Lightning Returns: What It Means to Me

Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

The following contains spoilers for Lightning Returns, including the ending, and a few other games.

Lightning has been one of my favorite Final Fantasy protagonists since the first time I played Final Fantasy XIII.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is an amazing game. As someone that enjoys Final Fantasy XIII and the character Lightning, to see the direction that both this series and character have evolved has been one of my joys of this past generation. It’s a series that was really never meant to be, at first; after all, Final Fantasy XIII itself ends with closure; a closure ripped wide open by Final Fantasy XIII-2, if only because the development team sought some way to both address the original game’s critics while pleasing its fans.

This could have been a disaster. I count Final Fantasy X-2 among the worst games in the franchise because of the way it unnecessarily warped the characters and world of Spira into something of a parody of itself, with an ending that wasn’t the insane effort and requirements necessary to see it in full. But rather than create sequels both incongruous and insulting, the developers instead expanded on that lore, maintaining a tone that’s somber, yet not so dark that it becomes depressing.

One of my favorite games of all time is the original Valkyrie Profile, released here in North America all the way back in 2000 when Enix was still its own entity. It happens to share quite a bit in common with Lightning Returns; whether these similarities are intentional or not, and whether the development team looked toward it and its sequel Valkyrie Profile 2 for certain inspirations, I can’t say. But as I write here, I’ll reference Valkyrie Profile quite a bit in helping explain my attitude toward Lightning Returns.

Protagonists and Narratives

At the core of the story is Lightning, of course. The protagonist, she begins the game having been pulled into the service of the god Bhunivelze; the highest power in the Final Fantasy XIII universe. With the world due to end in a matter of days, she needs to save as many souls as she can in order to allow them to move on to the next work that Bhunivelze is about to create. At regular intervals, she must report back to Hope, and deliver the Eradia energy she has gathered from those souls she saves in order to extend the time she has remaining.

Lenneth's journey in Valkyrie Profile shares much in common with Lightning's final adventure.

At the most rudimentary level, it’s a premise not that dissimilar from Valkyrie Profile. In this game, the protagonist is Lenneth, a Valkyrie of Asgard awakened by Odin to recruit the souls of dead warriors to serve the gods at Ragnarok; the final battle at the end of the world. She must regularly report back to Freya and deliver worthy Einherjar to Valhalla for the coming war with Surt and the frost giants.

However, there is more to each story than the initial premise would indicate. Both Lightning and Lenneth are manipulated by their respective deities and are expected to do little more than serve like good little worker bees. But through various twists in their narratives, greater truths are revealed.

In Lenneth’s case, she ultimately discovers that been born into a human incarnation, and after her death, her memories of this life were locked away by the gods. She had only been reborn temporarily as a human in order to make her more apt at recruiting souls when the time came, but her human life was a remarkably short, tragic one, filled with abuse. She barely avoided being sold into slavery only because a village boy, Lucian, the only being in any plane of existence to show her actual compassion and love, managed to convince her to run away with him, and yet she died shortly after because of a tragic mistake.

Lightning's main adversaries are the god she serves, as well as as her own reluctance to accept herself.

Lightning, on the other hand, begins the game with dead emotions. She presumes for the longest time that they had been cast away by Bhunivelze, as they would get in the way of her mission; the enormity of the task she’s given would be soul-crushing otherwise. Her primary motivation for carrying on in her mission is Bhunivelze’s promise that her deceased sister Serah will be resurrected in the new world, yet she can’t even feel the joy at such a prospect.

But unlike Lenneth, whose memories were indeed locked away by the gods, it is revealed at the game’s end that Lightning’s loss of emotion was brought upon by herself. She had worked so hard to shun her perceived weaknesses and reject who she is on the inside that when she entombed herself in crystal in XIII-2, her heart, and the memory of Serah she had intended to keep safe within it, splintered away into its own entity in Lumina. One that antagonizes her while at the same time pushing her in the direction of what her heart truly wants.

As a friend of mine put it, it’s very Kingdom Hearts in that fashion. But unlike Kingdom Hearts, there’s no Disney whimsy here to lighten what is, in fact, a very dark tale. Lightning is so self-assured in what she thinks she wants, and what she thinks she has to do, that she doesn’t understand her heart’s true desire until it’s almost too late. Similarly, when Lenneth awakens to her memories, her journey is also almost brought to an end by the gods that wished for her to be nothing more than a puppet; it’s through the aid of the Einherjar she gathered and a little necromantic power on the side that she is restored to life, more powerful than ever before.

Antagonism

Lightning's journey has led her to meet one higher power after another.

Though Lightning’s journey begins with her cast in the role of something like Bhunivelze’s Valkyrie and she grows in power with each passing day, she comes to realize that the god has something more in store for her. Bhunivelze is testing her, wishing for her to replace the fallen goddess Etro and restore the cycle of human death and rebirth. Where his plan falters, however, is that in his desire to create a new world, one that won’t come crashing to an end as before, he wishes to wipe all memory, history and emotion from humanity, purging the souls of the deceased from existence. He is a cruel, callous god, incapable of seeing or understanding the human soul, and thus he’ll simply destroy what he does not want.

Though Lightning lacks the capacity to feel, she understands what truth this means, and how it should matter to her. It would mean that Serah would never be reborn; whatever Bhunivelze creates in her place couldn't possibly be the same. And after a life filled with being used and manipulated by one higher power after another, from fighting the fal’Cie in Final Fantasy XIII to serving as Etro’s protector in XIII-2 to her role as Valkyrie in Lightning Returns, she understands that the gods would only continue to manipulate humanity, and thus the only way to free humanity from that cycle is to slay God himself.

Similarly, Odin and Freya had no love for humans, but they’re betrayed by Loki, who has stolen ultimate power for himself and struck Odin down. When Lenneth, reborn and with her memories intact, comes across Freya mourning Odin’s death, she cares nothing for them. She’s after Loki; not because he killed Odin, but because she unwittingly sent Lucian, the only being in all of existence that showed her love, to Valhalla, where Loki used and murdered him. Lenneth doesn’t care about higher powers; she just wants justice and forgiveness for what she’s done.

Killing a God

Many fans of video games are no strangers to killing gods.

Lightning Returns ends in really the only logical way it can; with Lightning standing up to the creator and using all of the power that he imbued her with in order to kill him. It’s a relatively common idea in video games for humanity to fight against gods. For example, it’s an aspect that’s frequently seen in the Megami Tensei franchise, which has even gone so far as to include an incarnation of the Judeo-Christian god as a final boss on more than one occasion. Persona 4 begins with a murder investigation and ends with a team of high school students engaging in battle with an ancient Japanese creation goddess. And despite Lenneth’s already divine status as a Valkyrie, her connection to humanity is what drives her to end Loki’s life.

As for Lightning, she was given power to potentially replace a fallen goddess of death, and though she lands a serious blow, she can’t end the battle on her own. She needs the souls of her friends, and all of humanity, to serve as a blade that can kill Bhunivelze once and for all. It’s a story point that I seem to gravitate toward a lot, and yet it’s old as humanity itself. The struggle against the divine, and overcoming it through that human will. In the end, that Lightning manages to kill Bhunivelze is no more or less sensational than the Investigation Team, and Yu Narukami in particular, taking down Izanami at the end of Persona 4.

The Ending

Lightning fought to bring her sister back, but in the end, her rewards are much greater.

As is promised in the beginning, at the end of Lightning Returns, the world is destroyed. But humanity is able to live on in another world, free from the gods that had oppressed it. And from the personal standpoint of Lightning, she’s able to live a new life, reborn with memories of her friends intact, her heart whole, and at peace. After such a long journey, Lightning, or Claire Farron perhaps, is able to rest. Her final reward is well deserved and justified after the struggles she’s needed to face, both internal and external, in order to attain it.

The World

Nova Chrysalia, what remains of the world of Pulse from Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, is not in a good state. It’s a world that’s been forced to stand still for five hundred years. With Etro’s death and the cycle of death and rebirth broken, what humans are left live an existence that’s part purgatory, part hell, in which people can’t age or mature, and new life can’t be born. Children remain children mentally and emotionally despite the hundreds of years of experience they’ve been forced to endure. Yet they can still die as easily as you or I can, falling prey to sickness or injury. With little other choice, they live their lives day in and day out, emotions worn by the unnaturally long years they’ve lived.

The appearances of characters like Chocolina and Mog go a long way to soften the dreariness of the hellish world Lightning must explore.

