Genre: RPG
Year: 2013
Developed by: Square Enix
Published by: Square Enix
Platforms: PS3, XBOX 360, PC
Feeling Like: Lightning strikes thrice

I bought a ton of new Playstation 3 games. Far too many for somebody who isn’t a collector and for somebody who, in theory, had a full-time job.

That being said, there are very few franchises that warrant an auto-purchase from me. Super Mario games are one, Legend of Zelda, naturally.

You know where this is going.

Mainline entry Final Fantasy games have to be purchased immediately and must be finished. If I have to splurge on a new console to do it, fiscal responsibility be damned, it shall be mine. I’m permanently drawn to them; my first RPG I ever played was Final Fantasy 4. The soundtracks are diverse and among the best in gaming. The adventures are unforgettable, the nostalgia is powerful and I always know that Square Enix is going to go for broke.

You notice I said mainline.

There are so many spin-offs, remakes and ports that I can’t possibly hope to play them all. I’m eccentric and nerdy, not insane. Just look at this list!

Still, I adored Final Fantasy 13 enough to blast through the sequel very quickly and pay full price, at launch, for one of the stranger RPGs on the 500 and certainly a massive deviation from the usual Final Fantasy formula.

Something about saving souls, because the world is going to end in 13 days. You don’t have any party members, you just play as Lightning. And she’s returned! They really nailed that title.

So it’s more of an Action RPG and you switch classes by switching armor. I thought I would hate it, but hate it I did not. I don’t recall the details of the story, but I doubt I did back then either. One of the more irksome things about JRPGs is they are almost always tell and don’t show. It’s tell, tell, tell until my finger gets sore scrolling through the text. Nine years is a long time to go backwards on facial animation, so it’s difficult to buy in emotionally when the characters all look like hyper realistic dolls with psychology degrees instead of real people who talk like humans.

Still, Lightning has sort of a Samus thing going on. Lone protagonist, doesn’t take any guff from anybody, kicks ass, main character of a massive franchise. I can dig it.

Unfortunately, this game is more like Metroid: Other M’s Samus, where you are inundated with Hope calling you and reminding you that the day is almost over, or re-explaining what God is or what they want, or tips about something you already knew about. Hope is not one of the most beloved characters from Final Fantasy games, so it does take a lot of patience to get through.

The ending is bizarre and gorgeous. Lightning gets transported to another world and she’s on a commuter train. Honestly it was such a visual contrast with the rest of the series that it really stuck out to me, despite my confusion. I’m sure in context it makes sense; these types of games always have every storytelling trick in the book and pull loads of philoso-talk out of their pockets to justify why something is happening. God, or angels or some grand mythological creature/figure is always involved. No fun to just kill a bad guy and be done with it. Fantasy is in the name, to be fair.

Why did I care so much for a character who is stoic and not much else? Square Enix was obviously smitten with the Lightning character, but I never really connected with her. She never sounds like she’s having fun – a stick in the mud would tell her to lighten up. But the events leading up to the final shot really do encapsulate the entire trilogy; visually stunning, loads of potential, but not much in the way of solid storytelling. Despite this, I’m always a sucker for seeing a familiar face and for the notable names to look skyward together as they ascend to a new world, smiling and laughing, the game won me over. It was worth playing.

Her monologue, accompanied by a serene violin and guitar, mentions how she’ll reunite with somebody soon. The camera pans out to countryside fields, surely in France, and a road into the horizon. Re-watching it on Youtube, I was surprised how content with the ending I still am all these years later. Seeing Lightning in modern clothing (high heels!) is a true indication that this is a completely different world and there’s no going back.

What a weird game.

There’s a reason it’s the only trilogy-spinoff of a mainline game. Unless you really have an idea that spans three games, you’re going to end up with the Final Fantasy 13 trilogy – admittedly enjoyable, but loosely connected and hardly necessary.

Time constraints, money and other committments mean nowadays, it’s very unlikely I’d buy a game like Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 unless the reviews were out of this world. It’s a shame, because although I’ve spent a good chunk of this entry bitching about weird Japanese story structure and a slight obsession surrounding a rain-thin heroine with pink hair, I really did enjoy this one. It’s different enough to be compelling, it’s still dipped in that special Final Fantasy sauce and the final few scenes really put a smile on my face.

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