Because God Says So
So the world is ending and Lightning has been conscripted by God to be The Savior, a warrior that goes around harvesting souls so that they can be brought into a new universe when the world ends. She works alongside Hope (who has been turned back into a teenager) to basically complete a whole bunch of sidequests in an attempt to extend the life of the world and let God create a new one. Note, that this story really has nothing to do with Final Fantasy XIII-2 , or the original Final Fantasy XIII , but screw it, Square-Enix is going to milk this IP for all it’s worth.
That’s how the game opens. Lightning and Hope just flat out tell you that God wants them reap the souls of the world by completing sidequests. You never get to see this God or hear him speak (until the end of the game at least), you just have to take the game’s word for it. In this way, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a lot more like a religion than a JRPG.
So off you go, completing sidequests that really shouldn’t matter at the end of the world. Some people want you to fetch them produce. Some people want you to defeat monsters. Some people want you to uncover the secret machinations of an underground cult. But all of these quests are completed in the same way. Go to place X, obtain item or defeat monster Y, report it to person Z. There’s no variety here, just a slow grind of fetch quests that continued until the game’s end.
The problem is, you don’t really get any payoff for completing these quests. None of them actually tie into the story. None of them tell you about how the world is ending or why God chose you. None of them tie the story back to Final Fantasy XIII-2 or XIII . They are all just random sidequests featuring random characters that, frankly, you don’t care about. God ensures you, however, that your good deeds will bring about great rewards, except you won’t get to see those rewards until the world’s end… wow this game really is like a religion.
The only plot the game has is told through a series of main quests. However, there are literally less than 10 main quests, while there are hundreds of sidequests. Not only that, but the main quests don’t make any sense. (Spoiler Warning! Stop reading here if you don’t want the game’s sloppy storytelling to be ruined for you.)
One of the first quests you encounter is about a cult who worships something called the Shadow Hunter. They are killing people who look like Lightning in an attempt to stop God from creating a new world. So you go through the game, uncovering more info about the cult, and even breaking into their stronghold, and it turns out that the Shadow Hunter is actually Noel from Final Fantasy XIII-2 . You assume that Noel is trying to start a cult for some dark and sinister reason, but you are wrong! It turns out he doesn’t even care about this cult. He just wants to kill you because a magic tape recorder said his girlfriend will come back to life if he does. So you just… ignore the cult for the rest of the game. Their only purpose was to bring you to Noel. You fight Noel and despite his entire character motivation being “kill the Savior” he just has a random change of heart mid-battle! He says he can’t do it, walks away from his life’s purpose, and then we never talk about him again. This is fanfiction level storytelling people! It’s all melodrama and deus ex machine.
Note, that you might think that you can derive some pleasure from simply trying to complete all the sidequests in the game, but you would be wrong. You see, the whole game is tied to a Dead Rising style clock. Unfortunately, certain quests can only be completed at certain points of the day, which means you will naturally have to give up on some quests to complete others. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t warn you about quest failure conditions. You just sorta’ fail them out of nowhere for taking too long. So if you, say, take an entire day trying to complete a quest only to fail it, you have effectively wasted that entire day, and basically failed all the other quests you could have been spending your time on. Not only that, but there are quests that are literally locked off from you until you play the game through once, and then start a new game on Hard mode. You have to play the game multiple times to see all of the content.
If you stick to just the main quests, this isn’t actually all that hard. If you are sufficiently powerful enough and simply sleep at inns to fast forward the clock, the main quests really only take a couple of hours. You can actually bang out multiple play-throughs in a day, if you really want to. Unfortunately, it’s getting to that level of power that is the problem. Square has completely gutted the leveling system. You don’t earn any sort of experience at all. Instead your stats only go up when you complete sidequests. So completing random sidequests that no one cares about is actually mandatory. At the end of the game you’ll have wasted 30-40 hours on sidequests, with less than a tenth of that spent on main quests. It makes the whole game incredibly unfulfilling.
If there’s anything that is decent about Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII it’s the battle system. Square-Enix decided to take out parties all together, letting you control only Lightning for the whole game. At least you don’t have to auto-battle anymore, though. Instead, Lightning has three ATB bars that fill up as the battle goes on. Each of these bars is tied to a “schemata” and each “schemata” has four different abilities you can use, each tied to a face button. Simply press the button of the ability you want to use, and switch schematas when you run out of ATB.
Unfortunately, Square-Enix still managed to make this battle system incredibly shallow. First of all, there’s no real strategy to battle. You can’t move around fast enough to dodge enemy attacks, so it makes sense to include a guard ability in each schemata in order to reduce damage. Also, your choice of attacks really doesn’t matter much. While you can attack enemy weak points to stagger them, doing so is kind of a pain. It’s a lot more effective to just spam your most powerful attack in each schemata. So it still feels like an auto-battle, even though you are choosing your attacks.
Furthermore, schematas are made out of “garbs” which change their base stats, and each garb tends to have an ability already set on it. So on average, you really only get to customize your schematas to have two or three abilities of your choosing. Furthermore, you get bonus garbs and weapons if you have a complete FFXIII and FFXIII-2 save on your machine, and these create incredibly powerful schemata that you can ride through the whole game. Heck, you don’t even get to upgrade your abilities until halfway through the game.
Overall, there is nothing enjoyable about Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII . It’s hard to care about the story, quests, battles, or anything the game throws your way. It kind of feels like Square is just trying to make you care by default because the game has Final Fantasy characters in it. Unfortunately, Lightning Returns has nothing to do with prior FFXIII titles. It’s just a quickly thrown together mess of mechanics that feels like it’s trying and failing to be an open world American style RPG. Frankly, you aren’t missing anything if you totally pass this title up. You are better off picking up Bravely Default for the 3DS if you are really itching for a good traditional Final Fantasy title.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Yes… It’s Final Fantasy. It’s pretty. Let’s get over it already. 2.0 Control
All you really do in battle is hold buttons until enemies die. It’s only slightly more interactive than auto battling. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting is good enough. The actors did all they could with the garbage plot. 1.0 Play Value
Unless you like wandering around aimlessly trying to complete meaningless sidequests, there is no reason to play this game. 1.9 Overall Rating – Avoid
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|