By Randy Thompson / March 4th, 2014
Another letdown that has been around since XIII-2 is that the models used for the characters are of lower quality than what was used in XIII. Hair is less complex and lifelike, skin textures are a little flatter, and some polygons are lost between games. When using the same characters from game to game, it seems odd that there would be a vast differentiation between models when all that should change are outfits. If anything, all the heads for these characters should be the same – the hardware has proved that it runs with these complex models in the past, and the assets are already there, so why change?
If your ears enjoy music, then there is surely something you will find enjoyable about this game’s soundtrack. It really is a shame that it was not included in the Collector’s Edition of the game. Tracks from both previous XIII games make a comeback with new twists and arrangements that make the old new again. Anything to give me an excuse to listen to a new take on a Hamauzu track brings pure ecstasy to my ears. Lightning Returns does a fabulous job of keeping you interested in the music by mixing up tones, tempos, and even genres. Beautiful orchestrated pieces come side-by-side with electronic beats and thumping rock extravaganzas. Even if one of the tracks is not to your taste, surely the next song that plays in a new area or a different time of day will quench your aural thirst. And, not all music is diegetic either! There are a few minstrels that pepper the streets of cities that play lutes, sing to their street songs, or whole bands that travel up and down the roads like a party train. It’s certainly a very clever way of giving reason to constant music changes.
The voice acting on the English side is top-notch, with all the main players back in their roles. Familiar faces accompany familiar voices, and they do a spectacular job. For the first time in a Final Fantasy release, we even get the option to play the game with our choice of audio track – English or Japanese. The Japanese track is not included on the disc, and must be downloaded on the side. Sadly, Square Enix has elected for the DLC to be behind a paywall after the first two weeks of release. $3.99 is a bit harsh for those that couldn’t pick the game up at release, but you can take solace in the fact that it’s not just the audio track you’re getting, but also lip movements synced to the Japanese speech. This is good because, if there’s one thing that sets me off, it’s lips not synced to the language being spoken.
Square Enix and Yoichi Wada have drawn a line in the sand, stating that games from them will include some form of social element. While this was kind of scary for a guy like me who loves his solitary single-player excursions through an engaging narrative, Lightning Returns includes what they call ‘Outerworld Services’ as a social outlet. You can pause the game at almost any time, take a screencap of the action and adjust the camera – even remove Light from the shot – and post the screen to their in-game network. This post takes the form of an NPC that traverses across other peoples’ games. When talking to them, you can see the screenshot, read an attached message, check out that person’s current schemata loadout, and even spend Gil on a item the player attached to the message. It’s all about sharing your experiences with other players, and even giving them a leg up by allowing them the chance to get some nice items or gear – for a price. What’s more is you can link your Facebook and/or Twitter profile, and share your images and messages with anyone and everyone. This reviewer was pretty excited as I LOVE taking screencaps while playing games. Luckily, no Twitter followers were lost during the course of this review run of the game.
While the goal of the game is saving people individually, I never once thought that a game like Lightning Returns could really make me have an emotional reaction to what I was doing. After all, this wasn’t something that was supposed to be as NPC-invested as Pandora’s Tower. Lo and behold, I took up a side quest from a young girl in Luxerion. It was a simple request: her parents were gone, she was lonely, and she lost her favorite green Carbuncle doll in the shuffle of a monster attack. I was charged with finding it and giving this little girl hope. I looked around where she thought she dropped it, and I came across a doll very similar to her description, but it was red instead. Feeling like I had other things to do, I thought this would do or that it would give me another step in the quest to find where her real doll was, and so I returned to her with the red Carbuncle doll in tow.
I was very wrong about the outcome. This girl was looking for her doll, something familiar to comfort her and her loss. I gave her this one saying it was the same. She thought it to be stained with blood, something horrid and violent like the loss of her parents. I broke her. After the quest, like so many others, Lightning had her own opinions of what had transpired. This lonely girl could not be saved and brought to the next world. Instead, she will suffer until the end comes, and that will be that. All this because I did not try hard enough or care enough. And that hurt. THAT was not something I expected from Lightning Returns.
Having played and enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2, I can say that Lightning Returns was a satisfying experience for me. It’s all been building up to this; not only in narrative, but every other facet of the game. The music has been ever-changing with added distinctions, gameplay has evolved from a turn-based, party-centered battle system to a fully controllable action RPG similar to the Tales of series. This adventure across multiple games has uncovered more of the shrouded Fabula Nova Chrystallis mythos. Lightning Returns offers a lot of content that you can really sink your teeth into. As mentioned, I slept for about a week of in-game time to experience the ending events and tie up the story. Even then, my final play counter came out to 37 hours, 37 minutes, and 30 seconds (Just seven seconds away from a repeating number!) of exuberant battles, curious exploration and plenty of schemata switch-ups and garb customization. The ability to carry over stats, equipment, and so on into subsequent playthroughs breathes some more fun and freshness into a game that is already packed with content.
Lightning Returns may not be your typical Final Fantasy – to be in control of only one character with no supporting party members – but the pure customization of different, self-built jobs feels right at home with entries like Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy V, and so on. It’s a wonderful blend of the Square Enix RPG franchise and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask that gives it a brand new flavor, but mixed with the ingredients you know and love.
All in all, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a game that provides a lot of bang for your buck (the title coming in at the standard $60), and provides a unique experience to each player by letting one tailor their own style of play to the massive amount of personalization options. Even with a doomsday clock ticking away in the corner, the game can be taken at one’s own pace: you can throw side quests to the wayside and breeze through the story, you can attempt to save everyone and fully explore every nook and cranny to complete side quests; it’s really up to you. This is the finale of the Lightning Saga; all these years have culminated in this last entry, and I have to say that Lightning Returns delivers on all fronts for those who have invested the time and effort into this series. It’s fun, different and an exciting, emotional wrap-up to the first full Final Fantasy story of the modern era.
Review copy purchased by the author.
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