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Published on February 24th, 2014 | by Don Parsons

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Why A Huge FF XIII Fan Will Not Be Finishing Lighting Returns

If you have been keeping up with our monthly Power Rankings feature, you may recall Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII on the past few entries. Being as I was the only person to have it on a personal list, Lightning Returnsranked rather high on my own Power Rankings list. January and February, it sat at the very top of my list. I anticipated the third game in the Final Fantasy XIII mini-saga to be my game of the year. Based off my love of the last two entries, it was a no-brainer. A few people on staff balked at this, but I was simply following logical steps to deduce this 2014 Game of the Year nomination preemptively. I do owe them this: they were right, Lightning Returns is not a Game of the Year candidate.

For the sake of being nice, there may be spoilers ahead, though everything I will mention takes place in the opening few hours.

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So what went wrong? How did Square-Enix ruin the third game for someone who loved the first two Final Fantasy XIII games so much? Some complained that the original had a “20 hour tutorial” and a story that was incomplete if you didn’t read the story bits nestled in the menus. I loved it from the get-go, that the game threw you right in the middle of chaos. Combat was fast-paced and engaging. I put about 80 hours into that game, and loved every minute of it, even the post-game time I spent with it.

Final Fantasy XIII-2, with the exception of not having my favorite female protagonist, took a hair longer to get its hooks into me. Once it did, however, I loved that entry as well. The time mechanic was probably the most interesting, but the story was also another compelling tale with one helluva ending. A few years later, I still vivdly remember my reaction when I watched the end of Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Prior to actually playing the game, I was stoked for Lightning Returns. I had heard they overhauled the combat and you could “play dress up”. But after five hours with the game, I have packed the game up and sent it far, far away. In the grand scheme of RPGs, even shorter ones, five hours is not but a small fraction of the experience. However, if a game takes more than five hours to spark any sort of interest, that is not my fault and I should not have to suffer just to find a morsel of enjoyment.

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The story had some glimmering bits of hope. Lightning is a savior who must save souls as Armageddon is upon the world.  The world, in its current state, only has about 6 days left but if Lightning succeeds in saving enough people, she can extend the end-game to 12 days, at which point God awakens. Or something to that effect.

Every time I was getting just a little bit interested in what was happening, I had to spend half an hour doing the stupidest things. Everything is real time, so there is a clock counting down to doomsday. So right there, that’s a lot of pressure. This was especially frustrating at the start when I was trying to get a handle on combat (which I dislike as well might I add). When I died, it knocked an hour off of the world’s remaining time. But the worst sin was this: quests, side, main or otherwise, were all just absolutely, mind-numbingly boring.

At one point, I spent over an hour running around in a big town that was laid out like a racetrack, looking for four numbers. I swear, I ran around that whole town and only found one. I did so many loops and slowly passed every wall. When a clock is ticking down in the upper right corner, it’s easy to get pissed off. When I got all of the numbers (after plugging my PS3 in and downloading a patch – whether that fixed it or not, I don’t know), instead of just presenting them in the order, the game made me input the numbers in a sequence they were showing directly above where I was entering them. At what point do you say, “Since we have a cut scene after this, let’s just make Lightning read the sequence in the cut scene”?

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Later, I had to backtrack and find a badge to go past a gate. I stumbled upon the badge in a random corner with dumb luck, but I can imagine that if I had spent more than ten minutes scouring that whole, stupid city for a badge after searching that town high and low for four numbers, I would have been furious.

The biggest problem I had with Lightning Returns is the pacing in the opening. I figured playing dress up with Lightning would have made up for any problems I had, but the fashion is terrible. There’s no way to sugar coat that. The first outfit I found was pretty, but after that, ugh. And that outfit didn’t last long because it was rather weak.

So this week, when I sit down and update my Power Rankings, I get to shuffle things around drastically. Lightning Returns has been knocked off the list. I still love Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning as a character, and Final Fantasy XIII-2. But it will take a long time to shake the bitter taste left in my mouth by Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.

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About the Author

got into podcasting in 2007, and transitioned into writing in late 2008. In late 2011, he went from blogging to writing for a small site called Vagary.tv. Don attended E3 for Vagary.tv in 2012. Now, Don is one-fourth of the foundation of Critically Sane.



  • Napoleon1066

    Goodbye, Lightning Returns. You had a good run in the power-rankings, but that time is over now.

  • Austin McDowell

    Um, where’s the article? All i’m seeing is pictures.

    • Chris Scott

      I’m seeing text as well as pictures. What browser are you using?

  • Wolf

    Ouch. As a former die hard ff fan I can appreciate the article here.
    I’m a ff7 acolyte and had a lot of love for 8. 9 just didn’t grab me and while I beat 10, I wasn’t stoaked. 12 was ok, but van seemed like he was going to be important but never was.
    My hopes rest with 15, but who knows. I’d like to see it blow us all away, but I have my doubts.

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