It’s a near hopeless, forsaken world that Bhunivelze can’t save, populated by beings that he ultimately cares nothing for. It’s Lightning who must grant its people some measure of peace, filling the holes in their hearts and lives despite the gaping emptiness that exists in her own. She is ultimately rewarded for her efforts, as stated above, when the souls of humanity join her in the final battle.

Despite the depressing, cruel nature of the world and the plight of those forced to live in it, Lightning Returns does offer a degree of levity, both in its story and world, as well as in its gameplay. Though missions in the game can be incredibly dark, like a murder mystery that’s gone unresolved, or helping a child actress that’s lived for so long that she’s forgotten how to cry for herself, there are others that provide a balance, offering lighter, more absurd moments and showing that people haven’t lost their spirit. Like Lightning being forced to say a ridiculous code phrase to gather fireworks from ladies dressed in chocobo attire. Or being rewarded by completing missions for the game’s Biggs and Wedge, which results in them becoming buskers that play Terra’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI, complete with vocals, of a sort. (Ba da DA da daaaaaaaa!)

Lightning’s interactions with the moogles are particularly notable for their silliness; an appropriate tone for the cute, somewhat absurd nature of these fantastic creatures. Interactions like the way that they swarm around Lightning excitedly, or the way that she helps find particular a trio of lost moogles back to the village by throwing them into the stratosphere. Or particularly Lightning’s reunion with Mog, in which he flies toward her in excited slow motion, only to be comically swatted away, as she’s not interested in offering a hug. Moments like these help give the game’s dreary world splashes of color and life, and remind us that there’s still worth in this doomed world.

Costumes, or “I feel pretty, oh so pretty…”

Speaking of the game’s lighter side, there is of course the schemata system, which is so key to the way that the game plays. Much has been made about the extensive wardrobe that Lightning can acquire in the game, as well as how revealing or ridiculous some of these costumes and accessory adornments are. Unlike the game’s world, where in what humor exists as a part of the story, these costumes, and their looks, are under the player’s direct control. It’s up to each individual if they wish for Lightning to look serious, or sexy, or ridiculous. It’s, in short, a system that helps allow the player to get what personal enjoyment they wish out of the game.

Summoner Lightning is OP!

I personally tended to shy away from the more absurd garbs and accessories my first time through. For the most part, my schemata were the Spira’s Summoner garb (the FFX Yuna DLC costume), the Red Mage garb (and eventually, the accompanying hat adornment), and various samurai and warrior style schematas. Part of the way I equipped Lightning was born out of gameplay, of course; each garb affects Lightning’s stats in different ways, and different garbs come with certain abilities that are preset, making them more ideal for certain situations than others. I personally find the Spira’s Summoner garb one of the most useful costumes in the game, regardless of its appearance. On the other hand, the Red Mage costume, in addition to being fairly versatile in its abilities, looks pretty snappy. Add the hat, and you have the ensemble I most enjoyed running around in.

If other people prefer Lightning in the Miqo'te Dress, or in the more revealing outfits like the Watery Chorus, or to give Lightning the absurd facial hair adornments, I’m not going to argue. The outfits are there, and there are plenty of options for just about any taste, whether that taste leans more toward playing it straight, being silly, or searching for garb combinations that could potentially break the game. The point is that the system is incredibly versatile, both in terms of customizing Lightning for the purposes of gameplay as well as aesthetics. Play how you want, and get what you want out of it.

The Nature of Time

A key element of the gameplay in Lightning Returns is the flow of time, as well as the nature of having to deal with a time limit. It’s a concept that other games have tackled in different ways; The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is built around the concept of resetting and manipulating time in order to complete everything the game asks of the player in a three-day period. Dead Rising is much more strict, in that time is constantly running and the player has very tight windows in which tasks must be completed if the player wishes to see the game through to its true end. And Valkyrie Profile, which doesn’t feature an active timer or a daily countdown, forces a time limit upon the player in the form of chapters, each divided into a set number of turns. Any time Lenneth takes an action such as entering a dungeon or a village, turns are consumed, and once all of the turns are used up, the chapter is forced to end.

Deadlines in Lightning Returns may be daunting, but they're never as sadistic as those found in games like Dead Rising.

The path to Valkyrie Profile's best ending is also quite possibly the most complex of all of the games listed here. In order to uncover the truth behind Lenneth’s past and the road to the final battle with Loki, the player must engage in an elaborate and very specific set of actions throughout the game while monitoring numerical values associated with Lenneth to ensure that they are never too high (which can block off the game’s best ending) or too low (which can trigger the game’s worst ending). It’s a byzantine path that’s unfortunately difficult if not impossible to uncover without the use of a FAQ and one of the few serious strikes I can really level against the game. Yet even so, its difficulty and obtuse obscurity mirrors the difficulty that Lenneth faces in following the orders of the gods while pursuing her own objectives.

Lightning Returns is, by contrast, actually not all that difficult to manage. Though the time limit seems daunting at first, the game does provide tools that affect the clock. Specifically, the power of Chronostasis can be used to temporarily stop the clock and give Lightning more time before the current day is out. Its low cost also makes it a power that can be easily used over and over, so long as the player has the points to spend on it. Also, unlike a game like Dead Rising, time’s passage pauses while in battle, and the objectives are designed in such a way that even without the constant use of Chronostasis, achieving the game's real ending is not a strategy guide-necessary task. Chronostasis certainly helps, and the player needs to be mindful of the clock, but the deadlines are rarely as tight as they are in Frank West’s zombie-slaying jamboree.

What ultimately matters is that Lightning completes missions to earn Eradia, which she must turn in at the end of each day (beginning and ending at 6AM sharp), and at certain thresholds increases the amount of days she has remaining. The impetus for performing well is there, but that impetus isn’t so strict that the player ever feels trapped in a dead end, or in need of outside help.

The Music

The soundtrack to Lightning Returns is the culmination of three games’ worth of music. It features battle themes and remixes of tracks from XIII and XIII-2 in addition to its own original music, producing a sum total soundtrack that feels like a natural evolution. But the game doesn’t simply draw from the XIII series, but from Final Fantasy as a whole. The game’s cities are littered with street performers that play remixes of various tunes from past Final Fantasy titles, it’s a charming touch that adds a little flair to the game without drowning the soundtrack in fanservice.

The ways that some of these existing tracks are used is inspired. There is, for example, a battle in the game that pits Lightning and a chocobo against an extra powerful chocobo eater. And the theme chosen for this battle in particular is the hilariously metal red chocobo theme from Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Though, a little fanservice also doesn’t hurt. Should the player win a battle while wearing any of the special Final Fantasy-character inspired DLC garbs, the standard victory fanfare is replaced with the fanfare of the representative game. And if there’s one version of the classic fanfare I love more than any of the others, is the version used in Final Fantasy X. I heard it a lot in the nearly fifty hours I've pumped into the game, and it's great every time.

But it’s not all just reused tracks, old or new. The original music composed for the game is very atmospheric, and again suited to the game’s tone. The soft, vocal melody that plays while on the Ark in the space between days is a somber tune; one that brings to mind both Lightning’s status as a servant of God and the haunting nature of the messed up world.

And then there’s the theme to the final battle with Bhunivelze; a thirteen-minute-long operatic cacophony bringing to mind battles from Lightning’s past as well as past entries in the franchise. Its length, and the dissonant madness of confronting the almighty god it represents, brings to mind in some ways Dancing Mad, the equally cacophonous, operatic theme to the final battle against Kefka in Final Fantasy VI. Indeed, one of Bhunivelze’s most powerful attacks, seen in his second form, is named for that theme.

The Use of Mythology

Lightning Returns brought the head of the Fabula Nova Crystallis pantheon to an end. What does that mean for Final Fantasy XV?

Behind the Final Fantasy XIII series, there’s something called the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos; a fictional mythology that was originally intended to serve as a shared backbone between Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Agito XIII, and Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Things changed, of course; Agito and Versus are no longer explicitly named for XIII, though their connection to the mythos is supposedly still there. What remains to be seen, however, is how the exploration of this mythos in Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns will relate to other games, particularly Final Fantasy XV. The god at the center of the mythos is now dead; killed by Lightning. Does this mean that plans for Final Fantasy XV and its relation to Fabula Nova Crystallis have changed drastically since its days as Versus XIII? A friend of mine, one who is particularly into world building, pondered whether XIII-2 and Lightning Returns may have in fact used concepts that were intended for Versus. Is it possible that the new world seen in the end of Lightning Returns is the same that will be seen in Final Fantasy XV? Will Final Fantasy XV still reference the gods and the mythos surrounding them as a separate continuity, allowing dead gods to be alive again? I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that.

