Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a title from Square Enix starring Final Fantasy XIII protagonist Lightning. Its title, as well as the basic concepts behind the game's development, were announced at a special press conference timed to coincide with the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Final Fantasy series on September 1, 2012 in Japan (August 31, in North America). The game concludes her story arc, which was left on a cliffhanger at the end of Final Fantasy XIII-2. The game was released in North America on February 11, 2014 on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
After spending hundreds of years in crystal stasis, Lightning is reawakened by Bhunivelze; the almighty god and highest power in the Final Fantasy XIII universe. She is told in no uncertain terms that the world will end in thirteen days, and there is nothing she can do to stop it. However, as the chosen savior, Lightning is given a mission by God to save as many souls as she can and offer them to the world tree Yggdrasil, so that they can be born in a brand new world that Bhunivelze will create as the current world ends. To sweeten the deal, this god has also promised to resurrect Lightning's sister Serah in the next world if she succeeds in her mission.
So begins Lightning's quest as she travels across the last remaining stronghold of humanity in a world overrun by chaos. However, there are many more people who don't believe she is a true savior, or whose goals run counter to her own. Lightning also encounters a mysterious figure named Lumina, who despite bearing the appearance of Serah has a polar opposite personality. She is able to survive in and control at least in part the chaos that is consuming the world. She has also crossed paths with Lightning's friends in the past, but whether her goal is to ultimately hinder or help Lightning is a mystery.
Following the events of Final Fantasy XIII-2, uncontrolled chaos broke into the mortal realm and over the centuries, has devoured the world. The remaining humans that survived the initial catastrophe are now immortal and unaging, but are not invincible. They can still die as easily as any human prior to the catastrophe, and in their immortal state, cannot give birth to new life. Because of this, characters from both Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, including Snow Villiers, Noel Kreiss, and others from Lightning's past are still alive, having found places for themselves in the reshaped world, now known as Nova Chrysalia.
Hope Estheim serves as Lightning's assistant on the Ark; their base of operations where time does not flow. Hope was a prominent figure in the society of Nova Chrysalia, and his efforts were a primary reason why people were able to survive the initial influx of chaos that consumed what was once Gran Pulse. However, over a century and a half before the game's start, he vanished; apparently taken by Bhunivelze in the god's preparations for the end of the world. As part of this preparation, Bhunivelze has also regressed Hope's physical age, returning him to his appearance from Final Fantasy XIII. Hope is also unable to remember past events of his life prior to awakening on the Ark without focused concentration. Additionally, Bhunivelze has also taken away both Hope's and Lightning's emotions; they speculate that this was done because strong emotion would hamper their mission.
Nova Chrysalia, or "Novus Partus" in the Japanese version of the game, is the last part of the world where humanity still reigns, as yet untouched by the chaos consuming it. This land is comprised of four regions, each with a different theme. Each is also home to at least one of the game's main quests.
The capital of the realm, Luxerion is a theocratic government run by the Sacred Order; a church that worships Bhunivelze. However, a serial killer calling himself the "Shadow Hunter" has been stalking the streets at night, killing innocent girls with rose-colored hair who look similar to the savior.
As Lightning investigates, she learns that the murders are being carried out by a cult of fanatical heretics called the Children of Etro that supposedly work under the Shadow Hunter. These heretics believe, according to a prophecy depicted in an oracle drive, that the savior, a woman with rose-colored hair, will die at the hands of the Shadow Hunter.
The Shadow Hunter turns out to be Noel Kreiss, who had spent many long years living in Luxerion's shadows, but he has no ties to the Children of Etro. The cultists, having grown impatient, had started witch hunts for the savior, murdering any woman they could catch that matched Lightning's description. However, Noel is on the hunt for Lightning herself. Lumina had shown him a prophecy in an oracle drive in which he kills Lightning, and then is able to live happily in a new world with Yeul.
