I am going to get this out of the way right now. If you like this entry in the franchise, more power to you. This review is my opinion, and if you disagree, that is fine. Now that I got that out of the way, Final Fantasy XIII is one of the worst games in the Final Fantasy franchise. It might not be Final Fantasy: All The Bravest or the first version of Final Fantasy XIV, but it really is one of the worst. Sure, there might be some good things about this particular entry in the series like some of the characters, I like some of the songs used in this entry, but in my opinion, it has a lot more wrong with it than right. It also puzzles me that out of any game in the franchise they could make a couple of sequels out of, they choose the one game in the series that is almost universally hated. Anyway, it seemed like a much more confusing business decision that they decided to make another sequel to a game that no one was asking for. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII has to be one of the dumbest ideas from Square Enix I have ever heard of, and we know that they have made dumb decisions before. The future of this game also doesn’t look good when you have Bravely Default, a much better RPG already out, and Final Fantasy XV coming out in the future. However, in the end, how does this game hold up? Was it worth putting money into this game, or should you have just bought Bravely Default or waited for Final Fantasy XV?
Lightning returns (see what I did there?) and is once again voiced by Ali Hillis. You might know her more as Liara T’soni from the popular Mass Effect franchise. She is in the living world that is about to end, and trying to save everyone and stop the chaos from spreading. The chaos for newcomers to the series is basically an evil force that summons hellish monsters and causes destruction. This means she will need to help out and save her former friends and allies. She will also have to deal with a young girl named Lumina, voiced by Jessica DiCicco. Can Lightning stop the world from ending? Can she save her friends/allies? Can she stop Lumina? Can she take down the Chaos? Can she save the world of Grand Pulse? Did I enjoy the story? Read later on in this review to find out.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a JRPG through and through, with a lot more emphasis on action-oriented combat, side quests, and customization than ever before. Instead of having that very simple and only slightly complex battle system from the last two games in the series, which was known as the Paradigm Shift, instead, they use something new. You only play as Lightning, and instead of having an auto-command button doing everything for you, each of the four face buttons correspond with a certain move, like melee attacks, magic spells, defensive options, and you get the idea. You have to press the right button to perform which attack on the enemy. This means you have to choose what moves to put onto each button command and know what monster is weak to what attack.
The customization comes in the form of these outfits called Schemas that you can make Lightning wear that give her different stats and preset abilities. You also have a multitude of sub-items to equip your character. It might turn Lightning into a doll since you are giving her different outfits, but it’s a pretty fun and complex system, and easily one of the best things about this game. Outside of the main quests, you have side quests that you can either acquire from complete strangers or learn about them on a bulletin board. Some of these side quests are timed, so you have to make sure you meet the person at the right time or else you will miss the opportunity to do said quest. Now, being timed might be a bad thing since you can’t fully explore the game’s towns, and to a certain extent, it isn’t that bad, but it has its issues that I will explain later on in my review. To ease the stress of not being under full control of the clock, you have an EP (energy points) bar where you can pull off different abilities from slowing down time, to fully healing yourself, teleporting, escaping from fights, and those are just a few of the abilities. The overall game will take you about 25 to 30 hours to complete, with some replay value if you want to go 100% on it or try out the multitude of outfits you gain throughout the game.
The game’s graphics are okay. Some of the character models and cutscenes look fine and are animated well enough, but a lot of the textures look weak. It is definitely not as good looking as the last two games. It looks better than what I expected a lot of games to look like now that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is out, but it is nowhere near as good looking as the last two games. When it comes to music, I have mixed feelings. I enjoyed the first game’s soundtrack, but the second game’s soundtrack was weaker, and the third game’s soundtrack is kind of in the middle. It has some great songs, but I also feel like it has some forgettable songs as well. Two of the composers for this game are Masashi Hamauzu and Naoshi Mizuta. Hamauzu worked on games like SaGa Frontier 2 and Unlimited SaGa. On the other side of the spectrum, Mizuta worked on games like Street Fighter Alpha, Parasite Eve II, the Final Fantasy XI MMO and expansions, Blood Bahamut, and Guardian Cross.
