Could the third time be the charm? Square Enix’s decade long Final Fantasy XIII experience has hardly panned out the way it was originally envisioned, but the last game in the polarizing sub-series could finally be the game that gets it right.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII changes the formula up completely. No more endless tubes to run through or mindless button mashing in the combat system. This is a completely open world to explore, with side-quests, missions, and random monsters wandering the vast map. It’s pretty obvious Square Enix is looking at Western RPGs for inspiration here.
The party system has also been cast aside for a tighter focus on Lightning and all the jobs she can take on. Here, she magnificently turns into a classic Final Fantasy dragoon and stabs at poor monsters from the air, and she also guises in her normal garb and chops them to pieces.
I played this demo at TGS, and the build wasn’t that great back then. The framerate issues seem to have been fixed in the meantime, and it looks far more smooth this time around.
Barren and lifeless is still the best way to describe the settings, though. Despite being an open world, I still get the feeling that Lightning is trapped in a box. The expansive view is not organic, and I can tell that borders are never far beyond the horizon. The cities are even worse, blocky in design and hollow, much like the protagonist’s personality.
Lightning herself is still the same emotionless manikin, but this time around, her costumes change up her personality. If she wears a cute outfit, she won’t miss the opportunity for a flirtatious wink at the end of the battle, going completely against her character, or lack-thereof. Clothes don’t define a woman’s personality, Square Enix.
There are some inconsistencies in presentation, but at least the gameplay seems to have moved in the right direction. If this is the last we see of Lightning and her time bending journey, then I hope it salvages her legacy a little bit. More for the sake of the Final Fantasy brand name rather than hers.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will be available on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on Feb. 11, 2014.