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Final Fantasy 13 Lightning Returns
I finally finished Lightning Returns. That statement itself is definitely part of the review. It answers the question “Is Lightning Returns long enough” quite well. Yes, appearances to the contrary this is a bulky game much like all the other numbered titles in the Final Fantasy line. It is not the length of your average action RPG. Single, respectable play through, without any New Game + content but getting almost all achievements/trophies, takes just shy of a hundred hours. This is comparable to the other 13′s and actually a little under the new 10 HD remake. So it’s money well spent, if you were wondering.
I mentioned in a preview post all the basics but I’ll reiterate them for you quickly. Voice acting, story, graphics, all A++, as usual. Music took a hit since ten but it’s still good, as good or better than anything Final Fantasy post-Uematsu. Gameplay is interesting and worth some discussion. As you are probably aware it is a single character experience now. Characters, and Eidolons, from previous 13 titles participate/appear in the game but you never get to control them in battle. But, in keeping with the 13 trend, you still get to use all abilities and form strategies around them making the actual battles very involved and heavy on strategy. The stagger system remains, one of my favorite additions in 13 and I have a hard time with the concept that future single player Final Fantasy titles may not have it.
The stagger system, if you are unfamiliar, revolves around doing certain types of damage to throw an enemy back on their heels (or way the hell up in the air, depending on the strategy) and then using different types of damage to capitalize on the situation once they are driving back/up. It makes battles engaging, adds a second element of strategy beyond just using whatever does the most damage and looks just all sorts of awesome.
With all that in play the ending bears mentioning. Whilst avoiding the dreaded spoilers I can say three key things about the ending. First, the video and story cap-off where excellent, exactly what I’ve come to expect but since I’m come to expect nothing short of greatness that’s a feat in and of itself.
Second, it feels like it was rushed. It might just be me but there were things in the epic final confrontation that I thought could have been done that simply weren’t there. A lot of characters return for the finale and have some excellent sequences that look good and feel great and give proper respect to just how awe-inspiring these people have grown to be over the course of the last X amount of year. But the events that lead up to them being present feel like they could have been optional and, were they optional, the sequences that those characters participate in could go a different route, one that would be harder, gameplay-wise, but would still make sense story wise… if you follow. It felt like all the action sequences and gameplay sequences that involved other characters were written to include the possibility of those characters not being present and having Lightning go it alone. Which is interesting and all but there is no way to get to the ending without first doing the story with each of the characters. If you miss one then you just don’t get to the end, the game throws up a “Game Over” and you have to start from scratch. It feels like the project wanted to include the possibility of getting to the end without certain people being present and having the difficulty ramp up accordingly. Was the game rushed due to the waning popularity of the 13 brand in the West? Am I just crazy and reading too much into a series that I enjoy much more than the rest of the West? Not sure, just making conversation.
Lastly, regarding the ending, it was hard. That’s a simple statement but it carries a lot of weight, when you think about it. When was the last time you remember being challenging by a story-line event in a Final Fantasy title? Not Omega Weapon, not Ruby/Emerald, not the Monster Arena, something you need to do to see the ending video? I thought back and the last time I remember a Final Fantasy title being hard to beat, or wrap, or whatever, was three. If you’ve played three you know what I mean. It pre-dates save-points in dungeons and the bosses are as unforgiving as the bosses of most NES titles. It was balls-to-the-walls skill/luck to get to that black The End screen with the Ending theme that most people experienced for the first time in 9. Lightning Returns is… almost that hard. It’s not Nintendo hard but it’s by far the most challenging Final Fantasy since 3.
But that’s about it. A very pretty game, a very fun game, a game that is just long enough, a game that is hard without being a dick about it… it sort of sounds like a genie wish that went right. It’s quite good. I don’t mean to oversell it. It’s not Firefly or Final Fantasy 6 but it does a damn fine job of approaching that level.