Review: Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns (PS3)

The last and final chapter in the Final Fantasy XIII saga. After the sudden and disappointing ending of XIII-2 I was very critical about the trilogy-thing and whether this third game can deliver a proper closure. The review does not contain spoilers.

Visuals

The game looks pretty solid. I heard many complaints about an “outdated engine” but while the engine is certainly old the game looks good and performs very well. Everything looks clear and you can read easily all text passages in the game. The effects are not too shiny or flashy to obstruct the screen or hinder your combat. While the camera made sometimes sudden changes and twists it was not as bad as in XIII-2.

Each city in the game was filled with its own kind of living and was perfectly hitting the sweet spot to make the place believable considering the circumstances the people in the game find themselves.

Visuals 4/5

Sound

The soundtrack is one of the best FF game soundtracks to date and even manages to top the awesome XIII-2 soundtrack for me. It combines several elements from the first two games but also adds a distinct touch to highlight Lightning’s return and her final mission.

I think the best way to demonstrate it is this awesome “FF XIII Lightning’s Theme Ultimate Remix ~The Journey of Lightning~”
credited by Elflyfreey.

Sound 5/5

Gameplay

Time is of the essence. The world will end in a few days. You are constantly reminded about this and especially in the beginning there is a strong pressure to manage time and to make haste. As you progress in the game this becomes much more easy to handle and this huge pressure is gone. Still it is necessary to constantly, and I mean it literally, manage the time and use the time dilution to prevent your time from running away while hunting and doing side missions.

A RPG with such a pressure on time sounds already counter-intuitive because it contradicts leveling, grinding, exploration. And it partially does. The game never manages to get out of it. Also the function to dilute time was not linked to a short-cut thus you must use repeatedly the menu to active it. But that is not the only change which goes contrary to typical RPG gaming: Lightning does not gain any experience points by battling enemies. Enemies to drop certain items you can use to upgrade some items and spells. The only way for Lightning to gain status improvements (HP, Strength, etc.)  is to complete side missions. There are two type of side missions: The message board and npc quests. The message boards does not offer much in terms of story for doing those but give nice rewards. The side quests handed out by NPCs often tell very short to very good stories. Some of those should be considered an absolute must because they heavily deepen the main story line and Lightning’s character.

Battles have changed once more and are now faster and more action-laden but also include the element of time which you can manipulate to gain an advantage. There are dozens of costumes, weapons and shields for Lightning to equip which directly impacts how you fight. The game grants the player a lot of freedom in how you want to fight and which costume sets you want to use. With the exception of a few very specific situations and fights you can use whatever you want that fits your playstyle. A very huge improvement in comparison to the previous two games.

The game is designed in such a way that you can enjoy the entire story with one play trough. For those who want to reach new heights and better challenges can go trough the game two three times to reach the absolute maximum, unlock the most difficult setting and upgrade weapons and shields to its maximum. The weapon and shield upgrading is not available at all on the Easy setting which is recommend for the first game.

To me the gameplay is pretty good and very solid. The only things I did not like was the fact that upgrading was locked away and that time dilution became so boring and annoying to use. A feature this important should have been implemented much better. The time pressure is something I don’t like at all anywhere especially not in RPGs but the game did handle it pretty well but I believe the experience would have been much better without it and by implementing a time flow into the storyline.

Gameplay 4/5

Story

From the very beginning the story makes one thing clear: This is the end. No ifs no buts. God Bhunivelze will wake up soon and the world will end. Lightning does not have much time to safe the souls of those who are left and to search for her sister Serah. Some points of the story were very obvious to me and I saw trough a few points very early in the game. This did not hurt the game thou. It gives you just another look at some of the things that happen in the game. While you are trying to save your friends like Snow, Fang, Vanille, Sash and his son you will also be on a journey to save Lightning. Early on you will meet the character Lumina who is constantly annoying Lightning but those are key points on the story.

The depth of the story and Lightning’s character heavily depend on the many side quests in the game. I highly recommend to do as many as you can. If you handle time wisely then you can do all in your first game (with two intentional exceptions). These side stories give a great insight into the world and its current state, the mind of the people living in it, the dreams, the hopes and the fears. They also allow Lightning to reveal her character and it gives the player the chance to get to know her much better.

The story is from beginning to end clear and conscience. It delivers a meaningful proper closure and finishes up the overall theme of the XIII saga.

Story 5/5

Summary
Visuals: 4/5
Sound: 5/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Story: 5/5
Overall: 4/5

Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns is an almost perfect game. It violates some core rules of RPGs but handles those pretty well but not perfect. It delivers fan service and the much demanded closure. If it would have handled these more RPG like the game could have also ended up as one of the best Final Fantasy games. Yes, it is one of the best games in the Final Fantasy series and the best in the XIII saga. But it could not unfold its full potential which got lost by making too many experiments with gameplay and the battle system.

I do like Lightning and I enjoyed the brief moments of meeting her in Final Fantasy XIV and I hope we will see her again on other cross-game opportunities.

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