"Carries on the tradition of changing everything"

Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 were very different. They featured differing combat styles, gameplay mechanics and even changes to open world approaches. Lightning Returns, the final installment in the trilogy, carries on the tradition of changing everything. Unfortunately, these changes are not improvements.

One of the biggest critiques of FF XIII was that it was “too linear” and took far too long to become an open world experience. FFXIII-2 sought to fix this using time travel to allow players to move throughout the timeline and explore various areas. In Lightning Returns, you are given freedom of choice as soon as the opening/tutorial phase is over. There are four areas to explore – two cities, Luxerion and Yusnaan, as well as the Dead Dunes (a desert environment) and the Wildlands (a grasslands map). While they are richly created and offer players a variety of side missions and plenty of nods to previous characters in the trilogy, the new gameplay doesn’t grant the player much opportunity to explore at will due to the ticking clock and lack of leveling system.

Doomsday clock

Lightning Returns give players just 13 days (a nod to the fact it’s FF XIII?) until the end of the world. Lightning and Hope are in the remains of Cocoon, where Bhunevelze has awoken Lightning to be his savior. She is tasked with saving souls so that they don’t end up in the Chaos – in this way they can be reborn in the new world he is creating. Bhunevelze has promised Lightning that her reward for being God’s savior will be to be reunited with Serah. Of course, Gods are never trustworthy in FFXIII.

In order to drive home the idea of limited time, there is a clock that ticks down throughout the game. Lightning gets 24 hours at a time in the world before she is warped back to the Ark with Hope. Although time stops during dialogue and combat, an in-game minute is three real-world second, leaving players with only 72 minutes per in-game day. Players can freeze time using an EP ability, yet with limited EP points they cannot do this continually.

The leveling system ends up being tied to this lack of time. There is no clear leveling system in Lightning Returns. Rather than gaining EXP or attribute points by defeating enemies, Lightning only becomes stronger by completing quests. Upon completing main or side missions, she will receive HP, EP, attribute or item slot boosts. Seeing as you often need more time in order to complete these quests, it becomes a strange cycle of defeating enemies in order to earn EP so that you can freeze time more often, allowing you to complete more missions. Grinding ends up being a three-part experience.

Lightning returns chocolina

Lacking a basic leveling gauge, it can be incredibly difficult to know if Lightning is strong enough to take on particular enemies in new areas. In the interest of time management and efficiency, I tried to complete as much of the first city, Luxerion as I could. However, there was a point when the next part of the main mission would only become available later in the day, so I boarded a train to the Wildlands. There, I was able to defeat a few enemies, yet most were far too powerful for me. The same was true of the Dead Dunes. Eventually, I had to just try to complete a few more side missions before I was strong enough to move forward in the main part of the game. Grinding missions isn’t nearly as satisfying when they feeling necessary instead of part of being a superior hero.

The stress of the Doomsday Clock cannot be understated. By implementing a time limit, Lightning Returns eliminates one of the most enjoyable parts of any Final Fantasy game – exploration. With the impressive environments created, I really wanted to explore every nook and cranny, noticing the way lighting changed throughout the day/night cycle, highlighting details in the world. Unfortunately, I simply didn’t have that luxury. Instead, I felt like I had to rush through the game as efficiently as possible, without enjoying the typically fantastic graphics.

On that note, the aesthetic design of Lightning Returns was not quite up to scratch. Sure, the cut scenes were impressive and most of the designs were very well put together, but there were many problems that simply couldn’t be ignored. My worst moment was when fighting a Sahagin in the Dead Dunes – I experienced such bad lag that it actually made the battle more difficult. Obviously the dust particle effects were too much for the console to process. However, developers know the console capacities and should have moderated accordingly. Other noticeable problems were clear in animal designs. Great attention to detail went into the white Chocobo in the Wildlands, and yet other Chocobos and even dogs ended up looking partially designs and poorly executed. Final Fantasy has always featured impressive visuals, and these were notably lacking.

