's Gloves and Sniper's Gloves one of the weakest accessories to equip where damage is concerned. Bonus damage is always nice, but if you compare it to something like the Forsaken Tie, which has more utility in getting the Perfect Attack (And is also a far larger number) or the Falcon Charm (Which increases ATB Speed), Enlister's Gloves is just weak in comparison. There is also a need to highlight the fact that most other Perfect Attacks add 0.20 to the sum, but it's a 'free' boost to damage, unlike the Arm Accessories.

Taking Damage: Megaton Break

Situation: Lightning is fighting against Aeronite It uses Megaton Break. Lightning takes the physical hit in Sacred Knight, using Heavy Guard+ (0.7*1.15 Resistance), and has 400 Guard Defence and 22% Guard Efficiency Bonus from a theoretical shield that does not exist, and has a Guard Glove (10% Physical Resistance) equipped.

A = 2600
B = 7.0
C = 1
D = 0
E = 0
F = 0
G = 0.9
H = [1 - 0.805 (Heavy Guard+)] * [1 - 0.22 (Guard Efficiency +22%)] = 0.1521
J = 400

[2600 x 7 x 1 x 1 x 0.1521] - 400 = 2368

This gives you some great incentive to Block, doesn't it? If that wasn't blocked, more than 18k HP would have been taken off Lightning, not to mention the Quake part of the attack would have taken off even more. I've used a 'Theoretical Shield' here to showcase how Guard Efficiency factors into the damage calculation. It's worth noting that Guard Defence does more for more, smaller hits as it's a fixed subtraction at the end. Against enemies who do single, large hits (Eg: Earth Eater Chomp), you're better off taking the hit in a Light Shield with higher Guard Efficiency, as it is a percentage reduction.

Damage Optimization Summary

The TLDR: Summary for those who aren't good at math. The way Lightning Returns is structured is that you're better off using Physical attacks once you've staggered the enemy.

1) The higher your Stats, the more damage you deal.
2) The higher the Power of the ability, the more damage you deal.
3) Always try to get Bravery up when you're going for kills.
4) Get Perfect Attacks.
5) Deprotect and physical Susceptibility stack additively to each other, but different status effects stack multiplicatively with each other. (Ie: Apply Deprotect and Imperil, use an En-Potion)


Guarding

What's a combat game without Guarding? When given the command to Guard, Lightning takes up a defensive stance, reducing the amount of incoming damage by the amount listed by the Guard ability. This is incredibly useful, and allows Lightning to take hits that would otherwise deplete her HP immediately.

Perfect Guard

In the 1/6 second before impact, if you hit the Guard button, you will perform a Perfect Guard. In terms of the Damage Formula, it's unknown as to how much bonus resistance Lightning will get when she Perfectly Guards an attack, however, there are certain attacks that will not take her Guard Damage Resistance into consideration unless she Perfectly Guards. Such attacks include, but are not limited to, Aeronite's Hellflare and Bhunivelze's Hypernova. These attacks are Special-Type attacks and will ignore your Guard unless Perfectly Guarded. If the Perfect Guard is successful, the attacks become Magic-Type, and will be reduced by items such as Runic Ring or Preta Hood. Typically, the boost to Guard from a Perfect Guard will completely negate the damage, so the effect of these items are barely noticeable.

If the Guard Button was pressed and then released near instantly, you'll notice that the Perfect Guard effect persists for a while after releasing. This is especially noticeable if you're hitting a Guard ability with every time Thundaga hits you. You just need to figure out the timing to hit Guard, and you'll have a series of Perfect Guards.

In other words, please learn how to Guard. If you can't Perfect Guard, Phoenix Downs/Wings are your crutch. At the very least, PRESS THE GUARD BUTTON.


Attacking

Perfect Attack

Similarly to Perfect Guard, there are Perfect Attacks. Holding down an Ability button will command Lightning to unleash her attacks. However, if you time your button presses, you can hear a 'shing' sound, and Lightning will flash for a moment. For Physical Attacks, the instant before your blow impacts against the enemy is the time to hit the button again. For Spells, the instant where the spell leaves Lightning's Staff, or her hand, is where you hit the button to get a Perfect Attack. When you perform a Perfect Attack, you get a Timing Bonus, which goes into 'D' of the Damage Formula. This value is usually 0.2. Whirlwind Kick is the exception and has a value of 4, effectively resulting in 5x normal damage.

Honestly speaking, listing out the Time in Seconds for Perfect Attacks is practically useless. It will not help you decide when to hit the buttons, not even when you're using Macros on PC. It takes time for Lightning to run to her target, which provides variation in the Timing. Still, for the programmers who can analyze frame timing, by all means, use the numbers to program a macro. I'd very much like to use it as well :P

1/15 for Punt/WW Kick, 1/6s for Finale, Feeder and Slayer, 1/10 for all other attacks. Forsake Tie adds 1/2 second.

