No one will ever get the subtle reference in that title, I bet. Okay folks, here’s the deal. I have here a copy of Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I didn’t get to play it back when it came out because I was too busy with Fire Emblem Awakening. How about we talk about this instead of what I said we’d talk about last time? Right? Wouldn’t that be fun? I’ll make funny stuff about it, and we’ll laugh, and we’ll all pretend I was talking about that game the entire time. It’s a foolproof plan. Or we can talk about Stardew Valley; I’ve been playing that too, and when you get right down to it, aren’t radishes awesome? Or we can sit here and make more funny predictions about that Sonic Boom movie. No one would ever have to know that we didn’t talk about the game that’s technically in the title. Here, I’ll even include a picture and a caption so that they never suspect.
Turns out that I have to submit things to editors before they can go up. So I guess we have to actually, for real, talk about the last in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
Right from the start, I hope you can appreciate one of the more glaring issues of this trilogy, namely that Lightning, the main character, has eclipsed the Final Fantasy part of the title. If you remember the last review, Lightning was used as the promotional material for the previous game, despite only appearing in it for, oh, about five minutes. If we’re being charitable. Fortunately, some kindly soul decided to rectify that, because this game is entirely about Lightning. Lightning is the focus character, Lightning is the crux of the story, Lightning is the only playable character, Lightning is on all the promotional material, Lightning is the only person in game who can do anything. Didn’t get enough Lightning in this game? Well then, catch her in Dissidia Duodecium, where she’s the main character of the playable demo and the new campaign! Still not enough Lightning? Well, catch her as a playable in Theatrhythm! Hey, guess what, you can get even more Lightning in Final Fantasy: All The Bravest, for a minor fee! Now don’t get me wrong here. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with Lightning, but when she’s shilled to hell and back again, you start to wonder if she took more than just a few visual cues from Cloud back in the design phase.
So I guess you want to know what the plot is. Okay then. After everything went straight to hell out of nowhere in the last game, Lightning is unfrozen by God himself, Bhunivelze. Lightning is tasked with gathering up the souls of every person still remaining in the timeless wasteland so that they can be taken into the new world. Just to incentivise her in her new role, Bhundalamarama decides to take some of her emotions away, and promises that he can revive Serah as something of a Christmas bonus to the whole employment package, which is a thing that he absolutely can do, for real. As the main villain, and of course he is the main villain, Bundelunze decides that he’s going to remove all emotion from his creations so that none of these shenanigans will ever happen again, making him both lazy, and really just a jerk when we get right down to it. Lightning must dress up in a variety of costumes, have awkward interactions with a spectral version of her sister taunting her about things, meet various previous cast members for a few minutes before continuing on her merry way, and ultimately succeed in her goal of reaping the souls of every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. Meanwhile, Lightning is supported in her efforts by Hope, who despite being teased with Lightning to hell and back again, has been reverted back into his annoying kid version from the first game, for reasons that I’m not entirely sure I want explained to me. The shocking twist that Bhundalunda is not on the up and up that I’ve already spoiled for you forces Lightning to confront her Final Fantasy-mandated role of killing God with friendship before creating a new world.
The game forgoes a lot of the mechanics from previous entries in the franchise, mainly by doing away with Paradigm Shifts and most of the combat mechanics in favour of having Lightning fighting by herself by playing dress up in various outfits, most of which are hilariously out of character for someone who’s supposed to be a serious military-minded person. The game mechanics for exploring outside of combat have been vastly altered too, because despite there being massive areas to explore and a wide variety of side quests to accomplish, there is a near absolute time limit placed on your exploration. In thirteen days, the world ends, and explaining how time passes when time is supposed to be stopped is beyond me. As such, you may use in-game currency to slow down the passage of time, accrued by fighting random battles. One might think this is encouragement to grind to become more powerful, and you would be wrong, because levelling up has nothing to do with how many monsters you’ve killed. It is instead linked to quests, and completing a quest will provide a set bonus to certain stats. This creates something of a Majora’s Mask situation where one has to keep their eye on the passage of time in the hopes of certain quests opening up, except that Majora’s Mask allowed you to return to the first day whenever you wanted, while Lightning Returns only allows this option as a New Game Plus feature, and can often give you quests far before you’re reasonably capable of doing them with absolutely no indication that the rabbit you’re about to attack can rip your throat out with a stern look of disapproval for your life choices.
The costumes were the other big selling point for this game, and while I am a personal fan of the Garment Grid system from Final Fantasy X-2, it worked a lot better there than it did here. Mostly because the system doesn’t fit the character, but also because some of the best costumes in the game are paid DLC, or tied in with cross promotions with other Square Enix games. This was back when Square Enix was right in the worst period of their microtransaction era, and it shows. In addition, the fact that the entire battle system has been turned on its head and revamped makes the starting part of the game something of a cruel joke. Not only do you have to acclimatize yourself to a more action-oriented combat system, for a given value of action, you have to do it while your original gear is terrible, and in-battle healing is extremely limited. The original combat might have been a little broken, but this is like deciding to smash your watch with a hammer and carry around a grandfather clock, rather than taking it in for a new battery or winding it, or taking out your iPhone. This metaphor got away from me a little.
If it seems that I’m lacking something of my usual vitriol for this, it’s because I am. I never even bought this game, I rented it because I was already severely Final Fantasy XIII-ed out at this point, and didn’t imagine that this would be the solution to that. I was absolutely right in that assertion. The problem with this game is that by this point, people really did not care. Maybe if all the Final Fantasy XIII games had been released when they were supposed to be, maybe we would have seen this as the climax of the series to date, and maybe we would have been enthusiastic for the future adventures of Lightning, and maybe the ending, which I won’t go over here, would have been accepted instead of driving the internet insane. Maybe Bhunnywunny would have been a memorable enough villain for me to spare enough effort to spell his name right. And maybe, if Square Enix hadn’t been filled with enough hubris to think that this would sell based on the exploits of a popular character and brand name alone, maybe it wouldn’t be just a soul-dragging conclusion to the whole sorry affair. Honestly, the only way this could have been any worse… no, I don’t think it could have been.
Hypothetically I suppose, the only way it could have been worse is if Lightning Returns had been a MMORPG instalment of the franchise, and given to someone with a track record of making MMORPGs with high hopes of competing with World of Warcraft of all things. If that person had then made the game look really beautiful, and decided that that along with the name would be the main selling point. And then, having done so, if that person had made the rest of the game a clunky, bug ridden, unbalanced mess, with very little to do, next to no content worth doing even if you could do it, and filled to the brim with inexplicable design choices, like plants having as much textures as player characters. If the person in charge had, hypothetically, known about this travesty and still released it with requests to reviewers to be really special nice because they were going through a rough time, expecting anyone to actually honour that request. If this purely hypothetical chump had managed to mess it up so badly, that he managed to get himself fired from the company for sheer incompetence. If that had happened, well, maybe that would have been worse than Lightning Returns, but I’m sure a company like Square Enix would never have… Hold on, let me look at what we’re covering next week.