Having played every single Final Fantasy game prior, including the old NES and SNES versions like Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, it was only natural I wanted to check out Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. I keep no secret that I actually quite enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII and upon hearing of the imminent release of Lightning Returns, I was quite excited to be able to play it!
For those of you unaware, Lightning Returns is the direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII-2 and the third instalment of the Fabula Nova Crystallis series. As typical of a Final Fantasy game it was developed and published by Square Enix for both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. It was initially released in Japan in November 2013 and released to Europe and America this month.
Without giving away too much of the story, the setting for Final Fantasy XIII Lightning Returns is roughly 500 years after the ending of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and follows Lightning. After being the main protagonist of Final Fantasy XIII and a key character in Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lightning returns from a self-imposed hibernation with only thirteen days left to save the world from the impending doom. Within this time she must save the people of this dying world, including her former allies. You’ll meet some new faces as well as many old, established characters, each with a very detailed back story who all get their own part to play in the story as it unfolds.
The game leads in with some tutorials to familiarise yourself with the play style and battle mechanics. They do this by immediately throwing you into some battle tutorials, where they explain how each of the controller’s face buttons will do a different action and which skills you will need to defeat your enemies. You’re also introduced to switching between different “Schemata” (or battle styles) and how each Schemata has a separate ATB (Active Time Battle or ability point) bar to use the above abilities. If you run out of your main ATB you can quickly switch to a new Schemata and start using that one whilst the other recharges. It’s a fairly intuitive system which keeps the flow of battle going and is incredibly quick to get a handle on.
Sometimes offense isn’t always the way to win and in the second encounter, the game gives you a general run down on how the Guard System works and how to successfully guard against incoming attacks. This can be achieved by either by continuously holding the Guard button or timing it perfectly to deflect even more in an awesome parry style ability. This is definitely a system I’m quite fond of and can see it improving much over the previous titles, at least on a personal level.
Further on, you will come across other tutorial systems that also help further explain the game. How to buy Recovery Items, how to use them, when to use them etc. You’ll also eventually come across your first multi-enemy battle and you are taught how to switch between enemies whilst managing to keep an eye on both. This feature is very handy for later on and can turn the tides of a difficult fight. One of the next lot of tutorials is an introduction to “Staggering” an enemy. This is an incredibly important tutorial to follow as it will teach you how to target an enemies’ weak spots or how attacking them in the opening between attacks will “Stagger” them. Learning and figuring out what monsters are weak to what attacks is a great way to help with your battle experience.
Once you’ve successfully learned how to stagger an enemy, you can then check it at any time during battle by opening “Libra” or in-game bestiary. Most of the Libra’s fields will be blank on a first encounter with an enemy, but additional data will appear during combat, and on subsequent meetings. When an enemy has become staggered, not only do you deal a LOT of damage but new opportunities to attack present themselves. Make sure you experiment with different techniques against different foes to learn their weaknesses.
It is general knowledge that every Final Fantasy game contains very in depth menu systems and Lightning Returns continues the trend. The game’s Main Menu consists of quite a few items. Recovery Items are listed here which display a full list of items to recover your health etc. Quests lists your Main Quests and any Side Quests you come across, as well as listing each Quest and the details/story behind it. Your inventory is split into multiple sections, Garb (Clothes/Armor), Weapons, Shields, Accessories, Adornments, Abilities, Components, Other Items and Key Items which are all fairly self explanatory – use and equip as necessary. The Map shows your current position as well as your Quest locations etc, fairly stock standard here. The Datalog on the other hand is full of information, and is split into multiple parts which allows you to read up on a LOT of different Lore relating to Lightning Returns.
Each menu has a separate Sub-Heading that has even more information, including ‘Primers’ which are essentially tutorials in scripted form and Characters giving a full explanation on each of the Characters that play a part in the game. This should be a big hit for all Final Fantasy lovers as they can delve into deep levels of the lore and character abilities.
The characters this time around definitely do feel a little more fleshed out than previous games, however like Final Fantasy XIII, I just can’t find myself ‘liking’ Lightning. She’s a bad arse character for sure and fits in incredibly well with everything, but as an actual ‘lead’ character I don’t find myself caring for her like I have cared for previous protagonists in other Final Fantasy games. Your Cloud Strife’s, Squall Leonhart’s and even side characters like Biggs and Wedge are definitely more likeable when compared to Lightning. Regardless, the voice actress has still done an amazing job as always and it fits quite well for the setting of the game.
After having played through this extensively and noting the differences between both the older Final Fantasy games as well as the previous 2 titles in the Fabula Nova Crystallis series, I am thoroughly impressed with the changes to both the gameplay as well as the battle system. If I could add additional critiques about the game, it would be preferable to see this title on next-gen, as seeing a Square Enix Final Fantasy game on an Xbox One or PS4 would simply look phenomenal.
If I had to give a gameplay critique, it would be movement, it still feels odd. Not bad mind you, just an odd movement system that feels a little clunky at times. The system used in Final Fantasy VIII felt more smooth and fluid. This by comparison which is almost identical to the previous FFXIII games, just feels off slightly. I can’t put my finger on why exactly but it’s definitely the biggest fall point for me.
I can see myself definitely playing through this in its entirety and even going back to the previous two games to see what little bits of information I may have missed the first time. All in all, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a thoroughly enjoyable game, especially for anyone who is a Final Fantasy fan.