Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII : Game Review (PS3, Xbox 360)

"Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII" marks the end of the “Final Fantasy XIII” trilogy. A series beloved in its native Japan, but panned by western games for its linear design and convoluted story line. Having played all three games to completion, I can understand why the game isn’t so loved in the west, but for all its weak points, there are strong points that are often ignored which balance the game to a satisfying level. Firstly, the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at, with first class art direction. Secondly, the combat system is challenging and has a depth that you won’t discover until you try to take down some of the harder bosses. This trilogy is not the travesty a lot of people try to make it.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way let’s talk about FF LR:FFXIII, one of the most under-rated games in recent years. The story takes place 500 years after the events of FFXIII-2. Lightning has been recruited by God to save as many souls as she can, 13 days before the apocalypse. Working together with “Hope”, she encounters many past characters that she must save from despair.  Like with all good stories, a twist occurs when Lightning discovers not everything is as it seems.

The FFXIII trilogy is not the easiest story to follow, with many confusing elements that often had me scratching my head. LR:FFXIII thankfully tones the story down, and the game is better for it. The game ending I found particularly beautiful, and as someone who had invested a lot of time in these games, I was touched.

The gameplay takes place in real time, with a countdown clock constantly ticking to the end of days. At the end of each day you are transported to a home base (The Ark) even if you are just about to complete a main quest. At first I was worried this feature would ruin the experience, having to run around with no time to farm levels or Gil. However, soon into the game you gain the ability to freeze time for a short period. Once you work out how to spam this ability, you can pretty much explore at your own leisure and take the game at your own pace. If at the end of day 13 you are not ready to face the final boss, you can warp back to day one with all your perks intact, grind some more, then sleep until the end of days.

Battle this time around is a solo affair for the most part (in some instances characters will join you in combat). Lighting is able to switch between three jobs, represents by different garbs. You will collect many garbs throughout your journey, each with distinct abilities and styles of combat, such as warriors, mages, support classes, rouges etcetera. The combat is fast, and takes place in real time, with abilities placed on corresponding controller buttons. It is also challenging, even more so than previous games. Bosses will destroy the unprepared, and make you tinker with all the right combinations and techniques to be able to bring them down. Even some common spawns will require constant strategy and careful planning. I would recommend playing this game on easy. Think of easy as normal, and normal as hard. Enemies in this game will punish you.

Lightning wearing "Cloud" Downloadable Garb
LR:FFXIII is different this time around, in that you do not level up from destroying monsters. Rather, your stats increase with each quest you complete, main quests giving you the biggest increase. You can however use materials from monsters to upgrade all your moves for more damage / support. The game is non-linear, and you can undertake any main quest within the four different worlds, at any time. I enjoyed being able to free roam all maps, exploring wherever I wanted to from day one.

I had a blast with this game, but with that being said, it is not a game for everyone. Some people will be turned off by the pressures of playing to a time limit; others may be turned off by the constant combat, which can become a tad repetitive. RPG fans should definitely check this out. I can’t remember the last time I played a game to this extent in such a short period of time. The open world, non-linear play style was refreshing. I even enjoyed the pressures of the world clock forcing me to prioritize my actions. I for one will miss Lightning, but the pain is eased knowing “Final Fantasy XV” for PS4 and Xbox One is being released later this year.  

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