Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the final part of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. The game features Claire ‘Lightning’ Farron takes on the role of ‘savior. She is tasked with saving the lives of people who live in the doomed world of Nova Chrysalia from the caustic presence of Chaos. She must succeed in her quest if there is any hope for a new world to flourish.

The Story  *Spoiler Warning*

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Lightning Returns takes place 500 years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII-2. At the end of XIII-2, Lightning has fallen into a crystal stasis, her sister, Serah Farron, died, and the world of Nova Chrysalia became infested with Chaos, a destructive force that will inevitably destroy all life. 500 years later, Lightning is awoken from her stasis with only 13 days left before the world comes to an end. Her task, which is given to her by Bhunvelize, the Supreme God the Final Fantasy XIII world, is to collect souls to be reborn in the new world that will be created by Bhunvelize when the current world is no more. The plot plays out over 13 days  however the games starts about midway through, with only 6 days left before the end of the world.  This leaves Lighting in a bit of a bind, however, by collecting the souls, she is able to extend the game clock day by day. One of the strengths of the Lightning Returns is that the story is not just told to to you through question text or narration by the characters. This puts the player in the same mental space of the characters as you are trying to figure what is truly going on. Early on in the game there is an tone and sense that there is more going on here then what is being told Lighting. There are many questions to be answered about the Final Fantasy XIII world that need to be addressed in Lightning Returns. The main question is, “What happened to Lightning, the other cast members, and the world while she was sleeping?”For the most part, these questions are answered, but your main opponent to these answers is the ever present clock.

There are many enemies that populate Lightning Returns, but your main foe is the clock. While this clock adds a sense of urgency, it hurts the game story wise. There are times where you feel too rushed by the ticking clock to take the time to really dig into what is going on, instead of taking the time to clear up a few hazy points, you might simply move on and miss some key information that would help understand story of the game.

What is truly refreshing is that while Lighting Returns is a game about the end of the world, it is not a game about stopping the end of the world. This stood out the most to me. Most of the characters, and even Lightning herself, are resigned to the face the fact that the world is going to end and there is now way to stop it. Yet, where many RPG stories focus on stopping the end, Lightning  Returns focuses more on setting matters straight, repairing, healing, and finding hope even in grim times. What this change of focus also does is put more focus on the characters. This is a welcomed changed from the norm where an entire story of a game being built around one event.

One of my personal favorite moments in the story is the confrontation between Snow and Lightning at the end of the Chapter 2. Not only does this confrontation answer a lot of the hanging questions about what happened while Lightning was sleeping, but it also gives insight to how both Snow and Lightning have changed as people during that time. Another bright spot is in the third chapter. This scene explained Yuel’s connection to Caius and the events of both this game and  XIII-2.  This point in the story stands out to me because, once again, it shows you what happened instead of telling you what happened.

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Characters

The past 500 years were not kind to the people of Nova Chrysalia; people can’t age or die, no new children can be born, and the only way to die is via fatal injury or disease. The cast of the first game all return to play their part here at the end of all things. Each character has individual matters that need to be resolved; some matters tie directly into the main story of the game while others are of a more personal nature. There are a number of strong emotional sequences in the game, but, again, the one that stands out to me is a confrontation between Snow and Lightning early in the game. This encounter shows how much Snow has been affected by the death of Serah and how he has come to hate Lightning for her role as Nova Chrysalia’s ‘savior’. Allie Hillis, the actress that voices Lightning, strikes the right balance between stoicism and emotion that works perfectly in this scene. The complaint against Lightning since the first game is that she is dull; in this game, Lightning let’s her emotions show, even if they are subdued. She is stoic and sarcastic as all hell, but behind all that there is an under current of emotion that Mrs. Hillis conveys very well.

The amazing Troy Baker reprises his role as Snow Villers, though this time Snow is not as optimistic as he has been in the previous games. The long years holding back the Chaos have not been kind to him; especially after Serah’s death. The scene that stands out as one of the most emotional scenes in the game and the trilogy comes in Chapter 2. Here were see both characters at their most vulnerable state. The most interesting part of this is the reversal of positions between Lightning and Snow. Orginally it was Snow that kept his eye on a single goal, returning Serah from her crystal stasis. Now that Serah is dead, he has lost all hope and is more resigned to his fate and blames himself for her death. Lighting then steps in to pull him back from the brink but in doing so, she admits to herself that she is somewhat flying blind. It’s the hope that she will one day see her sister again is what keeps her moving forward.

