Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 Review
Lightning Returns is the best videogame experience released in the entirety of videogame’s history.
Sorry, that’s a lie. Truth be told we could say anything right about now, chances are you’ve made your mind up about Final Fantasy: Lightning Returns anyway.
You may think Lightning Returns is an unnecessary continuation of the beleaguered 13th Final Fantasy, you may believe that the focus on real-time combat muddies the franchise or you may even suppose that Square Enix has had two chances to win you over already – why bother a third time?
You’d be right, of course. All those things are valid concerns.
But that doesn’t mean that Final Fantasy: Lightning Returns isn’t without its merits. You may have to put some time in before you truly understand its qualities, but they are worth fighting for.
Lightning Returns – The Good Stuff
It’d be remiss of us to focus on anything other than the mechanical systems and menus tying Lightning Returns’ combat together.
All JRPGs should be valued on their intertwining systems since that’s most likely the reason you’ll be sticking around to see the 20+ hour game to the end.
So if you like stats and figures and never really understanding why a great big sword means you can attack quicker then there’s plenty for you to get into with Lightning Returns.
This is thanks to the Schemata system, which is another term for playing dress-up.
Here you’ll equip Lightning with a variety of garments, each with particular benefits and negatives. One might boost your physical damage but slow your ATB, others deigning roles for tanking or magical damage.
The kind of things you might expect from an RPG, really.
Without getting bogged down into the intricacies of it all, Lightning Returns enables a vast wardrobe of options when it comes to combat – and you’ll combine them all within a battle to ensure the best strategy.
It’s a numbers game, as you might expect from Final Fantasy, taking the Dress Sphere system of Final Fantasy 10-2 and applying a healthy amount of spin to it. The depth here will go on to boost the depth of combat, too.
Lightning Returns’ Combat
Surviving a fight is pretty easy in most cases, but since Lightning has a limited pool of health – and can only carry a handful of potions – you’re going to want to do your best to stagger an enemy.
The concept most will remember from Square Enix’s 20-hour tutorial Final Fantasy 13, but it’s largely the same here: wail on a creature with particular attacks or in certain situations to build the stagger ‘bar’ and weaken them.
Each of the three equipped Schemata have their own ATBs gauges, with an action spending an allotted amount of that ATB. Schemata will recharge their gauges independently of each other, too, so switching between attacks is of utmost importance to best balance your available ATB resources.
You can switch between three Schemata at any one time, the result being that you’ll need to be certain you’ve got every option covered.
The double-edged sword is that – for example – to stagger an enemy weaker to magic damages you’ll need to use spells, but waste all your ATB for that Schemata and you’ll be forced into slashing away with physical attacks if you’re not prepared.
It’s a balancing act, and a fairly intricate one. It won’t be apparent initially, but put some time into Lightning Returns and the true depth of the system will really come to light – especially when taking on some of the challenging bosses.
Lightning Returns Story Mode
Here’s where we get onto the bad stuff, though. Final Fantasy stories have long been a load of hokum, but Lightning Returns is particularly flaccid.
It just about holds proceedings together, which is about the best we can say for the game, but there’s so exposition about utter nonsense that it can be a barrier for those not already predisposed to like it because it’s a Final Fantasy game.
Briefly summarised, it’s the story is Noah’s Ark but in the future. The world is about to end and Lightning has seven days to gather up as many worthy people as she can, take them to the Ark – that is honestly what it’s called – and, all being well, start the world anew.
The ‘worthy’, however, are just those with side-quests for Lightning to kill time with when exploring one of four hub worlds. Sadly in most cases all you’ll be tackling is everyone’s favourite videogame filler, the fetch quest.
It’s a shame because the time mechanic – whereby Lightning only has seven days to gather up as many as she can against an ever-ticking clock – is actually a pretty intriguing one.
It means you only have so much you can get done in a day, and once the game has opened up a bit you do feel a kind of pressure to make the most of your time.
You’ll try to strategically stop time – yes, that is something you can do – so you can hand in a couple of quests before the day ends and you’re forced to speak to Hope for a bit.
It harks back to Majora’s Mask’s time-based challenge, but with a much broader scope. It’s not nearly as well done as Majora’s Mask, admittedly, but there’s enough depth that you’ll pay it heed as you play through the game.
Lightning Returns Review
That’s really the term of note when it comes to Lightning Returns, too.
There’s depth here, but it will take a while to notice that. Not in the same sense that Final Fantasy 13 took a (long) while to become a game you actually want to play, but in a different, more subtle way.
The mechanics themselves are introduced early on and after the initial few quests you’re kind of left to your own devices.
But it isn’t until you really need to put these interlocking systems of Schemata, time management and real-time combat into proper use that the depth – and its ability to keep you captivated – really begins to shine.
Sadly there’s a lot of filler too, whether that’s throwaway side-quests or repetitive battles and enforced grinding due to the time-based restrictions placed on Lightning.
It might sound like a bit of a cop out, but fans of the series will find a lot to love about Lightning Returns, mostly because they’ll be devoted enough to find that depth – and our Lightning Returns review has only touched on this.
Add in New Game+, the fact that monsters scale with difficulty the more you manage to extend that seven-day limit or even that entire species of enemies can be made extinct and you’ll discover there’s more to Lightning Returns than changing Lightning’s jacket every so often.