Stagger

The Stagger Gauge in Lightning Returns is different from the previous installations of FF XIII. Staggered Monsters in Lightning Returns are not as helpless as the Monsters in previous games. Typically in past games, the challenge was getting it to Stagger, and once Staggered, the target was pretty much helpless and you could switch into an all-out offence to kill it. In Lightning Returns, it is not so. You may be able to inflict some Stagger Effects after Stagger, but most Monsters are capable of fighting back even Staggered. The general rule is that if it hasn't collapsed, it's capable of fighting back.

Most opponents stagger through the traditional way of being hit by Elemental Spells. However, some monsters have different stagger conditions. Some monsters such as the Niblet and Skata'ne can only be staggered at very specific times. Gorgonopsid, Sahagin and Reavers can be staggered in the traditional way, but a Perfect Guard to certain enemy attacks can drive the gauge up extremely quickly. Other monsters such as Ectopuddings and Dreadnoughts can only be staggered by Ice attacks, and the Aster Protoflorian's stagger conditions changes with every switch in Element.

Lastly, Stagger affects drop rates of some enemies. The Shard Blade is dropped by Reavers who have only been staggered by a Perfect Guard. Thundara has a 20% to drop instead of 15% after a Hanuman is staggered. Check out my Ability Guide for a set of drop rates for each ability.

You're going to need to know what some physics terms mean before you can understand the explanation of the Stagger Gauge. In Lightning Returns, the Stagger Gauge takes the form of a wave. The colours of the wave, along with their amplitude and frequency, have different meanings. Let's get an understanding of the physics terms first.

Amplitude refers to the degree of change along the Y axis of the Gauge.

Frequency refers to the speed at which the wave is moving along the X axis.

When you attack a Monster, the bar will flash yellow briefly. The Amplitude of this wave is an indicator of how effective the attack was at driving up the Stagger Gauge. If a value was added to the Stagger Gauge, a BLUE wave will be displayed. As you build the Stagger Gauge, the Amplitude of the blue wave will increase. This is an indicator of how close you are to Staggering the enemy. Upon filling the Gauge up to 70%, the wave will turn RED. (This is typically the point where you should switch into Chaos Revenge.) Once again, the Amplitude indicates how close you are to Staggering your target. Once you reach the Stagger Point, the Monster will be Staggered.

Stagger Power

Stagger Power refers to the value that the skill adds to the Stagger Gauge upon impact.

E : 1-3
D: 4-14
C: 15-20
B: 21-49
A: 50+

The Basic Elemental Spells such as Fire, Thunder, Blizzard and Aero add 20 to the Stagger Gauge upon impact. Their finales have a Stagger Power of 80. The -ra series of Spells have Power of 40 with Finale having 80. Beat Down adds a whopping 50 to the Gauge. Normally, its finale adds 100, but Jump adds 120, making Beat Down/Jump among the most useful abilities to have when aiming to Stagger. Most monsters require a different Stagger Power to be reached in order to be Staggered. Typically, Boss fights have higher Stagger Points than normal monsters. On the Final Fantasy Wiki, you'll see that all four Aeronite forms require 1600 to be reached, and Bhunivelze's 4th Form requires 2000 points before Stagger is achieved.

Stagger Decay

Unlike previous games, where the Chain Bonus Gauge will visibly decrease, Decay can be seen from the frequency of the Stagger Gauge. If the wave is moving quickly, you'll notice that the amplitude of the wave will also decrease over time. This is Stagger Decay at work. Points that you add to the Stagger Gauge will slowly decrease over time if nothing is done. Similarly to the previous games, non-Elemental Attacks such as Attack, Ruin and Blitz help to maintain the Stagger Gauge to prevent it from Decaying.

Stagger Decay is a hidden modifier unique to every monster. Each Monster has its own Stagger Decay value. Boss Monsters tend to have a higher Stagger Decay value, which punishes you if you are knocked off your feet as a result of not Guarding properly.

Stagger Preservation

Don't worry, Stagger Decay is not the end of the world. The game lets you preserve the Stagger Gauge through the classic Commando Abilities such as Attack, Ruin and Blitz. All monsters have a cap on Stagger Preservation that prevents you from delaying Decay from setting in for ridiculous periods of time. This value does not exceed 600, with exception of Ereshkigal, which has a cap of 1000.

Once again, Stagger Preservation has ranks of E through A.

E: 1 - 40
D: 41 - 99
C: 100 - 199
B: 200 - 299
A: 300+

Ruin, Attack and Punt have C ranks, adding 100 to Preservation, but its Finale on the 5th hit adds 500 to Preservation, making them some of the best Commando abilities for Preservation. Attack and Punt (Whirlwind Kick) are especially useful because they double as very solid physical attacking choices. Blitz, Area Sweep and Fatal Sweep add 300 to Preservation, Heavy Slash adds 200. Elemental abilities add a modest amount to Preservation to ensure that Decay does not occur as long as there are impacts on the enemy.

