Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning returns (XBox360) – Day One

As I’m sure many people were, I was very excited for the latest Final Fantasy game to be released; Lightning Returns is the third and final part of the Final Fantasy XIII story, and sees yet another overhaul of game mechanics and layout as the titular heroine ushers in the End of Days.

lightning returns coverPulse is fucked, put bluntly. Back in 2010’s first instalment, the gang defeated one of artifical moon Cocoon’s supernatural supervisors, the fal’Cie Barthandelus. He planned to destroy Pulse by killing the fal’Cie Orphan that kept Cocoon afloat. However Orphan is awoken and merges with Barthandelus, and is subsequently killed by the group. Members Fang & Vanille give their lives by transforming into a crystal pillar that supports a now-plummeting Cocoon, saving both worlds.

In 2012’s sequel, Lightning is removed from time to defend the world of chaos, Valhalla. Her sister Serah teams up with Noel, the last of the humans from a distant future. It seems that to save the group from eternity spent as crystals, the goddess Etro weakened herself, leaving the forces of chaos in Valhalla able to mess with time, creating paradoxes and alternate futures that Serah and Noel had to sort out. The sad side-effect of this was that Serah appeared to be killed off at the end, just as original team member Hope launched a new satellite, Bhunevelze, to save humanity from the crystal pillar’s imminent collapse centuries after the events of the first game. Still with me?

lightning returns pictureAnother 500 years have passed, and Lightning has been woken from a deep sleep after the traumatic events of the last game. Pulse has lost the fight against chaos, and the almighty god Bhunivelze (coincidence that this is the name of New Cocoon? We will see) has decided that only a reboot is going to sort this out. The world will end in 7 days – maybe 13 if you’re lucky. Bummer. Good news though, a new world will be opened shortly thereafter!

Lightning is offered a choice – Serah can be brought back to life in the new world, but Lightning must become the Saviour of Souls, trying to cleanse as many people’s hearts in the allotted time, in order to bring them over to the new world. This can be done in a number of ways, many of them being fetch quests. Give a little girl hope by bringing back her lost dolly, or show a stationmaster that he has friends that care about him. Maybe even purge the chaos from your former allies in glossy cutscenes!

Time is not on your side now, and the game clock ticks away the minutes very quickly. Some events are time-sensitive, people move around, shops open and close, you need to be in the right place at the right time. You’re also on your own.

lightning returns with snowI’ve only played for a few hours so far, and it’s already confounding me with its complexity. I have the strategy guide, but even that feels like some sort of four-dimensional puzzle, that involves me running between locations in order to try and get as much stuff as I can, and do as many sidequests as I can manage in a punishing schedule. Maybe it’ll get easier to plan things, but even being led entirely through is a challenge.

Combat is sort of the same, but sort of different – instead of a team of 3 that can change job roles at the touch of a button in pre-designed combinations, Lightning is alone, but can set up 3 ‘schemata’ that work a bit like the dress spheres in FFX-2. Even this is rather fast-paced, as you frantically mash buttons (usually the wrong ones) to pummel your opponent before you run out of move time, switch to another schemata and pummel again. Goodness knows how this is going to work with anything more complex than all-out assault though. Interestingly too,  it’s not actually necessary to do any fighting – you don’t level up as a result, simply earn swag for more find-quests to save souls.

Perhaps this is too soon to judge, it seems like a decent enough sequel, but the emphasis seems more geared towards breakneck speed of action and desperation to heal the world than for your typical exploration. But hopefully at least it will give some closure to the well-loved characters from this expansive Final Fantasy story, and maybe even the chance to breathe at some point.

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