Both Hillis and Baker give great preformances but the character that truly ends up stealing the show is Luminia. Not much is know about the mysterious teenage girl that resembles Serah. She appears at the oddest of occasions, sometimes taunt Lightning, sometimes help, and sometimes to just stand in the way. She has own agenda and her true intentions are hard to discern. Lumina’s taunting of Lightning serves as a way for Lightning to question what she doing. It is hard to pin Lumina down as hero or villain and that is what makes her such a strong presence in the game. Jessica Diciccio, the voice actress of the Lumina, develops her lines with a child like, playful glee but there is an unmistakable undertone of far darker intentions.

Hope Estheim is also back in Lightning Returns, but in a much smaller role. Hope acts as Lightning’s contact when she is outside of the confines of the physical world. He is in direct contct with the god Bhunvelize, and relays vital information to Lightning when she is on Nova Chrysalia carrying out missions.

The character development in Lightning Returns happens in many different ways. The characters do develop throughout the story, but not all the developments are positive. Many people throughout the world are losing hope and most have given up on life altogether. Fang and Vanille, 2 of the main protagonists from Final Fantasy XIII, are struggling to find a way to stop the Chaos from consuming the world. This is an interesting juxtaposition from first game, where these two were originally marked as L’Cie by the Fal’Cie and tasked with destroying Cocoon, one of Nova Chrysalia’s continents.

Overall, the character development of Lightning Returns is varied. Some characters hold out hope, while others allow themselves to be consumed by sorrow.

Gameplay

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Lighting Returns is built around how you manage time. This is something that I was bit leery of when the game was originally announced. A ticking clock is a tricky mechanic to pull off in a genre that is built around being able grind out long hours and explore to no end.  However, it works in Lightning Returns, but not with out speed bumps and wrinkles. At the start of the game, Lighting awakes with six days left before the end. The player is able to get time back by collecting souls. You collect souls by completing main quests and side quests.  The more quests you complete the more souls you collect. Collect enough souls and you get a day added to the clock, delaying the end just a bit longer. Each day begins at 6am and ends at 6am, giving the player 24 hours of in game time, which equates to about 3 hours of real world time, to complete side quests and further the main quest lines in certain areas. At the end of each day, Lighting is transported back to the Ark. The Ark exist outside the flow of time, and it is here that Lightning offers the souls she has collected to the World Tree and receives vital information about her progress from her companion Hope. If you offer enough souls, you get a full day of time back.  This is an interesting mechanic and was one that I was pleasantly surprised with.

Completing quests not only yields souls, but also increases core stats like strength and magic, and can sometimes yield new weapons and outfits. There are more quests than time in the day, and many quests have multiple stages, so you have to plan and manage which quests are worth while and be very efficient in their completion. You will find yourself racing against the clock many times throughout the game. Now, I understand the game is built around a sense of urgency, but in some points, it felt like I was being rushed though the game instead of gently coaxed onto a speedy trail.

Another issue that I ran into was with the mini map. Waypoints aren’t generally shown on the map, except for main quest points. This can lead to becoming lost in the 5 areas of the game, wasting time, while trying to make sense of the vague quest text in the search of NPC’s. Also, some quest can only be done a certain times of day, and there are some that are on time limit. You have to complete them after you start or you will fail. One such quest I ran across was in Luxerion involved a girl that was being chased from phone booth to phone booth through out the city. I was side tracked and advanced to the next day and found out the quest failed and the girl was dead.

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There is a silver lining though, the chronostasis ability. This ability allows Lightning to freeze time for one in-game hour, thus extending the day but not with out cost. Chronostasis, as well as other abilities, cost EP and the amount of EP Lightning has is limited but does increase as the progress through the game. The chronostasis ability is mostly used to freeze to so you can wander around and try to find quest objectives. During chronostasis, all NPCs stay active, so you can continue to further quest lines.