These numbers won't mean anything to you for now, we'll go over this significance once Preservation Decay is explained.

Preservation Decay

This is a tricky bit. Preservation does not 'decay' like Stagger Power. Instead, the Preservation Value divided by the Decay value gives the amount of time where the Stagger Gauge is delayed from decaying. Some monsters like the Chocobo Eater have 100 Preservation Decay, meaning that the maximum time that you can delay the Stagger Gauge from decaying is 6 seconds. Boss Monsters actually have fairly low Preservation Decay, which actually encourages use of Commando-type abilities to help maintain the Stagger Gauge. This is incredibly useful and must definitely be taken advantage of. Bhunivelze's 4th Form has Preservation Decay of 55. If you hit him with 5 Ruins (100 x 4 + 500 = 900, -> reduced to 600 due to cap), maxing out Stagger Preservation, you will delay Stagger Decay from setting in for 10.9 seconds. This is more than enough time for you to be knocked into the air by Heartless Angel, get back on your feet, heal up, and continue your assault. Even Ereshkigal's Stagger Gauge can be delayed for 10 seconds.

Preservation Decay is most easily explained by making a comparison to the Solidarity paradigm of the previous games. After a Tri-Disaster leaves your party with fairly low health, you switch to Solidarity to maintain the Chain Gauge and heal at the same time. In Lightning Returns, you use Stagger Preservation to prevent the Gauge from Decaying if you make a mistake, or run out of ATB on your Ravager garb.

Stagger Case Study

Let's take a look at some easy math. It's all additions and subtractions, so don't worry. Let's use Aeronite, who has 1600 Stagger Point, 45 Stagger Decay, 600 Stagger Preservation, and 50 Preservation Decay.

ActionStagger Gauge
Activity
PreservationGauge Status
Thundara x 4
Aerora x 4
40 x 3 + 80 = 200
40 x 3 + 80 = 200
400
Aeronite Casts Black Hole
Result: 3 second inaction.
-45 x 3 = -135 265
Thundara x 4
Ruin x 4
40 x 3 + 80 = 200400 / 50 = 8
8s of Preservation.
465
Aeronite Roars, you Guard
for 4 seconds.
4 seconds of
Preservation
remaining.
465
Beat Down - Jump
Beat Down - Jump
(50 + 120) x 2 = 340(40 + 120) x 2 / 50 = 6.4
6.4s of Preservation.
805

Aeronite Swipes, you Guard
for 2 seconds.

4.4s of
Preservation
remaining.

805
Beat Down - Jump
Beat Down - Jump
(50 + 120) x 2 = 340

(40 + 120) x 2 / 50 = 6.4
10.8s of Preservation

1145
Aeronite uses Megaton Break.
You get hit, tossed into the air,
take the Quake. Arise afterward
2 seconds of
Preservation Remaining
Beat Down - Jump
Beat Down - Jump
(50 + 120) x 2 = 340

(40 + 120) x 2 / 50 = 6.4
8s of Preservation

1485
Thundara x 340 x 3 = 120

Aeronite is Staggered
on the 3rd hit.

1605

Hopefully, this case study will emphasise how important Stagger Preservation is in a Boss Fight where mistakes can cause nearly 8 seconds of inaction. It is often best to end the fight as quickly as possible, but if you know that you're not good enough to Perfect Guard Special-type attacks such as Hellflare or Hypernova, you're far better off being conservative, and tossing a few Ruins in for Preservation, lest you get tossed into the air.

Cut and Keep

Every ability has a hidden modifier of Cut and Keep. Cut determines if you can interrupt your enemy's action, and Keep determines if Lightning will be interrupted by the enemy's attack. Let's talk a bit about Keep first. Cut and Keep are capped at 100, and Cut must be higher than Keep in order for an Interrupt to occur. So if an enemy ability has a Keep of 100, nothing Lightning can do is able to interrupt it.

Keep

Keep is a value that an ability's Cut value must exceed in order for Lightning to interrupt the enemy's attack. Inversely, in order for Lightning to not be interrupted, the opponent's Cut cannot exceed Lightning's Keep. All of Lightning's Guard abilities have 70 Keep. This is good news. In fact, with exception of Hellflare, Supernova, Doom, Mine Explosion, Dancing Mad and Hypernova, very few things can knock Lightning off her feet, resulting in her taking full damage. If you equip an accessory that increases her Keep value, Lightning would be able to, at the very least, stay upright (Provided you have the HP) against all these attacks except Mine Explosion.