On a related note, as touched upon before, Lightning Returns otherwise takes bits and pieces directly from Norse mythology. Lightning is more or less a Valkyrie in service to a god. The Eradia she gathers is delivered at the end of each day to Yggdrasil, the world tree; a name taken from a tree of the same name in Norse myth. And even further, Odin, Lightning’s Eidolon dating back to the original XIII, is named for the god of thunder at the top of the pantheon. These references, while overt and in some cases aren’t much more than surface-level, are handled well. Certainly, they carry more meaning than similar references in past games, such as Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar and Nibelheim; references to the human world of Midgard and the frozen hell of Niflheim. References that, in all honesty, don’t make that much sense in or out of the game’s context.

Conclusion

If you managed to make it this far without summoning the teal deer, I thank you. I can’t say that there’s anything profound here for me to end on. My goal was to explain some of the ways in which I find Lightning Returns so fascinating and enjoyable with some context from another game that I hold in the highest of regard. Lightning Returns struck a strong chord with me; one that few RPGs have. It is a game that I find fantastic and invigorating for numerous reasons, and a lengthy, rambling blog post such as this can only get so much of that across. The last thing I’ll say here is this:

Lightning Returns may very well be one of my favorite games of all time. That’s a difficult bar to truly judge until enough time has actually passed, but it’s an argument that seems plausible to me and that doesn’t require hyperbole in order to make. Lightning’s journey is a grim, sad, goofy, and ultimately joyous one, and it’s an experience that few games have been able to match in my own heart.

#1 Posted by StarvingGamer (8233 posts) -

I'll come back and give this a good read once I beat the game.

#2 Posted by EuanDewar (4914 posts) -

I'm not gonna read this whole thing. Not because I don't respect the time you dedicated to writing this or because I don't think you deserve it. Just because I really don't care enough about the FF13 games to do so. Not your fault. Props to you though, for taking the time to write at length on something you're passionate about and give it some real thought. Especially considering how rough a time this particular game has had on GB.

Also I really liked FF X-2.

Online
#3 Edited by MetalBaofu (1383 posts) -

I enjoyed the game a good bit. Even did a fast NG+ run through just to grab the last few trophies I needed. However, I didn't like it as much as you seemed to. I definitely couldn't call it one of my favorite games of all time(Suikoden, Chrono Trigger, Shadow Hearts and Persona are hard games to beat for me).

I will say that I wish they started it better. The first thing you have to do being running around looking for evidence, then trying to find those numbers on the walls, while not difficult, was just kinda boring/annoying. I didn't like those timed doors in the dead dunes either since it made me have to just stand around waiting for them to open a couple times. The combat took a bit of getting used to, but I enjoyed it. With a certain set of garb you reach a point where you can just destroy everything with pretty much the same method of attack over and over, which I guess some people might find boring/repetitive, but I kinda enjoy feeling over powered sometimes, especially after losing to a boss a few times.

#4 Posted by MEATBALL (3238 posts) -

I managed to get through all of that.

I didn't really like Final Fantasy XIII (though I did enjoy the battle system), but I did quite enjoy FFXIII-2 (and really liked Serah and Noel). I'll give Lightning Returns a shot at some point, though I'm not a fan of Lightning the character or the way her dialogue is typically written.

Really enjoyed reading about why you like Lightning Returns so much. It was nice getting some insight on what works well about its mechanics and its similarities to another favourite of yours (unfortunately, I've never played Valkyrie Profile). Your excellent summary of the story and overall plot of the series really makes me wish it was presented a lot better in the game. I always find I enjoy reading fans' summaries of XIII's mythology and story far more than anything that's presented in the actual games, where the way a lot of this stuff is handled and written honestly makes me roll my eyes.

I guess that's the thing with this series for me, there are some core, underlying elements that I quite like that have helped me not completely hate it in spite of how much of it is obscured by writing and design elements that I'm simply not a fan of.

#5 Edited by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

I'm not gonna read this whole thing. Not because I don't respect the time you dedicated to writing this or because I don't think you deserve it. Just because I really don't care enough about the FF13 games to do so. Not your fault. Props to you though, for taking the time to write at length on something you're passionate about and give it some real thought. Especially considering how rough a time this particular game has had on GB.

Also I really liked FF X-2.

Hey, fair enough. And thanks!

As for Final Fantasy X-2, I do intend to try it again in the HD collection. Time might have mellowed my stance on that game at least somewhat. There are always going to be things I really don't like about it, but I think it's at least worth giving more of a chance than I did the first time around.

I enjoyed the game a good bit. Even did a fast NG+ run through just to grab the last few trophies I needed. However, I didn't like it as much as you seemed to. I definitely couldn't call it one of my favorite games of all time(Suikoden, Chrono Trigger, Shadow Hearts and Persona are hard games to beat for me).

I will say that I wish they started it better. The first thing you have to do being running around looking for evidence, then trying to find those numbers on the walls, while not difficult, was just kinda boring/annoying. I didn't like those timed doors in the dead dunes either since it made me have to just stand around waiting for them to open a couple times. The combat took a bit of getting used to, but I enjoyed it. With a certain set of garb you reach a point where you can just destroy everything with pretty much the same method of attack over and over, which I guess some people might find boring/repetitive, but I kinda enjoy feeling over powered sometimes, especially after losing to a boss a few times.

The game's introduction is slow, but I didn't mind that so much, if only because with all of the game's systems that are in place, putting the player in that blocked off area in order to investigate the crime and complete the first few quests felt like a good way to ease into what the game expects of the player. As for how the game ranks for me, well, everyone's going to be different. I really don't see myself having any difficulty placing this game among favorites of my own, but then there are games other people adore that I'll never have an easy time understanding.

Also, I hear you on the combat. My first time throught, I became pretty set with a particular strategy that I found effective throughout most of the game, save a few specific enemies. It certainly didn't dull my enjoyment in the least, though.

#6 Posted by MEATBALL (3238 posts) -

Final Fantasy X-2 is obviously the greatest game in the series because massage minigame.

#7 Edited by MetalBaofu (1383 posts) -

@hailinel: About the beginning, I did notice on my second time through that once you find 3/4 numbers(can't get the last one because it's in the Warren) that the game basically tells you to go one of the other areas. For some reason, I didn't really catch that my first time through and ended up just running around Luxerion doing a few side missions, then was just stuck waiting for midnight to come(can't remember if I used the Inn or not). I think my slight problems with the opening would have been lessened a good bit if I had realized what the game said and went and explored the other places a bit until midnight came around. When I was running through my second play through I went and completely finished the dead dunes main quest while waiting for midnight to come so I could get the last number.

#8 Edited by ArbitraryWater (11727 posts) -

Often I feel like the only words spoken about FF XIII is how much everyone dislikes the characters and stories, so it's good to see that they managed to resonate with someone. Reading this actually almost makes me want to play Lightning Returns for reasons other than "Dress up fun time party time" (a hallmark of any good Final Fantasy game), so in that respect you have succeeded with this write-up and for that I commend you. Regardless, I'm going to end up playing FF XIII one of these days, given how often it seems to pop up on these forums and how cheap it is. I'm not going to make any promises about seeing it through to the end, but I will give it an honest shot eventually.

Have you played Bravely Default? I feel like that game is almost the inverse of what Lightning Returns represents in every facet of its being. You know my position on "Final Fantasy games with job systems" already, so I bet you can guess what I think of it thus far, but if you did play it I'd like to know what you think of it.

#9 Edited by BIGJEFFREY (5021 posts) -

I think Xiii series has had some of the best music this gen.

#10 Posted by TruthTellah (9033 posts) -

I'm glad you enjoyed the game so much! As I said early on, I had a feeling you'd really dig it.

Quite the blog, too! I don't really feel the same way on most counts, but that's more of a personal difference over the FFXIII series as a whole. Still, I appreciate your take on it and really like when someone is this into a game. I thought it was pretty nifty, too, and was glad people gave it a shot. It's great that it was so special for you and inspired such thorough consideration. :)

#11 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

@meatball said:

I managed to get through all of that.

I didn't really like Final Fantasy XIII (though I did enjoy the battle system), but I did quite enjoy FFXIII-2 (and really liked Serah and Noel). I'll give Lightning Returns a shot at some point, though I'm not a fan of Lightning the character or the way her dialogue is typically written.

Really enjoyed reading about why you like Lightning Returns so much. It was nice getting some insight on what works well about its mechanics and its similarities to another favourite of yours (unfortunately, I've never played Valkyrie Profile). Your excellent summary of the story and overall plot of the series really makes me wish it was presented a lot better in the game. I always find I enjoy reading fans' summaries of XIII's mythology and story far more than anything that's presented in the actual games, where the way a lot of this stuff is handled and written honestly makes me roll my eyes.

