Lightning Returns (2014) Review

Posted: June 14, 2014 in Console Games, Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,
Rating: 4-5
EU Release Date: Feb 14, 2014 (for Xbox 360)
Total play time: 69:56:00 (Normal Mode)

I have entirely mixed feelings about this game – and the XIII series as a whole. Final Fantasy XIII began with a great story, but practically no gamer input required. XIII-2 was better on gameplay but didn’t feel like a sequel and Lightning Returns… Well, the trailers looked great, but I just didn’t enjoy it.

So, it’s the end of the world (again) and Lightning has been chosen by God once again to save the world. And forget about the Fal’cie from XIII and the goddess Etro from XIII-2. This time she has been chosen by Bhunivelze the real top god. In thirteen days, Bhunivelze awakens and creates a new world for humanity. The trouble is, the world ends in six, destroyed by the Chaos that flooded in from the unseen realm at the end of XIII-2. In order to get humanity to the new world, Lightning has to extend the time world has left by saving souls of the surviving population. Save enough should to reach day thirteen and you win… sort of.

This is where the game started to get annoying. From the very beginning of the game, you’re on a timer, with a few seconds of real-time for each minute in Lightning’s world, Nova Chrysalia. While there are ways to halt the flow of time temporarily, it’s not always practical and sometimes not possible, since it uses EP (this game’s version of XIII’s TP: points that let you use special moves). At the end of each day (6am game time), you get taken to the Ark – what’s left of Hope’s artificial Cocoon. Time stops in the Ark, thankfully and your HP and EP are restored. You also hand over Eradia, the energy released by saved souls that restores time to the world. Save enough people and you gain an extra day.

It seems pretty straight-forward. I travelled the world, saving anyone I came across. However, several times, when I went back to the Ark, I hadn’t earned any more time. I earned another day on day two but then it wasn’t until day six that I earned any more. From then until day eleven, I always had only one day left and was never sure if I was going to survive or not. If you don’t make it to day thirteen, it’s game over – and potentially fifty hours of your life wasted. You start again from day one, repeating everything you’ve done. That was the biggest turn-off in this game; I never felt like I was winning.

With this losing feeling weighing on my mind, I didn’t spend time exploring the world. The time limit put me off. It’s another great flaw in the game. Final Fantasy has always been about exploration, discovering hidden treasures and little gems. Lightning Returns is actually packed with them, from the one man bands of Yusnaan and street musicians of Luxerion to the items scattered all over the grassy Wildlands and the Dead Dunes, where you can also find  the remains of Pulse heavyweights. There’s just not enough time to appreciate them. This is a game where every second counts.

Battling a beast (Image from Miguel_Concepcion)

Of course, the game has many great features as well. The Command Synergy  (now “Style-Change Active Time Battle”) battle system has been dramatically overhauled and vastly improved. Gone are the days when all you had to do was hit auto-battle and the computer would do the rest. Likewise, the paradigms are gone and in their place are schemata. The schemata work by combining garbs, accessories, shields, weapons and abilities to enhance Lightning’s stats. In a single schema, it is possible to have four abilities, meaning that you could use abilities that previously would be available only by switching through SAB, SEN, COM and RAV paradigm roles – useful when you’ve only got Lightning. The garbs also allow you to customise Lightning’s look, with over 100 different outfits to choose from. The new system takes a while to get used to – but it makes the gameplay far more engaging.

As for the ending… well, it rounds the whole story off nicely. All those loose ends from the other games get tied up in a very graphically pretty bow. The last cutscene is definitely worth all of the heartache of getting there (and take it from me, that last battle is a toughy). Sadly, the only post-game is New Game+, but you keep (nearly) all your gear and can go again in Hard Mode, which is a far more relaxing experience, since that awful “am-I-winning?” feeling is gone.


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