Final Fantasy XIII had a lengthy run. Lightning is about to partake on her third adventure, with an additional appearance in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and what was once Final Fantasy Versus XIII is now known as Final Fantasy XV. But with this final instalment in the Final Fantasy XIII story arc, Lightning will likely retire for good. Let's find out if she'll go out on a high note in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII for Xbox 360 and PS3.
Putting Out An ATB
The first major change that you'll notice about Lightning Returns is the fact that the combat system is completely different from the previous Final Fantasy XIII entries, as well as just about any role-playing game you've played. In fact, you can almost call Lightning Returns an action game with an Active Time Battle (ATB) gauge. You're equipped with three main schemata, which are basically a change of clothes for Lightning. Each outfit can be customised with various weapons, armour and accessories.
Outfitting Lightning is one of the big draws of Lightning Returns. In addition to the practical changes you can make, such as increasing strength and attack power with better gear, you can change the colour of Lightning's garb. It's even possible to add aesthetic accessories, such as sunglasses or tattoos that have no impact on Lightning's stats.
You can set three main schemata, as well as several secondary schemata, in order to quickly switch between them without fully customising a new look every time you need access to different abilities. The schemata tie directly into the combat system, which allows you to instantly switch between the three main schemata during battles. Each one has a unique ATB gauge that drains as you use various techniques. It's important to switch between the schemata frequently to ensure you always have ATB to use.
When you run out of ATB, Lightning cannot perform any attacks or even block incoming attacks. Your ATB is constantly replenishing, but the two schematas that are not actively in use will replenish much faster than the active schemata. It's best to think of the schemata as job classes. You may have one that uses all magic, while another focuses on physical attacks and a third focuses on buffs and enfeebling abilities. Lightning is the only playable character in the game, but with the schemata system, it feels like you take an entire party into battle.
Party Like It's The End Of Days
Speaking of parties, it's the end of the world. That's right, 1,000 years have passed and Lightning is now tasked with saving the world. When you start the game, you have six days to save the world, but completing various quests will help extend that time. The clock is constantly ticking and certain quests can only be completed at specific times of the day. This creates a constant sense of urgency, which adds a unique challenge to the game.
When it comes to challenges, Lightning Returns delivers. The combat system includes a perfect guard ability that rewards a precisely timed guard by causing the attack to inflict minimal damage, knock an enemy off balance or counter an enemy's attack. In addition, Lightning does not level up in a traditional RPG sense. Instead, completing quests will boost Lightning's stats. For example, completing a side quest may reward Lightning with higher maximum HP, additional magic power and more strength. This means that optional side quests aren't so optional anymore. Couple this with the required time management and you've got a fairly challenging adventure.
A Voice To Be Reckoned With
The voice acting in Lightning Returns isn't the best, but it's at least passable. Unfortunately, there's no way to change the language track to Japanese with English subtitles, so if you're not a fan of the voice acting, you're stuck with it. Lightning maintains her stoic tone of voice throughout the entire game, no matter whom she's speaking with. This creates some comical situations compounded by the fact that most of the cut scenes are in-game as opposed to CG, which means whatever crazy outfit you've got Lightning wearing is what she'll dawn in the cut scene.
Generally speaking, having a fully voiced RPG is a good thing, but thanks to Lightning's friend Hope, this isn't really the case. Hope is stationed high above the ground in what's referred to as the Ark. Lightning is teleported to the Ark every day at 6AM no matter what you may be in the middle of doing. In addition, Hope checks in with Lightning all the time. Even when you have to wait five in-game hours to complete a quest, Hope will check in every 30 minutes to make sure you know what to do next. Your patience will be tested by the time you complete the game.
Action game fans will likely find Lightning Returns to be a fresh take on the RPG genre. However, classic Final Fantasy fans will probably need to look elsewhere to get their RPG fix. The action-oriented battle system, time-based questing and the lack of a true party element don't make a bad game, but it's definitely not a traditional RPG. While the previous Final Fantasy XIII titles moved away from the slower-paced adventuring of past games in the franchise, Lightning Returns is much closer to an action game than an RPG. If you enjoy both genres, this could be the perfect game for you.
GAME's Verdict: 7/10
- The time limit presents a welcome challenge
- Over 80 outfits to customise.
- Lightning has amazing hair
- Hope's constant nagging
- Having to check in everyday at 6AM
- Lightning's stoic tone of voice