Lightning Farron strikes again, but how close was she to her target? It’s been quite a journey for the thirteenth installment of the Final Fantasy series. Not only were fans disappointed with FFXIII, but they were equally disappointed with the way things ended in the sequel. Although FFXIII-2 had a number of alternate endings, people wanted a true ending to the saga, and thus Lightning Returns was born.
Lightning has been brought out of her crystal slumber just mere days before the destruction of the world. The chaos that was unleashed at the end of FFXIII-2, after the time meddling of Sarah and Noel, has consumed most of the planet. Those who survived the initial wave of destruction have stopped ageing and have become infertile. Lightning was brought back by the God Bhunivelza, to help him save their souls, and guide them to a new world.
Unfortunately she arrived just 13 days before the apocalypse. But there’s a snag, she only starts off with 6 days. In order to extend time, you need to gain Eradia and feed it to the world tree, Yggdrasil. You obtain Eradia by saving souls and thus extending the total amount of days you have. Each day starts at 6:00am and lasts for 24 hours. At 6:00am the next day, you’ll be teleported to the arc, or the homemade planet Hope created in FFXIII-2, where you’ll feed Yggdrasil all the Eradia you’ve collected.
Almost all the main characters in the series make a return, only this time, they need a little help to set them on the right path. 500 years have passed since Lighting went to bed, so a lot has happened. Most of the main missions of the game revolve around setting them on the right path, or assisting them in some way. However, it really feels like Lightning is their errand boy and agony aunt, rather than their saviour. A few new characters are introduced, but the most notable is Lumina, a mysterious little girl that looks almost like Sarah. Her true identity is a shocker and one I did not see coming.
All the key characters are split up over the four remaining continents of Nova Chrysalia: The city of Yusaan, the city of Luxerion, the Wildlands and the Dead Dunes. The four maps are quite big, and traversing them with the time constraints can be a little intimidating, but once you familiarize yourself with them, finding your objectives becomes easier. Unlike previous games, you now have control on how to proceed. You can tackle everything in Yusnaan first or jump straight into the Dead Dunes. However, it is recommended that you start in Luxerion or Yusnaan first, as the enemies are slightly easier to tackle.
The game progresses by finishing both main and side-missions. The rewards from these missions are crucial if you want to make Lightning stronger. The problem with the missions, specifically the side missions, is that most of them are extremely tedious and repetitive. In most cases you’ll have to speak to the mission giver, find whatever it is they want, and give it to them. Other times you’ll have to go back and forth between characters acting as their messenger. The frustrating part is knowing that you don’t have a lot of time to complete it in. Some missions require you to run from one end of the map, to the next, and back, easily sucking up about three to four in-game hours. To make things a little less frantic, you can use EP (Eradia Points) to momentarily stop time. This is a great help if you need just a few more minutes before you miss your time window.
The one big shake-up, is that there is no level system in the game. Battles no longer give you experience, so there’s no need to level grind in order to become stronger. So how do you get tougher? You save souls. Every mission has its own rewards and most of the time the rewards will boost your HP, Attack and magic strength. You’ll also have to use the new schemata system. It’s very similar to the dressphere system in FFX-2. The only difference is, you can edit the hell out of it. Matching your weapons with the right shields, garbs (outfits) and attacks are instrumental in creating an effective schema. You can create three active schemata which are used in battle. During battle you can switch between the three and unleash hell on your opponent.
Now for the best part: the battles. At first the enemies will be a bit tough, but once you’ve strengthened up a bit and have a good idea of how to set up the schema, you’ll do fine. The key to victory is staggering your opponent, but unlike the previous games, staggering is a bit different. The stagger percent system has been removed, and replaced with a sort of oscillating heartrate monitor meter. I don’t particularly like the change, and I think the staggering conditions are a bit too difficult. Losing a battle forces you to escape, but uses up one hour. You can counter this by reloading the last autosave. The combination of attacks to use in battle are nearly endless, so battling opponents is always fun, and very creative. It also has no effect on time, so there’s no rush to finish the fight.
Despite the time mechanics of the game, it’s actually fairly long. You’re looking at a 40 hour campaign, which is either filled with repetitive side missions, or butt-kicking action. Fortunately, the latter is a lot more entertaining than the former. The game is also very pretty to look at, but it’s not a major leap from it’s predecessor. However, the visuals of the main video sequences are gorgeous and some of the best I’ve ever seen, especially the final video. My main disappointment is not seeing any changes in most of the main characters. Sazh, Vang, Vanille (who’s less annoying this time round) and Hope are still wearing their FFXIII outfits. A change would’ve been nice, especially since their clothes are about 1000 years old.
Although they haven’t changed much, the direction of this game has, especially if you compare it with XIII. It’s not the brightest or the most spectacular FF on the market, but it has its own charm. Despite that, the story is VERY contradictory, confusing and a bit too outlandish at times. The outerworld service doesn’t add or subtract anything from the game, but it’s a good way to get items and meet people – why we want that outside an MMO, I’ll never understand. All in all, Lightning Returns is a fairly decent action RPG, with a very odd story and a non-linear approach to completing it, but it’s also game that doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Nice try Square Enix, but FFXIII was good enough.