Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII – alright, here we go, finishing the Toriyama’s waifu trilogy. It’s hard to believe they were still trying to make this happen and greenlit another XIII game, but anyway, just like with XIII-2 this is more of an expansion/mod/addendum than a sequel, and boy am I tired of seeing that same UI and assets reused by now. At least there are no QTEs here. But even more so than with XIII-2, this is so far removed from the original concept, it just needed to be its own new IP.
So this time around they couldn’t think of anything better than adding a time limit to the game, which is a gimmick I can’t stand more than anything. I like to play games at my own pace and here you have a clock constantly ticking over your head. Obviously that’s just my taste, but I don’t see it working with RPGs – you have a fuckton of stuff to do, see, buy, find, consider, and then you’re constantly prodded to hurry up and be efficient with your time. They also redesigned the battle engine, I would say for the worse. You now control only Lightning and have a more direct command input, even able to move around during battles, but it all still runs on a gauge that depletes with every action. It’s like they wanted to make this an action-RPG but just couldn’t commit and the end result is this awkward system where you attack a few times and then have to constantly wait for the gauge to refill. It’s just extremely unsatisfying. Maybe this was another engine limitation, who knows. At the very least they ramped up the difficulty a notch.
One thing that truly baffled me was an open text reference to Facebook right in the game’s datalog. Can’t think of anything more immersion shattering than being told to log into Faceberg for a better gaming experience™.
On a positive note, they did put some commendable effort into building an entirely new world for this one, instead of re-using levels from previous games again. There are several reasonably large cities and wildlands to explore, all 100% open. Not gonna lie, these are pretty good. I especially liked the two main cities, they have a very unique look and atmosphere to them and it’s really fun just running around exploring stuff. It’s exactly what I wanted from the original XIII, was this so much to ask? But even though these are large, they aren’t large enough to sustain an entire game, which is why they decided to make it entirely side-quest based – you’re just doing menial tasks to extend the timer and that’s pretty much the whole thing. Underwhelming to say the least.
The story continues to be terrible filler garbage that’s better skipped, as I started doing eventually. It’s nothing but meandering regurgitation of the previous games; I got so tired of seeing these same characters and plot threads, which weren’t good even in the original, stretched even thinner here.
The music and visuals, on the other hand, continue to be great – these are like the only consistently positive aspects of this trilogy. Although about half of the tracks are reused from the two previous games. But what’s new does stand out and they even brought back some classic FF tunes as memes. Graphics are also expectedly good; the main draw here is the truly jaw-dropping lighting for the 7th gen, back then it was like seeing a nextgen project. And you can finally install the game, so loading times are no longer an issue.
This game is a weird beast for sure. On the one hand, it’s this endlessly re-stitched corpse; on the other, it has some of the best things in the “trilogy”. They had this more or less original idea but did everything to make it as cumbersome of an experience as possible with the whole timer shit and awkward combat. This is all obviously the result of them not having a clear vision or direction for any of these games. XIII was a clusterfuck of a production by a headless chicken of a studio and they spent the next five years trying to salvage it instead of moving forward. After playing through all three games I can see them being fusion’d into one solid vidya, each had a few really great individual elements, but ultimately this whole project is the biggest waste of the generation, and perhaps emblematic of it.
At least the game is completely shameless about dressing Lightning up in lewd outfits.