I guess that's the thing with this series for me, there are some core, underlying elements that I quite like that have helped me not completely hate it in spite of how much of it is obscured by writing and design elements that I'm simply not a fan of.

Hey, thanks. I'm glad you and others are getting something out of this. A lot of these thoughts had been rolling around in my head while I was playing the game, and after I beat it, I just had to get it all written down, so it's good to know my ramblings actually made some sense.

@meatball said:

Final Fantasy X-2 is obviously the greatest game in the series because massage minigame.

You win. How can I argue with logic like this?!

@hailinel: About the beginning, I did notice on my second time through that once you find 3/4 numbers(can't get the last one because it's in the Warren) that the game basically tells you to go one of the other areas. For some reason, I didn't really catch that my first time through and ended up just running around Luxerion doing a few side missions, then was just stuck waiting for midnight to come(can't remember if I used the Inn or not). I think my slight problems with the opening would have been lessened a good bit if I had realized what the game said and went and explored the other places a bit until midnight came around. When I was running through my second play through I went and completely finished the dead dunes main quest while waiting for midnight to come so I could get the last number.

I was actually the same way my first time through, too. I was still getting the hang of the game and didn't actually leave Luxerion until quite a bit later than I could have or perhaps should have. That's another thing I appreciate about the way the time is structured; it gives you that leeway to really get your bearings on things while you get a hold on the scope of the game.

Often I feel like the only words spoken about FF XIII is how much everyone dislikes the characters and stories, so it's good to see that they managed to resonate with someone. Reading this actually almost makes me want to play Lightning Returns for reasons other than "Dress up fun time party time" (a hallmark of any good Final Fantasy game), so in that respect you have succeeded with this write-upand for that I commend you. Regardless, I'm going to end up playing FF XIII one of these days, given how often it seems to pop up on these forums and how cheap it is. I'm not going to make any promises about seeing it through to the end, but I will give it an honest shot eventually.

Have you played Bravely Default? I feel like that game is almost the inverse of what Lightning Returns represents in every facet of its being. You know my position on "Final Fantasy games with job systems" already, so I bet you can guess what I think of it thus far, but if you did play it I'd like to know what you think of it.

Heh. That I managed to convince you of that is an accomplishment in itself.

I actually started on Bravely Default around the same time I started on Lightning Returns, and obviously got hooked enough on Lightning Returns that I haven't touched it in a couple of weeks. I'm only a few hours in, right after the black mage boss and the king's kidnapping, but I've enjoyed what I've played of it so far. Probably the biggest part of the learning curve for me was getting used to the whole Brave/Default mechanic and how to balance their use, but as I started unlocking character classes, I've gotten more into it. No idea what I'll think of it in the long run, but I'm hopeful for it at this point.

I'm glad you enjoyed the game so much! As I said early on, I had a feeling you'd really dig it.

Quite the blog, too! I don't really feel the same way on most counts, but that's more of a personal difference over the FFXIII series as a whole. Still, I appreciate your take on it and really like when someone is this into a game. I thought it was pretty nifty, too, and was glad people gave it a shot. It's great that it was so special for you and inspired such thorough consideration. :)

Thanks! I had a lot of fun writing this; it helped that I've had enough time to think it over that my feelings were able to flow pretty easily. It'd be nice if more people in the forums took the same time to write about the games they enjoy; I'm sure that there would be a lot of interesting blogs to peruse on that.

I think Xiii series has had some of the best music this gen.

I can't disagree there!

#12 Posted by ViciousBearMauling (1094 posts) -

I personally have big problems with the XIII series, but this was still a good read. It's pretty enlightening, to be honest. I like opinion pieces of games I really don't like because it lets me see things from the other person's perspective.

That being said, I still hate the XIII series, but I'm better informed to why some would adore it.

#13 Edited by wemibelec90 (1660 posts) -

@hailinel: A very nice write-up! It's pretty interesting to see how many similarities this shares with Valkyrie Profile, something I've never played. In my review, I noted that it felt very similar to other JRPGs I've played and heard about but didn't go into specifics. It sounds like you managed to find the game that most perfectly highlighted this thought. More than anything, it makes me kinda want to track Valkyrie Profile down and play it for myself.

I agree with just about all your points as well (Lightning's stiff performance was really only saved by her interactions with Lumina, in my opinion), and I really enjoyed the whole game myself. It's a fascinating experience that is unlike anything else this generation--easily worth a look-see for those who are interested!

#14 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

I personally have big problems with the XIII series, but this was still a good read. It's pretty enlightening, to be honest. I like opinion pieces of games I really don't like because it lets me see things from the other person's perspective.

That being said, I still hate the XIII series, but I'm better informed to why some would adore it.

That's good to hear. I don't expect everyone to like the series, but for those that don't to understand those that do is worth enough on its own.

@hailinel: A very nice write-up! It's pretty interesting to see how many similarities this shares with Valkyrie Profile, something I've never played. In my review, I noted that it felt very similar to other JRPGs I've played and heard about but didn't go into specifics. It sounds like you managed to find the game that most perfectly highlighted this thought. More than anything, it makes me kinda want to track Valkyrie Profile down and play it for myself.

I agree with just about all your points as well (Lightning's stiff performance was really only saved by her interactions with Lumina, in my opinion), and I really enjoyed the whole game myself. It's a fascinating experience that is unlike anything else this generation--easily worth a look-see for those who are interested!

Thanks! I just read your review, and it's a very thoughtful write-up as well. It's interesting that we both struck upon Luka as an example of the characters met in the game's world. And if you can, you should definitely track down Valkyrie Profile. There is a version of it for the PSP, but I guess I'm a purist at heart, as I prefer the original PS1 version. Either way should be good, though!

#15 Edited by wemibelec90 (1660 posts) -

@hailinel: I've been thinking I could write an entire post on the Luka quest; it really resonated with me that well. It's an excellent, thought-provoking moment that I feel perfectly summed up why I enjoyed Lightning Returns. As for Valkyrie Profile, I'll just have keep it in mind. A quick search didn't reveal any cheap copies ($80+ on Amazon!) and it's sadly unavailable on the PSN store on either PS1 or PSP. I may have to use..alternative means to check it out.

#16 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

@hailinel: I've been thinking I could write an entire post on the Luka quest; it really resonated with me that well. It's an excellent, thought-provoking moment that I feel perfectly summed up why I enjoyed Lightning Returns. As for Valkyrie Profile, I'll just have keep it in mind. A quick search didn't reveal any cheap copies ($80+ on Amazon!) and it's sadly unavailable on the PSN store on either PS1 or PSP. I may have to use..alternative means to check it out.

Yeah, it's unfortunately hard to get a hold of at this point. Hopefully Square Enix will put up a digital version for sale in the near future, but there's just no telling.

#17 Posted by Aetheldod (3579 posts) -

@wemibelec90: @hailinel: Firts excellent write up ... yeah I just love the FFXIII series and its fight against gods , also funnily enough I started playing Valkyrie Profile 2 before the game came out because I played the demo and thought to myself "valkyrie business goin around". I still wish i could play Valkyrie Profile 1 but alas my PSP broke down , the screen anyway :( , anfd cant find legal PS 1 games anymore in my country.

Also I did like Luka and robably my fav side quest of the entire game , because of Luka herself (she is actually one of the few unique npcs , and her story is interesting and sad). Wish more side quest were like that so this game would be higher amongst my favs of all time.

Also wish I was more elocuent and not as lazy to really ponder about what this game means for me (I have thought about this alot tho , so maybe one day I´ll get around that)

Its too bad that people dissmmissed Lightings story and failed to see the more subtle way it got around to showing her true self , which makes me doubt that Kevin Van´orde didnt played the game till the end. The sad part I think is that we may not get this type of character anymore and only a bunch of whimsical happy go lucky one linner spouting goof balls like Nathan Drake or the like. I know hyperbole there but yu et the jist of it) Or story that is more complicated and fun to unravel , like a good film that isnt spoon fed.

Anyway great thing you wrote her Hailinel , you should do more of this (like you did as well with Hatsune Miku!!!!)

#18 Edited by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

@aetheldod: That's a bummer you can't find it, either. I suppose it's not too surprising, though. Valkyrie Profile was a late release in the PS1's lifespan and to my knowledge was a very niche title, which is unfortunate.

I don't know how the reception to the FFXIII series will affect future titles; obviously, if Square Enix had no faith in the series, they wouldn't have even continued it with Final Fantasy XIII-2. I think it says something that despite the waves of overwhelming negativity that the internet can generate that they were still willing to push on. I don't think that we're going to see an end to characters like Lightning; that would certainly be a shame if that were the case. And if what little we've seen of Final Fantasy XV is any indication, I don't think it will be.

