I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Final Fantasy XIII games. I can think of a thousand things they did right, but then chunks of XIII and XIII-2 are far below the expectations we hold Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy XIII was visually stunning for its time, and it’s soundtrack remains one of my favourites, but it was seriously lacking on gameplay and ended up resembling a corridor brawler. Final Fantasy XIII-2 on the other hand offered more in terms of gameplay, but sacrificed the element of good storytelling. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII aims to deliver the perfect balance as Square Enix offers up the Final chapter of the infamous Final Fantasy XIII series. But does Lightning go out with a bang? Or will fans be happy to see her leave? (Perhaps both)
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII starts off with one of the most visually appealing cut-scenes of perhaps the series. Lightning is introduced as The Savior; chosen by the God Bhunivelze to save souls in the last 13 days of the world, and bring them over to the new world. The current world is being ripped apart by an element known as Chaos, and sadly some of Lightning’s old acquaintances have fallen victim to the chaos. It’s Lightning’s job to save as many souls as possible, whilst also discovering Bhunivelze’s true intentions.
It’s certainly the most straight forward plot of the Final Fantasy XIII series but it’s well presented. New character Lumina has a tremendous hand in keeping things exciting as she delivers many of the games twists. The only downside is that it’s only appealing to those who’ve beaten both XII games previously. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy probably doesn’t stand up well on it’s own as there are many references to the past, and plenty of returning characters.
Battles are a major aspect of any Final Fantasy experience, and in many ways the battle system can define the game itself. With Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Square Enix addresses the criticism of the Paradigm system being too simple by revamping it completely. It’s now known as the Schema system, and thankfully it leads to more fast paced and tactical battles. A complimenting feature is the ability to take photos and share battle scores via Facebook and Twitter. Though, the Outerworld Service that handles all of this can be both confusing and annoyingly slow. Regardless Its rewarding to be able to share those five star scores on an incredibly tough battle.
The Schema system can be slightly overwhelming at first, but tutorials are available to guide you through it. Throughout the game you will collect new garbs (costumes) with various statistics and advantages. You can assign the garbs to different Schemas along with a weapon and shield of your choice. You can then also map different skills to each of the face buttons, choosing skills that match up with the garbs stats. You’re then able to switch between three different Schemas in battle, each with their own ATB gauge. It’s a fun system, especially with the ability to customize the colours of Lightning’s many garbs. However, the system its let down by the design of the game itself.
Leveling up work’s very differently In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII as Lightning’s Health, Strength and Magic only improve by completing quests. On top of that, new skills and attacks must be collected, either by reward, victory in battle or discovery. This means that at times it’s easy to get stuck on a major boss if you either haven’t completed enough quests or haven’t picked up a vital skill that could help you. This is further complicated by the game’s time management system.
Lightning has a total of thirteen days to save the world, except when you start out there will only be seven days. The amount of days you have can be extended by collecting Eradia, which is gained by beating main quests. Through beating these quests you can gain an additional six days. But there’s also a catch; every morning at 6am Lightning must be returned to The Ark, which is essentially her headquarters, and this will begin the new day.
On paper the concept seems acceptable, but the issue I had with it was that it limited the amount of exploration I could do. I found it conflicting taking on numerous side quests whilst also having to wait for main quest events to start at specific times. Very often your quests will overlap with each other and you’ll find yourself losing days for being overly ambitious. It’s clear that the game designers wanted players to focus on the main story on the first playthrough and leave behind many of the sidequests for New Game Plus. It’s fine to encourage multiple play-throughs, but it’s frustrating to feel like you can’t fully experience everything you want in a single playthrough in a Final Fantasy game.
Despite its restrictions, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy is a satisfying experience and in many ways the most fleshed out of all the XII games. Final Fantasy XIII-2 introduced side quests to the XIII trilogy, but they weren’t meaningful in any way. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII however can be compared to games such as The Elder Scrolls in the sense that the side quests are fully fleshed out and include back-stories from the characters. It’s clear Square Enix invested more time in the writing this time around, as it strays far from the cringe-worthy dialogue of XIII-2.
Much of the art and character design in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy is as beautiful as its predecessors. However, it’s not hard to find bland and mundane textures in the environment. As you transition from cut-scenes to gameplay you begin to feel like the engine has become a little dated. It serves as a reminder that we’re now in a new generation and can expect wonderful things from future Final Fantasy games.
You’re not a real Final Fantasy fan if you don’t appreciate the soundtrack. Although the new scores in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy don’t match the epic ambiance of the original XIII game, you’ll be satisfied to hear some of your favourite scores brought back for certain battles. What’s more, some of the more nostalgic garbs that can be collected feature their own scores that are played after winning a battle. These are neat additions that will satisfy the die-hards.
I was one of the many who initially objected to the idea of a sequel for Final Fantasy XIII. But after playing both XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII I’m delighted that Square made the decision to expand on these characters further. Lightning in particular is one of the most headstrong (and hottest) heroes of them all, and her lead at the end of the XIII trilogy is the perfect end to the XIII lore.
The XIII games have not only been a love-hate experience for me, but they have also been the cause for many fans and non-fans downplaying the success of Final Fantasy in the past generation. Even though there’s so much I love about the XIII series in-particular, part of me is glad to see the end; because as we move towards a completely new adventure in Final Fantasy XV, gamers will begin to ease off from claiming the Final Fantasy series has lost its appeal just because they didn’t enjoy XIII. In the end, Lightning has done her job as our savior and she has in affect ushered on the next wave of the Final Fantasy phenomenon.
This review is based on a review copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Square Enix UK.