Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 Review: Lightning Strike-Out
Looking back on it now, those reloads were unnecessary. The game gives you plenty of time to complete all of the main quests to the point where the time limit doesn’t even feel necessary. Unless you stubbornly and continuously try to take on an enemy that’s obviously too strong for you, you should never feel like you’re short on time. The game also gives you an ability called Chronostasis, which can be used to stop the passage of time at the cost of what’s known as an energy point.
The bigger frustration with the time system in Lightning Returns comes from the time-locked gates, which prevent you from reaching specific areas during certain hours of the day. It’s incredibly annoying to be one step away from completing a sidequest, only to find out you won’t be able to get where you’re going it until midnight rolls around. And by the time midnight does roll around, chances are you’re already knee-deep in another quest and will have to wait until at least midnight the next day in order to complete the sidequest and claim its reward.
Completing sidequests is vital in Lightning Returns, even to the point where it feels strange to call them sidequests. You see, there is no traditional leveling system in the game. Instead, Lightning gets stronger every time she completes a quest. Completing a quest will net her a slight permanent boost to her hit points, strength, and/or magic, with larger quests reaping more substantial rewards.
The problem is that the vast majority of sidequests in Lightning Returns are awful.
In fact, you can replace the word “sidequests” with “errands” and it would feel more appropriate. Some exciting examples include: Checking the 14 clocks in Luxerion to make sure they’re still running; corralling six sheep back into their pen; eating at each restaurant in Yusnaan; or picking six flowers that grow in the day time and six flowers that grow in the night time. These already bad sidequests are made even worse by the fact that there are no waypoints that show you to where you need to go, nor are there waypoints to tell you where you can pick up new sidequests. What this leads to is a lot of aimless wandering, hoping to eventually find either a treasure chest, a shiny on the ground, or a new person to talk to in order to either pick up or complete a sidequest.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the reasons why you were doing these errands were interesting, but they’re not. You’d think that with a premise of people living for 500 years, it would be a fertile ground for delivering some intriguing and emotional stories about survivors who were mentally strong enough to keep on living for centuries.
But that’s not the case here; hardly anyone outside of the main cast speaks like they have the weight of 500 years of experience on their shoulders, and most of the time just ask you to do things that they really could’ve done themselves.
Fortunately, Lightning Returns fares much better in the combat portions of the game. Battles offer players full control of Lightning’s movements and are less reliant on menus than in previous installments — the only time you’ll see a traditional RPG menu is when you pause the action to select either a restorative item or a special ability. Your abilities are mapped to the four face buttons of the controller and with a simple press of the right or left bumper, you can switch to a new “schemata” for a completely new set of four abilities.
Schematas are fully customizable sets of equipment that are made up of a costume, a weapon, a shield, two accessories and four abilities. By mixing and matching various pieces of equipment, you can essentially create classes that are dedicated to a specific role. There is a lot of depth to the schemata system and you’ll likely spend a lot of time experimenting with different combinations to find something that you like. Generally, you’ll want a schemata focused on strength, one for magic damage, and one to tank big attacks and/or debuff your enemies, but the fact that the option is there to create something completely out of the ordinary is very welcome.
Once you’re actually in battle, things should start to feel familiar rather quickly for Final Fantasy 13 vets. At the core of the combat system is still the stagger mechanic. By exploiting your enemies’ weaknesses repeatedly, you’re able to “stagger” them, making them extremely vulnerable to your attacks. The challenge is that some enemies recover very quickly from our attempts to stagger them if you don’t keep up the assault, requiring a balance of aggressive offense, while still being ready to switch to a defensive schemata to avoid taking big damage or getting stunned out of your offensive push.