Noel lures Lightning to a secluded area of the warren where he can carry out his plan to kill her, but ultimately destroys the oracle drive depicting his happy future instead. He realizes that the vision is not what Yeul would want. It is then that Yeul appears to him, saying that he did the right thing.
After completing her business with Noel, who chooses to move out of the shadows and spend what time he has left helping the world, Lightning can access a short quest that will get her inside the church to speak with Vanille. As it turns out, thirteen years before the game's start, Vanille and Fang awoke from their crystal stasis and were quickly found by the Order. When Vanille awoke, she somehow gained the power to hear the voices of the dead, and she spends her time within the church, attempting to soothe a maelstrom of souls that are unable to be reborn or find peace. The Order intends for Vanille to perform a rite known as the Soulsong on the final day of the world, which she has been told will save the souls of the dead.
The "glittering city" where Snow resides as Lord of the Fest-hall and the de-facto leader. While he shuts himself in the town's castle, the people have decided to welcome the end of the world in style, with everything from lavish banquets to grand fireworks displays. Lightning first visits Yusnaan during the game's prologue, in which she attempts to confront Snow by force, but after a confrontation, he flees into his palace. With the Chaos too thick and guards on her tail, Lightning is forced to retreat.
When Lightning next visits Yusnaan, she starts from the city's monorail station and must find a way into the Auger's Quarter; the walled off portion of the city home to Snow's palace. After gaining access to a route that runs through the industrial and warehouse districts, Lightning makes it to the Auger's Quarter, where an elaborate theatrical performance depicting the savior is performed every night with a large statue serving as its centerpiece. Lightning and Hope concoct a plan to overload the set with fireworks and cause the statue to topple, giving Lightning the opportunity to climb the wall. But in order for the plan to work, Lightning must convince the director to not only agree to overloading the pyrotechnics, but to cast her in the role of "the savior" so she can be in position to jump over the wall as the statue falls.
After the explosive finale, Lightning, now in the palace grounds, makes her way inside to meet Snow, who has sealed himself off in the innermost chambers with a wall of magic ice. A l'Cie, Snow is able to wield powerful magic, but he is also on the dangerous verge of becoming a monstrous Cie'th.
Though Lightning can't break the ice, she finds Serah's pendant, a gift from Snow to Lightning's sister, in a convenient location. Having an epiphany, Lightning tries using the pendant as a key to break the ice barrier and succeeds. Inside, she meets Snow, who after five hundred years of beating himself up over Serah's death is mentally and emotionally exhausted as he uses the last of l'Cie powers to destroy a powerful chaos infusion that exists right there in the middle of the palace.
After the deed is done, Snow falls prey to becoming a Cie'th, but Lightning, with the use of Serah's pendant, is able to get through to him and help restore his humanity. With Snow saved and having restored his hope, Lightning completes her primary task in Yusnaan.
A barren desert that is home to many rare treasures, but equally rare and dangerous monsters. Upon arriving in the desert for the first time, Lightning gets the sense that she is being watched, but makes her way into the desert until she comes across the hideout for a gang of bandits known as Monoculous. After completing a trial to enter their ranks, Lightning is allowed to meet their leader, who as it turns out is her old ally Fang.
After awakening from crystal and being discovered by the Order, Fang chose to escape the confines of the cathedral. Though she tried to get Vanille to come with her, it wasn't to be. Instead, she made her way to the Dead Dunes and established herself as the a bandit leader in order to locate an artifact sought by the Order known as the Holy Clavis. However, in order to reach the Clavis, she requires Lightning's aid, primarily in her powers as the savior.
After exploring the depths of a ruined temple and solve its puzzles, Lightning and Fang manage to gain access to the chamber in which the Clavis is stored. But upon reaching it, Fang attempts to destroy the artifact. Confused, Lightning tries to stop her until they are interrupted by the appearance of soldiers from the Order that send a monster after them.
