This Is Why Lightning Returns’ Story Is Garbage

This Is Why Lightning Returns’ Story Is Garbage

There’s an old piece of advice when it comes to writing fiction: “show, don’t tell.” The idea is to show important events happening rather than fire them at our face with long winded exposition. For example, it’s boring to write “John was angry” but more interesting to write “John frothed at the mouth as he swore vengeance for his fallen comrades” … or something like that. Similarly, important pieces of a character’s backstory can’t come out of left field. They have to be referenced throughout the story through characters and setting. If John’s father used to be in the military, it would make sense that his father’s house would have at least some military regalia in it. That’s foreshadowing 101.

The more visual the medium, the more important this rule is. In comics, it’s better to draw a fight scene than to have a narration bubble describe it. In cinema, it’s more important to see events happen than to have characters talk about them happening in the past. In video games, it actually gets taken one step further. We have the rule “do don’t show” before “show don’t tell.” Basically, if there’s a huge fight, let the player fight it before you render it in an FMV, and certainly render it in an FMV before a character simply tells you the fight happened with no visual confirmation whatsoever.

This, my friends, is the biggest problem with one of Square-Enix’s latest releases, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII , a game I will never tire of pointing out the flaws to. Buckle up kiddos cause we are taking a one way trip into spoilertown.

So in Lightning Returns , the world has become ageless. No one grows old anymore. Creeping chaos has enveloped all but a tiny portion of the land. The world is about to die in 13 days and it’s up to Lightning to reap the souls of the living and usher them into a new world that God is creating.

OK, that sounds badass, but in practice it’s not because we aren’t shown anything. The game just starts in this new ageless world. Lightning and Hope tell us what happened, but we never get to see it. We never get to see people realizing they never age. We never get to see lands lost to the chaos. We never get any confirmation that the world is, in fact, going to die, other than Hope’s second hand confirmation that “God said so.”

This problem persists throughout the entire game! Snow is “evil” now because he doesn’t trust Lightning as the savior. But we never see him go evil! We never see him fall into despair for the loss of Serah! We never see him rise to power as the ruler of a town of hedonists. We are just told this through Lightning’s exposition, or worse, through optional data logs. Last we saw Snow, he had a mullet and was helping us time travel and beat up giant Flans.

Noel wants to kill Lightning, even though he was Lightning’s friend before, because an oracle sphere told him to. Then he told us! Vanille is now a religious figure. How did we find out? She told us. Hope was age-regressed by god to the age of 13 for some stupid handwavey reason. How do we know? He told us! Heck, even completing sidequests, the main gameplay element of the game, is motivated by nothing other than God telling us to do so, and God didn’t even tell us! Hope did!

This Is Why Lightning Returns’ Story Is Garbage

That’s why it’s hard to care about anything you are doing in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII . Everything feels numb because we are simply told we are supposed to care. Everything that happens feels kind of like a fanfiction, because we never saw this story foreshadowed. We never thought we would be at the end of the world in Final Fantasy XIII 1 or 2 . We never heard anything about the tree of life and God seemed to be incredibly passive in every other game. We never set foot in any of these towns, helped any of these people, or really interacted with anyone except for the original Final Fantasy XIII cast, and even they aren’t acting like themselves for reasons that, once again, we aren’t shown, but told.

We know that Square-Enix is in love with exposition, but not every Final Fantasy game is like this. It would have been easy for a party member to tell us about the opera Celes had to perform in in Final Fantasy VI , but instead we were shown the opera taking place. It would be easy for us to be told Cloud’s history in Final Fantasy VII , but instead we play it in a flashback. Heck, even Final Fantasy VIII , the red headed step-child of the Final Fantasy franchise, allowed us to play Laguna’s story in the past rather than simply have it thrown at us in exposition bombs. But Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII does none of this. It expects us to accept the story at face value, simply because it tells us to, and frankly, we can’t.

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