Review: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Is Flashy With Little Substance
Lightning Returns is the final act of the Final Fantasy XIII series. The final foray into the Fabula Nova Crystallis is a frustrating one, as will be described below.
- Worth The Time?It's only worth your time if you're a fan of the trilogy of games.
- Things LovedWhilst the game may be visually dated, character and enemy designs are colourful and inventive. The music is a joy to listen to in Lightning Returns and is of the quality found in previous Final Fantasy instalments. The music helps to bring the world of Lightning Returns to life, adds tension to battles and makes the CGI scenes all the more dramatic. The CGI scenes are a sight to behold and Square Enix really knows the ropes of putting great music and scenes together in perfect harmony. The battle system with the Schemata mechanic, three garbs with customisable magic, physical attacks and defensive manuveurs, weapons and equipment attached, helps to streamline combat. Action is fast-paced and when the system is working it becomes a real-time, almost hack-and-slash, affair that is quite satisfying.
- Things HatedWhen the game opens up, the experience can be somewhat endearing, but this is hampered by bad design choices. The game bombards you with endless time limits on sidequests that force you to keep to a schedule, rather than encourage exploration of the "open world" (which it is not really) and leaves you with little breathing space in the game. The narrative comes across as melodramatic and the cast of characters are gruelingly cheesy to the point of absurdity. The characters are hard to relate to, and the story itself is contrived. Visually the game feels dated and Lightning Returns doesn't appear to push the boundaries of the hardware of the previous generation of consoles. Problematically there is also a vast difference in the challenge between normal and easy modes, with normal being horrifically more challenging than easy.
- RecommendationIf you're a fan of the Final Fantasy XIII saga, you should definitely give this one a try. But for hardcore JRPG fans this should be a miss. The game lacks coherence within its basic design, and is a disappointment in a number of areas, as mentioned above.
- Name: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Square Enix, tri-Ace
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Price: R660
- Reviewed On: PS3
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is set five hundred years after the ending of the previous game. Lighting, the main character in the first game and a key character in the second game, has now awoken from crystal hibernation, thirteen days before the end of the world. She is tasked by Bhunivelze (who she refers to as God) with the role of being the saviour of the world, making a promise to return as many souls to the tree of life Yggdrasil. The worlds of the two previous games, Gran Pulse and the Unseen Realm have been combined to form Nova Chrysalia. Two opposing religions dominate this landscape, that of: The Order of Salvaion, who worship Bhunivelze, and the rebel cult called the Children of Etro, who worship the Goddess Etro. Nova Chrysalia is divided into four regions each with a different setting, these are: Luxerion (the capital of worship), Yuusnaan (the capital of pleasure), The Dead Dunes (a desert area with relics) and The Wildlands (the last bastion of untamed wilderness).
All of this is contained within a semi-open-world that you can explore as Lightning, but more about that later. The story itself is complex if you have no understanding of the previous games in the series, but also feels par for course as a JRPG. The narrative suffers from being mundane, melodramatic for its own sake and it is a laboured experience in the long run. On top of which the narrative is contrived and is more like a Spanish telenovela than anything else.
The cast of characters from the previous games do make a return as well. Hope (now with the appearance of a boy) aids Lightning on her journey via a communicator. Snow, following the death of Serah, his fiancee and Lightning’s sister, chooses to become the leader of the Yusnaan and opposes Lightning. Vanille gains the power to hear the voices of the dead and becomes a saint. Noel, from the second game, has become a vigilante due to his own guilt following the events of the second game. Lightning Returns mysteriously introduces a new character named Lumina, who is the splitting image of Serah, and taunts, and aids, Lightning throughout the whole game. The cast of characters are gruelingly cheesy to the point of absurdity, and it’s very difficult to relate to any of the characters. Characters in a JRPG can be simple, even fitting within tropes if it suits the narrative structure, Ni No Kuni and Tales of Xillia did that and they had a far better cast of characters.
This time around the world is supposed to be open world allowing Lightning to freely explore the world of Nova Chrysalia. You can of course explore towns, different environments and complete NPC-given sidequests. However, Lightning Returns imposes time limits on most sidequests and with grinding against monsters in order to increase stats still very a much a necessity, you only have a range of hours to complete a sidequest, fight some monsters and collect loot. This is due to Square Enix’s insistence on having an in-game clock which runs at a faster rate than real-time. Of course Square Enix are trying to emphasise the urgency of Lightning’s mission to save humanity within the time limit of seven days, which can be extended to thirteen days if you save a number of NPC souls via sidequests and main story quests. But in order to complete sidequests you need more time, which requires you to complete a greater number of sidequests. This restricts your exploration of the world drastically. Plus if you are in the middle of completing a sidequest or other such activity you can be immediately halted because you’ll be teleported to the Ark, a place where Lightning can recuperate and time stands still, when the in-game clocks hits 6 AM. This all tends to hamper any type of journey across the world you may want to pursue, and is an irritating design flaw.