Though Lightning and Fang fight the monster off, the distraction prevents them from stopping the order from claiming the Clavis and making their escape. Fang explains that the reason the Order needs the Clavis is to allow Vanille to perform the Soulsong, but the ritual itself will also result in Vanille's death. The reason Fang hunted for the Clavis wasn't to help Vanille perform the ritual, but to prevent the Order from killing her friend. Fang couldn't tell Lightning the truth up until this point because she wasn't sure if Lightning, as the savior and Bhunivelze's servant, could be trusted. But with the truth out, she and Lightning make their peace, and Fang announces her intentions to do what she can to stop the ritual on the final day.
A land bustling with wildlife, the Wildlands are a vast expanse of the last remaining forest and grassland wilderness in the world. It is also home to two of the game's main quests.
When Lightning first arrives in the Wildlands by monorail, she hears the voice of a young girl in her mind, telling her that she must seek out the Angel of Valhalla. Lightning soon learns that this angel is actually a white chocobo, once thought to be a local legend but has actually been seen by more and more people in recent years. It is said that the Angel of Valhalla will lead the savior to the temple where the Chaos first erupted and swept over the land; Etro's temple, once a part of Valhalla, and now sitting north of a rocky crag in the Wildlands.
When she seeks the Angel of Valhalla out herself, she finds it severely wounded by a chocobo eater, but comes to its rescue. With the help of a local veterinarian, who fixes the chocobo's wounds, the Angel of Valhalla is put on the path to recover, but its proud nature prevents it from accepting any food or medicine from anyone but the one figure it considers its master; Lightning. Lightning in turn feels a strange connection to the chocobo, as if they've been together before, yet she can't place how that could be.
After helping the chocobo heal to a sufficient degree, Lightning is able to ride it across the rocky crag and access Etro's temple. Inside the temple, in addition to an atmosphere thick with Chaos, she comes across her old foe Caius Ballad, who tells her to leave as she will find nothing to save within the temple's walls. He also curses Lightning, causing her to lose health as long as she stays within the temple.
Determined to confront Caius, Lightning makes her way through the temple and has several encounters with Yeul. Or rather, spirits representing different incarnations of Yeul, each with her own history and desires. Some of them wish for Lightning to save Caius, while others cannot bear the thought of being separated from him.
In Etro's throne room, Lightning finds Caius and defeats him in battle. However, he reveals that even as the savior, she could not save his soul even if she tried. Yeul, unwilling to let Caius go, keeps him bound to the Chaos. In his bid to bring time to an end and free Yeul from the cycle of death and rebirth, he had become trapped in a web of his own making.
As she leaves the temple, Yeul appears before Lightning one more time and reveals that she was the one that spoke in her mind, as well as the minds of others, to spread the legend of the Angel of Valhalla. It is also revealed that the mysterious white chocobo is actually the reincarnation of her Eidolon, Odin, who had waited for her return all this time.
The last remaining main quest requires Lightning travel to the ruins of an airship located in the far north of the Wildlands. Here, she finds Sazh, who is watching over his sleeping son Dajh. Dajh had lost his soul, which left his body and fragmented after the Chaos began to sweep over the world. Lumina has come to Sazh's aid by finding him a box that could piece Dajh's soul back together, but Sazh has spent the past five hundred years searching for the soul fragments without success.
In order to locate all five of the fragments, Lightning must search not only the Wildlands but other regions of the world, as well. As part of her hunt, Lightning visits a secret village of moogles located in a forest, where she meets her old ally Mog, and brings him hope with her promise to save Serah. She also gathers a fragment from Chocolina, who unbeknownst to Lightning is the human form of the chocobo chick once adopted by Sazh as a gift for his son. When Lightning recovers all five fragments and returns them to Sazh, Chocolina is also present in her baby chocobo form, where she learns the truth.
