Thursday, 13 February 2014

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Back in the day I was a huge Final Fantasy fan. Final Fantasy VII was my first, and I remember racking up 250 hours on my first play through. If that wasn't enough, I also managed to play and finish it 6 times, with my shortest play through being around 120 hours. So yes, I loved that game, and my fascination with the series only grew as I enjoy the following titles as well as the previous games in the series.

Despite what I believe was a misstep with Final Fantasy X, I thought the series hit its peak with Final Fantasy XII. It was a game that not only departed from the turn based combat system of the series, but also ditched Tetsuya Nomura as the character designer, a designer that seems to now solely rely on belts and spiked hair as his trademark. But then came Final Fantasy XIII, a game that had the Tetsuya Nomura trademark all over it. Soured by awful characters, terrible dialogue, tedious gameplay and a corridor ridden game world, I wasn't a fan of the game at all. Its sequel, simply named Final Fantasy XIII-2, tried desperately to address the issues of linearity some fans had with the previous game. It tried that and it failed, and ultimately delivered a mediocre experience. Now Square Enix are trying for the third time to convince us that these characters deserve our attention. But does Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII address the problems of the previous two games, or does it just get worse? A little bit of both, actually.

Developed by Square Enix and soon to be released for Xbox 360 and PS3, Lightning Returns is yet another attempt at unloading the water that is sinking the boat known as the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. First off, if this is your first game in this trilogy, you'll have zero idea of what the hell is going on. Then again, I played the first two games myself and was still utterly confused to the point of frustration. But don't get me wrong, it's not confusing because it's a multi-layered story based on in-depth deep lore, no, it's just confusing because it tries to be.

There's abstract dialogue that sounds like it comes from those particularly embarrassing Anime's some of us used to watch, cut-scenes that just drag on forever, cameos of characters that were in the first two games but look exactly like every second NPC and so many references to terms such as fal'Cie and I'Cie, that you brain will most likely just turn off. Needless to say, the story here is just your typically standard JRPG affair, and ultimately doesn't amount to much. All you need to know is that to prevent the end of the world, Lightning must complete certain quests within 7 days of game world time.

The best change up in the trilogy is the fact that Lightning Returns is now open-world. Whereas some of the previous titles in the series let the player explore the world via an overview of a world map, Lightning Returns brings the exploration and action right down to ground level. From a third person perspective, the player controls Lightning as she explores various large, vast regions. While the player can also hitch a ride on a Chocobo, Final Fantasy's two legged, yellowed feathered version of a Harley Davidson, most of your time within the world will be on-foot.

However, thanks to the fast and smooth controls, getting around is a breeze, and often makes for very fluid and streamlined gameplay, especially when exploring some of the game's more beautiful regions. Throughout the world the player is not only able to complete the main quest missions, but also countless of other side missions, fetch quests for the many citizens of the world, being able to chart out a massive desert, finding special items and defeating unique monsters, just to name a few. These side quests are probably the best aspect of the game, as opposed to the main story.

The combat has been changed up too, and is almost like an amalgamation of the battle systems from Final Fantasy X-2 and Kingdom Hearts. It's quite like Kingdom Hearts in the fact that it utilizes real time battles, and lets the player attack, evade or block at will. This is a nice alteration for the trilogy, and lets the player experience a more tense and personal struggle for Lightning. Yet it's also like the battle system in Final Fantasy X-2, as Lightning can now use different outfits to initiate different powers. These “garbs” can be found or bought in various locations throughout the world, and unlock various attacks and abilities such as Rapid Slash, Thunder and Heavy Guard. These garbs can also be colour customized which adds a nice extra dash of individuality to your experience.

But though Lightning Returns presents us with a visually beautiful open world, loads of side quests, a pretty fun battling system and an impressive level of upgrading and customization in one hand, in the other it gives us a world that ultimately doesn't feel very alive, a rethread of battle systems we've seen before, cringe-worthy characters and an overall experience that feels like a knee-jerk reaction to the critics. But hey, it's better than the first two, and if it's your kind of game it has enough content in it to keep you busy for ages.

Fan of Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2? You'll love it.

Not a fan of both of them? It's better than them both combined, at least.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII ends the trilogy on a relative high and nabs a 3/5, []

Denis Murphy

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII at CeX

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