TFF Review

Review: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

The world of Nova Chrysalia: bruised, battered, broken. This is the world in which Lightning wakes from her crystal slumber. For five hundred years, Lightning has lie in wait as the realm she once knew disappeared. There are six days left until God - perhaps more familiarly known as Bhunivelze - destroys the remaining husk of humanity’s folly and builds the world anew.

Lightning Returns
Tick tock, Lightning...

The introduction of a doomsday mechanic stacked with Lightning’s role as God’s personal savior generates a small level of panic almost immediately. Fortunately for Lightning, she quickly discovers that the impending apocalypse can be stalled by harvesting the good will of thankful souls, ready to be whisked away into the next life. By completing main quests, side quests, and Chocolina’s Canvas of Prayers (notice board) quests, the citizens of Nova Chrysalia will unknowingly grant Lightning their souls to be carried through to the other side. By design, the doomsday system gives users a reason to charge headlong into the wind while still granting the ability to roam freely. Spend too much time without doing anything productive, though, and the darkness at the end of the tunnel closes in. On more than one occasion, I sat back and thought to myself, “wow, I just wasted an entire day. I’m going to lose.”

Like its predecessors, Lightning Returns suffers from a slow start, in spite of its climactic beginning. The story takes a couple of days on the game clock before it sincerely kicks in, but it has a fairly large hook by the start of day three. Once rolling, the urge to move forward to discover what comes next plays perfectly into the doomsday mechanic. Lumina, the semi-antagonist revealed in the early stages of the game, seems to hold all of the cards. Her motives remain unclear throughout Lightning’s journey, as she switches from helping to hindering and back, embodying the very nature of the Chaos around them.

Lightning Returns
And then stuff like this happens, and you feel unstoppable.

Graphically, the game is a mixed bag of tricks. My first thoughts when the opening cinematic began to roll were “wow, this game is bloody gorgeous.” This should hardly be a surprise given Square Enix’s track record in this department. Right up front, players are treated to glimpses of people from Lightning’s past scattered about in their day-to-day lives, all in jaw-dropping beauty. Throughout the game, however, the character models appear to suffer a bit of inconsistency. Little details like odd shading issues or hair disappearing in a polka-dotted manner may not seem like much, but they become increasingly noticeable as you spend more time adjusting your various schemata. There are also periodic camera faults; swing too close to a wall and all you can see is the sky, or round a corner too fast and you find yourself turned back the way you came. The scenery is still a delight to look at - though you shouldn’t waste too much of your dwindling time doing so.

Lightning Returns
Scenery! Drastic variety between zones, despite the end of the world coming any day now...

The aural experience, composed by the trinity of Masashi Hamauzu, Naoshi Mizuta, and Mitsuto Suzuki (with chocobo themes provided by everyone’s favorite Uematsu), is incredibly immersive. Every zone springs to life with an appropriate soundtrack, as emotions flow freely through every major story event. Likewise, the voice cast does their characters justice; even many of the extras are handled appropriately, which makes up for some of the admittedly awkward visuals as the camera pans to see characters speaking away from one another. Ali Hillis’ portrayal of the characteristically “dry” Lightning may seem entirely emotionless at first, but it is not without reason; as the days progress and the plot is revealed, well… it is indeed quite masterful.

Combat is incredibly engaging once more garb, accessories, and abilities become accessible. It would be fair to look back at Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy and ponder whether that was Kitase’s genuine vision in designing this system. A steady blend of recharging ATB and flowing between Schemata forces rhythmic patterns to form as you encounter familiar enemies. I found myself generating three distinct Schema each with its own specialty. Yellow was my starting point; an HP powerhouse filled with guards and debuffs that would change based on my area. Red was my physical punisher, constantly seeking anything that would boost attack power while keeping one slot handy for a relevant elemental attack. Blue was my magical powerhouse, by far outputting the most damage of all as each of the four ability slots were lined with heavy-hitting elemental attacks, typically covering the full elemental spread. This was quite contrary to my opinion last January during the preview event when I quite literally said “Personally... if the game allows me to do so, she'll be the quintessential Red Mage, with all three equipped Styles containing a little bit of everything so that I may pace myself through the various ATB bars without ever running dry.” Good luck with that, past-tense Cesar. The subtle inclusion of a “perfect timing” boost to your combo chains and guards is certainly more important. Practice timing commands in the final frames of the previous command to maximize your effectiveness.

Lightning Returns
Lightning’s Lightning… I made that same bad joke in an Outerworld screenshot I shared. Sigh.

Many abilities are earned as loot drops from battles, but otherwise combat is mostly nonessential in this game. Lightning does not “level up” in the traditional sense; rather, most of her stats are boosted via completion of quests. I often found myself feverishly avoiding wild swings of enemies in an effort to turn in a handful of quests to the Canvas of Prayers before the clock expired on any given day, securing another day for Nova Chrysalia’s dwindling existence.

Lightning Returns is a bit uncharacteristically rough around the edges, but overall is a rather enjoyable game. Fans of the saga will be treated to a lot of closure (and a few more questions if you didn’t get the proper ending in FFXIII-2) while finally being set free to roam the world to its fullest extent. Those who faltered after experiencing the first entry in the trilogy may find enough variety in this finale to catch your attention.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII receives

4 out of 5 Cheery Moogles. Kupo!

Lightning Returns

FULL DISCLOSURE: Square Enix provided an advance copy of LR:FFXIII for the Playstation 3 for the purpose of this review.

For more information on Lightning Returns and other games in the trilogy, visit the Fabula Nova Crystallis discussion.

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