Posted on February 11, 2014, Mitchell Saltzman Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 Review: Lightning Strike-Out
Warning! This review contains spoilers for Final Fantasy 13 and Final Fantasy 13-2 to explain the scenario of Lightning Returns. If you haven’t played those games, you should probably refrain from reading further.
If ever there was a video game that didn’t need a sequel, it was Final Fantasy 13.
It wasn’t an awful game by any means — though it was certainly one of the more divisive Final Fantasy titles — but specifically, it didn’t need a sequel because it had a definitive, satisfying conclusion. The story was wrapped up and we were ready to move on. The world was saved, the L’Cie completed their focuses, Serah and Dah’j were unfrozen, and everyone lived happily ever after. Well, everyone except for Vanille and Fang, but they went down in history as heroes and well, no one liked Vanille anyway.
But whether we wanted it or not, we got a sequel in Final Fantasy 13-2. Again, not a bad game. In fact, FF13-2 was actually better, in many respects, than its predecessor. But then came that depressing cliffhanger ending, and the realization that we would have to do this dance again before Square-Enix could finally move on to something new.
So here it is, the third, final, and unfortunately weakest entry of the Final Fantasy 13 saga, Lightning Returns.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3
Release Date: Feb. 11, 2014
When we last left protagonist Lightning in Final Fantasy 13-2, she was sitting on the Goddess Etro’s throne, frozen in stasis while the rest of the world crumbled around her. It has been 500 years since the events of 13-2, and a mysterious power known as Chaos has swept through the world of Nova Chrysalia, turning everyone into pseudo-immortals. People can no longer age, reproduce, or die from natural causes, but they can still die from violence or illness. Oh, and the world is seven days away from armageddon.
Sounds pretty grim, right? Fortunately, Lightning is woken up from her slumber thanks to Bhunivelze, the god of light. Bhunivelze plans on making a new world, but in order to do that, he needs souls to inhabit it. So, he tasks Lightning with the job of being the Savior of Nova Chrysalia, and sends her down to save as many souls as she can so they can be reborn into the god’s new world. Of course, Lightning doesn’t work for free, apparently even when it comes to saving the human race from the apocalypse. So she makes a deal: She’ll become the savior, if Bhunivelze can reunite her with her beloved sister, Serah.
That’s really all that you get in terms of an overarching story in Lightning Returns. As each day passes and Lightning completes more and more main quests, you get a little bit more exposition that helps illuminate what happened during the 500 years that Lightning slept, what “Chaos” actually is, and why Lightning’s former allies are all acting so differently. The story is rather predictable and while the game’s non-linear structure may be nice from a gameplay standpoint, it doesn’t do the story any favors, making it feel unfocused and convoluted.
You can approach any of the initial four main quests in whatever order you want, simply by using a train to visit one of the four regions of Nova Chrysalia: Luxerion, Yusnaan, The Wildlands, and the Dead Dunes. That being said, the quests are numbered so there’s definitely a recommended order, and trying to jump ahead is usually a good way to run into an enemy that’s way beyond your strength, leading to wasted time.
And wasting time is the last thing you want to do in Lightning Returns. Like the Dead Rising games, there is a time limit at play here. Unless you’re in a menu, a cutscene, or a battle, time is constantly moving, and once the clock hits 6 a.m., Lightning must return — see what I did there — to what’s known as the Ark: a safe haven created by Hope that is unaffected by the passage of time.
At first, the time limit is a cause of a lot of stress. There’s a lot to get done in any given day in Lightning Returns and whenever you fall in battle, you lose an hour’s worth of time. Since Lightning Returns can sometimes be rather difficult, especially at the beginning when you’re still getting used to the combat, there were several moments where I simply loaded up an earlier save rather than play through the time penalty.