Lightning returns costumes

The new battle system makes use of various Schema. Each Schema is built from a unique outfit that Lightning pairs with a sword and shield, as well as various accessories. Each outfit comes with specific abilities such as attack, guard, fira or ruin. Additional abilities can be allocated to free slots, allowing the player to use the different Schema to specialize in various abilities. Each Schema gets its own ATB gauge – by shifting between Schema often you can carry out a flurry of attacks without any pause. As in earlier FFXIII games, enemies can be staggered in combat, making them more susceptible to damage. By tweaking Schema depending on enemies in a given areas, Lightning can maximize her powers and be more successful in battle. Costumes and equipment are far more important than leveling as a result – the game becomes about forging the best sword and buying the best outfit rather than grinding to up skill.

Unfortunately, none of the skills available allow Lightning to heal herself. Instead, players need to use recovery items which are only allowed in a limited number of slots, or consume those precious EP points to cast Curaga. While there are places to heal in each city, I sorely missed a heal option in battle. It was particularly striking to me that the White Mage Schema did not include a cure ability.

Lightning returns vanille

At first, I truly did not enjoy Lightning Returns. It took a solid 15 hours of pushing through to finally reach a point where I was able to manage my time and accomplish enough during each day to feel like I was making progress. It’s hard enough managing time in real life – doing so in a Final Fantasy game just felt like unnecessary stress. Eventually, I was strong enough to beat most enemies I encountered, ensuring a high amount of EP. Grinding enemies gave me more time to grind for quests, helping my character get stronger so that I could complete the main missions. That said, the game play was still frustrating and I often felt like I was waiting for certain times of day and then rushing to complete as much as possible in a limited amount of time. I never really felt that I could relax and enjoy the game.

Clocking in at about 50 hours of gameplay, Lightning Returns is certainly a sizable game. I enjoyed what they did with some of the returning characters, although ultimately their voice acting made them emotionless, dull and irritating. The one new character that was truly a delight was Lumina, another rose-colored female who emerges from the chaos. Her voice acting was enjoyable and she made for an intriguing character in a sea of two dimensional representations of Lightning, Snow and Fang. At least Sazh was as awesome as I remembered him. That said, you know Lightning is boring when a Chocobo has more character than her.

Lightning returns lumina

There is no doubt in my mind, Lightning Returns is the worst Final Fantasy game that the franchise has ever seen. With gameplay that undermines the core elements of what Final Fantasy should be, it is a poor finale to an average trilogy. I was happy to see the way they tied up loose ends – players finally learn the truth about Chocolina, Yeul’s role is explained and Lightning finally seems almost human. However, the issues far outweigh the benefits.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was reviewed by on the 24th of February , 2014 at 12:30 PM on Xbox 360

That Doomsday Clock makes it impossible to enjoy exploring the game, while the lack of a leveling system alienates avid grinders. The soul of the JRPG has ticked away.
There is no doubt that the game is beautiful. However, poor voice acting and some serious graphical and design flaws undermine the otherwise excellent aesthetic.
At 50 hours, the game is certainly a lot of game for your buck - there is even a New Game+ option for those who enjoy the game enough to want a replay.
There is a lot wrong in this last installment for FFXIII. Fans of the franchise will need to play it to enjoy all the nods to past characters, yet it is not worth playing for those who aren't already huge FF or JRPG fans.

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Author:Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let's get on with it!
  • Kensei Seraph

    I remember reading somewhere that there’s some spammable skill that you can abuse to get around the clock, although I’m not sure what it was.

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      Right click? ;)

  • Unavengedavo

    That shield makes about as much sense as the bikini armor you get in most RPG’s… What are you going to stop with something that small and see through?

    • Dean

      That’s in there too. It’s called the Amazon Warrior garb.

      • Unavengedavo

        aka… Pervert eye candy…

    • TiMsTeR1033

      To stop Rats and see through so she can see them coming! lol

  • Admiral Chief in Vegas

    Yup, I’d still hit that

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      Isn’t that a dude? I can never tell when it comes to JRPGs.

      • TiMsTeR1033

        one need not ask questions with JRPG’s

      • Her Highness the Hipster

        not showing midriff, so must be female :P

        • RinceandLeSIGH


        • Umar Reborn

          Nailed it!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            or would be soon if the Admiral gets his way :/

    • RinceandLeSIGH

      That’s just wrong…

  • Kromas

    Rather play A Realm Reborn. And I am not just saying it cause I feel lonely being the only Saffer in my free company. :(

  • TiMsTeR1033

    So if I got FFXIII the first one would that be a good purchase or should I rather just forget about FFXIII entirely.

