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Published on February 24th, 2014 | by Don Parsons


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.


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.


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”?


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.

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