Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Quickly, I will preface this review by saying, yes I know I created "Audiosanity" as a music review site, and I have a few recently released albums that I will be discussing soon, however gaming is an important part of my life as well. I may listen to music 24/7, but what I do with the little time I have left in the week is game and what I enjoy the most is RPGs, particularly the Japanese RPGs released by Square Enix. Growing up, Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XII were some of my favorite video games and I still play them repeatedly today, currently I am in what I believe is my 15th or so playthrough of Final Fantasy XII. When Final Fantasy XIII was announced, I was as happy as could be, I was waiting for another console Final Fantasy game from the masters of Square Enix.
What I got was... well I guess you could call it a "game" technically. It had "game" elements and it looked pretty, but it did could not hold a candle to the greats in the series like IV, VI, or X. For those who don't know about Final Fantasy XIII, the magic button was "X" (or "A" if you prefer Xbox over PS); it was the button you would constantly mash whenever you got into a battle to make your characters auto-select their abilities in the most efficient way possible so you don't even have to think about what you are facing or how to beat it, your characters already know. It was also the button you would hold to level up in what they called the "Crystarium", a terrible leveling system that offered the illusion of choice but really didn't and acted more like a screensaver than anything else. If anything was redeemable from that game, it was the graphics, which were stunning beyond imagine (particularly when compared to games released at that time) and two of the characters, Sazh, who offered a good amount of comedy to the scenes, and Lightning, who is probably the strongest female Final Fantasy protagonist in the series since Terra from Final Fantasy VI.
For a more in-depth analysis of XIII, check out the Spoony Experiment, where he has done a 6-part video review of the game, it is quite funny and points out many of the problems with the game, most of which I agree with.
I could go on about how much I was disappointed in that game, but I will not and will briefly mention the next game, Final Fantasy XIII-2. This game fixed the battle system somewhat, revamped the leveling a tiny bit and took away all of the bad characters from XIII, which sadly also meant they took away Sazh. Instead, you played as Serah, Lightning's sister and motivation from the previous game, and newcomer Noel, the BOY FROM THE FUTURE (cue thunderclap). They introduced a Pokemon aspect to the game, where you capture monsters, level them up and fight alongside them. It worked well and left you searching for more creatures to add to your arsenal and switching some in and out to figure out the best team arrangement for your play style. It was still "Hold X to win", but it was fixed somewhat so you sometimes had to think about it all, particularly in boss fights. It also introduced Caius, the "tragic" villain who was trying to be the new Sephiroth, succeeding slightly. XIII-2 had faults, particularly the story, but it was better in gameplay than the previous so I considered it an improvement.
"Fight In The Desert! - Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII" on Gamespot
I was not looking forward to XIII-2 but once I saw they improved the formula of XIII, I anticipated a similar improvement into what I hoped would be a truly good game with this title, the last of the XIII series. From the gameplay trailers, it also seemed like an improvement, despite the risky decision to have only one playable character throughout the whole game, a very controversial move for Final Fantasy, which usually sports a whole cast of characters. The battle system seemed much more free and fluid, mixing the system of XIII with that of Final Fantasy X-2, which let you switch between a plethora of jobs with different abilities and skills. It's like the job system of Final Fantasies even earlier than X-2, but its much more similar to X-2 than something classic like III or IV, so I shall leave it at that.
I should not have gotten my hopes up.
This game started off strong. The battle system, which is one of the first things you have to learn about, provides a lot of strategy and choice, particularly when preparing for battles beforehand. The way it works is that you have three jobs, or "schema", that you can switch between quickly at any time in the battle and each schema has four abilities mapped to the main four buttons (X, A, B, Y on the Xbox 360 or the similar buttons on the PS3), each of which you can customize and choose beforehand. You want to make a schema that focuses on damage and defense? Go right ahead! You want to make a debuff mage that also has a physical attack but no guarding? By all means! There is a lot of customization you can do and as you go on through the game there are dozens upon dozens of schema you can choose between, though you'll probably find three you like that compliment your play style and stick with those. The abilities you get also level up and become stronger through a synthesis system that makes you keep updating and improving your battle schema.
This was by far the best thing this game had to offer. The battle system and the customization with schema is really, REALLY well done and it was the last thing I thought I'd be praising about this game, considering the track record of the previous XIII games. If you want a game simply to beat things up with a good and strategic battle system, this game has that. Aside from that...
It all goes downhill from here, folks.
If you've made it this far, I applaud you. I am sure you have realized by now I am a Square Enix fanboy and apologist and will try to find the best in a mediocre game and try to call it good or great. There's no saving this game. One well-made facet is not enough to save this train wreck.
The story: probably one of the worst things about this game. All you need to know from the previous games in terms of story is this: Lightning and her crew saved the world from evil "fal'cie" (don't ask) in XIII and in XIII-2 her sister and Noel tried to save time from Caius but failed, resulting in time literally stopping. People stopped aging, there were no more births and after 500 years of people dying and no longer being born, their souls conjoined into a sort of chaos that started destroying the world. This leaves us with Lightning, who has been contracted by GOD (yes, they actually refer to him as God) to be the world's SAVIOR (again, YES, they actually call her the Savior) and save everyone's souls before the world is destroyed and they are lost. God wants these souls so he can make a new world and what he primarily wants are the souls of your buddies from the previous games, meaning you have to go to all of them and save their souls in some ridiculous way.