With a grand total of 85 Keep when Guarding, if you have enough Health, you could actually hold your ground against Aeronite's Hellflare without a Perfect Guard, even though its Special-typing forces you to take the full damage (Around 26k damage), at the very least, you can continue your efforts to Stagger it, or throw some Ruins before Healing up.

Cut

Cut, on the other hand, is a little more difficult to take advantage of. Most of Lightning's abilities have Cut values of about 55. Only Flare, Chill, Surge, Tornado and Ultima have Cut values of 70. Considering how spectacularly inefficient it is to actually use those other spells, we'll have to make do with 55 Cut.

It really isn't as bad as it seems. The window to interrupt an enemy's spellcasting is spectacularly small. It's about the same time as Lightning swinging her arm to 'throw' out a spell. On the other hand, Physical attacks tend to be very well telegraphed, usually precluded by the enemy walking up to you. Blocking is the far less risky option in such cases. It is not often where Interruption is a key strategy in defeating an enemy.

However, there is a single fight in Hard Mode that depends entirely on Interruption to defeat a monster. Bhunivelze+ starts the fight in its Spirit Form. Wings of Destruction acts as a preclude to his strongest attacks in this Form, where Dancing Mad is highly likely to kill you once executed. However, Wings of Destruction has a Keep Value of 95. This means that if set up properly, Lightning will be able to stop Dancing Mad from ever happening by stopping him from channelling Wings of Destruction. The first way to weaken the attack after Wings of Destruction is by Staggering it, but there's an easier method that involves getting Lightning's Cut to 100, interrupting Wings of Destruction so that he can never ever use those special attacks so that you can finish him before he can ever switch into his very dangerous Physical form.

The most direct method to get a large increase in Cut is to apply a combination of effects that cause the enemy to take double 'normal' damage. Imperil adds 0.5 to the Elemental modifier, and Deprotect adds 0.33 to the Physical modifier. The resulting Damage modifier is 1.33 x 1.5 = 1.995, which rounds to 2. Bhunivelze+ is taking 2x damage from your Physical Attacks, as long as you have Enfire.etc activated. The result is 'Yellow Number' appearing on screen as you strike him. This has the side effect of doubling the Cut Value of the attack. Most physical attacks have a Cut value of 55. It doubles to 110, but it caps at 100. Since your Cut Value is now 100, it exceeds Wings of Destruction's Keep of 95, resulting in an interrupt. Bhunivelze+ can no longer channel Wings of Destruction, and as a result, cannot use his ridiculously powerful Dancing Mad.

Final Notes

Stats are a Crutch:

While many may disagree with me, I'm certain that experienced players who know enemy attack patterns inside and out will agree with me. I will emphasise this again. Unlike other Final Fantasy Games, Combat in Lightning Returns does not depend on luck. You can avoid all damage provided that your execution of Guards is perfect. If you want a frustrating fight, try Zodiark in FF XII. Fights in Lightning Returns are challenging, not frustrating, if you bother to take the time to learn from your mistakes. Find out what you're doing wrong, change your strategy, and go back for more. There are many resources on the internet, and there are many amazing videos where execution of strategies are flawless. Keep in mind that I'm not trying to tell you to go for Perfect Kills. I'm saying that you CAN defeat any monster in the game with good timing and proper strategy.

Don't believe me? Here's a video of a Perfect Chaos Aeronite Kill by Puresoulsky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkQ606VqRcc

Take Your Time

I know that the in-game clock tends to confuse people because certain things can only be done at certain times... If you really don't want the aid of a Guide to get through Lightning Returns, I would suggest that you complete the Main Quests first before intending to complete all the Side Quests. Granted, you'll end up running back and forth a lot more, but there's more than enough time to do everything in a single playthrough. The good news is that the game auto-pauses if it detects that you haven't given a command to Lightning for an in-game hour.

Make Mistakes

You're not going to get through Lightning Returns without a few Game-Overs, even experienced players can slip up and destroy themselves at critical junctures. The good thing is that you can Save anywhere, so do Save before attempting a new encounter. Expect to make mistakes, and expect to be destroyed as you make your observations on enemy encounters. A non-Perfect Guard from a Reaver's Diving Strike still hurts a great deal. Even Perfect Guards from a Reaver's Sunder can hurt you. Learn from your mistakes, and then devise strategies and experiment to find your preferred strategy.

Save Your Game

You can save ANYWHERE. Save your game often and consistently so that you don't have to Flee from battles. On Easy, this has no adverse effects, but on Normal, it takes up an hour of your time.

Credits and Final Notes

Thanks to Minaru44 for reminding me about Outerworld. Been taking it for granted.
Lightning Returns Piggyback Guide for list of Chaos Infusions and combat mechanics.
Any mistakes in the Guide or additional advice that could be helpful to new Players should be sent to me by PM.