    • Her Highness the Hipster

      depends on what you look for in a final fantasy game. FFXIII wasn’t a bad game, but you had to deal with a long opening section that allowed for no choices or power leveling. and some irritating characters.

      • TiMsTeR1033

        Well let me put it to you this way, I played FF 7 – 9 and miss the others..

        • Her Highness the Hipster

          better to play FF6, 10 or 12 than 13.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            that bad eish..

        • Umar Reborn

          Wait for next month…FF 10 HD baby!!!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            THAT I will get bro! Flipping been ages since played FF game, I miss those games. plus always wanted to play FF X and X-2

          • Umar Reborn

            Indeed, you’re gonna enjoy that one A LOT!!, almost time

    • Aussious

      Try the true successor to the FF series Lost Odyssey instead, not as good as XII but better than anything that has come after.

  • Umar Reborn

    Wowee….sad days when an FF title gets a 6.5….:(

    • Her Highness the Hipster

      I know! sad days when it deserves it :(

      • Umar Reborn

        13 wasn’t THAT bad , I actually enjoyed it. but this makes me sad…

    • TiMsTeR1033

      Then I dodged a bullet! I was gonna buy FFXIII yesterday!

      • RinceandLeSIGH

        Dude, what crazy were you drinking to want to do that? 0-O

      • Umar Reborn

        13 isn’t too bad I actually enjoyed it

        • TiMsTeR1033

          too bad… like trying to sell me an okay samoosa. “It burns the shit outta you but the taste isn’t too bad”

          • Umar Reborn

            Haha, well there are many other great JRPGs if you want to get into them

          • TiMsTeR1033

            If they similar to FF then yeah would be sweet. btw Dark Souls Catacombs is bliksim se donder hard.

          • Umar Reborn

            Lolz dem never ending skeletons. Kick em of a ledge!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            The catch is I don’t even have a divine weapon using a upgraded blackknight sword!

          • Umar Reborn

            Lolz, well kill them then run before they resurrect

          • TiMsTeR1033

            I killed those necormancers then its in some ways a walk in the park, but wtf that dude I killed before going to Darkroot garden is back and hard as hell as in small little space.

          • Umar Reborn

            Those trees? Darkroot Garden isn’t that hard though. not a big area as well

          • TiMsTeR1033

            no not the trees,talking about that boss with head cut off ect something discharge I think he is back in the catacombs.

          • Umar Reborn

            Ceaseless discharge? that catches you when you pick up that soul?

  • RinceandLeSIGH

    Let it stay dead! “That said, you know Lightning is boring when a Chocobo has more character than her.” HAHAHA! Yes, she is bloody boring.



      • RinceandLeSIGH


      • Umar Reborn

        HAHAHAHAH !!!!!!!

      • Alien Emperor Trevor


  • Pieter Kruger

    WTF is that a Chicken Licken mascot in the 2nd pic?? For the love of all that is Holy please kill this franchise and keep it dead!!!

    • Her Highness the Hipster

      LOL! That’s chocolina, another random character with way more personality than lightning :P

  • Aussious

    Harsh but probably true, I still have the original FFXIII collecting dust with like 3 hours clocked in.

  • funkyg

    I am very happy with the game and spent the whole weekend playing non stop. OK so the time limit puts a bit of pressure but its better than running around for days on end without direction. Its also very cool to change your characters around until you are fully comfortable with what each charater does in a fight. It took me ages but I am happy with my formula and kick serious butt. I rate it better that FF13 but not as good as FF12.

  • DiegoZicoB

    Have you ever played Dirge Of Cerberus? You might want to take your ‘worst Final Fantasy ever’ comment back if you have.

  • Acornbread
  • Shittytitsmcgee

    Beautiful? I never understand why people think the game looks good, it looks like something from the PS2.

  • http://www.norsetradition.com HergeD

    Whats the latest with ffiii-2

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