Now then, let us get on with the criticism. Honestly, I couldn’t find myself fully invested with the story. Lightning, as a main character, isn’t that great. She hasn’t been that good of a character since the first game anyway, but you would think Square Enix would learn from that and make her character something worthwhile in the final game of the Final Fantasy XIII series. She comes off as emotionless and boring. Sure, she says God took her emotions away, but it doesn’t excuse her for sounding so static throughout the game. She sounds detached from the entire world and the events that happen in front of her. It also doesn’t help that it seems like no one cares that the world is ending. They know it’s ending, and they treat it like a minor annoyance. They go about their day like it was just another day of the week. The countdown clock should be a much bigger deal than it is, but it really isn’t. That special EP ability that lets you stop time for a few minutes can easily be abused. Sure, you need EP energy to use it, but you can easily stop time, fight some enemies to regain it, and then use it again when it happens like it’s nothing.
While side quests are usually optional, these side quests are sort of mandatory since it’s the only way you can level up your stats. If you don’t do enough side questing, you will find yourself with lower than needed stats when you face the game’s bosses. This means monsters will just give you items used for side quests, which almost makes battling monsters pointless. The clock actually becomes a bigger nuisance with side quests, since certain people and quests can only be done at certain times. This means if you want to complete a certain quest or objective during the main part of the game, you have to wait. In a game that used this time mechanic well, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, you could move forward or back in time to complete any mission or quest you were on and didn’t have to wait for a very specific period in time to continue that quest. Why should I have to wait in an RPG where I need to save the world in a certain amount of days? I also hate how the first main mission goes, since you do a lot of the first part of the first main quest, but then you have to basically waste a day to get to the second part of the quest. Again, why should I have to wait? It’s almost like certain missions from Red Dead Redemption, where I have to wait for a certain person to appear instead of just getting the mission going. This is why, in games like Grand Theft Auto V, they don’t force you with a time limit, and they just move you on through to the mission.
I also feel like the hub worlds you travel through are rather barren. The two city areas should be bustling with people, but they act like small towns instead of huge, packed cities with parties and other things going on. This especially hurts the more wild areas like the Wildlands and the Dead Dunes where they are just barren, with only a few people walking around, or only a monster here or there running around. Then again, the Dead Dunes probably makes more sense, but what puzzles me is that the first game had visible monsters in an area of the game where you could see them running around. Why go from that format to this? It makes it feel like a grind, just running around finding monsters. My final complaint is small, but why can’t I freely move around during battle? I can move around, jump, evade, do all those things, but moves like “evade and jump” are only commands, and not a flick of the right stick or something in that form. I mean seriously, I am surprised they didn’t just do a Kingdom Hearts-style combat engine with this game, since I feel like it could have used something like that or the upcoming Final Fantasy XV combat system.
Final Verdict: Just buy Bravely Default and preorder Final Fantasy XV
In the end, why was this game made? I think if you are going to make a third game, you should put every blood, sweat, and tear into it to make it the best product possible. That isn’t the case here. In my opinion, I felt like they only made this to capitalize on the last batch of fans of this particular entry before the much better-looking and more fun Final Fantasy XV comes out in the future. It feels like such an underwhelming end to an entry in the franchise that I and many other gamers didn’t personally care for. I can somewhat understand why some people like the series, because there are some good things about it, but in the long run, would you honestly say it is the best game out of the franchise?
The only really good thing this game has going for it is the combat and customization system. However, when every other design choice conflicts with another design choice, or that specific mechanic can easily be abused, the combat system isn’t going to be a saving grace when everything else is so lackluster. If you haven’t picked it up already, I would personally skip it. I would instead get better JRPGs like Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Tales of Xillia, Xenoblade Chronicles, or even Square Enixs’ own Bravely Default. Like I said, if you like the game, that is fine with me. Don’t let my negative review change your own opinion. I mean, reviews are always going to be subjective. I would only play Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII if you want to play all three games in the Final Fantasy XIII series, but I would say that this is one tale that you could easily skip.