#19 Posted by eroticfishcake (7786 posts) -

Oh wow you wrote a lot didn't you? Kinda makes me feel bad since I don't have much to add though in fairness we already had a chat about this on Twitter. But on a side note, reading this had reminded me how complex JPRGs have always been especially on a story telling level whether it's through themes, lore and gameplay. There's a lot of moving parts to it so inevitably there's going to be some cracks in it.

As a I said I haven't touched FF13-2 but I understand a lot of people have problems with the story which makes me think whether they don't like the story itself or just how it's told. I believe "contrived" is the word I hear get used a lot when describing the story. At the same time I know a lot of people's problem with FF13 was the characters themselves (Lightning in particular) so I understand bringing these characters back aren't exactly tickling anyone's fancy.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this really. The whole franchise and the Square Enix themselves are so strange it's hard to know what I should feel about them. Regardless, it was an interesting read and as I said before I'm glad you enjoyed it for what it is.

#20 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

Oh wow you wrote a lot didn't you? Kinda makes me feel bad since I don't have much to add though in fairness we already had a chat about this on Twitter. But on a side note, reading this had reminded me how complex JPRGs have always been especially on a story telling level whether it's through themes, lore and gameplay. There's a lot of moving parts to it so inevitably there's going to be some cracks in it.

As a I said I haven't touched FF13-2 but I understand a lot of people have problems with the story which makes me think whether they don't like the story itself or just how it's told. I believe "contrived" is the word I hear get used a lot when describing the story. At the same time I know a lot of people's problem with FF13 was the characters themselves (Lightning in particular) so I understand bringing these characters back aren't exactly tickling anyone's fancy.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this really. The whole franchise and the Square Enix themselves are so strange it's hard to know what I should feel about them. Regardless, it was an interesting read and as I said before I'm glad you enjoyed it for what it is.

Thanks! I think I did say I had a lot to think about on the game, and this what happened.

XIII, it's sequels and characters are never going to touch everyone's fancy, but then there are very few games in the franchise that can make that claim. Pick any entry in the series, and you'll easily find people that either adore it or hate it with a passion. I remember the days when Final Fantasy VIII was brand new and got a lot of flak mostly because it wasn't like Final Fantasy VII. And the opinions on Final Fantasy XII are so diverse it's honestly hard for me to distinguish the majority from the minority, vocal or otherwise in that debate. Same thing for the characters; I mean, there are characters that are lightning rods (no pun intended) when it comes to criticism, and I've heard all of the criticism on XIII's characters. I just never agreed with any of the most negative comments.

#21 Posted by Demoskinos (14823 posts) -

It's basically everything I wanted. Besides a few technical hiccups with the frame rate chugging in a few areas I have zero ill reservations about this game. I know it sounds insane to say this about the first game you play in a year but expect this one on my end of the year list. Top 3 if not overall number one.

I've spent the last 4 years invested in this series so to see it wrapped up in such amazing fashion was just thrilling. They didn't have to drag this story out like they did but considering other games like Metal Gear Solid 2 which complicated the Metal Gear story arch sigifigantly I think Square Enix managed to land on thier feet with this one. Its almost like Star Wars Trilogy really. The first Star Wars movie was a whole complete thing you could have stopped there and everything would have been A-ok with the death star blown up and the universe saved. However they didn't and they had the second arc of the story be the dark middle chapter that setup the strife and struggle for the 3rd which wrapped up everything you would have wanted in the story. XIII's arc follows much the same path. XIII-2 had such a deviously depressing ending. Serah dies, chaos pours into the world and then the final shot is of Lightning atop Etro's throne in an endless crystal stasis. Depressing to say the least. They held everything together and while it does get pretty nutty everything makes sense and the overall satisfaction of seeing this story through to the end was well worth it. Without reservation I think the Fabula Nova Crystalis series is my favorite in the franchise.

Almost got a bit misty at the end there where Lightning finally smiles. Now for New Game + still so much to see and so much to do!

#22 Posted by RVonE (4638 posts) -

Valkyrie Profile is an outstanding game. That is all.

#23 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

@rvone said:

Valkyrie Profile is an outstanding game. That is all.

That it is.

It's basically everything I wanted. Besides a few technical hiccups with the frame rate chugging in a few areas I have zero ill reservations about this game. I know it sounds insane to say this about the first game you play in a year but expect this one on my end of the year list. Top 3 if not overall number one.

I've spent the last 4 years invested in this series so to see it wrapped up in such amazing fashion was just thrilling. They didn't have to drag this story out like they did but considering other games like Metal Gear Solid 2 which complicated the Metal Gear story arch sigifigantly I think Square Enix managed to land on thier feet with this one. Its almost like Star Wars Trilogy really. The first Star Wars movie was a whole complete thing you could have stopped there and everything would have been A-ok with the death star blown up and the universe saved. However they didn't and they had the second arc of the story be the dark middle chapter that setup the strife and struggle for the 3rd which wrapped up everything you would have wanted in the story. XIII's arc follows much the same path. XIII-2 had such a deviously depressing ending. Serah dies, chaos pours into the world and then the final shot is of Lightning atop Etro's throne in an endless crystal stasis. Depressing to say the least. They held everything together and while it does get pretty nutty everything makes sense and the overall satisfaction of seeing this story through to the end was well worth it. Without reservation I think the Fabula Nova Crystalis series is my favorite in the franchise.

Almost got a bit misty at the end there where Lightning finally smiles. Now for New Game + still so much to see and so much to do!

I can definitely see the similarities you've outlined. Square Enix did an amazing job with this series, and I have a very hard time seeing any other game released this year hitting me like Lightning Returns has.

I'm starting my New Game + run tonight!

#24 Edited by Demoskinos (14823 posts) -

@hailinel: Same here! And now that I have more working knowledge I can streamline my run even more through the game. I remember I wasted SO much time that first day just running around trying to find the numbers.

#25 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

@hailinel: Same here! And now that I have more working knowledge I can streamline my run even more through the game. I remember I wasted SO much time that first day just running around trying to find the numbers.

I've already made far more progress in just the truncated first day than I did in my first go just bumbling around Luxerion in the dead of night. I've already cleared a bunch of sidequests in Luxerion and the Dead Dunes and got started on the DD main quest. I'm liking the new options that they provide in the NG+ like the equipment upgrades, too.

#26 Posted by Maginnovision (487 posts) -

I actually really like this game too. It's my favorite of the 3 due to the combat being a lot of fun. I haven't even finished it. I'm on day 5 or 6 and I've beat all the main story quests, now I'm just running around extincting everything. Wildlands is free and clear of all threats! I also like being able to tailor "classes" just how I want them. I just need to finish this before dark souls 2 comes out.

#27 Posted by consoleui (14 posts) -

@hailinel Everything I've seen of Lightning Returns makes me want to despise it, but your write up makes me want to love it.

#28 Edited by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

I actually really like this game too. It's my favorite of the 3 due to the combat being a lot of fun. I haven't even finished it. I'm on day 5 or 6 and I've beat all the main story quests, now I'm just running around extincting everything. Wildlands is free and clear of all threats! I also like being able to tailor "classes" just how I want them. I just need to finish this before dark souls 2 comes out.

That's a pretty good pace. I didn't finish the last of the main quests in my first time through until day eight or so. And it's really satisfying to clear out entire species of monsters. :)

Enjoy the rest of the game. I know Dark Souls II is going to consume a lot of people's time around these forums when it finally comes out.

@hailinel Everything I've seen of Lightning Returns makes me want to despise it, but your write up makes me want to love it.

Thanks! It really says something if it has that much of an effect.

#29 Posted by consoleui (14 posts) -

@hailinel I've read a couple of your write ups and you seem very good at making a compelling argument for a game a lot of people might dismiss, or might have preconceptions of.

#30 Edited by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

@hailinel I've read a couple of your write ups and you seem very good at making a compelling argument for a game a lot of people might dismiss, or might have preconceptions of.

It's just sort of happens that way. I write about games I like, whether or not they're particularly popular around here.

#31 Edited by consoleui (14 posts) -

@hailinel haha, I feel like they're a lot of games I like, but couldn't even begin to get across why exactly I enjoy them.

