I hate Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. I have given it three tries, and after a third three-hour attempt to play the game this evening, I am giving up.
And it’s a sad end to this previous console generation of Final Fantasy games. I have finally played all three PS3 Final Fantasy games, and while there were some bright spots in Final Fantasy XIII-2, for the first time in my nearly two decades of experience with Final Fantasy games, I have actually found an entrant I am not looking forward to revisiting.
So let’s take a look at Square Enix’s unlucky trilogy of Final Fantasy games.
Final Fantasy XIII:
Ah, unlucky thirteen. Story-wise, not a bad Final Fantasy. It had all the big themes you’d expect from a Final Fantasy game, love and loss, free will and fate, etc. And it had a decent science fiction world, one that strangely allowed a bunch of civilians to become superheroes, with only Sazh, the black dude actually carrying a gun (Lightning’s gunblade doesn’t count).
I enjoyed the story of Final Fantasy XIII, even if it did require a glossary to keep the backstory and terms straight (L’Cie, Fal’Cie, focuses?) The only other Final Fantasy to delve deeper into a mythos was the Ivalice Alliance, so it was good to see a game where the mysterious ruins actually had a backstory rather than just being mysterious ruins that were destroyed in a calamity (think any ruined castle or city in Final Fantasy VI, VII, VIII, or IX).
But the combat and leveling system sucked. Battles were essentially on auto-pilot, and the only choice you really had to make was what ai script your characters should be running. Leveling was a bitch, took way too long, and the game for a first in Final Fantasy capped your growth throughout the game so that every major boss battle sucked, even if you power-leveled. That and the fact that branching out to do other stuff didn’t really unlock until the end and didn’t have anything to do with the story meant, as soon as I beat it, I put it down and ignored more than half the content.
Final Fantasy XIII-2:
Final Fantasy XIII has been compared to Final Fantasy X in terms of themes, design and structure. And there is some truth to that. Both series have been set in worlds where evil religions hold sway, where ancient technology is a threat and instead of direct leveling bonuses are unlocked in the Crystarium system.
And both games’ sequels seemed to be directed at adolescent males.
Final Fantasy X-2 had three scantily clad coeds running around the world saving things. Final Fantasy XIII-2 wasn’t an all-girl gang of heroes, but the outfit the main character Serah wore was essentially to bandages covering her lady bits and some leg warmers. And you could pay more money to put her in a thong and a bikini, while the male character’s paid outfits actually covered him up more.
But even though female clothing in Final Fantasy games may be way too revealing, I liked the story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and thought it the best in the series. The game gave you more freedom, with episodic-style of content and a number of sidequests and diversions. A nerdy time travel story appeals to my science fiction mindset, and I thoroughly enjoyed the themes of fate, challenging fate and effecting the timeline.
Combat was much more fun, mainly because you could powerlevel and make most fights easier. Combat was just as mindless, maybe even more so since you could overpower your characters, but the monster system was cool. Most people will probably say the game stole from Pokemon, but I argue Final Fantasy had the system first with their Game Boy entrants that had you feed parts and meat to your monster or robot characters to develop them. And I’ve never played Pokemon so I don’t know how the monster taming system compares between the two.
One thing I hated the most was grinding. Potent essences, needed for much of the monster system dropped very rarely from monsters it was hard to face regularly, so things became a slog. And to get the best ending one had to while away hours in a casino that took forever for you to win anything in the slots. And that translated to the DLCs.
One involved more hours gambling away, the other involved the hardest fights in the game and required you to drop countless hours into the monster upgrading system in order to beat. And the last one, just required you to fail many, many times in order to level up character to win.
And I think that was the entire design philosophy of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Lightning Runs Around a Lot: Final Fantasy XIII:
That’s what they should have named the game. Because that’s all I do. I run around finding shit for people. I run around fighting weak monsters to give their skin to people for very minor stat boosts. I run away from every other monster because they will kick my ass and mess up the timer in the game.
And I run around since the game is on a timer and I have to find things for everyone in order to save the world.
I have no problems with the time limit in FFXIII. I think it’s new and novel and unique. Every other game (and movie for that matter) with a central time limit to the plot never actually follows that time limit. It ticks down arbitrarily, and at most, you have some timed segments you have to get through. Not LR:FFXIII.
The game’s timer always runs and always at the same speed. Some things freeze or pause it, but it is always there. That’s cool. But what fills those thirteen hours of game time (not including battles, menus and cutscenes) is running around. And usually not fighting. And both of those are not cool.
The game also runs terribly. It was obviously built from an MMO Final Fantasy engine, and to be honest, the Final Fantasy X: HD Remix, which just upgrades the textures to a more than decade-old game, looks far prettier than a lot of the low-resolution, blocky textures. And Final Fantasy X doesn’t have the frame-rate and other hardware hiccups Lightning Returns does.
I’ve only gotten five hours into the game and I’m already done. The battle system is terrible. It’s all based on hidden math and formulas and only would interest a statistician, and only then as a theoretical problem. In the game world, in real time, it sucks.
Easy battles are way too easy. Most other battles, especially boss battles are ridiculously hard. Gone is the party and ATB systems. Instead is a button-mashing system like Dissidia or Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, tied to a point system that depletes as you take actions. To beat a boss I am told by the manual and game guide I own to carefully guard at the right time to avoid damage and strategically attack in order to stagger and break the defense of the boss.
Neither system works well, or sometimes at all. I can push guard, but if I am out of points, can’t do it. Even if I have points, it sometimes doesn’t want to switch from an attack to guarding and then I am dead. And if keep some points for guarding, I haven’t spammed attacks enough to stagger my enemy, which is the only way to win.
I’m on my second boss battle, with a Chocobo Eater last night. The game even nerfed it so they don’t have full hit points. I died over and over again, with only two choices, lose an hour of the timer each time, or reload my game. I threw my controller a couple of times because my last save was hours ago. When I came back today, basic enemies killed me over and over again, but I finally won, wasting all of the precious resources that the game tells me are precious and I shouldn’t be using.
Then I got to run around some more, afraid to attack anything as I figured the rest of the battles and bosses would be even more ridiculous. So after thirty minutes of running, I quit the game. And deleted my saves in case I was crazy enough to try picking it up again.
You could argue I just suck at the game. And you may be right, as Final Fantasy Tactics still eludes me. But I collected everything in Crisis Core and beat every boss without feeling this frustrated and the combat systems are similar. Vagrant Story, another Square game that had a challenging learning curve fell beneath by blades. Final Fantasy XIII just makes the game no fun to play.
I’m done. And it’s kind of sad that Final Fantasy’s last hurrah on the PS3 (or Xbox 360 for those of you out there on Microsoft’s system) sucks so bad.