Yes, the Christian themes are laid on quite thick here and its teeth-grindingly bad to suffer through. What's worse in my opinion is something that I have made into a drinking game: take a shot every time you hear the word "Hope". There is a character in the game with that name stupidly enough but its not just that, nearly every character who is given a voice in the game (basically every person, including non-essential NPC characters, mutters the word at sometime or another. All this game is about is Lightning going around administering hope to the remaining people of the world by doing side quests.
Now, you might be thinking, "Oh, side quests? Psh I won't do those, i'll just focus on the story, side quests aren't necessary after all, they are on the side". WRONG. So, so, so, so, so, SO WRONG. Side Quests are your means of leveling up in this game. You do side quests, all of which are basically "Get X amount of Y for me for stupid reason Z and come back to me for arbitrary reward.... Q", and with each completed side quest, you are rewarded with improvements to your stats. Again, you may be thinking, "So? I'll just kill monsters and level up so I won't need to up my stats that way." NOPE. The only, underline only, way to level up in this game is via side quests, making them nearly mandatory to face the admittedly difficult bosses in this game, particularly if you play on "Normal" and not "Easy" which is what I did because I am no punk.
Welcome to Lightning Returns
All of these are tedious but doable since, as I said before, you mainly just have to "get X amount of Y" like any bad MMO side quest, and you will get almost all of these by battling things, which stays fresh and challenging throughout the game. There is another problem here though, which is tied in directly with the story so I will need to explain a little bit more. At the start you are given 6 in-game days until the world ends and you can elongate this time up to a maximum of 14 days by collecting souls, or "erradia", and giving this erradia to God at the end of each day. You get this erradia through side quests and the 5 main storyline quests but there is a timer on these days that is continuously ticking and some quests can only be completed at certain times and places are only available at certain times. Hope then tells you a "terrible truth": that "You can't save everyone, there simply isn't enough time" and that you need to "pick and choose who to save".
Jesse Cox couldn't even make it, guys.
This is the point that Jesse Cox, a quite hilarious reviewer and let's play-er on Youtube notable for being a completionist, ragequit for the first time ever in any game he has done a video series (above video). Now I understand why he quit, because this "truth" Hope tells us completely contradicts the point of the game, but there is something even worse about this that he didn't even make it to.
He straight-out LIED to you. Besides one quest that is literally impossible to complete in the first playthrough of the game (good job, guys), I had completed every quest and side quest in the game by the 9th day without using a guide of any sort. This means I was basically sitting around for the next three days waiting for the end of the world. I understand Jesse's ragequit, but THIS is where I ultimately gave up on trying to apologize for this game, there was simply no point anymore.
Lastly on the main story is Lightning herself, who is a shadow of her former self. They say in the game that her emotions were taken by God so she won't be swayed by her emotions and so she can be more willing to pick and choose who lives and dies, but this is the worst decision for a character ever. If you liked her at all, which I did, you will hate her now as she progresses through the game without giving a single fuck about anything. It really makes you wonder that if Lightning doesn't care about anything happening to or around her, why should the player?
I'll just say a few things more because talking about this game irritates me. The few characters I wanted to see from the previous games were Sazh and Fang, two cool characters from XIII that I actually liked. Sazh in this game turned into a bitter old man, sucking all likability from him as he sat on a couch scowling at the world. Fang you find in a desert and you then need to help her find an artifact in an ancient temple before the bad guys do because things like that belong in a museum. Ok, that last part does not happen but it really is quite close to Indiana Jones and she also is less likable than before, but not as devoid as Sazh was.
LOOK AT THIS ABOMINATION
The music is not memorable also. In fact, much of it was straight ripped from the previous two games and I cannot recall a single track made for this game that I had not heard before. I'm sure there was at least one, maybe two, but I don't remember them. Also the graphics are terrible besides the two or three actual cutscenes. Almost all dialogue is using the in-game engine which a poor excuse for the graphic standards that Final Fantasy has lift itself upon since all characters feel more wooden than an oak tree and most have accessories on their face (like beards, glasses, etc) that just seem plopped on less naturally than the Sims. There is a lot of popping and i've also seen many enemies and people clip through walls and other people, even on Lightning with a majority of the big weapons she gets that clip through her clothing.
If you had any feeling for any character in the previous two games, do NOT play this game. If you did not care, do NOT play this game! I can only recommend this to people based on the battle system, so if you just want to play a fun job-based strategic battle system, rent this game, mute your TV, and listen to something else while skipping through the cutscenes. The game completely fails on a literary standpoint and when Final Fantasy is known for its complex and deep narrative it commonly weaves, I cannot consider this game a true Final Fantasy game. Go play Bravely Default, it's the closest thing to a Final Fantasy game you'll find released in the past few years.
Final score: 3/10. Fantastic gameplay, terrible everything else. Rent at your own risk.