||Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns
||Square Enix, Tri-Ace
THE Final Fantasy series is one that has been going for quite some time – this new offering being the 15th game of the popular series.
With a range that large, not every game is going to be a masterpiece and some gamers were keen to dismiss the Final Fantasy XIII’s trilogy.
Personally, I enjoyed the first two outings into the world that Final Fantasy XIII presented, complete with its storyline and mechanics – even Square Enix’s apparent fetish for long and empty corridors!
Thankfully, in this latest offering, things have become a lot more open and Square Enix has almost completely moved away from the long and arduous corridor journeys. Instead the action now takes place in four locations.
Luxerion, – a small city standing as one of the last bastions of Humanity in a world that is slowly facing its own destruction. On your first journey to this place you will likely get lost countless times, but eventually you’ll start to learn the place like it was the back of your hand.
Yusnaan – this is the city that Luxerion wishes it could be, with its glittering statues, enormous palace and all round air of majesty. In this city, the nights are a time for parties and just about anything is celebrated, regardless of how insignificant it is.
The Wildlands – referenced as the last surviving wilderness in the game, this sprawling, open world environment is home to a vast variety of man and beast alike. Thick jungle-like environments lie to the west, mountainous regions lie beyond that, while the ruins of downed airships await you in the north. This is the place that has the most adventurous atmosphere to it.
The Dead Dunes – a desolate and depressing place! The sands of time have worn away the traces of what had once settled here and now all that remains are structures, half buried in the sand, flanked by enormous skeletons of monsters slain in a time long forgotten. There’s not a lot more that can be said about this place, other than it is one of the places that, in a game centered around time, really hits home.
Across these four lands are the six ‘chapters’ that make up the story of the game. Each chapter is comprised of around six to 10 missions and upon completion of all the missions for that location, that branch of the main story is complete. Each mission usually ends in a boss fight and unless you are prepared, these will chew you up and spit you back out again!
Before I delve into the story, let me just explain the battle system and how it has improved vastly since the first game.
The battle system through the first two games was the more traditional turn based style.
This meant that you would choose a method of attack, execute that attack and then wait for the monster to attack you.
However in my view the greatest flaw attached to this was the ‘auto battle’ option. Essentially this feature selected all the best attacks for you to use and allowed you to execute them straight away – turning you into a zombie, mindlessly pressing away at the attack button. The only time you really needed to have any input in the action was if your health dropped below a certain level and you needed to heal.
Needless to say, many people really didn’t like that system at all and so for the third game it has been overhauled. The auto battle function is gone, instead replaced by three separate outfits, each with their own abilities so that you can pick and choose to your liking.
The outfits, called Garbs ingame, allow you to switch seamlessly between three types of character, each with their own ATB gauge, meaning that you can use up all your attack points on one class and switch to another, whilst the points on the first class regenerate.
It’s also no longer turn based, meaning you can attack as many times as you want, and the enemy might only attack once or twice during your flourish of acrobatic moves. Each battle feels exhilarating and exciting and the boss battles only serve to make them even better.
An example of the battle screen, showing a few of Lightning’s attacks and abilities.
As far as the main story goes, you play Lightning, a rose haired female and forced servant of the God, Bhunivelze, and protagonist of all but the second game (though she did appear in it.) Her God-given mission means that she has to take on the role of the Saviour.
In this role, she must walk on the surface of the Earth and save the souls of the people she deems worthy to escape from a dying world, so they can live out a new life on a new world created by Bhunivelze.
She is given a total of 13 days to complete her mission, as on the 13th day the world will end and all the souls not saved will be cast into the Unseen Realm. However even though the marketing for the game expressly states that you are given 13 days to save the world, you actually only start the game with seven!
Collecting souls from people you visit in the game world allows you to harness something called Eradia, which is referred to as the ‘life energy’ of the soul. Using this Eradia, Lightning can extend the time that she has up to the maximum total of 13 days.
However collecting this Eradia isn’t as simple as just talking to someone – instead you have to complete side-quests given to you by people you meet. These range from going out and defeating a certain monster enough times to collect a certain amount of spoils, or finding items that have been lost throughout the game world.
Ordinarily I would say that these fetch quests are both annoying and time consuming, but in this case they actually don’t feel that way. Throughout my time on the game, I found that whenever someone gave me a quest, I had usually found the item they were after, or had already killed the requisite amount of monsters.
This also meant that I had the required Eradia to extend the world’s time to the maximum 13 days, but therein lay a problem. By the time I managed to get enough time for the 13 days, I had completed all but one of the missions in the main story, the rest of which would take place on the final day.
However I was only on day eight of the mission, which meant I had five days left until I was able to complete the game!
As I didn’t really fancy filling the time sleeping at an Inn until I was able to continue, I went off in search of things to do. The problem was, there was nothing else to do.
Yes there were side-quests that still remained incomplete, but completing the bestiary didn’t really sound like an appealing quest, and nor did hunting the monsters of the world to extinction. So I just wandered, aimlessly wasting away my days until I could progress with the main story.
While I understand that the developers were likely faced with the quandary of how much content to include in the game, in this case it would have been extremely useful to have had the New Game+ mode.
The game advises you to try and finish any side-quests that you didn’t have time to do in the first playthrough, but the problem with that is when I had completed all but a few side-quests, I was left with a few quests that really didn’t interest me.
Whilst playing the main story it was like walking towards a beautiful bright horizon. I felt like I was part of something thrilling and exciting. Yet once I found myself waiting to continue on the main quest, it was like realising that the horizon I was walking towards had been painted onto a wall and I was merely walking on a treadmill.
It just didn’t go anywhere.
That’s not to say that once I was able to continue, it didn’t offer a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, because it offered a fantastic end. Whilst I didn’t feel as emotionally charged as I had with the endings of the previous two games, I don’t think I needed to.
The ending offered up something designed to tie up all the loose ends and make you certain that the adventure you started in the first game of the trilogy was now over. In a way it was a little bit saddening, but that soon gave way to a feeling a pride and accomplishment.
And that’s the way it should be – a satisfying end for a story that would put many novels to shame.