Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Review (It really is over, right?)
Breathes in…..sighs….. “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.” That is real dialogue folks. Not only did I say and do those things as I started writing this, but when I bought the game, when I first popped the game into my Xbox 360, and when I beat the game.
Isn’t Final Fantasy XIII great? No, seriously is it? I really have no idea anymore. I remember being so entranced by the previews back in 2007. The detailed and realistic look of the characters, the stunning scenery, and what appeared to be a mixed battle system of turn based, real time strategy, and action combat were all very intriguing to me. Then I got the game, and I was initially impressed. The battle system was new and exciting. You had to be quick thinking, giving the battles a sense of urgency despite its turn based roots. The scenery was as stunning visually as its previews lead on. The story was a little confusing at times, but nothing I couldn’t grasp. Heroes become servants to demi-gods and heroes defy logic and destiny to change their fates by killing said demi-gods. Final Fantasy stuff, right? I beat the game after a month of working and it felt good. Satisfying, even. Like I accomplished something. Fast forward to February 11 2014 and I am simply exasperated and exhausted with this particular era of the franchise. After Final Fantasy XIII-2‘s obvious cliffhanger ending into the third and (hopefully) final Final Fantasy of the 13th installment, the only thing that kept me going at this point was the fact that I made it all the way here. I felt obligated to finish it.
In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the end of the world is approaching in 8 days. Lightning is charged by God as the savior of humanity who can rescue the souls of the living and bring them into a new world that God created when the old one is over. Lightning cannot change the fate of the world, but she can delay it by saving as many souls as she can. If she is successful she can push back the end as far as 13 days, but no more. Now this concept was intriguing and made the game seem like every action you made would have an affect on the longevity and the events of the game. To my dismay, not really, there are just 5 main quests and each gives you an extra day. Kind of a let down, but nothing major. The main quests were cool and they had a couple of awesome boss fights so its okay. You can unlock a secret 14th day by completing a certain amount side quests but its basically just an extra side quest and nothing major or game changing in terms of story or reward.
Completing quests makes you stronger. Each quest will give Lightning stat boosts to her HP, Strength, Magic, and other traits and abilities, eliminated the traditional method of leveling up. Which is pretty neat and gives you a very natural sense of growing stronger with each completed quest. Instead of experience points you grow stronger by actual experience within the game. However, with only five main quests that can be completed at anytime that can leave a few days of pointless searching and, most of the time, very mundane side quests that do not add anything worthwhile to story and overall experience of the game. The battle system isn’t all that different from the other games, but with Lightning being the only party member enemy parties are small and rarely do monsters reach the enormous amount of HP found in the others games. The battle system is very centered around discovering and exploiting different enemies and important bosses weaknesses which gives every new enemy in the game a steadily increasing challenge level without emerging the player into anything crazy too soon. The changing of costumes and being able to customize the abilities of each costume is a lot of fun too, but the limited number of abilities doesn’t leave much for creativity. The outfits themselves however are very detailed and fun to collect and yes, of course there is a school girl outfit, with cat ears no less.
Lightning Returns takes place in the dying world of Nova Chrysalia, a four area world that is all that is left before the end of it. There are the two cities Yusnaan and Luxerion and the enormous sandy ocean of the Dead Dunes and the vast wilderness of the Wild Lands. Luxerion, though a bit gloomy, is a charming town where you’ll find people peacefully living out the rest of their lives before the end of the world while Yusnaan is a bustling party town where people live their lives to the excess while they still can. Both towns are very scenic and fun to explore. The ever expansive Dead Dunes and Wild Lands also provide seemingly endless opportunities to explore for hidden quests and treasure in order to make you stronger. Its the most open Final Fantasy world since probably the Playstation 1 games. This is definitely Lightning Returns greatest strength though one thing that does bring it down is the recycled use of music from the previous games and lack of memorable newer additions to the soundtrack. This is Final Fantasy after all where the soundtrack is always a huge part of the gaming experience.
Bringing us to the characters. Let’s face it. Lightning was never really the most interesting of characters. She’s almost a female carbon copy of Cloud. She’s a strong silent type outside, but an introverted mess on the inside. Which is unfortunate, because she’s probably the deepest character in the this particular story next only to maybe Snow Villiers. In the previous game, Snow Villiers was hard to take seriously with his goofy overly-optimistic attitude and his hero wanna-be personality. However, in this game he takes on a darker grief ridden personality that is a very welcome change to his persona giving him more depth as a character. It also helps that his emotionally tense boss fight is probably the most memorable moment in the game. However, the rest of the cast is very dull and have a very hard time making the player believe in any sort of emotion, passion, or urgency in their roll in the end of the world. Plus, Vanille is still very very very annoying.
So is Final Fantasy XIII as a series overall great? I still don’t know really. Lightning Returns might be the weakest of the three though. Its battle system is very challenging and fun to master, there are welcome changes in story, characters, and game elements, and its open world is simply stunning to look at. The game suffers from so much more, however; a recycled soundtrack, a decreasingly interesting story, one dimensional characters, wasting too much time on too many boring side quests that could’ve been made up for with more main missions, and yeah that’s enough I can’t take anymore. This game has its great ideas, but it was so poorly executed. That alone could sum up the whole Final Fantasy XIII series in a nutshell. If you’re a fan of Final Fantasy like me, you will probably play this game and want to like it. Maybe you’ll even actually like it a little bit, but then end up having that familiar feeling you’ve had for pretty much every time you’ve played a Final Fantasy after maybe seven, nine, or ten. There really hasn’t been a great one in a very long time. Alas, but I remain persistent in the belief that one day this series will achieve its former glory. Final Fantasy XV looks amazing and I can only hope that it holds up instead of crashes down like when I first anticipated XIII.