Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 Review: Lightning Strike-Out
With your abilities being mapped to buttons rather than buried in menus, Lighting Returns allows combat to be much more reactive. Players can now guard against an enemy’s attack with a simple press of a button, and with good timing, even mitigate most of the damage. A new evasive maneuver allows Lightning to roll to a monster’s backside to potentially deliver some extra damage. All of these additions are great and add an extra layer of skill to an already challenging battle system.
Not everything is perfect, though. Sometimes, the more extravagant spell effects can obscure your view of your enemies, making it hard to read what they’re going to do. This can be alleviated somewhat by switching the camera mode to the far view, but it doesn’t totally fix the issue and you sacrifice some of the spectacle of the battle.
One aspect of the combat that I’m a bit torn on is the actual reward for defeating standard enemies. As mentioned before, there is no leveling up system in Lightning Returns, which means you don’t earn experience from winning battles. Instead, all you earn is usually a meager amount of gold, a fraction of an energy point, an item that only has worth if a quest giver is looking for it, and an ability that you can equip on one of your schemata.
Obviously, this dramatically reduces the importance of standard battles against monsters that spawn in the field, and on one hand, this is actually kind of nice. Since defeating monsters is no longer directly tied to your character’s progression, it allows you to avoid battles without feeling like you’re missing out on valuable experience. But on the other hand, there are times when you’ll get into a battle against several tough enemies, barely make it out alive, and then have basically nothing to show for it. It feels like a better balance could have been achieved.
The extra abilities that you earn can eventually be upgraded to make them stronger, but unless you have some sort of strategy guide or wiki to tell you which enemies drop the abilities you’re looking to improve, and also which enemies drop the mailstones required to perform the upgrade, chances are good that you’re going to be hoarding a lot of useless abilities that you can’t do anything with.
Finally, let’s talk about those costumes. As mentioned earlier, part of customizing your schemata is choosing a garb, of which there are more than 80. Each garb comes with its own stat increases and abilities that are locked to that piece of clothing. For example, if you decide to use the Velvet Bouncer garb — and you should because it’s very good — you’ll be stuck with a level 2 blitz mapped to the “Y” button and must set your other three abilities around it.
It’s always exciting when you get a new garb because many of them are throwbacks to older Final Fantasy games, and others are just simply awesome-looking, but you run into the classic problem of stats outweighing aesthetics. Many of the cooler-looking costumes just pale in comparison to what I had been using for a majority of the game, which was a bit of a bummer.
It should also be noted that some of the costumes that you can put on Lightning are just so far outside of the realm of what the character would ever conceivably wear. It’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow seeing her still come off as the cold and stoic badass while wearing an outfit that looks like it belongs in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Things get even more ridiculous when you start dressing her up with purely cosmetic adornment, like an anime-style Lightning mask, complete with unblinking anime eyes.