The "Final Fantasy XIII" saga has been an unlucky one for Square Enix. It began with hope and promise. Fans were excited to see what the series could do on hardware that was, at the time, regarded as computational beasts. Would fans get gameplay that matched the lavishly rendered cut-scenes of past releases? Could the developer put out another genre-defining role-playing game?
From initial previews, it looked like "Final Fantasy XIII" would live up to the hype, but something happened along the way: Square Enix forgot how to write. The team came up with a cast of forgettable characters and a plot so confusing that no one cared what happened to them.
If this trilogy is going to be remembered for anything, it won't be for its storytelling. Rather, the "Final Fantasy XIII" entries will be known for their experimentation. The saga comes at a time when the venerable franchise is struggling to remain relevant in a world where it competes with "Mass Effect" and "World of Warcraft."
The final leg of this trilogy, "Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII," is a reward for fans who have stuck with the series and its convoluted storyline. Centuries after being turned into crystal, the title character wakes up a few days before the apocalypse. The god Bhunivelze has decided to end the world after it's gone through about 500 years of stasis, where no one aged and no one was born. It's up to Lightning to save as many souls as she can, so they can be reborn in the new existence.
That's done through quests and errands. For veterans of RPGs, the missions aren't terribly complicated. They're mostly fetch quests or ones where Lightning has to defeat a monster. The time element adds freshness to the campaign, as players must plan out the hero's limited time and use every second to rescue the needy.
The bigger departure in "Lightning Returns" is in the fights. It's another odd setup that tries to combine turn-based combat with hack-and-slash gameplay. It's an unusual mix with a steep learning curve that will punish players for the first few hours. Once they get past that initial hurdle, it becomes intriguing as players control Lightning as she battles monsters and old comrades who have gone to a dark place for one reason or another.
A major reason that the combat scenarios are compelling is that players can mix and match armor pieces to create outfits that bestow a set of commands and power-ups to Lightning. Add in the fact that she can switch out three of the outfits during a single fight, and players can spend hours testing out different combinations.
However, those updates can't redeem a mediocre plot. "Lightning Returns" has its moments, but the impenetrable mythology is a huge obstacle for anyone but the most ardent fans.
'Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII'
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360