Fans of "Final Fantasy XIII" and more specifically, fans of the character Lightning now have something else to be happy about. The unprecedented "Final Fantasy" trilogy has finally concluded with "Lighting Returns." Set five hundred years after the events of "Final Fantasy XIII-2," Lightning has woken up from a deep sleep to find the world at the brink of destruction. Diseased by Chaos, humanity is near its end and Lightning only has 13 days to save the world and be reunited with her sister, Serah. Compared to the first two games in the series, this is a fairly straightforward premise.
Before I get too far into this, I feel I should provide a little background. "Final Fantasy" is storied franchise and I am well aware that there are millions of gamers that love many of the things I dislike about "Final Fantasy" games. What I love about the games are the high production values and epic stories. The game mechanics of "Final Fantasy" are typically just something I tolerate. Grinding and turn based combat with long animations suck the fun out of a game for me. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve fallen asleep in the middle of a battle. It is with that perspective that I have come to appreciate the slow advances of "Final Fantasy’s" combat system.
While the setup to "Lightning Returns" is pretty simple, the story does have its fair share of twists and turns. It wouldn’t be a "Final Fantasy" game without them. "Lightning Returns" also allows an almost unprecedented level of freedom, making it nearly an open world adventure. For RPG fans, the new gear options in conjunction with a more action oriented combat system make the new game one of the best "Final Fantasy" games ever. The only problem with it is the script and that’s a huge problem. Even for a "Final Fantasy" game, the over-played dialogue is really too much to handle.
The script has actually been somewhat of a drawback to the entire "Final Fantasy XIII" series. From the beginning, there were too many characters and subplots to ever feel really invested in a particular character. Though the whole trilogy starts and finishes with Lightning, you never feel like you really know her. I can’t help but think that if there were less distractions, Lightning could have been fleshed out a bit better. With "Lightning Returns," all of your time is spent playing as her, but the dialogue is so overwrought she never feels real. It’s really a shame that Ali Hillis’ acting talents are wasted in this way. She was able to make the blue Asari, Liara T’soni one of the most endearing characters in the "Mass Effect" trilogy.
What "Lightning Returns" does have going for it is an amazing amount of freedom for "Final Fantasy" game. While the original "Final Fantasy XIII" had hubs that allowed some freedom along with side quests, in "Lightning Returns" almost the entire world can be explored and almost everything you do is side quest of sorts. The various environments are all appropriately well populated allowing you to enjoy the dying world. While Lightning’s outfits have gotten sexier through the series, players can now fully customize the heroine’s wardrobe.
It is actually the ability to customize Lightning’s apparel that drives the combat system in "Lightning Returns." She starts with two outfits or “Schemata” as they are referred to in the game. The Schemata includes an outfit, a weapon, a shield, a couple of accessories, and specific abilities and each of these sets has an action point pool. Of course each individual component has its own set of stats and bonuses. This means that you can run around the battle area, execute your moves and when you’re out of action points, switch to another Schemata and have a new set of actions you can perform. This allows for a good amount of strategy to be executed in battle.
The whole package of "Lightning Returns" is a bit upside down. While the gameplay is probably the best a "Final Fantasy" has ever been, the story can be a bit annoying. Those of you that have really enjoyed the trilogy thus far, will certainly appreciate this curtain call. Nearly every member of the huge cast from the first two games returns. The open-ended gameplay also allows for more replayability than other "Final Fantasy" games and the new game plus option is there to facilitate it. The overall story arc doesn’t change but the journey along the way has some twists and turns depending on what you decide to do. This isn’t a perfect game or even a perfect ending to the trilogy, but it does offer a lot of promise for "Final Fantasy XV."
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