Lightning Returns after a deep sleep – 500 years to be exact – and she’s quickly given the role of the Savior of Mankind. God has stopped the aging process of humans for centuries, but now in thirteen days he will return and start the world anew. Lightning is tasked with retrieving the souls of as many remaining humans as possible, in exchange she will be able to see her sister Serah again. Oh right, Hope is not only a records manager on the Ark but he’s returned to his child form from FF XIII.
I’m not even going to pretend like I understand what this game is trying to achieve with its story line. Over the course of 500 years, everyone that Lightning has ever known has turned into a madman. Snow is a power hungry madman filled with angst, Noel has a grudge with Lightning based off of a prophecy, and some little girl is attempting to tempt her away from God. It’s an inflated mess that exists to serve one real purpose… fetch quests.
As the Savior, Lightning will move about an open-world and speak with random citizens about their problems. She will spend the majority of her time running around finding items for them in hopes of retrieving souls to extend the time limit. That’s right, there is a rather long time limit in the game that spans over 13 days. Lightning will have to save the world before 6 am, when she’s forced to return to the Ark and spill the souls out in preparation for the next day.
Finding souls amounts to most of the side-quests in the game, while the Main Quest focuses on following the convoluted story to the end. There are points in day where the Lightning will not be able to advance the storyline until more time has passed, which gives Lightning a few hours to run around and help people or kill monsters for Chocolina. Luckily, if side-quests aren’t really something you’re interested in. You can head to an inn and skip to the appropriate time needed to advance the Main Quest.
Unfortunately, some of the main quests act just like the Side-quests do. They’ll have our heroine trailing cultists, or speeding about a city looking for glowing numbers on a wall. It’s all very similar to how something would happen in an MMO, except without any of the other players helping or getting in the way. Actually, that’s not entirely true… there is a network system where players can send items, leave messages, or take snapshots of their time spent in Lightning Returns. It doesn’t do anything special, but at least it’s an option.
The idea of a time-limit in my Final Fantasy game was slightly confusing, the system reminds me more of one of the Atelier titles or Rune Factory. I’m no stranger to time-limits so that didn’t worry me, but I realized immediately that I wouldn’t be playing a traditional Final Fantasy title right off the bat. This is made obvious by the strange equipment system named “Schemata.” Lightning’s fighting style is linked to the clothing she is wearing, and she will receive bonuses and even abilities based off the clothing.
Weapons and Shields still exist for increasing damage and protection, but learning to properly equip garb sets is what makes or breaks a combat situation. Equipping a Schema with skills tailored to its success is in Lightning’s best interest, because the wrong setup will get you annihilated rather quickly by strong opponents. Combat in Lightning Returns is different, and almost alienating from what people have come to expect from previous titles.
It functions like an action-oriented RPG, but features none of the quirks from them. Players are placed in an arena when fighting enemies, and hold down buttons to string together attacks until the ATB bar is empty. Once that the ATB is depleted, players will use the L1 and R1 buttons to switch to a different garb and a new power-set. Combat in Lightning Returns is all about learning the weaknesses of opponents and staggering them into submission. Battles are either too short, or much too long… at least until you’ve gained more powerful abilities.
My main problem with the combat system is that it was just plain boring. I didn’t get why I was holding down buttons to make my attack, or guard, or anything else the game threw at me. I wanted it to be a bit more like the Tales series and allow me to get down and dirty, but unfortunately it took all the fun out of my hands and went for a cinematic approach. The longer the battle would play out the more bored I would become, and eventually I just wanted to get to the next part of the storyline.
It’s a good thing that a majority of this title looks visually appealing, but some of the environments themselves are drab and uneventful. There are some areas with a fantastic sense of design, but then there are others that are just downright ugly. I have a mixed opinion about the NPC’s, I feel that the variety of clothes they wear helps them to look different than the last one. It’s not until you get up close to the faces that you get a peek at what a generic person looks like. The sound design is what really saves the title, it has a fantastic score and impressive voice acting… it’s just too bad that the storyline itself is nonsense.
I reviewed this title by request, and I’ll admit that I suffered a bit for it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of XIII X-2, but I still enjoyed it enough to keep playing. Lightning Returns makes me drowsy the longer I play it, and the story is so out there that I can’t find a reason to even advance. Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns receives two stars out of five from Geek Citadel. I think it would have been better of Lightning never returned.
*This game was provided by the publisher for review*