Taking place 500 years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII-2, the latest instalment in Square Enix’s mega franchise begins with pink-haired protagonist Lightning being shaken from her crystal slumber by God Bhunivelze. The heroine’s task? To save humanity from an imbalance between life and chaos which has prevented people from ageing and escalated the amount of illness in the world. As the Saviour, it’s the divisive lead’s role to save as many souls as possible before the end of time, so that they can be reborn in a new world.
As such, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is built around a doomsday clock. At the start, you have seven days to complete your task or you’ll fail, but completing main quests and side-quests will allow you to extend that time to 13 days. This countdown is constantly overshadowing your every action, putting you under a great deal of stress as you plan and make efficient use of each day in order to complete all five main story missions and as many side-quests as possible by the end of world on the ill-fated 13th day.
While it sounds intimidating, as long as you use your time wisely, it won’t cause you too many problems. Talking to non-playable characters, reading menus, and even combat all stop the countdown, and there is even an ability named chronostasis which allows you to pause the in-game clock for a couple of minutes of Earth time.
However, this is just one of the many God-like spells that Lightning possesses. Abilities such as teleportation, healing properties, and even a powerful overclock can be used in exchange for EP. This resembles a set amount of points that get reset each day in-game, but can be refilled by killing enemies or using special potions. Still, even with a vast selection of options, it’s difficult to justify using many of them due to the sheer number of benefits that chronostasis provides.
Nevertheless, the time system is well designed, and it helps augment value to every action that you take. Without a limit, it would be easy to get caught up in certain areas of the game, but here you don’t have that luxury. Consequentially, the time that it takes you to complete the title will vary depending on how you approach it, but there is a New Game + option to allow you to dive back into the story with all of your equipment intact, so there’s never any real danger of missing things completely.
As for the five main story quests, these each plot the return of characters from the previous two titles in the Final Fantasy XIII story arc. But while the developer has done a great job of explaining the stories behind these personalities, you will be rewarded if you’re up to date with the series so far. Each mission pushes to resolve the narrative started all the way back in 2010, and while it will never engage newcomers, it’s satisfying if you’ve been following it from the start.
That said, it’s the side quests that will occupy most of your time. From simple challenges like herding sheep to solving elaborate murder mysteries, the range of tasks that you’ll be required to perform is really quite staggering. The context behind some of these objectives can be a bit silly, but others are deeply emotional and emphasise the gloomy state of a world that’s coming to an end. These help to provide a convincing overall atmosphere.
However, with an enormous number of these in each city, it can be difficult to decipher when and where you need to be in order to complete each. The in-game quest tracking system is somewhat vague, and doesn’t offer many tips as to where you’ll find certain characters and monsters. This will often result in you running back and forth all over the cities, wasting precious time.
As you explore, you’ll find yourself in fights, and the combat system is built around the Schemata concept. Lightning is the only character that you’ll control during these bouts, but you’ll have the ability to switch between three different schemes. Each of these has its own Active Time Battle (ATB) bar, which depletes each time that you act. Abilities are mapped to the four face buttons and can be activated at any time, providing that you have the appropriate amount of ATB. Timing attacks perfectly results in a ‘perfect hit’, which deals more damage and increases the chances of staggering the enemy.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy XIII title without the stagger system. This time, the technique is notified by a wave over the enemy’s health bar. Build this up enough, and you’ll unsteady the foe, leaving them open to extreme amounts of damage. Perfectly dodging and attacking weak points can also aid you in your efforts.
As such, juggling between the three Schematas is crucial to defeating foes and creating an exciting flow in combat where you’ll always feel in control. Without pairing the correct garbs, weapons, and abilities together, you’ll find yourself frequently out of ATB, so it’s important to carefully plan for each major battle.
As already alluded, you can customise each Schemata with different clothes and techniques, creating more defensive or offensive options. This provides you with the opportunity to personalise Lightning as you desire, and while there are pretty obvious pairings in the game, you’ll be rewarded for experimenting with all of the options at your disposal with unique equipment sets and bonuses.
Of course, it’s possible to avoid combat entirely, as you’ll be able to spot opponents in the world. Adding to the difficulty, a chaos infusion will occasionally appear, doubling the strength of any enemies contained within it until one is defeated. As a result of this, you’ll earn better rewards for killing these powered up foes, meaning that you’ll need to decide whether you want to tackle a weaker beast to clear the infusion or wait for a more difficult antagonist to appear for even better goodies.
You may actually want to plump up for the former, as combat is a bit less forgiving in this latest iteration of the game. On the normal to hard difficulty tiers, health is not recovered between battles, and dying results in an hour being lopped off the in-game clock. Recovery items are also limited to the number of slots available, so using a potion at just the right time can be the difference between life and death.
The way that the game is structured means that getting stuck can quickly eat away at your time, and while it’s unlikely that you’ll have too many issues, there is a particular battle about halfway through the campaign that provides a massively unexpected challenge that will punish you if you’re unprepared. Considering that the title actually gets easier after this fight, it feels out of place and frustrating.
At least you won’t waste too much time getting lost, as while there’s plenty of content in the title, the world feels rather small. With only four major land masses, exploration becomes a bit of a chore once you’ve visited all of the areas. Two of the locations are extremely large open environments that take an age to traverse, while the other two are dense cities that can be awkward to navigate at times.