#32 Posted by takashichea (351 posts) -

Kingdom Hearts was my gateway drug to the Final Fantasy franchise. I bought Kingdom Hearts as late Christmas gift to my dear little sister. It was a long time since I sat down and play games with family. Seeing her like the FF7 characters especially Cloud. I have no idea why I started playing Final Fantasy with Lightning's game while my sister started out with FF7. I remember her reason, but not my reason, oddly enough. I think it was because I heard Lightning was Cloud's female equivalent. I wanted a similar experience in engaging a Final Fantasy game with my little sister even though we ended up playing two different games.

I could only read the conclusion to avoid spoilers, and I see you really love the game. I share the same way. I wish I had time to play the 2nd and 3rd game in Lightning's trilogy. At first, Lightning's game confuses me because most of the backstory was in the logs. I didn't read them because I thought they weren't necessary. The characters were the main appeal to me. They grew on me. The combat system was unique because I mainly played RPG games particularly JRPG that were turn based. It was like a fish out of water experience for me. I died so many times in Lightning's game. I really sucked at the game, but I still like it.

Without spoilers, how are the 2nd and 3rd game compare to the 1st game? I heard a lot of mixed reactions.

#33 Edited by Jazz_Bcaz (271 posts) -

It had some fun gameplay and of course the music was exceptional, but the characters in the series have never had clear or consistent motivations. They always do the opposite of what they want and they don't have any narrative arc. You find the characters facing the same problems in this game that they were in the first one. Their pay offs are flimsy at best set against a vapid premise with a predictable outcome and a convoluted journey that proves how completely uninterested the writers are in exploring character, rather than just having them be a cipher representing a singular trait.

Their internal conflicts are pushed to the side because it's easier not to explore how that might effect them as a human, and just have the story be about how they'll be the same person at the end. The only good character in the series is Sazh in the first game. He goes through a genuine conflict and journey, yet by this game, he's faced with the exact same problem, and the answer is to shrug off any character development.

I've played every game in this trilogy, because I find the soundtracks and graphics irresistible but really they're just so hackneyed in their writing, so misguided in their pretence. Both XIII-2 and Lightning Returns I've played until the final boss, and just left it after watching the final cutscene on youtube, because I literally have zero investment or desire to earn their "closure". I can't think of a bigger unintentional insult really now I think about it. Both of those games were abundantly rushed or made on the cheap as well. Luxerion is an absolute mess and the whole ordeal reeks of so much self congratulation just, uuugh.

That said, Almighty Bhunivelze is one of the greatest pieces of music written for a video game, ever. The fight looks really cool as well.

#34 Posted by wemibelec90 (1660 posts) -

It had some fun gameplay and of course the music was exceptional, but the characters in the series have never had clear or consistent motivations. They always do the opposite of what they want and they don't have any narrative arc. You find the characters facing the same problems in this game that they were in the first one. Their pay offs are flimsy at best set against a vapid premise with a predictable outcome and a convoluted journey that proves how completely uninterested the writers are in exploring character, rather than just having them be a cipher representing a singular trait.

Their internal conflicts are pushed to the side because it's easier not to explore how that might effect them as a human, and just have the story be about how they'll be the same person at the end. The only good character in the series is Sazh in the first game. He goes through a genuine conflict and journey, yet by this game, he's faced with the exact same problem, and the answer is to shrug off any character development.

I've played every game in this trilogy, because I find the soundtracks and graphics irresistible but really they're just so hackneyed in their writing, so misguided in their pretence. Both XIII-2 and Lightning Returns I've played until the final boss, and just left it after watching the final cutscene on youtube, because I literally have zero investment or desire to earn their "closure". I can't think of a bigger unintentional insult really now I think about it. Both of those games were abundantly rushed or made on the cheap as well. Luxerion is an absolute mess and the whole ordeal reeks of so much self congratulation just, uuugh.

That said, Almighty Bhunivelze is one of the greatest pieces of music written for a video game, ever. The fight looks really cool as well.

I think what LR does well, in terms of character motivations, is taking those problems characters have had in the past and amplifying them as the world ends. Snow's intense need to help people slowly drives him mad as the world dies around him, with nothing he can do being able to stop it. His role as the city's protector is just a lie that he can never live up to. How about Noel giving up his chances at a promised future with Yeul (by her words as she died in his arms) to dive into an unknown future with Lightning? I'll agree that they don't go into as much depth with these characters as they should, but there are still a few fantastic character moments scattered throughout the game.

As for the writing, I can't really argue with you if you don't like it, as that's your personal opinion. However, I do think LR manages to have some pretty sharp writing at points, especially with the side quests littered throughout the game. Sure, there are some that suffer from overly "Japanese" dialog and tropes, but there is still some excellent writing here and there. Of course, I would also argue that LR's strength is not in its story but in its world-building. Few worlds have captivated me so fully.

You are 100% correct on LR being really rough around the edges, graphically. It's the one thing about the game that bums me out.

#35 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -


Without spoilers, how are the 2nd and 3rd game compare to the 1st game? I heard a lot of mixed reactions.

It really depends on the person. I know people that prefer the first game, the second game, and the third game. It really depends on what you're looking for, I guess.

It had some fun gameplay and of course the music was exceptional, but the characters in the series have never had clear or consistent motivations. They always do the opposite of what they want and they don't have any narrative arc. You find the characters facing the same problems in this game that they were in the first one. Their pay offs are flimsy at best set against a vapid premise with a predictable outcome and a convoluted journey that proves how completely uninterested the writers are in exploring character, rather than just having them be a cipher representing a singular trait.

Their internal conflicts are pushed to the side because it's easier not to explore how that might effect them as a human, and just have the story be about how they'll be the same person at the end. The only good character in the series is Sazh in the first game. He goes through a genuine conflict and journey, yet by this game, he's faced with the exact same problem, and the answer is to shrug off any character development.

I've played every game in this trilogy, because I find the soundtracks and graphics irresistible but really they're just so hackneyed in their writing, so misguided in their pretence. Both XIII-2 and Lightning Returns I've played until the final boss, and just left it after watching the final cutscene on youtube, because I literally have zero investment or desire to earn their "closure". I can't think of a bigger unintentional insult really now I think about it. Both of those games were abundantly rushed or made on the cheap as well. Luxerion is an absolute mess and the whole ordeal reeks of so much self congratulation just, uuugh.

That said, Almighty Bhunivelze is one of the greatest pieces of music written for a video game, ever. The fight looks really cool as well.

I think that @wemibelec90 puts it best in some ways. The characters do at times face the same issues that they do in the original game, but that's mostly born out of who they are and how they've been forced to live in the world as it stands for so long. The characters do undergo development, some in more ways than others, but in the end I felt that the final payoff was all worth it.

Also, while it is true that XIII-2 and Lightning Returns saved on development through aspects like reused assets (and in XIII-2's case, modified versions of the original's core gameplay systems), that's not to say that no effort was made in producing these games. They have characters that are entertaining and intriguing, and odd touches here and there that give each their own sense of identity. I've seen people on this forum argue that Final Fantasy XIII-2's antagonist is the best antagonist that the franchise has ever seen, for example. And though the graphics in Lightning Returns do take a hit at times, I wouldn't argue that the game looks cheap. (I can't really agree that Luxerion is a mess, either).

Neither XIII-2 nor Lightning Returns were ever really planned for in the beginning; XIII ends on a note that should have been closure enough. But the game had its critics, and the dev team chose to attempt addressing that criticism by tearing open that closure and get creative with ways that they could continue to expand on the characters and the universe of XIII. And they put an arguably much greater level of effort into conceiving of the story and the gamplay in both sequels than had been previously been put in other FF sequels (like the horribly incongruous Final Fantasy X-2).

I'd never argue that FFXIII-2 or Lightning Returns are without flaws, but everything I experienced about Lightning Returns makes those flaws very easy for me to overlook. It just struck all the right chords with me, and warts and all I do believe that it is a fantastic game in its own right.

#36 Posted by Jazz_Bcaz (271 posts) -

I think what LR does well, in terms of character motivations, is taking those problems characters have had in the past and amplifying them as the world ends. Snow's intense need to help people slowly drives him mad as the world dies around him, with nothing he can do being able to stop it. His role as the city's protector is just a lie that he can never live up to. How about Noel giving up his chances at a promised future with Yeul (by her words as she died in his arms) to dive into an unknown future with Lightning? I'll agree that they don't go into as much depth with these characters as they should, but there are still a few fantastic character moments scattered throughout the game.

It doesn't set up a convincing end of the world scenario though, or earn it. It just takes it for granted that we should accept that it's 500 years in the future. As for Snow, that's exactly what he was going through in the first game over Sereh. His salvation? Remember Sereh. The writing doesn't so much as present conflict and explore it, rather, it brings up the same conflict each time and demands the characters shrug it off. It's lazy and inhumane. The dialogue I don't have a major gripe with, because like you said, you either like it or you don't. It also doesn't really matter. The Last of Us is celebrated as having incredibly human characters but the dialogue in the game isn't exactly amazing.

