Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII almost seems like it would be a better side story, not the end to a trilogy.
After all, how many trilogies do you see scraping key battle mechanics to try something completely new at the end? Imagine if Master Chief gave up his gun in Halo 3 and went around fighting everyone in hand-to-hand combat. It’d be a huge change for those used to his previous entries.
However, before we get too involved in the combat system, let’s do a quick recap. Players that try to jump into the series now will undoubtedly get confused, as the game starts right where the end of the second title left off.
The game does do a nice job with tying up many storylines, though. Gamers that have stuck with the series from the beginning will be able to get a nice end here that will finish the FFXIII trilogy for good.
As a quick overview, the world is 13 days away from ending, and Chaos has taken over. The God of the world has recruited Lightning to be the Savior, rescuing as many souls as possible to restart a new world once the current one is over.
During your quests, you’ll meet new characters along the way. The bigger interest, though, is meeting the characters you’ve gotten to know from the previous games and see what has happened to them. After all, you’ve experienced their trials together, shouldn’t you also see how the journey ends for them.
The journey with Lightning will be different than before, though, thanks to the new battle system. Gone is the team paradigm system. Instead, Lightning battles alone with three outfit sets called Schema.
The Schema can be switched in and out at any time during the battles. Each outfit also has its own ATB bar, which is drained by using spells and skills that can be equipped. Battles quickly become a flow of changing to a Schema, running the ATB bar to empty and switching Schema out to recharge ATB.
However, just randomly switching Schema to keep attacks up will waste your ATB more often than not. Instead, you need to learn your enemies weaknesses (viewable with RT) and see which Scheme has the right abilities you need to stagger them. It then becomes a game of exploiting the weaknesses and keeping the attack up until the weakness can be exploited again.
The outfits that give unique stats and abilities are quite various in the game. They can be bought, found or obtained in quests. They also range quite a bit in the look, from dresses to almost nothing there to armor and more. One thing I noticed is that some of the end-game armor with huge abilities seemed to have been the skimpier pieces, and I never did find other outfits with the abilities that could be replaced.
Besides setting the outfit, weapon and shield, four abilities can be equipped, as well as being able to change the colors of an outfit. This lets perfectionists get their dream outfit to run around in.
One thing to note is that talking about the battle system and experiencing it are two completely different things. The system has a big curve early on, even on easy difficulties. Attacks that you may think will be key to use may be completely useless quickly, forcing you to constantly go to the menu to change and get the right attacks for the area.
The hardest thing for me, though, was watching for the block times. Enemies give off cues for when you should block (if you have a block equipped). Even once you get these times down, it can be hard to get the perfect block or even get a block in at all if you’re doing a combo. Add on fighting multiple enemies at once and a camera that can sometimes fight you a bit in battles, and blocking gets that much harder to get down.
Once you get over the learning curve, though, you’ll find a great battle system waits. Honestly, it could have been put into a brand new game and I’d have enjoyed it just as much. It’s a risk/reward system that makes you think about what Schema to use when to get the best attacks before switching off.
The system isn’t the only thing to change in the game. Traditional leveling up is also out the window. Instead, you’ll gain health, strength, defense and more by completing main quests and side quests. This is great later on when there are plenty of quests to do. Early on, though, you’ll find yourself sorely wanting more to make things a bit easier.
Getting away from the combat system, it’s worth noting that Lightning Returns is a fairly open world. Besides completing main quests, there’s really nothing keeping you from exploring the four lands and getting new sidequests. Nothing except the clock.
Since the world ends in 13 days, there’s always a clock counting down until the end. When you start, there aren’t a full 13 days. You actually earn more days by completing quests and saving souls, but you’ll never have time to just wander and enjoy the world.
This may be my biggest problem with the game. It’s one of the most open games in the series, yet you can never take everything in to enjoy it. A new game plus mode to take the timer off just to complete all side quests and relax with the story would have been great, but it’s lacking here.
Another annoyance is Hope’s “helpfulness.” Every day at 6 a.m. you’ll be teleported to the Ark to talk and get an update, which can kill any kind of questing you may be doing. Hope also talks quite a bit throughout the title, sometimes droning on longer than needed.
If you do run out of time (dying in battle just costs you time), don’t worry. There’s a New Game+ that allows you to retain items and abilities, but quests will have to be redone.
Graphically, the game looks great in the background, but some building and NPC close-ups can look a bit rough. Meanwhile, the sound in the game is top-notch. The music is great and varied in each land, and voice action is great as well.
- Game is a nice open world title.
- New combat system has good flow.
- Music is great in the game.
- Combat system has steep learning curve.
- Timer really limits exploration.
- Teleporting out each day can hamper questing.
Overall, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a good ending to the trilogy. Sure, there may be some rough edges and frustrating parts, but fans of other XIII titles will still enjoy seeing the end of Lightning and co. The game is honestly worth a look for the battle system alone. It may be hard, but it’s still enjoyable to experience once you get a feel for it. Lightning’s adventure may be over, but hopefully the combat system makes a return in the future.