As Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 kicks off, the world is coming to an end. It is an inevitable reality; it will happen, regardless of what you decide to do in the limited time that remains.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Developers: Square Enix, tri-Ace
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
The first thing to note about this bittersweet finale is the (real time) time limit. Early on we are presented with Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, that represents the progression towards the end of the Final Fantasy XIII and its world.
Having a strict time limit is a very bold idea, since rushing players through the experience does not feel right until you realize that the lack of time is deeply rooted in the philosophy of the game itself: our time with this world is drawing to a close.
The world is decaying and dying, and unless Lightning can feed Yggdrasil with enough Eradia, a source of power gathered by releasing people’s souls from their bodies in order to prolong the inevitable annihilation for a couple more days, then everything that she has worked for over the previous two games would be for naught. Everything Lightning, her sister, and their allies fought for would have been pointless work.
Regardless of what you do, Lightning Returns is an ending. A final signoff for one of the most controversial Final Fantasy heroines ever created. A heroine that is now being used as a model for Louis Vuitton. You will embark in the sacred mission of saving souls to start a new world and a new home, and with this you are presented with a big change: You control a single character rather than a party of heroes. Lightning will experience a solitary and lonely quest for what ultimately amounts to absolution and redemption. She wants to do her best for a chance to be with her sister again, and she is determined.
Story aside, the combat system is well polished and improved. Lightning can pick up to three schemata that give her a range of different roles to adopt when in combat. One might focus on melee, the other might focus on healing, and the third might be for offensive magic, but the choice is up to you. You are free to do what you want, and once again the complex and rich combat system of Final Fantasy is back. Switching between these is fluid and dynamic, and lend a very fast pace to the battles, with players switching back and forth between each schemata almost instantly to either a more defensive stance against an enemy assault or an offensive role for when you can afford it. At first it feels a little mindless, but as the difficulty of encounters scales upwards the combat develops an elegant rhythm, and almost starts to feel like a dance. Yes, the costumes are unnecessarily sexualized at times. The obsession with sexy costumes completely breaks with the tone of the narrative. But mechanically, the combat itself is elegant and engaging.
The “Stagger” system also returns; this allows us to deal more damage to when we repeatedly attack enemies with complementing attacks. Each outfit comes with its own energy bar, and it slowly depletes when we use skills. The balancing act of dishing out punishment before switching to different schemata when we are out of energy is beautiful.
The game is also more open than the prequels. The main narrative will remain the same regardless of what you do, but the environments themselves are filled with side quests (tons of side quests) and opportunities to increase wealth and skills, and it is worth doing as many of them as possible. It is up to you how much time you want to risk, although side quests are pretty much essential to meet the minimal game objectives.
At a technical level, it is the best port out of the three games. Had zero crashes, offers way too many resolution options and different settings, flawless keyboard and controller support (something I hated in the first title), and continues to be extremely detailed with the voice acting, impressive cutscenes and gameplay at 60fps. Bravo.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is everything we wanted the prequels to be. It fixes what we didn’t like and improves what we loved, but unfortunately the karma is still there. It is truly a shame that many players and fans didn’t forgive Square Enix for the first two titles. For those who like to take it slowly and explore every tiny corner, the time limit is an issue. For everyone else, this closing title is a must. For the PC port, Square Enix has done wonders, with upwards of a 1080p resolution and a non-demanding 60fps.