I have always been a huge fan of the Final Fantasy franchise. Ever since playing Final Fantasy X as a teenage I was hooked on the series and now own every numbered title (and their prequels and sequels) to date, as well as a few spin-offs. I even enjoy the much despised Final Fantasy XIII, and I enjoyed it's sequel even more. But Lightning returns didn't quite grab me as much as the other two. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did, just not as much. Let's find out why...
Lightning Returns takes place 500 years after the events of XIII-2, Lightning has awoken from her Crystal slumber is is no longer a Goddess, but instead is "The Saviour", a personal servant of "God" (or rather, the God in their world, Bhunivelze) who has recruited her to do his bidding. TIme has stopped for everyone and the end of the world is nigh, with only 13 days to spare, Lightning has to race against the clock to save as many souls as she can before the final bell tolls. All the while having nothing to go on but a promise from God himself that he will bring Serah back to life if Lightning fulfills her end of the bargain, and they can live together in peace in the new world he creates after the destruction of this one.
At it's core, Lightning Returns is more of Legend of Zelda type action-RPG than a traditional Final Fantasy. The game consists almost entirely of doing quests to earn Eradia to extend the time you have before the end of days. The main goal is to complete all 5 story quests before time runs out, but doing so is nigh impossible without doing a ton of side quests as well, as that is the only way to increase your stats. The problem with this is that the game isn't always very clear on exactly what you have to do next and it is very easy to get lost. On that same note, it's very easy for players to accidentally stumble upon enemies, or even bosses that they are far from ready to face at the time. If you have plans on playing this game, I highly suggest a strategy guide of some kind. Especially if you want to do everything possible before the days run out.
The story of Lightning Returns is somewhat of a hit an miss. While Square Enix has always been known for making games with convoluted plots, Lightning Returns really takes the cake here. While the main focus of the plot is essentially thus: gather souls, save Serah, watch the world die; the rest of the game seems to be littered in sub-plots revolving around Lightning meddling in the affairs of people too lazy to solve their own problems. The game does revisit old friends, few of which seem to be doing well, and expands on a small story for each of them as well, but as far as plot goes, these are the only times where the story really shines. Aside from that it's basically a repetitive cycle of fetch quests. Although, without spoiling anything, I will say that the ending finally gives some closure to a trilogy that seemed to go on forever.
Lightning Returns is the exact opposite of FFXIII in terms of linearity. The game is very open world with two big cities and two huge wilderness areas to explore. The gameplay consists mainly of running around looking for quests to complete in between story missions. These quests often times consist of gathering items, defeating monsters or taking part in some awkward disagreement between friends or loved ones. All the while you have Hope constantly calling you to discuss the events you literally just saw, or to remind you that it's almost 6am and you need to return to the Ark. That got old real quick.
But where LR truly shines is in it's battle system. Lightning is a one-woman-army this time around, with nothing but a set of schemata and varying weapons and abilities to keep her alive. While you do eventually get two party members throughout the story, they are restricted to one particular area and one of them leaves after completing a certain story mission anyways. Lightning is mostly on her own, but it's ok, she's prepared.
You can equip Lightning with different garbs that have varying effects on her stats, such as attack, magic, HP and whatnot. It's like a mixture of the dresspheres of Final Fantasy X-2 mixed with the Active Time Battle system of all other entries in the series. On each garb you can equip a weapon, shield, accessory, adornment (if you're feeling creative) and 4 different abilities, one for each of the buttons on the right side of the controller. Some garbs have abilities pre-loaded onto them and they cannot be removed. The essential idea for battles is that you perform attacks on the selected garb until your ATB bar runs out and then switch to a different garb, rinse and repeat. Now, this sounds ridiculous in theory, but it actually works quite well, and battles run very smoothly. After awhile you find that there is a certain strategy to be had and learning where and when to switch schematica is the key to winning. It's essentially a simpler version of the paradigm system from previous games.
One thing I thought was interesting was that you can cause monsters to go extinct if you kill enough of them. After they're all gone but one, that Last One, as their called, will show up as an all-pink, stronger version o his fallen brothers. Defeating the Last One of any species causes them to drop a rare item, which is often a weapon with ridiculously high stats.
As far as graphics go, I'm not usually one to weigh in on this, but I've always thought the previous games looked impressive given the PS3 and 360's limited hardware, and LR is no exception. the only complaint I have is that a lot of the time during conversations, NPCs will rudely just walk right into you and your conversation partner, causing them to pace in circles while talking to you.
Overall, I was happy with LR, but if I'm being honest, it's not a game for newcomers of the franchise, and probably not one for those who are hardcore nostalgic about the older games either. But I enjoyed it for what it was, it was nice to finally see the trilogy end, and especially on a good note.
My Rating: 7/10