It doesn’t help that the title looks inferior to many of the PS3’s more recent releases. Anything outside of combat or the main quest could belong in a PlayStation 2 title, due to the abysmal textures and jumpy framerate. It’s a real shame because the character models and confined battle sequences are amazing, with beautiful skill effects and a silky smooth frame rate. The flaws feel like they’re the result of a low budget or rushed release, and while they’re purely cosmetic and don’t really impede the gameplay, they’re still disappointing.
At least the soundtrack hasn’t skimped on the series’ usual standards, with music that really brings out the atmosphere in each and every quest. Even though the audio is based on motifs from previous titles, nothing is out of place. The mixing and sound effects are less impressive – with some muffled samples and poorly blended pieces of dialogue – but everything is voice acted, so you won’t have to rely on text boxes this time.
You won’t be alone in your adventure either, as social features make their franchise debut courtesy of the Outerworld Services. This allows you to take screenshots, post messages, and sell items, with any interactions appearing in-game, providing a unique way for you to communicate with others. The developer even posts community events from time-to-time, with exclusive weapon and garb rewards.
At the end of the (13th) day, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a vastly different game to any other in the franchise. Your enjoyment will depend heavily on whether you liked the previous two titles, with close followers of the story arc much more likely to appreciate the closure that this instalment provides. There are flaws, but the combat, characters, and time system all provide plenty of entertainment. And while we’re sure that those that have disliked the divisive plotline so far will be glad that it’s over, fans will be thrilled to see the series end with a bang rather than a fizzle.
This sounds a lot like how I felt about XIII and XIII-2 in terms of enjoyment. I liked both games for what they were, but I'd be lying if I said that I enjoyed playing them as much as past Final Fantasy titles. Needless to say, I'm glad this trilogy is done - Square already pounded the plot into the dirt during the last game.
Time to start looking forward to 15. Or VS. Or vs 15, whatever.
Watching the opening cg of the demo made me all warm and fuzzy inside. Fighting boring monsters in boring hallways was boring. Maybe KH3 will make me happy again.
Sounds like I might enjoy this more than previous outing in the franchise but I'm done with FF for good I think. Perhaps they can surprise me on the PS4 but I doubt it.
I really glad... Really glad
That this is over at last
I do love ff13 but ff13-3... I have no attachment even a little
I will never be finished with the FF series. I dont care for so many sequels i honestly don't like that all to much.. but its just something i look over
I'll play this once the PS3 version's price drops down to $20 New, regardless of how better it's supposed to be.
Great review. It seems good enough for me.
If they could just take the graphics/CGI/upgrade system from FFXIII, the story/world/party system of FFXIII-2, and gameplay/battle system of FFXIII-3 in ONE game...
Even with their flaws, I really love the XIII trilogy. Even if the continuation to XIII was a bit forced, I think SE did a good job tying it all together at the end. I'd love to see it reach PS4 one days as a 'collection'.
it's not that bad of a game really but can be frustrating at times
still now the 13 saga is done they can put all resorces into FFXV, realy looking forward to that game
FFXIV is fun too if the beta was anything to go by but I refuse to pay to play a game that I also have to buy I think it should be either buy the game it's free to play or get the game free but pay to play it but you shouldn't have to pay 50 quid for the game plus 8-10 quid a month just to be able to play it
or maybe make it so you need ps+ to play so it has no extra charge on consoles at least it would be a little cheaper
@FullbringIchigo I absolutely love FFXIV. I was a bit annoyed by them asking for both money up front and then reoccurring payments, but I feel they've proven that they deserve the money and put it to good use. So far, all of the updates have been phenomenal and well spaced out. Total, I've spent about $100 since launch (5 months paid, 1 free, + the game) and feel it is good value. Not even Skyrim or Fallout could compare to the number of hours I've put into it lol.
To keep this on topic.. YEAH FINAL FANTASY XIII! SKILLS AND STUFF! HAIR!
Bad game design is really apparent in this game. You got the usual fetch quests except they're not marked anywhere, so the game wants you to explore. And it's not the fun type of exploring, it's the "blimey where did I put my bloody keys" kind of exploration. On the other hand the whole campaign is a time trial so the game doesn't want you to waste time. You have to do quests in order to improve your character's strength. When you run out of time you start all over again, which is fine but it's so boring..
You think that's a good enough recipe for a disaster, just wait until you meet the obnoxious cast of Final Fantasy XIII. FFX characters were almost as harrible and uninteresting, but at least they were memorable. You want Lightning to go back to her slumber the moment she speaks. The story is of course contrived and convoluted, and once you really read into it and try to put two and two together and just REALLY take it all in. You're met with the sudden revelation of how dumb the whole story is. Worse than Kojima. Okay fine, Metal Gear fans, it makes sense you win, but it's still dumb.
Of course there are good things about this game but I'm ignoring them. Because Final Fantasy's best days are sadly behind it. They're constantly trying new things-which is good-but it's more of a miss than a hit. This is a definite low point in the franchise.
Oh, I forgot this was out already. I'm one of those who liked the first two, so I'll probably pick it up soon.
Fair review! This game and Bravely Default are the first JRPGs I've ever played where I didn't fall asleep at some point during the game...probably because both of them don't require any grinding.
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