Many things have been said about the Final Fantasy series of late, it is a series that spans twenty years and is considered to be one of the greatest RPG series of all time. Final Fantasy XIII has been a game surrounded by mixed reviews and controversy, while some say that it was a great game, filled with interesting characters and a dynamic combat system, others claim it was an uninspired attempt to make money using the series name with a terrible linear gameplay progression and clichéd story. That was just the first game. Lightning Returns is the third and final game in the FFXIII set of games, and the one with the most changes, but did it serve as a fitting conclusion trilogy? With the game coming soon to PC, we’re taking look at the original which came or on PS3 and Xbox 360 last year.
In Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns, you are in control of Lightning, the hero most notable for her resemblance to Cloud from FFVII, in both nature and appearance. Lightning is considered to be the main protagonist of the series who initially was brought into the mix trying to save her sister from a Fal’cie (FFXIII’s pseudo-gods) with the help of other able-bodied people and she has undergone many changes since then. In FFXIII-2, she was the champion of the benevolent deity Etro, trying to protect the Goddess in an almost eternal struggle with Chaos while the playable characters of Noel and Serah tried to find and free her. In FFXIII-3, Lightning is the agent of a new God, Bhunivelze. She is called the saviour and is tasked with guiding all the lost souls to a new home as the old world is on the brink of collapse. The apocalypse isn’t a far off issue either, you are given only days before the end of the world and you must save as many people as possible.
Each day is composed of 24 in-game hours, and a day translates to an hour in real time, causing you to rush around to complete the quests and side quests given to you in order to progress, each soul you obtain through completed quests makes Lightning stronger. While there are ways to extend the time of the day (Using EP, but we will come back to that in a moment), there is no way to go back in time or reset the days you have played as you would in another such time-restricted game, so every decision you make has a feeling of finality to it. There are five main quests in the game that you are tasked with completing and with the side quests along the way, you can extend the amount of days you have in the world to a total of 13, with a hidden fourteenth day should you complete all 5 main quests and have a high enough rating from completing smaller tasks and collecting souls. The game certainly gives you a feeling of urgency and at times can be stressful as you try and reach all your goals while trying not to leave a soul behind. The game tells you that not ever soul can be saved, and while this is untrue, with the exception of a quest that you must fail in order to complete another quest, you will find that saving every soul is an incredibly precise endeavour and even letting yourself rest for an in-game hour can derail your plans.
The story is somewhat simple from the get go, you are Lightning, former champion of Etro and new Saviour working on behalf of the mysterious God Bhunivelze to save the world. You are working with Hope, who has reverted back to the familiar younger version from FFXIII, which was the form that Lightning knew him as, from the Ark. The Ark is where the souls are taken to in order to journey to the new world and it is your command centre where time is frozen, allowing you those moments to customise and reattempt old battles, even talk to hope and gain his aid for the coming day. Fresh from the endings of XIII-2, Lightning is trying to save the world and Serah, so she finds herself thrown into the fray trying to do so one person, or soul, at a time. One of the good and bad points of the story was how Lightning acted throughout the game, displaying a coldness that was far more extreme than in her XIII days where we at least knew she cared for a select few people. Her raison d’etre in the game is saving Serah and it seems like she will do anything to achieve this end. While this cuts out the normal reticence and trauma that a normal person might feel due to the events, it sometimes makes it hard to identify with her. Luckily, it is a plot point as we find out with Lightning’s exchanges with a new character called Lumina who appears at times to taunt our hero. A slight error I found with Lumina’s character was that the resemblance to Serah was discussed much later in the game which boggles the mind as she is almost a dead ringer for the missing character. The story evokes quite a bit of sympathy for our pink-haired hero as she runs through the game, seemingly without the feelings that made her who she is. I wouldn’t say the story is overly complex, a lot of the twist you can see coming but it isn’t bad just something you would come to expect considering this is your third outing in the universe. There are some nice surprises but I won’t spoil them.
Combat in this game is very interesting. The first game had the paradigm shift set up, which was visually appealing but mired by the fact that if the leader of your party died, it was game over and for the longest time, you couldn’t change your leader. In the second game, you had interchangeable leaders and your third party member was a monster that you picked up from random points. The final instalments have you fighting alone! At first, I was sceptical on this, wondering how it would work and I was blown away.
Taking a small page from one of the least popular games in the series, FFX-2, Lightning can change costume in battle, each costume has different abilities and spells, some costumes have locked abilities and spells which can aid or hinder you at some points. Each costume can be further customised with a sword, shield and accessory, but don’t let that stop you as you can even alter most of the colours of the outfits. It is called the Style-Change Active Time Battle system and the terms used are Garb, which are the unique outfits, and Schema, Schemata for plural, which are the combined garb, weapon, accessory and abilities. The garbs are scattered throughout the world, with some being quest rewards, others being given to you on certain days and a few only available from shops in various cities and hidden places. Weapons and accessories are plentiful giving you lots of choice in how you want to play the game. With the battle system, you have three Schemata that you can interchange with during the battle to rack up combos and chains and help you battle the various monsters you come across. When you are killed, it isn’t game over but you are forced to “escape” from the battle which on Normal and Hard modes causes you to lose an hour of in-game time.
In a game where time is of the essence and you don’t level up through the killing of monsters, fighting might seem secondary and the risk for loss of time due to death may seem crazy but that is where EP comes in. I mentioned EP earlier and it is very important it as is how you slow down time. EP comes with a quite a few abilities, one of which is Chronostasis that allows you to slow down time. The only way to recharge EP is by returning to the arc or by defeating monsters, so battle is a must if you want to explore the world. Not that this is a chore because I found the combat to be thrilling, even at its most difficult.
The game isn’t perfect though, the time aspect of it can be very trying, especially if you enjoy taking your time. While the game isn’t brutal with failure, failing to accomplish your main tasks before the allotted day results in the apocalypse but you are allowed to restart with pretty much all of your items via New Game Plus, it can be annoying to think that you will have to start again if you don’t move fast enough. Another drawback is the way the game makes you rush through it, especially if you want to have a better and more comfortable look around, EP can be topped up to a point but isn’t infinite so you can’t continually use Chronostasis to draw out the game indefinitely. There are various quests that are time based but there aren’t always a great deal of clues, so you can miss some of the best items in the game if you aren’t exactly in the right place at the right time and sometimes you aren’t even given a proper hint about it. There are a slew of appearances from past characters but most of them have succumbed to the dark world and much like Lightning, sometimes it does not affect you emotionally. While there are some scenes that feel like they would tear your heart out, most leave you shrugging and just waiting to continue playing the game which is a shame because I feel that the characters are some of the best aspects of the XIII series. Even though the combat has moved to a point where it seems perfect, it can be optimised at time which seems to remove a lot of the novelty. The saving grace is that most of the strongest garbs are very difficult to obtain early on. Lightning Returns does have DLC but it is not story related, only costume and weapon, so it is nice but not essential to your game although the Cloud Schema is exceptionally powerful early on.