Review: Lightning Returns – Final Fantasy XIII / Developer: Square Enix, tri-Ace / Publisher: Square Enix / Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 / Release Date: Out Now
Of all the gaming failures to be released in the past few years, Final Fantasy XIII is easily one of the most confusing. Harshly criticised for combat changes and extreme linearity, the news it was getting sequels was truly a surprise. With XIII-2 improving upon a handful of aspects, there was some hope that Lightning Returns might have turned things completely around. Unfortunately it’s as bad as ever.
Already infamous for an atrocious storyline and poorly defined world, this final chapter does the impossible, managing not only to be utterly predictable, but also being so bafflingly poorly presented that you can barely grasp onto any grounding facts. The story’s staging is actually fine, but the problems lie in the execution. It’s so ham-fistedly horrific and the narrative twists so laughably ludicrous that it is near impossible to follow or take seriously. Combined with Ali Hillis’ deadpan delivery of atrocious dialogue, and you’ll be having Metroid: Other M flashbacks before the first hour is done.
So the story is as bad as can be expected, what about the mechanics?
Having undergone a major overhaul, the mechanics contain some of XIII's basic set-up with new elements. The much improved combat system is most welcome among these, Lightning’s ability to switch between classes turning the fights into rapid, tactical brawls. With bars limiting the number of attacks you can make per outfit, you must choose when to use which attack as you fight on the move. With added customisation and differing stats, this ensures that the battles are a dynamic experience. Despite an attempt at turning the combat into fan-service roulette, it ultimately serves as a superior version of the Paradigm Shift system.
Unfortunately the same praise cannot be given to the other elements. The quest-based experience system encourages repeated replays of the game. Combined with limited numbers of days and certain opportunities to be found in each one, you need to start again and again to complete everything. Unfortunately this element is badly mishandled. Along with giving you more time than you possibly need to complete sub-quests en masse, there is still the issue of grinding with so many missions boiling down to fetch quests.
There’s also no story or discovery to be found in new choices upon replays. So it pales in comparison to Final Fantasy VI, Star Ocean: Second Story, and even LoZ: Majora’s Mask! The latter even handles the replay mechanic better than this game at every turn.
If you want a good Final Fantasy experience, return to games of yesteryear. Lightning Returns gets the combat right, but nothing else. With a story this poor the series will only benefit from being rid of her. Don’t waste your time or money with this one.