Here’s one more bunch of screenshots from the halls of Square Enix showing off all aspects of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. The awesome monster design, the deep outfit system, the different job classes, and, ugh… the cast.

Less than a month to go before we can put the final stake into Lightning’s extended run with the Final Fantasy series. Readers might know that I am no fan of the direction Square Enix has taken its most cherished franchise, but hear me out really quick, because I have not tossed in the towel on Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII just yet.

No, I have no interest in saving the world or seeing what happens to Lightning and her misfit friends. They can rot and crumble with the apocalypse for all I care, but their miserable sodding faces in the gallery is the only bleak spot I can honestly find.

Just look at that green pug-nosed monster, and tell me he isn’t awesome!

I am genuinely excited to take on this open-world Final Fantasy game. For too long, the series dominated what constituted a good RPG, and many other companies followed its example. Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X especially all set the pace for what was expected of a new generation of JRPGs, and when Final Fantasy XIII took five years to make and went wayward after its release, nobody bothered to copy it and the genre fell apart.

Now, Square Enix is in the passenger seat, following in the footsteps of Western developers and their open-world take on the genre. Aiding in quests, collecting loot, gathering the perfect armor and weapons, battling more actively than just standing in a line. If it weren’t for Lightning hogging up all the camera space, this would be the perfect open world Final Fantasy game I think.

It has everything we love from Chocobos to the job system to interesting weapons, monsters, and locations. Even the Moogles look cute.

I hope that Final Fantasy XVI, should it ever get made, will slow down and take the series back to its roots. Simple character designs, emotional connections to the story, more fantasy and less anime J-Pop garbage, and most importantly, continuing to evolve this open-world take on the series. Final Fantasy XII was a step in the right direction, and people love Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn because it does all this flawlessly. You just have to pay a subscription and sacrifice all your free time to enjoy it.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII could be a template for something great. It just needs to ditch all the excess, like its characters, setting, storyline, and hack melodrama and start from scratch.

I’m anxious to see where Square Enix takes the series after this. Hopefully it will notice all the praise Bravely Default is receiving for its simple old fashioned charm, and that it will inject a bit of that character into a next-gen JRPG worthy of the Final Fantasy name. If I’m wrong, then at least this nightmare is over.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII will be released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on Feb. 11.

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