After years of waiting, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII makes it to North America/Europe and marks the conclusion of the Lightning Saga trilogy. Does Lightning make her triumphant return to the franchise, lifting it up to its former glory? Or does the game crash and burn, ending one of the more divisive series in the franchise with a whimper rather than a bang?
Lightning Returns is the successor of two previous games: Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2. In Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning and her party members tried to save the world of Cocoon, which resulted in both the characters of Fang and Vanille becoming crystallized. In Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lightning, instead of becoming the main character once again, is downgraded to the supporting cast in favor of Serah and Noel. In this final episode for the series, Lightning is awoken by Bhunivelze and he tasks her to save as many souls as she can before the world of Nova Chrysalia comes to an end in thirteen days.
To save souls, Lightning, with the help of Hope via wireless communication, must go through a lot of sidequests. If anybody has played the recent Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, they know how quests work in the game. Both the sidequests and main quests act in place of gaining experience points, as there is no traditional leveling in the game. Instead, these nab Lightning stats boosts and gil (the in game currency) which will help her greatly in the main overall quest. The money can be used to purchase adornments, weapons, items, and etc to help lightning accomplish her goal. Failure to complete quests results in a soul not being saved, and so no Eradia, a substance used to gain time with the tree Yggdrasil, can be gained. Eradia helps Lightning gain days (up to thirteen) before the return of Bhunivelze and the world’s end. Time is a precious commodity in Lightning Returns, and it’s necessary to use it wisely. Lightning Returns is an open world game, and she can take any quest on from the 2nd day onward, in any order you wish. Once Lightning has completed any of the sidequests, the quest giver will give Eradia which will help Nova Chrysalia extend its life by another day, which originally only has 6 days left when Lightning starts her first day. If those quests weren’t enough, there is the Canvass of Prayers, run by returning character Chocolina. These quests mainly have Lightning collect items from battling monsters. Unlike the sidequests given by people, the Canvass of Prayers won’t contribute Lightning anything but stats boost/adornments.
Given of the nature of the open world in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning can actually complete all of the 5 main quests within the 6 days, but without proper preparations, expect to die a lot. Yes, even normal enemies can kill Lightning if the player isn’t careful. There are 3 modes in Lightning Returns: Easy, Normal, and Hard. Hard is unlocked when the game is complete or Lightning can’t extend the world life to 13th day, which results in game over. Lightning can die when she fights enemies but you have options. Instead of getting a game over screen, you can choose to use either a phoenix down or an arise spell, which will cost 3 EP. If neither of those is an option, the game allows players to escape the battle, which basically returns Lightning to her conditions prior to the battle, but with the cost of a 1 hour penalty to the clock (this is disabled in the Easy Mode).
Lightning can dwell on the surface (Nova Chrysalia) for 24 hours, but once the clock hits 6 AM, Lightning will return to the Ark. The Ark acts as a base for Lightning in order to prepare her for her next day’s adventure. Time is stopped while Lightning is in the Ark. Hope also resides in this Ark. Other than giving advice to Lightning during quests, Hope’s function in the Ark is to sell potions and such to Lightning. Instead of Gil to buy items from Hope, EP act as the currency in Ark. Once Lightning is in the Ark, any EP she used on the surface will be replenished to its full amount. EP is essential in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII as they can rather give an advantage either when Lightning wants to stop time temporarily while she is on the surface or when she encounters a monster in battle. Players can also participate in previous boss/Last One battles while in the Ark in order to improve the player’s score.
Usually, I won’t be distracted by appearances in a game, but in this one certain visuals somehow managed to irritate me. In any previous Final Fantasy, NPCs were detailed in their appearance, depending on what engine the game was developed on. Sadly, this wasn’t the case in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, as the NPCs look like they belong more in a PS2 game, but somehow managed to sneak in to Nova Chrysalia on the PS3. I hadn’t noticed them on the demo, but in the full game it’s a disaster. Maybe in the demo we weren’t having a conversation with an NPC, hence the camera wouldn’t have focused on the NPC. Conversation between Lightning and NPCs can be a little bit awkward, especially when some other NPC bumps into either the NPC or Lightning, disrupting the minimal movements that were made to ensure the NPC faces Lightning. I thought this problem was only on Final Fantasy XIII-2. Maybe SE thinks about realism when making it that way. To that I answer them with Ali Hillis favorite line for Lightning, “Right”. Conversation with Hope also can be classified as awkward as while Lightning traverses through the town, Hope holds a conversation at the same time about the quest, but when Lightning suddenly has to battle a monster, the dialogue abruptly stops. When the battle ends, the conversation continues at the next line, not before it is disrupted by battle. Because Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is all about time management, player can’t stop and just stand there to hear the conversations and of course players can’t go to sightseeing into the world of Nova Chrysalia. In that sense, save your journey often, especially after Lightning goes into battle in the Chaos Infusions zones. In a Chaos Infusions zone, monsters are a lot stronger compared to battling them outside of the zone. Chaos Infusions are randomly generated throughout the field. On the bright side, Lightning will gain improved multipliers after the battle’s end.
Although the story isn’t on par with The Last of Us or Bioshock Infinite, the gameplay in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is quite fun. Because Lightning acts alone in the game, she can switch between classes, called Schemata and imagined by various garb, to gain advantages in battle. All garb comes with one or two abilities so Lightning will have to get extra abilities to fill the face buttons for each schemata, either from a treasure box or from battling monsters. The outfits can either be bought from a shop or won as a quest’s reward. Lightning can only equip up to three schemata and these can and need to be changed during battle, as your ATB gauge depletes as you use abilities and attacks. Although Lightning can acquire up to 70 different outfits, only 7 can be used as a reserve schemata in addition to the 3 equipped. Another unique element to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the way bosses are handled. Except for one boss, all of the bosses can be upgraded to another version, depending on which day Lightning encounters the boss. Additionally, Lightning can make normal monsters extinct by battling the Last One. The Last One is a buffed-out version of any of the monsters found on the surface.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII brings this story to a close. While not a terrible game, as it has its fine points, it still isn’t up there with the best games that the Final Fantasy franchise has brought us in the past. If you’ve enjoyed the Final Fantasy XIII games, you’re bound to enjoy this one. If not, this won’t win you over.
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