Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the direct sequel to XIII-2 and the third and final game of the saga. LR was released in November 2013 for Japan, and February 2014 for the rest of the world, on, you guessed it, PS3 and XBox 360. There was a delay for the port to Steam, but as of early 2016, you can find it there too.

The gameís logo.

Lightning Returns in itself is a bit of a conundrum. You donít necessarily need to play the first title to play XIII-2, but it helps, obviously, as itís about the same places (with some new) and the same characters (with some new). LR is about the same characters but in an entirely different place. Sure, areas can be reminiscent of earlier ones (Yusnaan reminds me of Nautilus, the Wildlands reminds me of the Steppe, the Dunes is the Steppe) and yet LR is the first time the subseries sees a desert. Several, in fact. Making up for lost time, I guess.

Still, the point is that it would be very easy for someone who only vaguely knows about Lightning to pick up LR and be none the wiser about anything - it doesnít make a lick of sense without the previous entries, but LR isnít a sensical game. This isnít a game overflowing with story, which makes for limited interactions with the rest of the cast and plenty of fetch quests for named yet identical NPCs that sport different accessories so you can actually distinguish one from the next. For what itís worth, LRís limited story is rather well done (Snowís arc, for instance) but Lightning Returns is a game about sidequests whilst you wait for the end of the world - you donít need much more than ďyouíre the Savior, now go save some soulsĒ in order to access it. As much as I, and many other people, were here for the resolution, were here for Lightningís first laments about Serah, this is the polar opposite of the first game and has zero linearity and itís not going to hold your hand as you explore this new world - and yet the Final Fantasy fanbase still wasnít happy. XIIIís trilogy just couldnít win.

Thatís not to say that Lightning doesnít have a lot of thoughts and great inner monologue whilst doing the sidequests, because sheís a less than perfect sidequester. The significance of most of what she thinks and feels would be lost to new players, but, theyíre there. They show who sheís really fighting for at the end of all things - humanity, yes, but largely, itís for Serah.

The changes for Lightning Returns donít stop there. Lightning is a one woman party so the paradigm system was axed - instead it was tweaked and replaced with schemata, which is what you get when you cross paradigms with dresspheres from X-2. Itís actually a good evolution, as the gameplay feels very natural and I liked it a lot - the gauge remains, but itís no longer automatic, and skills are now sourced from the garbs Lightning wears. Different garbs have different strengths, and several can be set for in battle shifting, hence dresspheres. The environment also changes from day to night, with the music changing with the passing hours to reflect tone... which is probably my only favourite thing about time passing in LR. Squareís implemented clock feature haunts me to this day. It works on paper, because Lightning has thirteen days to save the world (or six, actually, you have to earn the chance at the other seven), but in practice itís an anxiety ridden exercise of missing trains, using EP to constantly freeze time, and getting trapped behind a time sensitive door by seconds. It sucks. I had to use a guide to even plot out how to play this blasted game and I definitely wasnít alone in doing so - so what if I slept through a solid five days at the end because Iíd completed everything, at least I did.

Lightning Returns is, you guessed it, also the story of the end of the world. This time itís the actual end of this universe, because Bhunivelze wants to take all the souls from one world and deposit them in another - for that end, he needs someone to guide them there and to be selective about who gets to go by collecting specific souls. That someone is the Savior, Lightning, because Lightningís life is awful. In turn, Bhunivelze promises Lightning Serahís soul in exchange for his task. Iím not even condensing here: thatís it. Thatís the plot. There are a lot of old friends whose souls Lightning manages to save (and one person she forgot), which gives some resolution to the messes that the ending of XIII-2 created: and some heartache, of course.

When Lightning inevitably turns against God (because hey, itís Lightning, thatís what sheís always been about), everyone is there, by her side - and together, they chart a course to a new world.