Written by Joel Loynds
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is yet another jolt from Square Enix’s defibrillators at trying to bring the XIII series to some kind of life. It’s almost become some kind of Frankenstein’s monster at this point, something that just wants to be loved but no one can see past the ruined potential and hideous face it bears with it.
The game sees Lightning do just as the title says, with a much more simple story than the last two. In thirteen days, the world will end and after being designated “The Saviour” by God, with the promise of doing it’s work for the return of Lightning’s sister Serah, (SPOILER ALERT: if you’re not up do date in the series, jump to the next para. NOW. -Culture Ed) who died at the end of the last game.
I’ve never been a fan of the story in the XIII games, it’s always massively and overly complex and downright confusing. Lightning Returns tries to fix some of these issues, but the result is once it does start properly explaining stuff, is a story that’s not even worth it. Hugely melodramatic and horrifically written is just par for the course of the series now. This isn’t to say there’s not some cool moments in the story, but usually these come in the form of the smaller side quests or when it does happen in the main part, it’s always squandered in favour of the ridiculous fantastical nature.
One of the biggest problems just lies with Lightning, who on paper – a soldier who has to deal with getting to grips with everything going on – should be a great character to see have this arc over three games. Instead, they draw her further and further out by making her this God-like-figure. They even wrote out her emotion. No, I’m not joking. By making the character one dimensional, I just lost all interest in the story even more so.
However, Lightning Returns cuts a ton of fat from the gameplay. Combat is similar to the previous entries, with you unleashing attacks in hopes of ‘staggering’ an enemy and dealing even more damage. This time round though, instead of having a party, you’re given three different ‘schemata’ to customize to your liking. The different garbs you acquire give different abilities and you can attach the collected powers to increase attack or magic, or add a guard ability to save yourself from harm.
It’s far more involved than the last two, with you constantly switching between the schematas in battle to allow the others to recharge and it almost – almost being the defining word here – accomplishes this fast paced, frantic action in battle.
I say almost, because the stagger system and most battles still require a ton of guess work. If you don’t figure it out the first time and run into that enemy again and again (which you will, because they continuously respawn), you’re just going run into some bother.
But combat alone can’t save this game, so in place is a time mechanic. It really brings across the feeling of this world at the brink, with this panicked atmosphere of trying to accomplish as much as possible before it runs out. It never goes too far in any direction though, with time seeming to freeze during big story intervals or being too lax by giving an abundance of options to delay the countdown. What I didn’t appreciate was the new “EP” meter, which can be helpful in battle by curing or bringing you back to life, but it’s used to quick travel around the world too. Being penalized for something most games now have as a basic function feels backwards and you wind up wasting time finding trains to move about the world.
That XIII art style is in full force here and I still do love it. It’s this vibrant, futuristic look with a hint of classical flavour thrown in. It’s a shame that the game runs as smoothly as a thrown bin bag; it’ll fly through the air right, but the only thing still going is the empty tin of beans.
With a hobbled together feel throughout, side quests that are “go here, fetch this” the whole way through and a main quest which follows that pattern, the game follows it’s story to a tee: it’s falling apart.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was supposed to be that ending. The one to see them off. Instead, we’re given this clinical, fan-service driven game with most of the old problems remaining. For a game about souls, it’s ironic that this soulless.Tweet