Written by Twisted Ideas
The Final chapter in the Final Fantasy XIII saga has arrived. After her brief appearances in Final Fantasy XIII-2 Lightning takes center stage again. It’s a race against time to save as many people as she can before the end of the world. With major gameplay changes will Lightning Returns be enough to save Final Fantasy XIII’s image?
What is it about?
After the events of Final Fantasy XIII-2 chaos invaded the world. People have stopped aging for the past 500 years and despite the efforts of Snow and his allies they were powerless against the chaos. Lightning awakens from her crystal sleep by the god Bhunivelze. The world is set to be devoured by the Chaos in 13 days and he makes Lightning the world’s savior. Lightning gains the power to save the souls of the world and bring them to the Ark in the final day to the new world. Bhunivelze promises, that her sister, Serah’s soul will be among the one’s saved if she can complete her mission.
The battle system has gone through a major overhaul. The paradigm system has been replaced with the schema battle system, a modification to the job system.
You are can switch between three schemas freely during battle. Schemas uses its own ATB equipment and abilities and recharages when idle. Abilities are your main actions and are used freely as long as you can pay the ATB cost. Stagger returns but in a different form. Instead of a numbered meter it’s now a wave. Each attack has a certain amount of stagger damage and time and in combination with enemy specific conditions will stagger enemies. Staggered enemies will either be defenseless, take more damage or gain debuffs.
Each schema must be customized with its own Garb, weapon and shield and two optional accessories and four abilities. Most equipment has various bonuses and occasionally drawbacks to play into certain strategies. Garbs change Lightning’s appearance and usually have one or two set abilities of the four slots and sometimes an auto-ability.
Outside of battle there will be an in-game clock representing the time of day and the days remaining. Time does not pass during battles, menus or conversations. Certain events only occur during specific times of the day. You will have access to the four regions of the via train. Trains run off schedules and takes in-game time to reach its destination. At 6 AM Lightning will have to return to the Ark to heal, resupply and to mark the start of the next day.
You will have to complete the main quests to extend your time to reach the final day. If you fail to do so you will have to start from the beginning of the game but with most of your items and equipment. There are also various side quests to complete. Quests are the only way to permanently raise stats preparing you for the stronger enemies of the game. There are traditional side-quests which involves you finding the person in need and Canvas of Prayers which are quests that or found on a board near train stations.
Enemies appear randomly on screen in most areas. Preemptive attacks reduces their HP by 10% or 25% depending if they’ve seen you. If you’re hit you will lose 5% of you HP. HP does not recover after battles anymore requiring the use of limited healing items, EP abilities food stands andand you only have a limited amount of healing items. You have to play more conservatively. If you escape a battle due to a loss or willingly you lose an hour of in-game time.
EP is energy that you can spend in and out of battles. It can allow you to heal, revive and attack. The most useful EP abilities allow you to slow down and stop time as well as teleport to certain areas without time passing. Battles and starting a new day are the main ways to restore EP.
How does it look?
It’s difficult to tell unless you look at the games side by side but Lightning returns looks much better than XIII-2. The CG cutscenes look on par with some next-gen games. The in-game graphics still don’t look near as good as the CG they are considerably better than XIII-2. Lightning does have some subtle yet impressive animations. She will spin down poles, roll or brace herself from jumping from heights, push-off or walls when moving away from them and shift her weight while sliding down sand. While it doesn’t add to gameplay it’s the small things that make it better to watch.
There are dozens of garbs. Most are forgettable but some are stunning. You can also customize the colors if you want. All your equipment are visible inside and out of battles. However, when your weapons are holstered they aren’t attached to anything and they clip through Lightning and other objects during scenes. NPCs are also distracting during scenes. Sometimes when you’re in a conversation NPCs will walk in front of you or straight into you unable to avoid.
How does it sound?
Several of the best tracks return with some various mixes. Other than that all the voice actors reprise their roles and the sound effects makes you feel like you’re at home if you’ve played the first two games. There is a lot of dialogue that occurs after scenes while the in-game time is running. It happens frequently but if you’re in a hurry then you’re probably interrupt it. Also Hope really needs to stop talking so much about obvious things like having to heal or go back to the Ark.
What do I think?
I do enjoy Lightning Returns but I had a hard time playing it for long stretches. It’s hard to tell what the game wants you to do. There’s an unhappy balance with the game mechanics that makes them frustrating. Fortunately, the in-game time limit is very generous. You can complete the main quests with days to spare. By the time you do most side-quests you will be waiting for the final day instead of race towards it.
The game is non-linear but there isn’t a natural progression of your strength. You only level up through quests but the main quests, which seem the most urgent, may lead you to areas or bosses outside of your means to win.While some main quests leave you with several hours of free time to do side-quests some require knowledge of the regions to complete them quickly. It’s also difficult to tell how much +4 Attack effects battles.
Most battles are made to be winnable but probably at the cost of resources and health. Battles can be quick or take long depending if you can stagger or more importantly you can take advantage of enemies weaknesses. You’re not always going to know what enemies are going to be susceptible to especially in new areas. Fights feel like they need to be dealt with on a case by case basis. Some fights go better with fast, single targeting abilities while some are better with higher costing area attacking abilities. You can only have 12 abilities during battle. You can have good broad coverage but there are times where you are missing something specific. Since escaping costs an hour you have to take your losses win or lose.
Garbs and customization aren’t well thought out. There are so much equipment and abilities but you won’t use most of them. You’re probably going to stick with the equipment with the best obvious benefits throughout the game. Most garbs are redundant; Some are specifically made to replace earlier ones. Since there aren’t restrictions of what abilities work with garbs you can make most operate identically. You may switch garbs more frequently but only a few in the game are made to be special.
It’s very easy to underestimate the potential of equipment or abilities but it’s hard to tell how much a difference it will make. Debuffs are the best example of this. XIII and XIII-2 you never had to worry about what debuffs were actually doing because the AI would throw everything that worked. There are so many Debuffs but you only have 12 slots. I couldn’t tell you if defaith is better than deprotect but I’ll stick the one I’m more familiar with for convenience.
The story still has issues (the weird imaginings of gods and their concepts of time) but the writing is improved. Lightning’s story is simple but has a lot of layers. She’s on a righteous mission but she questions Bhunivelze’s motives. Major players intervene and make her see things differently but also questioning their motives.
The main quests do a good job of encapsulating the key events of the series and the time in between XIII-2 and Lightning Returns. They only mention the most important points with the as much detail as necessary. We don’t get long-winded explanations of Fal’cie or Cie’th or Hope’s mission to save cocoon because they aren’t factors in this game.
The side quests helps paint the world in where people are ageless and life can only die. The tone is quite different and surprising in some cases. Most people are very accepting of the end to the point where people celebrate everyday despite the fact. Some of the best ideas come from the idea that children never look older but still mature and how long a person can keep a grudge. It is odd that only because of Lightning that people can solve their problems despite sitting on them for hundreds of years.
Should you get it?
Lightning Returns tries to satisfy everyone by changing a lot but not perfecting most things. I think it’s a good game and it has a fair amount to offer with New Game+; However, the series has been tarnished by its missteps. It’s hard to know who to recommend Lightning Returns to. Fans of the series are already going to buy it. People who hate it but love Final Fantasy are probably going to buy it because they don’t know how to speak with their wallets. It feels like Square-Enix is trying to draw in more fans with the final game in the trilogy. It is the most approachable game in the trilogy and boils down the first two games into their essence. While Lightning Returns wasn’t my favorite in the trilogy nor do I think XIII or XIII-2 were bad games, I would recommend you start with Lightning Returns as it save you from listening about people’s feelings for hours.