Though the box is able to merge the fragments together, Sazh, frustrated and angry, can't get the box to work and bring his son back. It isn't until Lightning, Lumina, and Chocolina make him aware that his dour, scary demeanor is what's preventing Dajh from waking up. Once Sazh realizes this, he calms down and searches back for happy memories of playing games with his son, which allows box to work and for Dajh to awaken from his five-hundred year sleep.
Lightning Returns diverges from the gameplay of Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 in significant ways. Lightning is the sole player character in the game, and the combat, character customization and upgrade systems have been completely revamped to account for this. The game is also non-linear, allowing Lightning to tackle missions in a player-chosen order.
Lightning Returns uses a variant of the Active Time Battle system, though it isn't the same as the system that appeared in Final Fantasy XIII or XIII-2.
In combat, the player can move Lighting around the battlefield using the left analogue stick. Her abilities are determined by the schemata she has equipped. She may have up to three active schemata equipped at any one time. Each schemata can have up to four combat abilities linked to the face buttons of the PS3/Xbox 360 controller (one per button), for a total of twelve actions. Each schemata also has its own individual Active Time Battle gauge, and the gauge is drained as a schemata's abilities are used. The player may swap between the three schemata at any time during battle, and inactive schemata regain ATB gauge faster.
By exploiting enemy weaknesses, player can stagger enemies, which puts them in a weakened state in which they are more susceptible to damage. The player can examine the enemy's status at any time by using Libra, which is freely available as a shoulder button action.
Lightning can carry only a limited number of items, and begins the game with six slots. Merchants found along the way can sell Lightning consumables to restock her supplies. Unlike FFXIII and XIII-2, Lightning's health does not automatically refill at the end of battle, making item management a greater priority than in previous games.
In the Wildlands and Dead Dunes, Lightning will eventually partner with a chocobo and Fang respectively. While in these regions, these characters will accompany Lightning in battle and grant assistance. The player does not control them, they do not have health gauges, and cannot die.
There is a finite number of each type of enemy monster that Lightning can encounter in the field. Once she has defeated enough of a particular kind of enemy, it will stop spawning. Instead, Lightning will come across a special "Omega" variant of that monster called a "Last One" with boosted stats and abilities. Once this Omega version of the monster is defeated, the species as a whole is extinct and will no longer spawn during the current play-through. Battles against Last Ones are treated as boss battles in that the player's performance in combat is graded on a scale of zero to five stars. When defeated, Last Ones drop unique pieces of equipment, and all defeated Last Ones can be fought again by accessing the bookshelf on the Ark.
The game's bonus Ultimate Dungeon, unlocked if the player is able to gather enough Eradia to gain the extra day, is populated exclusively with Last Ones. It provides an alternate means to defeat the majority of the Last Ones in the game, as each Last One not already defeated out in the world will spawn on specific floors of the dungeon. Additionally, one of the game's most difficult side quests requires Lightning to defeat every Last One in the game. However, there are three Last Ones that are only capable of spawning in the endgame dungeon, beyond a point of no return, meaning that a New Game Plus is required in order to return to the quest giver and complete the objective.
Energy Points, or EP, are a special stock of points that Lightning can expend on a variety of actions. Such actions include Chronostasis, which temporarily halts the clock while exploring the world, or Overdrive, which slows down time temporarily during battle, allowing Lightning to deliver a flurry of attacks and deal significant damage. The player begins with a maximum of four EP, but as Lightning completes certain quests, this stock can grow to eight by the end of the first playthrough.
When Lightning has expended EP, she can regain it by winning fights. Victory over different enemies restores differing percentages of EP. She can also restore EP instantly by consuming ethers, though these items are rare. No matter how much EP Lightning has at the end of each day, her stock will be restored to full when she returns to the Ark.
