Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the third instalment in a planned trilogy of games that began with Final Fantasy XIII back in 2010. To call it a direct sequel to either of its predecessors would be slightly inaccurate, as the only thing it has in common with either of them is that it features some of the same characters and it contains the odd reference to some of the series’ lore.
However, if you’ve never played either of the games that precede Lightning Returns, don’t worry – you don’t have to know what happened in them in order to get your head around the plot here.
Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII: Plot and characters
Square Enix is keen to stress this point as unit sales between FFXIII and FFXIII-2 dropped significantly. FFXIII-2 sold three million copies, and while that’s rather impressive, it’s also three million less sales than FFXIII managed to rack up.
Square Enix is convinced this was due, in part, to players feeling that they’d be unable to follow the plot unless they’d played the first game – so they want as many players as possible to know that this isn’t the case.
The reason for this is that the story in Lightning Returns is set so long after events in the last couple of games, the previous plots barely matter. Things kick off with the titular character awakening from some sort of spiritual hibernation on a world called Nova Chrysalia.
She finds herself in a city called Luxerion and she (and by extension, the player) become aware of two rather pertinent facts. First, Luxerion is in thrall to a cult of religious fanatics who rule the city through fear. Second, the world is about to end, and Lightning has just thirteen days to save it.
Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII: Gameplay
The return of Lightning is something fans of the series have been clamouring for since the last instalment. This may be why the developers have made her the sole character players control in the game, which is something of a change from the team combat dynamic so prevalent in the last two games of this trilogy.
The combat has also been tweaked to accommodate this more solitary experience.
The turn-based fighting of the last couple of games seems to have been replaced with mechanics that feel more immediate. To wit, if you hit a button, Lightning delivers a strike, which is a change from having to wait until a combat meter is filled before the player can attack.
Players can also use the thumbstick to dodge and to move Lightning around the battlefield, which once again, was something they couldn’t do before.
Like in previous iterations, combat revolves Paradigm Shifts – certain types of attacks are more effective against certain enemies – but here, those ability shifts are tied to outfits, which players can preload and then cycle through and change on the fly while in battle.
Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII: Environments
This new degree of control is also available outside of combat. Unlike FFXIII, where players were stuffed into a rigid – albeit very pretty – corridor, Lightning Returns has an open-world structure filled with side-quests, areas to explore and shops where they can buy or sell trinkets and power-ups.
According to the developers, they intend this instalment to be world-driven and the sprawling city of Luxerion is just one of four massive environments players will be allowed to traverse in the game.
Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII: Verdict
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII feels like an attempt by Square Enix to recapture some of the momentum that’s been lost by its JRPG franchise. The way it’s going about this is by listening to its hardcore fan base and loosening up the structure from previous iterations.
Only time will tell if that will be enough to rekindle interest in Final Fantasy and put this series back in the land of the giants.
Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII release date: Autumn 2013
Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII price: TBC