Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

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Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the concluding chapter of the three-part FFXIII sub-series. The fact that its title isn’t Final Fantasy XIII-3 is telling in many ways as it feels more like a spin-off game than a full-blown Final Fantasy sequel.

What You Need to Know

The game begins with Lightning waking up after spending centuries in a crystal stasis. She believes the god Bhunivelze has ordained her to save the souls of mankind before the world sinks into a sea of chaos after a few short days. She is soon told by returning character Hope that helping the people in her world will restore Eradia to a tree called Yggdrasil that in turn will extend the amount of time she has left to complete her god-given mission.

The game then opens up to the player and you’re given the responsibility of completing enough main missions and side-quests within the allotted time to see the story through to its conclusion.


What’s New?

Seasoned Final Fantasy players will notice a lot of differences between Lightning Returns and other games in the series. The game is very open-ended and you can tackle most missions and side-quests in any order you choose. Gone are the narrow corridors of Final Fantasy XIII and in their place are four large, open areas – two cities and two rural locations – that give you the freedom to explore them from top to bottom with few impediments along the way.

Lightning Returns’ battle system is also a slight departure from the other two FFXIII titles. You can still stagger enemies and use familiar abilities such as Aero, Dispel and Attack against them, but this time Lightning generally fights alone and you can move her slowly around the battlefield which comes in handy when you want to unleash an area attack.

What’s the Same?

If you’re familiar with the Dressphere system from Final Fantasy X-2 then you should feel right at home with Lightning Returns’ battle system. You can switch between three ‘Schemata’ during a single battle which are essentially different outfits imbued with unique abilities and buffs. Each Schema can be assigned its own weapon, shield, accessories and up to four abilities that are mapped to the controller’s face buttons.

During battles you’re forced to constantly switch between your available Schemata as the ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge associated with each one depletes as you use your abilities and requires some downtime to recharge.

Another gameplay mechanic in Lightning Returns that may be familiar to veteran gamers is its time-based exploration and quest system. Certain parts of the cities Luxerion and Yusnaan are controlled by gates that only stay open during specific hours, while some quests have a time limit. Thankfully you can sleep at inns to advance time to an hour of your choice but since time is such a precious commodity in Lightning Returns you’ll need to think carefully about how to structure each day’s activities.

You’ll Enjoy Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII If You Liked…

… The Shenmue series. Shenmue and its sequel both used a similar time mechanic to Lightning Returns, with certain businesses and areas only opening up during specific hours of the day.

… Final Fantasy X-2. Lightning Returns’ Dressphere-inspired battle system and emphasis on clothing the female lead character in occasionally skimpy outfits draws obvious parallels between it and FFX-2.


What I Liked

– 5.) It’s great that Lightning Returns features completely new environments compared to FFXIII-2 which recycled many locations from Final Fantasy XIII.

– 4.) Square Enix clearly had some very talented artists working on Lightning Returns as the art, character and costume designs are every bit as good as in stand-out Final Fantasy titles such as FFVII.

– 3.) There’s no shortage of quests in Lightning Returns and MMORPG fans will find a lot to like in terms of the way many of these missions are designed.

– 2.) The game’s graphics really push the limits of the Xbox 360 and it’s fair to say that most RPGs on the console don’t look nearly as polished as Lightning Returns at its best.

– 1.) Just like the other two FFXIII titles, Lightning Returns’ user interface is exceptionally well laid out and there’s a treasure trove of story, character and quest information to mine if you go looking for it in the menus.

Favourite Moment

I was fighting a boss battle early on in the game and it felt like I was a bit underpowered to defeat it. It got right down to the wire, however, thanks to a few potions and Curaga spells, and the elation I felt when the enemy finally bit the dust made this tense battle of attrition a very memorable one.


What I Didn’t Like

4.) The first hour or so of Lightning Returns feels a bit overwhelming as all sorts of complex gameplay mechanics are introduced right on top of each other.

– 3.) The game’s beautiful CGI cut-scenes are very compressed on Xbox 360 due to the console’s DVD disc format. I would recommend playing Lightning Returns on PlayStation 3 if this kind of extreme compression is an issue for you.

– 2.) There’s quite a bit of slowdown in geometrically complex areas of the game’s world that breaks your sense of immersion and makes the controls feel sluggish.

– 1.) I found it difficult to relate to or care about Lightning Returns’ airy-fairy plot. All the talk of gods and souls and characters fighting their inner demons for hundreds of years flew right over my head for most of the game.

Least Favourite Moment

One of the main missions in Lightning Returns tasks you with exploring a labyrinth in the Dead Dunes area. I found this section incredibly frustrating and tiresome due to its maze-like corridors and all the locked doors that only open during certain time periods. This mission made me feel like I was exploring the claustrophobic dungeons of Final Fantasy XIII once more – a step backwards for the general pacing of Lightning Returns as far as I’m concerned.

What’s Extra?

There are a lot of quests and conversations you’ll probably miss on your first playthrough so thankfully there’s a New Game+ option that allows you to retain your battle parameters and most of your equipment as you start the game’s story and mission cycle all over again.

Playing through ‘Hard Mode,’ meanwhile, gives you access to stronger garbs, items, shields and weapons along with more challenging areas and boss battles so there’s an incentive to really get to grips with the game’s battle system and work out a sound strategy for defeating the most deadly beasts in its world.

The Bottom Line

Lightning Returns certainly isn’t an essential entry in Square Enix’s premier RPG series, but if you’ve played the previous two Final Fantasy XIII games then you owe it to yourself to bid its memorable cast of characters a final farewell in this concluding chapter.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was reviewed on Xbox 360

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