EP costs displayed reflect Normal and Hard playthroughs. Abilities that cost more than one EP on these difficulty levels cost one less point to use when playing on Easy.
|Curaga||2||Lightning's Hit Point total is restored to its maximum.|
|Arise||1-3||Revives Lightning when she falls in battle. The amount of hit points restored is dependent on the amount of EP available to spend.|
|Esunada||1||Cures Lightning of all status ailments.|
|Decoy||1||Summons a moogle doll that temporarily draws enemy attention away from Lightning during battle.|
|Quake||2||Hits enemies with non-elemental damage, throws them in the air, and increases stagger time.|
|Overclock||2||Dramatically slows down time during battle for everyone but Lightning.|
|Army of One||1||A special attack only available for use while Overclock is in effect.|
|Escape||0||Allows Lightning to escape from battle, but on Normal and Hard, incurs a penalty by moving the clock ahead by an hour. The player is given the option to use this ability when Lightning falls in battle and is unable to be revived.|
|Chronostasis||1||Temporarily halts the clock for half an hour of in-game world time, or seventy-five real-time seconds.|
|Teleport||3||Warps Lightning instantly to any previously accessed waypoint in the world.|
Lightning's schemata are based on a combination of three types of gear; garb, weapon, and shield. Each piece of equipment has a unique look, and thus the chosen schemata not only affects Lightning's stats and abilities, but also her appearance. Greater stat bonuses are granted when the player equips a weapon and shield that compliment her garb. Certain special schemata not included in the base game are also available as DLC. In total, Lightning has over eighty unique schemata.
Additionally, the color of Lightning's garb can be customized, though the extent to which this customization is possible is dependent on the individual garb. Each garb also comes with slots for accessories that enhance her status. These accessories are divided into those worn on her head versus those worn on her arm. Garbs can also be equipped with one adornment each. Adornments are purely aesthetic and affect Lightning's appearance, but do not affect her stats in any way.
Some costumes are based on the outfits of other characters from the Final Fantasy series including Cloud Strife and Aerith Gainsborough from Final Fantasy VII, Yuna from Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2, and a Miqo'te from Final Fantasy XIV. These schemata feature unique abilities inspired by the associated characters and unique victory animations and fanfares when a battle is won while the schemata is active.
World Design and the Flow of Time
Time is always flowing in Lightning Returns, with a set deadline before the end of the world. The game takes place over a maximum of thirteen days. However, in order to see her mission to the end, Lightning must complete her assigned mission and return Eradia, proof of her work in saving souls, to the world tree Yggdrasil on the Ark. At the outset, Lightning only has six days to work; she must gather Eradia by completing quests in order to extend the time she has remaining. If the player does not play effectively, the world will end prematurely, and it's game over. However, the game offers a New Game Plus feature that allows the player to start over with Lightning's current stats and equipment, minus certain plot-specific items (see more on the New Game Plus features in the section below).
Certain actions Lightning takes can also affect the time she has remaining in the current day. For example, any time she runs from battle, she loses an hour's time. She can also use the ability Chronostasis to temporarily halt the clock, providing more time to complete objectives. Time only counts down while Lightning explores the world. The clock pauses while engaged in combat, speaking to NPCs, navigating menus, and during cutscenes.
The player is free to explore any of the game's four regions at will, though some locations are blocked off by terrain that may require completing a quest in order to bypass or a gate that's locked during certain hours of the day. To travel from region to region, the player may purchase monorail tickets, though monorail travel is limited in that certain regions are only accessible from certain stations. The player will eventually unlock a teleport ability that, at a cost of 3EP, will allow Lightning to transport to select waypoints in any previously visited region.
The Ark is the location where Lightning must return at the end of each day at 6AM sharp. Here, time does not flow. Each time Lightning returns to the Ark, she grants what Eradia she gathered during the preceding twenty-four hours to Yggdrasil, and then is left to the player's control. Lightning may speak with Hope to learn more about characters she's encountered during her journey, spend a portion of her EP on healing items, or check on Yggdrasil's condition. She can also collect treasure boxes containing new garbs and EP abilities with each visit.
The Ark is also home to a bookshelf containing records of bosses that Lightning has defeated. The player has the option of fighting these bosses again to attempt a higher battle score. When the player is ready to move on to the next day, there is a teleportation pad that Lightning can access.