Also Noel? Pff. His conclusion felt like they were just tossing the dog a bone, but I never much cared for him. TBH, I didn't hate Lumina as a character, or an aspect on Lightnings repressed personality, it was just hard to believe she would emerge now, when all we've ever known is a repressed Lightning. It's also the same method of having a character trait/flaw manifest itself, and then just get shrugged off. In the first game she realises she's repressed because she was forced to become an adult and care for Sereh, but what does she really do about it? Repress herself and worry about Sereh.

My problem with your blog about Luka, is that I believe you've given this world and it's characters far more meaningful contemplation than the writers ever did, and just highlighted all the ways it fails to reflect anything meaningful or true. Everybody is a ridiculous cartoon made up of only the most saccharine tropes and completely lacking in depth or humanity.

I guess some of the environments were pretty, but I can hardly recall the side quests that I know I must have done so many of. Dialogue between menial tasks doesn't make for much of an emotional response when I'm playing a game. That's not that the game wasn't fun. I genuinely did have fun with the games, at least the first and this one, and I enjoy the atmosphere they create with their visuals and their music, even if it's all such surface shine. I get that it all kind of makes sense in the stories own internal logic but just, ugh no. It's not good. It feels like the characters are set in stone, and that the plot is written around them, so they can remain 2 dimensional, monolithic. Why is Vanille still so guilty? Hell, why is she there again? And Fang? She still has to save her? Sazh still isn't united with his son? But I thought? Goddamn!

It's all tenuous at best, soul crushing at worst.

#37 Posted by wemibelec90 (1660 posts) -

@jazz_bcaz: Snow's plight may be identical to the past games, but it's the thought of him suffering for 500 years that really drove it home for me. To be fair, the game could have handled it better, but my reflection on his pain was very moving to me. I can agree that Noel isn't the best example (it's been a few months since I played LR and it was the first thing to come to mind), and I still do think Lightning is an extremely weak main character who doesn't bother to learn from her mistakes and grow.

It is a bit sad how I seemed to put more thought into the world with my views on Luka's quest than the developers did at times. It's such a fascinating world, one that was squandered by a team that didn't quite seem to know how to use it at times and/or ran out of time to develop it further. As an idea for a world, it's fantastic. In practice? Not so much.

Your points are all extremely valid, and I perfectly understand why they annoy you. Still, there is an untenable something about the game that I find endlessly endearing and intriguing, likely due to its dissimilarity to nearly every other JRPG in the last few years. As @hailinel said succinctly above, "It just struck all the right chords with me, and warts and all I do believe that it is a fantastic game in its own right."

#38 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -


It doesn't set up a convincing end of the world scenario though, or earn it. It just takes it for granted that we should accept that it's 500 years in the future. As for Snow, that's exactly what he was going through in the first game over Sereh. His salvation? Remember Sereh. The writing doesn't so much as present conflict and explore it, rather, it brings up the same conflict each time and demands the characters shrug it off. It's lazy and inhumane. The dialogue I don't have a major gripe with, because like you said, you either like it or you don't. It also doesn't really matter. The Last of Us is celebrated as having incredibly human characters but the dialogue in the game isn't exactly amazing.

Also Noel? Pff. His conclusion felt like they were just tossing the dog a bone, but I never much cared for him. TBH, I didn't hate Lumina as a character, or an aspect on Lightnings repressed personality, it was just hard to believe she would emerge now, when all we've ever known is a repressed Lightning. It's also the same method of having a character trait/flaw manifest itself, and then just get shrugged off. In the first game she realises she's repressed because she was forced to become an adult and care for Sereh, but what does she really do about it? Repress herself and worry about Sereh.

My problem with your blog about Luka, is that I believe you've given this world and it's characters far more meaningful contemplation than the writers ever did, and just highlighted all the ways it fails to reflect anything meaningful or true. Everybody is a ridiculous cartoon made up of only the most saccharine tropes and completely lacking in depth or humanity.

I guess some of the environments were pretty, but I can hardly recall the side quests that I know I must have done so many of. Dialogue between menial tasks doesn't make for much of an emotional response when I'm playing a game. That's not that the game wasn't fun. I genuinely did have fun with the games, at least the first and this one, and I enjoy the atmosphere they create with their visuals and their music, even if it's all such surface shine. I get that it all kind of makes sense in the stories own internal logic but just, ugh no. It's not good. It feels like the characters are set in stone, and that the plot is written around them, so they can remain 2 dimensional, monolithic. Why is Vanille still so guilty? Hell, why is she there again? And Fang? She still has to save her? Sazh still isn't united with his son? But I thought? Goddamn!

It's all tenuous at best, soul crushing at worst.

You say that it's not convincing that he game is set 500 years in the future, but how? The society in the game is one that is fantasy; the world has been eaten away by Chaos and all of humanity is immortal and unaging, yet still capable of dying. Events that were triggered at the end of XIII-2 are showing their full repercussions in Lightning Returns, and the world that Lightning actually returns to is one that, over those five hundred years, has morphed into something culturally alien. Humans have lived for far longer than they were ever meant to, trapped in time in such a way that is bound to eat away at them. To suggest that the developers didn't think this world through is, I think, not given them enough credit. Luka's story is but one example, but there are other characters with stories and histories that are compelling in their own ways, whether they be soul-crushing or darkly farcical. You see ridiculous cartoons, I see people that have been forced to adapt to a world where the natural laws have been thrown out the window.

And as for Lightning and Lumina, it's made fairly clear that the split occurred when Lightning chose to entomb herself. But the part of her heart in which she wished to keep Serah's memory safe was the same part of her heart that she wished to shut away, and thus Lumina was born. The characters do end up largely chasing what they had pursued before, but these pursuits have worn them down. Snow is at his wits end and Sazh's fruitless search had left him bitter. Noel had spent years formulating a plot based on the one hope that he might have had to be with Yeul again. Fang and Vanille, asleep in crystal since the end of XIII, awaken in a dying world, Vanille having been given the ability to hear the cries of the dead, which only amplifies the guilt she feels whether it's a just sense of guilt or not. And of course, Lightning is struggling against a fate that places her under the thumb of one higher power after another. She had managed to reunite with Serah, only to be pulled away, and then in her attempt to reunite with her again inadvertently leads Serah to her death. This final mission isn't just to see Serah again, but her last chance to make amends for her part in what happened.

#39 Posted by Sinusoidal (1483 posts) -

Spoilers for XIII-2 ahoy. Haven't played LR yet, but I own it and will get around to it in a masochistic fit sooner or later.

I think this series lost all emotional impact for me somewhere halfway through XIII-2 when I realized that with all this time travel, godlike being and insane coincidence nonsense going on, nothing means anything anymore. A character dies? Whoopty fucking doo, hop in a gate, and there they are alive again. There were horrible inconsistencies with characters appearing all over this supposedly 700 year long timeline. They set it up to seem like it's only Serah and Noel who can travel through time, and then bam, OH, there's Snow, he got 300 years into the future how? Dunno! It's never explained. Same with Sazh who suddenly and inexplicably appears towards the end of the game, 500 years after the end of the first game. The only half-assed explanation they gave for that was he somehow ended up at the casino that's outside of space and time? Lightning got turned into a goddess or something and shuffled off to the end of time to protect another goddess who we never see from Caius who's trying to destroy time (maybe? his motives are never entirely clear) so that Yeul will stop dying over and over again or some shit despite the fact that there are no humans (if indeed any of these beings are people at all, there's precious little actual humanity on display) left in this completely batshit insane world 700 years in the future for her to be reborn to! We get to see Yeul dying again and again, and it doesn't mean shit because she's just going to be alive again next cutscene at a different point in time that inexplicably features all the same people from the previous point in time, yet apparently her death was the sole motivation for this guy to attempt to destroy absolutely everything. Even the fucking merchant, a lousy piece of scantily clad, huge titted, incredibly obnoxiously voiced, chocobo costume packing fanservice vehicle somehow manages to be anywhere and everywhere in time and space, who I guess according to some DLC is the grown up version of the chocobo chick in Sazh's hair... I just... don't even what who when?...............

I'm probably more capable than most when it comes to throwing my disbelief out the door for fiction, but these games are just so internally inconsistent that it's impossible for me to give two shits about the world or any of the characters. At least there's some decent combat and pretty glowing numbers to keep me coming back.