The Schemata system is something that I found myself enjoying and I am not at least bit ashamed to admit it.  Lightning has a multitude of different armor and clothing options available to her. However, these are not just cosmetic changes, these Schemata grant Lightning unique stats and skills. Many Schemta come with skills, spells, and stat buffs pre-equipped for Lightning. Lightning can only take 3 main schemata into battle and can shift between these three during combat. Having to choose between three makes the you really pause and think about the area and the types of enemies you will face. There was some concern about Lightning’s attire from the E3 showing of the game, but with the sheer amount and variety of Schemata in the game, that is not a worry.

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Lightning Returns greatest strength by far is it combat system, which ties very nicely into the Schemata customization. Lightning, for the most part, is flying solo in this game save maybe two occasions, and even then I found the combat challenging and frustrating in a good way. The game is not very forgiving and you will find yourself in battles that you simply can’t win without a proper strategy. There is an escape option, but it will cost you 1 hour of game time. So pick you battles wisely.

The battle system in Lightning Returns is much more active than the other games in the Final Fantasy XIII series. Lightning can move freely around the battlefield, and can also employ active blocks and attacks. Each one of the 3 schemata that Lightning is equipped with has a set ATB gauge. When this gauge is depleted, you can quickly switch schemata so you can continue your attack. This system works well and is very similar to the paradigm system from Final Fantasy XIII. It gives you the opportunity to chain attacks together easily and efficiently.

Healing in combat can be a bit of a task, you have 3 options which I do find limiting, and sometimes annoying. The first is the Curaga spell, which will cost you 2 EP and heals Lightning completely. You can also carry up to 6 healing items at the start, but that capacity can be increased via quest rewards. These items can be used in battle by pausing the game and selecting an item from you inventory. Finally there are skills like Medigaurd which can be employed in battle and replenish health.

Much like the gameplay, which is very good even at its worst, the combat system is challenging and forces players to think on their feet. Although, the complete removal of healing spells is a bit much since the combat in the game is challenging enough. One particular fight that stands out is the boss fight with  Caius. This fight had the potential to be fun and challenging, but with limited healing capability, it became frustrating and tedious. In situations like this, you will find yourself grinding side quests just build up an enough HP to sponge up the damage that gets dealt to you.

The game also features a ‘New Game +’ and ‘Atonement’ option which is for players that have not done side quests by the end of the game to over come the final boss. This allows you to start the game over again resetting quest and the game clock. When you start a ‘New Game +’ all of your items, clothing, weapons, and stats get carried over. You will also be allowed to change the difficulty of the game.

Graphics:

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Lightning Returns graphically is nothing to write home about. It’s not groundbreaking or breathtaking, what Lighting Returns does very well with the graphics is set the tone of the story.

Each area has a unique and different feel to it. Even the two city area have a feel of there own. Luxerion feels more like a Gotham City with its style and gothic influenced architecture, while Yusnaan feels more like New Orleans, with a French Quarter style and party atmosphere as the citizen look to simply enjoy their final days.

The colors are not as bright as vibrant as the previous titles, but that is actually works in the game’s favor. The dullness fits the tone of a world that is riddled with Chaos. The colors are subdued just enough to get that feel across just right.

Instead of trying to make the game look gaudy, the designers made a conscious choice to reign in the colors just enough to convey a message. The aesthetics make you feel like you are in a dying world, and the people who inhabit the world make this feeling come to life.

There are some areas of the game that are a little sketchy in terms of graphic quality, but these are mostly background elements that aren’t meant to be inspected closely. The background characters could use a bit more attention though. When compared to Lightning or any other semi main character, the people in the background look like puppets.

Summary

Lightning Returns is not a perfect game, but it does make marked improvements to the series. It is a solid installment to a series that, while having its flaws, still found a way to be an enjoyable Final Fantasy experience. I found myself enjoying it even when the game or mechanics became frustrating.

At its core, Lightning Returns is built for replay value. The clock mechanic and the number of side quests scream for players to revisit the world in an attempt to put together more pieces of the puzzle. The tedious moments take away from, but do not destroy, what I found to a an enjoyable experience.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Review
Story8
Characters8.3
Graphics7.2
Gameplay8.5
The Good
  • Innovative Battle System
  • High Replay Value
  • Plenty of Quests to Complete
The Bad
  • TIme Plays Too Much of a Factor
  • Can Become Confusing
  • Graphics Could Be Better
8Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0.0

About The Author

Chris C
Audio/Video Editor

Gamer, News writer, Hopefully novelist and all around awesome in human form.