The player will occasionally come across zones in each region called chaos infusions. Within these zones, enemies have boosted stats, but offer greater rewards for their defeat. Scattered about such infusions, Lightning can also find soul seeds, which can be turned in to seed hunters for extra gil. Each region is home to a seed hunter.
New Game Plus
After completing the game, the player can start over with a New Game Plus, beginning from Lightning's first trip to the Ark. In a New Game Plus, Lightning retains the following:
- Her current battle parameters, including hit points, strength, and magic, as well as her upgraded EP and recovery item slots.
- Most of her weapons, shields, and garbs, with a few exceptions.
- All of her consumable items and gil.
However, Lightning loses the following:
- All quest progress.
- Key quest items.
- Any monsters that had been exterminated now reappear.
The following rewards are granted for starting a New Game Plus after completing the game:
- The ability to upgrade weapons and shields at forges is unlocked.
- When a duplicate of a head accessory acquired in a previous play-through is found, the accessory is upgraded to a more powerful version. Duplicate arm accessories cannot be found; any treasure spheres that contained them in a previous play-through will contain gil instead.
- Limit breaking can be turned on in the game's settings. When active, Lightning can power up beyond her standard parameter limitations, but battle scores cannot be uploaded to the Outworld servers.
- The player is given the option of playing the game on the Hard difficulty setting.
The Crystal of Atonement
The Crystal of Atonement is an item that appears outside the final boss's chamber if the player fails to beat him, and also appears on the Ark in a New Game Plus beginning at the start of the second day. When used, the Crystal of Atonement resets time to the start of the first day, acting in a manner similar to a New Game Plus without offering the bonuses acquired for previously completing the game. It is considered an item of last resort for those unable to complete the game in their current state.
The game's quests come in three types; the main quests required to advance the story, side quests for gathering Eradia, and requests taken from the Canvas of Prayers. Each of the game's four regions has their own quest lines, including the main quests, which can be tackled concurrently. Quests are ranked on a difficulty scale of one to three stars.
Lightning Returns does not have an experience-based leveling system as seen in more traditional RPGs. Instead, Lightning earns stat boosts by completing quests, enhancing her hit point total, physical strength, and magic power. Completing main quests and select side quests also boosts her maximum EP total and gives her more item slots for her inventory.
The primary missions that the player must complete in order to advance the story. Some side quests are not made available until after the player has made progress in the main quest for the related region, and a few are also required in order to advance through the main quest. There are five main quests in total, one for each region, plus a fifth that, while hosted in the Wildlands, requires visiting other regions in the game. Most of the main quests conclude with a boss fight.
Side quests generally require interaction with people Lightning comes across and helping them with their troubles to put them at ease and save their souls. For each side quest she completes, Lightning earns Eradia. The higher a mission's difficulty, the more Eradia it gives, but such missions are in general more time-consuming to complete. It is not possible to complete all of the game's side quests in a single play-through, as certain quests cancel each other out.
The Canvas of Prayers is a listing of smaller requests generally devoted to tasks such as gathering specific numbers of items from fallen enemies or finding items in the environment. Completion of these tasks does not grant Lightning Eradia, but they do give her stat boosts, gil, and items. Requests come in two forms. Normal requests must be turned in for completion in their specific regions, while global requests can be turned in for completion in any of the four regions. Chocolina, the item vendor from Final Fantasy XIII-2, returns as the keeper of the Canvas of Prayers.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Collector’s Edition contains the following:
- Premium packaging featuring artwork from the Japan release.
- 80-page hard cover art book containing Tetsuya Nomura’s original sketches of Lightning, a foreword from art director Isamu Kamikokuryo, and concept art.
- Silver embossed pocket watch.
- DLC code for Final Fantasy VII’s Aerith Gainsborough’s “Midgar’s Flower Girl” outfit.
- Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Game Disc.