Lightning Returns is a continuation of the story from Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2. We begin our story with an epic battle taking place between Snow and Lightning. I know what you're thinking, why is the fiancé of Lightning's sister fighting with her? You need not worry as there is a backstory to all of this, as we're soon told. While lightning was asleep for 500 years, everyone had stopped aging and chaos grew stronger in the world Cocoon, with Snow being warped by chaos itself. We're also introduced to a new character during the opening scene, Lumina, who we're told is connected with chaos and seems to pop up at key stages throughout the storyline.
After the battle, we find ourselves pursuing Snow, this chase soon ends up coming to a dead end blocked by a chaos door. Hope calls you and tells you to return to the Arc. The Arc is your Headquarters in the game, as well as your resting point. It is here that Hope tells you of the quest God has given them, which is to save as many souls as possible before the world ends. It is Lightning's job to help people with quests, and in return she will be rewarded with their souls. Every time she receives a soul she collects eradia which can be gifted to the tree, Yggdrasil, to increase the amount of days left for Cocoon. Hope then tells lightning to check the bookcase and fight a monster, which is your combat tutorial.
Battles in this game are much different from the previous installments in that you have to use buttons a hell of a lot more, it felt as if it was a Tekken RPG battle. Being able to cross over to a different monster while moving your character and casting a fire or shield spell. Using the shield is smartly utilised in this game. You can use it constantly to decrease enemy attacks or use it at the perfect moment to add a critical to the monster while taking no damage. You might be thinking, "well I thought that would be pretty easy?" No, I can tell you now, it is not. Imagine, in the heat of battle, having to attack, Use magic and then switch to a shield at the right moment before the enemy attacks, and keep in mind it's not easy to determine when he might attack you. It does create a whole new experience of fighting but you really have to be fast on the trigger during some of these battles.
The leveling and Crystallis systems seen in previous entries have been thrown out of the window. Now utilizing an EP system which can be used to purchase potions, X-potions and special abilities such as overdrive, which allows you to freeze time in battle and speed up your hits. Gil is still in the game and is used to buy weapons and items, as well as the added suits which can be changed. The suits, or outfits in this game give you special abilities such as Tank or Mage. You can use up to 3 main outfits or classes in battle and can even change your main outfit worn outside of battle. Outfits are switched using the LB or L1 button during battles, which is sort of similar to how the classes were set up in the previous installments except this time you're actually changing your clothing on top of that.You can also have sub outfits up to a maximum of 8. These can't be used in battle but you can change them for one of your main outfits before a battle if you think you'll need it.
Since there is no leveling in this game, the only upgrades you get are from doing are sidequests and absorbing souls. Also, abilities seem to play a major role in this game, which are mostly received from monsters in certain areas and sometimes from quests. Some of them can be leveled by just killing monsters, while others must be synthesized in a shop.
I would say the game does feel quite odd, it feels slightly out of place from the others because of the constant theme of time. You feel like you are constantly being rushed throughout the game. There are abilities you can obtain early on which will freeze the timer temporarily, but this does not last long and takes up a lot of EP. It should also be noted that you do have a curfew at 6 am, which means you must return to the ark for reasons unknown until later in the game. A downfall for this game is that the guiding system after a mission informing you of what to do can be slightly misleading, causing me to spend sometimes hours trying to figure out what to do or where I had to go. The only positive effect this had for me was the fact I ended up exploring an entire area and unlocking more side missions, but it could take hours.
Graphically I think this game does ok, considering it's a game released so late on fairly old systems, the background textures are still flat and muddy, The cities are quite vast and sometimes the rendering is quite slow, causing things to look a bit blurry. But a highlight is the new enhanced monsters which look fantastic compared to previous versions, larger and more colorful. The sound varies throughout where you are in the game, ranging from rushed dance music in long halls or slow and classical in large open cities while exploring. We also can't leave out the classic enhanced Final Fantasy battle music which always makes each battle more intense than the one before. One thing I like about what Final Fantasy is doing is varying the battle music after each ability rather than using the same type for each one.
As with any Final Fantasy game the world is vast, and the main route of transportation involves taking trains from different cities, but you will gain a teleport ability later on in the game. There's also a slight multiplayer feel to this game. Not multiplayer in the way many people know and love but it is a handy feature nonetheless. They have also added in a message NPC system whereby you will see random NPC's with purple text left by the player. You can interact with this NPC and it will show a message left by another player including a screenshot and sometimes an item or a weapon which you can buy. So it's almost like a online trading system, which is a nice little tool they have added.
The game does have small differences in outcome but from what I noticed most of it is outlined as the one route in this game. So I guess for me personally I would not replay the game because I would see nothing that could be changed from the first playthrough. Maybe getting higher stars on some of the monster battles and finishing more side quests, but I ended up doing nearly 90% of the side quests involved in the game and most of the chocolina quests become quite boring collecting hundreds of monster drops for next to no rewards.
Overall I like what they have done with the new UI system and battle system. I like the fact that we can now add our own special twist to lightning's attire. Downfalls for me are the time aspect as I did not feel like I could stop and enjoy the game and what was going on around me. This is still a true RPG Final Fantasy and I will certainly be buying the next installment in this franchise, but for reasons I have mentioned throughout the review my score is based off of the background graphics, guiding system, and the time aspect which rushed me through this.