In the Ark, after completing sidequests and main story quests, Lightning gives her collected energy (a reward for quests) called Eradia to the tree of life known as Yggdrasil. In this way, you can extend the amount of days you have before the world self-destructs. Completing main story quests and quests is of the utmost importance, as Lightning gets new weapons, equipment, armor, stat boosts and the like from completing them and collecting Eradia.
With the new battle system called the Style-Change Active Time Battle system you have a combination of the Active Time Battle-based Paradigm system from the previous games and the dress sphere system from Final Fantasy X-2. Rather than stacking attacks and relying on an auto-battle mode of sorts, all of your attacks, magical abilities, and such can be mapped to the face buttons of your controller. This can be customised in your settings within the “Schemata” settings, each Schema, with a total of three, has different elements that can be changed such as the garb (costume) Lightning wears in that slot, or the weapon she uses, including her various attacks, type of defensive guard and selection of magical abilities. Some magical and physical abilities are locked to certain garbs.
The Schemata are represented by three tiers which can be switched amid battle on the fly. You could launch a Thunder-based attack in one Schema and quickly switch to a healing guard pose in another Schema by simply tapping one of the shoulder buttons of your controller. The usage of magical attacks and physical abilities consumes your ability meter (ATB meter). Generally you can use a certain amount of attacks in one schema before you have to switch to another, and allow the ATB meter to regenerate for the previous schema. If you’re playing easy mode you’ll find that your health will regenerate when guarding and following the conclusion of a battle. If you choose to play on normal you have to rely on recovery items to heal yourself in the heat of battle. Monsters you encounter will also be far more challenging than on easy, and it is recommended to play on easy because normal can be an unforgiving challenge that can easily ruin the experience. It is another design flaw on Square Enix’s part that distracts from the other positives the game may have to offer. The difficulty is especially apparent because Lightning no longer has a party to support her.
You can avoid enemies like in the previous games because the world is open to a degree, but staggering is still very much important. You can reduce an enemy’s health by attacking first and can decrease their health by nearly 20% if you’re lucky. To stagger the enemy in battle you have to usually identify their weakness and exploit it, with an enemy being susceptible to a number of magical weaknesses or perhaps a flurry of physical attacks. In battle, you can use various Eradia abilities called EP abilites such as Overclock which slows down time and allows you to “overclock” your attacks without the ATB cost and cause massive damage to an enemy in a short period of time. EP abilities outside of battle include Chronostasis which freezes time for a short period, and allows you to finish a quest within the parameters of a time limit for instance, another EP ability allows you to teleport to different locations in the world. You, however, only have a certain amount of EP, so you have to choose wisely how you use them. EP only regenerates when you return to the Ark at 6 AM. The battle system is fun to master, but is not without its issues. You have to constantly customise your Schemata depending on the monsters you encounter, and you cannot do this in the middle of battle. If you encounter a creature you’re unprepared for you can be royally screwed. If you had an increase in Schemata slots this could perhaps be remedied.
Visually the game is dated and doesn’t push old-gen console hardware as much as other games that have come to us at the end of a console generation. Certain areas of the world lack polish, and certain creatures and characters appear bland to the eye. This is disconcerting considering the amount of money that has been put to use in the development of the Final Fantasy XIII saga. On a positive note, Lightning Returns isn’t shy to show off a bright colour palette with enemy designs and in Lightning’s costumes, and having the ability to customise Lightning’s garbs is novel. The CGI cut scenes are as always top notch and are easily one of the highlights of playing the game. The audio design is impressive as always, particularly with the musical score and Square Enix proves that they are no slouch in that regard. Yet the voice acting is a mixed bag with some voices being terrible to listen to. In terms of online functionality, the game has a rewards barter system where if you send screenshots to other players and complete challenges you can get rewards and unlock costumes, and other in-game items. But this is a novelty and doesn’t add to gameplay sufficiently. Ultimately, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, in sum, is a difficult JRPG to recommend.