Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIIILighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Published by: Square Enix
Genre: RPG
Release Date: February 11, 2014
MSRP: $59.99
Rating: Teen
Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

The Final Fantasy XIII series of games is something of a matter of contention between Final Fantasy fans. Some see it as a necessary evolution into a more modern type of RPG. Others view it as a betrayal to the game’s history. Final Fantasy XIII was one of the most controversial Final Fantasy games ever released, and Final Fantasy XIII-2, while more warmly received, didn’t mark much of a departure from the formula of its predecessor.

Now, all eyes are on Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. The last game in the XIII series and the one that promises to bring the stories of Lighting and company to a close; Lightning Returns has plenty riding on it. In fact, some may argue that the future of single-player Final Fantasy titles hinges entirely on whether Square Enix is able to turn Lightning Returns into a hit, both with critics and with core fans. The verdict? If anything is going to sell XIII to skeptics, Lightning Returns is it.

One of the most praised components of Final Fantasy XIII was its innovative, if simple, combat system. This system is back in Lightning Returns, sort of. Instead of battling with party members at her side, Lightning faces off with every enemy alone. Players are able to choose between customizations for Lightning’s combat, bringing a depth of combat that was sadly missing from previous iterations. You’ll be able to swap through customizations just as you swapped through paradigms before, with Lightning’s costumes representing each style. The new system is fun, strategic, and rewarding. No longer will you spend your fights mashing the “A” button and waiting for the next cut scene.

Lightning Returns manages to address a key complaint regarding the XII series: the lack of an open world. While things opened up a bit in Final Fantasy XII-2, Lightning Returns provides the biggest, most exploreable world seen to date in the series. Fans seeking an open, engaging world will not be let down by Lightning Returns. There are dozens of side-quests and missions to discover and complete, not to mention plenty of nasty foes to conquer. It’s not a world on the same scale as Grand Theft Auto V or Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but it’s certainly a marked improvement over the first XIII game.

The only downside to the open world is the addition of a time limit to the game — the main story has Lightning working to prevent the end of the world, set to occur in 13 days. While there are mechanisms available to you that will add time to the clock, it’s hard not to feel pressed when you’re out in the world. When it comes to exploring and investigating, there’s never enough time. If you work efficiently you can see everything the universe has to offer, but it’s a bit stressful staying on track.

The story is your typical over-the-top Final Fantasy JRPG fare. If you are a fan of the soap opera saga that began with Final Fantasy XII, you’ll find yourself well at home in the world of Lightning Returns. Without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say you’ll see plenty of familiar faces along your path to the end of the world, some expected and some exceptionally surprising.
Overall, Lightning Returns is the best game in the XIII series, and not too shabby a Final Fantasy game to boot. Core fans will find much to love and newcomers will be rewarded by the combat system and beautiful world. Lightning Returns is a fitting finale to a series that’s had some rocky patches, but brought some incredible moments and memorable characters along the way.

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