‘Lightning Returns’ With No Spark

“Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII” is a mess. So many ideas are thrown into the third and final installment of the “Final Fantasy XIII” subseries, that it’s kind of amazing the game even works at all. Sadly once the novelty of seeing all of its strange components haphazardly stitched together wears off, “Lightning Returns” becomes the most boring game in the series due to the dull story and gameplay.

Courtesy of Square Enix

Courtesy of Square Enix

I had high hopes for “Lightning Returns” since I enjoyed the original “Final Fantasy XIII” and especially enjoyed its sequel “Final Fantasy XIII-2.” Even though neither game offered a great story, each of them were enjoyable thanks to great combat systems and a few memorable characters. “Lightning Returns” seemed poised to surpass the first two games by offering more control over your character and by introducing true nonlinearity through open world gameplay. Both attempts at progress sadly backfire, though.

The new combat system in “Lightning Returns” never clicked with me. Lightning is the sole protagonist of “Lightning Returns,” and thus largely fights alone in battle. As such, the party focused Paradigm system has been replaced with the new Schemata system. Lightning can bring three Schema into battle with her that you can instantly swap between. Each Schema consists of an outfit (some are practical, most aren’t for better or for worse), a set of customizable abilities and some equipment.

I enjoyed the pre-battle preparation,  inherent to the Schemata system especially since there are a lot of crafting systems that fuel into it to add even more depth and freedom, but ultimately it didn’t matter because once I reached the battlefield I stopped having fun. Most battles are one versus one in “Lightning Returns” so you can really focus on your opponent. Outside of boss battles, most fights aren’t that engaging since the AI isn’t very aggressive. As such, I often found myself just mashing attack buttons with no regard to strategy. This problem is made worse by the fact that enemies often have a lot of health and also don’t drop exciting enough rewards that motivate you to participate.

Enemies don’t drop experience in “Lightning Returns” since completing quests provides all stat growth. This might not have been truly a bad approach if it wasn’t for the fact that virtually all of the side quests are boring fetch quests and “kill X number of Y monster” quests.  Since there is a constant countdown clock running throughout the game, the manufactured sense of urgency at least keeps you moving through these dull objectives, but the clock also kills your desire to explore the larger spaces, which partially defeats the move to an open world.

The presence of the countdown clock is a result of the story in “Lightning Returns.” The apocalypse is fast approaching in “Lightning Returns” and Lightning, who had been asleep for 500 years, is called upon by God to become a figure known as the Savior in order to guide souls from their dying world to the next. Somehow all of the characters from “Final Fantasy XIII” and “XIII-2” are still alive for Lightning to confront, which sadly fails to resonate. Most of the returning cast is possessed by Chaos itself, which robs them of any personality. Lightning and her partner Hope (who is bizarrely a child again) are for story reasons robbed of their emotions on a surface level, which again lessens potential drama and further defeats the point.

Further adding insult to injury, “Lightning Returns” doesn’t actually look very good which really underscores the epic feel this apocalypse story desires. The amazing visuals of “Final Fantasy XIII” were possible because of its linear design. The shift to open world in “Lightning Returns” really hurts the graphics of the game and makes the whole affair feel even cheaper. The character models of the citizens look notably bad, especially their faces and patched together clothes.

“Lightning Returns” is the worst “Final Fantasy” game in a long time and is an unsatisfying conclusion to the “Final Fantasy XIII” series.


NOT RECOMMENDED: The gameplay and story of “Lightning Returns” are significantly lacking. Try other RPGs this month.