Lightning’s Return is grandiose

I’ve finally finished Lightning Returns after 86 hours of playing. My friends on facebook are likely tired of my constant screenshots, so they’ll get a break, at least. Now, it’s time to break it down and do a proper review. I will be discussing the whole game here, ending included, so beware of the spoilers.

Lightning Returns opens with a cutscene battle with an old friend, Snow. After that introductory sequence that also serves as the tutorial, we get our mission. The world of Nova Chrysalia is ending – there’s no way to stop it, and there’s no alternative. This is a fact of the world. Your task, as Lightning, is to buy the world 13 more days. If Lightning can do that, she can save as many souls as possible to reborn into the new world. It’s a simple enough plot.

In order to save these souls, Lightning must go around the four areas of Nova Chrysalia and grant wishes. It’s kind of cheesy, when put like this, but it’s what happens. Lightning takes on quests from denizens of the world and, when she completes these quests, she saves the person’s soul. Doing these quests is also the key to buying the world more time.

There are five “main” quests scattered across the world – one in Luxerion, one in Yusnaan, one in the Dead Dunes, and two in the Wildlands. Four of these quests must be completed to save the world – I have not yet tried to see if the fifth is required as well, but given that its giver is absent in much of the ending, I would assume not. You can get to the thirteenth day of the game by simply doing all five of these quests. It is to your advantage to do the rest of the quests, however, as this is also the only way in which Lightning can gain stats. There is no leveling up for Lightning, not anymore.

Now that I’ve gotten this out of the way, let’s discuss the ending a bit. Through the game, Lightning is told that if she saves enough souls and buys the world its full thirteen days, she’ll get Serah back. Since Serah died at the end of XIII-2, it’s kind of a big deal. The one who supposedly can revive Serah is the god Bhunivelze, and it is he that you work for through most of the game.

On the thirteenth day, though, you learn that much of Bhunivelze’s work is a lie. Hope, who is your Mission Control throughout the game, was controlled by Bhunivelze the whole time. He wants the whole of humanity to be nothing more than a vessel for him to inhabit. This doesn’t make much sense, but eh. We’ll go with that. Lightning defies him and finds a way to save every soul, so everyone will be reborn in the new world.

Still talking through Hope, Bhunivelze rants and rambles about how humanity is imperfect. This is where Hope’s VA shines, as the arrogance and ego he portrays through his words really shine. Then, in a boss battle that I had to restart the game on an easier difficulty to complete, you finally get to beat the idiocy out of this “god.” It was so satisfying to do it after not being able to defeat him before, and the ending blew me away. Lightning grows up and down simultaneously and discovers the true power of the goddess – not power, but friendship.

Hey, Light, I think you should go talk with Sora for a bit.

The world is reborn, and Lightning monologues as the lights of millions of souls meander through a familiar solar system. This light converges on a world where lights twinkle in the darkness, a world that anyone who has studied geography can guess the name of. Yay.

There’s only one plot hole that I don’t understand. I read about it on the Lightning Returns TV Tropes page, but I didn’t find it anywhere in the game – perhaps it was a sidequest that I missed. At the end of XIII-2, Hope has grown up into a very fine young man. Puberty really did him a lot of favors. Yet, in Lightning Returns, he’s returned to his child self from the first XIII game. It’s handwaved that Bhunivelze did this as some incomprehensible part of his plan, but the Trope page gave a very specific reason for this. I’m of the “I don’t count it as canon until it appears in a canon media” tribe, so I was disappointed that the explanation Tropes gave was absent in the ending of this game.

Overall, as far as the story goes, it’s a satisfying ending to every character’s arc – this includes Noel, Yuel, and Caius. A full five minutes of cutscene time (exaggeration, probably) was devoted to tying up this arc. It is a very satisfying end to a very tragic story, and I have no complaints about it. The guy gets the girl, and the girl won’t die again before her time. It’s awesome.

This is the end of the spoilers. The rest is just gameplay talk.

Lightning is capable of running around the open worlds with few restrictions. She can jump, and platforming is a much greater element in this game than in its predecessor. Unlike the platform hell that was Academia 500 AF, the jump mechanic feels more in-place in this game. There is one area where jumping between small platforms is required, and it feels nothing like a chore. It feels like a natural part of gameplay that lets you leap from the tops of stairs to the bottom. There is no fall damage, incidentally. Lightning can leap from the top of the tallest building and roll to her feet without issue.

The fact that the world has 13 days is a major element within the gameplay itself. The game runs on a clock that does not stop except for cutscenes and battle. Things happen on a schedule, and if you miss a trigger for a quest, you have to wait until the next day to do it. Areas of the world close off and open at different times of day. My first time through the game, I accidentally made a boss stronger by taking too long to get to him because I kept missing the timing for the next part of the quest. By the third time, though, the timing of things was second nature and I completed all five main story quests within five days. I literally skipped to the thirteenth day by just sleeping at an inn for the other days.

Now, for battle.

The game touts itself as a real-time combat and a departure from the ATB gauge. This is a half-truth. Actions happen in real-time, yes, but the ATB gauge is still very much present. In theory, Lightning should be free to act at any time. In practice, I found myself switching between schemata often. When the ATB gauge of all three of your schemeta are depleted, there’s nothing for you to do but stand there and get hit.

A schemata is an outfit that Lightning can equip. It is comprised of a garb (the costume), a weapon, any accessories, and the actions you assign to it. Lightning has three available to her at any time in battle, and you can choose which of the three she starts in. This, coincidentally, also determines which outfit she wears in the field. I spent much of the time in this game wearing first Cloud’s outfit, then the Miqo’te dress. There is a wide variety of clothes that Lightning can choose, and they all have different strengths and weaknesses. I preferred the clothes with a balanced mix of strength and defense bonuses, and these outfits ended up being the ones that were most conservative. There are outfits that are blatantly fanservice, but there are also outfits that let her walk around as a reverse trap.

As an overall overall review of this game, I would say that it is worth playing. Even if you don’t understand the story, the gameplay and combat are well worth experiencing. Nova Chrysalia lasted only thirteen days, but it will remain memorable for many years to come. Now go out and enjoy it!

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