Lightning—pun intended—returns once again to finally put a stamp on the Final Fantasy XIII story. Developed and published by Square Enix, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII serves as the epic conclusion to the divisive mainline entrant to the Final Fantasy franchise. Furthermore, it officially makes Final Fantasy XIII the only Final Fantasy game to ever get a trilogy. As the third installment in the series, it offers a fresh and dynamic take on the familiar world of Gran Pulse. However, what now seems to be customary to the particular series, Lightning Returns also has its major flaws that ultimately led to several disappointments.
In this article, we aim to take another look at the first third entrant to any Final Fantasy game ever, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Is it good? Would Final Fantasy franchise fans be well off without it? Is there really a need for a third Final Fantasy XIII game? Well, let’s take a closer look at all that below.
It Tries Its Best; However, Unnecessary
The narrative of Lightning Returns serves as the culmination of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. It ties up loose ends and offers closure to the series’ characters. The story of the game focuses on the titular character, Lightning, as she’s tasked with the mission to rescue souls and guide them to a new world before the impending apocalypse. Furthermore, the narrative delves deep into complex themes such as fate, sacrifice, and redemption, providing a thought-provoking experience…for some parts.
As much as Square Enix tries its best to connect the rest of the cast with us gamers, it just doesn’t work, honestly. Yes, there are times when the story of Lightning Returns is engaging and thought-provoking. However, most of the time it is just way too confusing. It’s as if the harder it tries to incorporate deep themes, such as the ones above, the more convoluted the plot becomes. This creates a cycle of confusion that not everyone will have the stomach for. Even I, a self-professed Final Fantasy diehard, had a tough time piecing the plot developments together in this game, let alone the whole trilogy.
That said, what worked for me is Lightning’s personal character development. It may just be the game’s strongest point. In all honesty, I fell in love with Lightning as a character even before Lightning Returns. In fact, she’s the only character in the whole Final Fantasy XIII trilogy that I cared for! This game successfully made that feeling even more profound. Lightning’s growth and transformation as she confronts her inner demons and battles against impossible odds is what kept me playing. If not for it, I could have just easily put my controller down and never touch this game again.
Lightning Returns: The Ticking Time Bomb
Lightning Returns features a significant departure from the traditional turn-based combat system of previous Final Fantasy titles. Instead, it introduces an action-oriented battle system, allowing players to actively engage enemies in real-time combat. The Paradigm system from the earlier games has been replaced by a customizable Schema system, enabling Lightning to switch between different outfits, each with its unique abilities and attributes.
The combat mechanics are fast-paced and dynamic, providing an exhilarating experience. However, the lack of party members and the focus on solo combat may disappoint fans who enjoyed the team dynamics of previous installments. The time-based structure of the game also affects the gameplay, as players must effectively manage their time to complete quests and progress the story, which adds an additional layer of strategic decision-making.
The game’s overall gameplay system may be serviceable and all, but yet again, it does something unnecessary to bring it all crumbling down. In Lightning Returns, you have an ever-present countdown timer until “The End of Days.” Basically, players have a certain amount of time wherein they must finish the game. Failure to do so will result in a Game Over. Worst case scenario, it may just waste your entire playthrough.
Indeed, such a divisive gameplay system worked wonders for other games. Take, for example, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. However, Lightning Returns’ version of it just doesn’t seem to work. Instead of adding tension to the overall story and creating a dynamic of crucial time management for players, “The End of Days” system just makes everything a chore. It basically discourages players to take on side-quests and make the most of the game in constant fear that they could waste a playthrough.
Visuals and Sound Design Good; Technical Issues and Glitches Bad
If there is one thing this game has it going for it in strides, it’s the visuals and sound design. Square Enix always makes it a point to push the limits of the hardware the current landscape of gaming is on to its limits. They successfully did that with Lightning Returns. The environments in this game are superb, and it is atmospheric enough to make you believe that it is really set in a breathing, living world. Furthermore, the character designs are immaculate. Lightning, in particular, is at her best in this game. Her visuals here are arguably among the greatest the Final Fantasy series has to offer relative to the time period.
And don’t get me started with the soundtrack. True with most Final Fantasy games, the soundtrack in Lightning Returns is also magnificent. Composers Masashi Mauzu and Naoshi Mizuta hit it out of the park with their perfectly complementing melodies that enhance the game’s overall setting and tone. Their musical compositions range from haunting tunes to epic orchestral pieces that truly make your blood flow. All these serve to add depth and emotion to the game’s crucial story bits and encounters.
However, as much as the visuals and sound design try to elevate it, the technical issues and glitches pull it back down. Lightning Returns suffer from occasional graphical glitches and various technical issues. While not game-breaking by any means, they can still hinder the total enjoyment of the game. These hiccups can detract from the overall experience and undermine the game’s visual splendor. Which is a shame, really. It was perhaps the only great thing about this game, but it is still plagued with issues.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII – Conclusion
Guilty as charged. I did not like Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. In fact, I may just have bought it because I want to see Lightning finish her story. Perhaps I just want to have a complete set of Final Fantasy games. Nevertheless, I don’t necessarily regret buying it. I just believe there are better things that I could have spent my money on. You can applaud this game for making brave approaches, but sadly, they don’t connect on most of it. Ultimately, give this game a shot only if you’re like me and want to see every Final Fantasy content. However, if not, then spend your money somewhere else. Perhaps go on a fancy date instead.