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#40 Edited by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

@sinusoidal: Well, a lot of that is pretty easy to parse out. It was never the case that Serah and Noel were the supposed only ones that could travel through time. It's apparent that Snow figured out what makes the Historia Crux tick and through his own investigation (which took years) he was able to travel through time using it, and at the same time, Hope starts using the Historia Crux after he's introduced to it so that he can continue working on his project. As for Sazh, well, he ended up in Serendipity via an accidental Historia Crux (not entirely unlike how Lightning ended up in Valhalla in the first place), though that particular scene is in a Sazh-specific DLC episode (which also explains Chocolina and how and why she can travel through time and space). Lightning wasn't made a goddess; after she ends up in Valhalla, she enters Etro's service and becomes her guardian to protect her from Caius and his repeated attempts to kill the goddess. Attempts he is making because he wishes to bring time to a halt and save Yeul from the cycle of death and rebirth (or what he perceives as saving her). Also, one Yeul is not exactly the same as another. Each incarnation of her is different even though they are all linked. Caius going back in time to somehow save Yeul in one generation (if such were even possible) wouldn't necessarily prevent her deaths in other parts of the timeline. He wants the possibility of her death to come to a complete halt.

So it doesn't really spoonfeed the player every last detail and there's some content specific to DLC, but they make it work.

#41 Posted by Sinusoidal (1483 posts) -

@hailinel said:

So it doesn't really spoonfeed the player every last detail and there's some content specific to DLC, but they make it work.

We're going to have to agree to disagree on this point because as I see it, it doesn't work. Caius' motivation makes zero sense in light of the fact that he is one of three (2 after 700AF Yeul dies) people in existence. She's never going to be reborn again (unless Caius and Noel are not human and will mitosis out another Yeul at some point, which raises a whole host of other questions..) What is the point of going back in time to try and destroy it so that she doesn't repeat this process of death and rebirth, when it's never going to be repeated again?

And if Snow figured out how to time travel, why couldn't he go with them when they left his time period? It's just all too ridiculously plot-convenient. Much akin to Darth Vader having built C3PO in his garage as a kid.

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#42 Posted by Jazz_Bcaz (271 posts) -

It could have been set at any point after the end of XIII-2. 500 is just an arbitrary number. Just everything it tells you in the plot feels arbitrary. And it does spoon feed it all, in such a clumsy heavy handed way. Before, Chocolinas identity was a sort of easter egg, if you never played that DLC, but in this game they don't even let you figure it out, they ram it down your throat, numerous times. I just get that feeling with the entire plot. It's forced down our throats and we have to buy into it but it's not how characters would or should react when faced with those plot beats. The fact they do just drives me up the wall in between just laughing at it all.

It falls prey to the first rule of story telling, which is show, don't tell. Calling it dark doesn't make it a dark story. That would be something that shows us uncomfortable about the nature of our own humanities whereas this story is about being an unflinching monolith in the face of adversity, which is just dressed up and unrealistic. You don't have to keep explaining the plot points to me. I understood them. The game so much as hammered them in whilst I was playing. It just didn't fly with me because it was abundantly clear they were only interested in bringing back the characterisations from the first game, and shoehorning the story around it.

@wemibelec90: Yeah, I get that there's something about this series. It's why I played each one to near completion, but how many games have you got to the end of, and you just think "welp, no. I can't be bothered to invest the time into this final challenge because the sense of closure they provide is just not worth it". I honestly quite like the characters in XIII and the ending it provides, even though the pacing is still all off and the game has it's own mechanical problems. It's because they get to spend time with each other and explore their characters that way. In both the sequels, we're stuck with the least interesting cast members, whilst everyone else pops up for a shody cameo. It just makes everyone boring.

And it all strikes me as so self congratulatory. It's all fan service, but the creators are the biggest fans out of all of us. They're just too in love with what they created. It's like when they brought back Doctor Who and Russel T Davis only managed to solve plots with a magic button, and turned the Doctor into Jesus. It's not what good characters deserve.

#43 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

It could have been set at any point after the end of XIII-2. 500 is just an arbitrary number. Just everything it tells you in the plot feels arbitrary. And it does spoon feed it all, in such a clumsy heavy handed way. Before, Chocolinas identity was a sort of easter egg, if you never played that DLC, but in this game they don't even let you figure it out, they ram it down your throat, numerous times. I just get that feeling with the entire plot. It's forced down our throats and we have to buy into it but it's not how characters would or should react when faced with those plot beats. The fact they do just drives me up the wall in between just laughing at it all.

It falls prey to the first rule of story telling, which is show, don't tell. Calling it dark doesn't make it a dark story. That would be something that shows us uncomfortable about the nature of our own humanities whereas this story is about being an unflinching monolith in the face of adversity, which is just dressed up and unrealistic. You don't have to keep explaining the plot points to me. I understood them. The game so much as hammered them in whilst I was playing. It just didn't fly with me because it was abundantly clear they were only interested in bringing back the characterisations from the first game, and shoehorning the story around it.

@wemibelec90: Yeah, I get that there's something about this series. It's why I played each one to near completion, but how many games have you got to the end of, and you just think "welp, no. I can't be bothered to invest the time into this final challenge because the sense of closure they provide is just not worth it". I honestly quite like the characters in XIII and the ending it provides, even though the pacing is still all off and the game has it's own mechanical problems. It's because they get to spend time with each other and explore their characters that way. In both the sequels, we're stuck with the least interesting cast members, whilst everyone else pops up for a shody cameo. It just makes everyone boring.

And it all strikes me as so self congratulatory. It's all fan service, but the creators are the biggest fans out of all of us. They're just too in love with what they created. It's like when they brought back Doctor Who and Russel T Davis only managed to solve plots with a magic button, and turned the Doctor into Jesus. It's not what good characters deserve.

Five hundred years is also a very, very long time. And it's enough time for the world to change quite dramatically from its state at the end of XIII-2. The state it's in in Lightning Returns isn't one that could realistically occur in a year's time or even a hundred years' time. As for Chocolina's identity, it may have been something of an Easter egg in XIII-2, but it is a plot point relevant to Sazh's main quest. And it doesn't fall prey to telling more than showing, from what I saw. It's not dark because the game itself calls it dark. It's dark because that's what I inferred from the story and world while playing it. The scenario, the state that the people in the world are in, these are not happy times.

And if this game really does strike you as self-congratulatory, well, I'm sorry you feel that way. Yes, it's evident hat the development team likes the characters and world that they created, but I doubt that they would have gone to the effort to create the sequels if they thought that there wasn't any interest in them. I like what they did with the characters and world, you don't. But what you feel about the game shouldn't extend toward casting judgment on the development team if all you're going by is your own assumptions and hatred of the game.

#44 Edited by Jazz_Bcaz (271 posts) -

I wasn't saying the game said it was dark. I'm saying you're wrong to say that. That's not the tone of the game at all. "Not happy times"? There's a city dedicated to partying, and everyone else is just going on jolly holidays to the desert. No ones actions reflect the state of the world. I don't even hate the game. The series just deserves better. The throw so many resources at the graphics, audio, and revamping the battle system every time, but the writing is just embarrassing.

It's just not good story telling. It's just not good world building. It's just not good characterisation. It's constantly a cringe fest and I just wish it was easier to sing the genuine praises these games deserve. Instead, it's very difficult.

These people inhabiting the world have gone on for 500 years, still fixated on their trivial problems, and yet their souls are saved by niblet hairballs, chocoboral or just showing up on time. None of their problems reflect the nature of existing for 500 years, expect a few, like Luka, and like I said, I presume that was mostly just an accident. There's no real connection or pay off with her though, because her quest amounts to visiting her once a day, four days in a row and paying a bit of cash. Great.

There are what feels like endless examples of why the writing and storytelling it appalling and you can't just explain them away by reciting the exposition the game does. Otherwise you're just making the same mistakes.

#45 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

@jazz_bcaz: A city dedicated to partying because some people want to see the end of the world in style. Or people travelling to see the sights one last time before the end. Or those that just live their lives as they have for hundreds of years, and who, whether by choice or routine, will do what they normally do until the final day. Different people face the end in different ways, whether that be through entertainment, religion, or trying their best to tie up loose ends and be comfortable with their lives as the world crashes down in the hopes they'll see the new world.

And saying I'm simply wrong for how I view and enjoy the game, and how I interpret it, is just a bit rude. You don't have to agree with me, but you could stand to accept that others hold opinions that are the opposite of yours without necessarily being wrong.

#46 Edited by Jazz_Bcaz (271 posts) -

That's fine. It's not a bad game. I definitely enjoyed it but I would never take it seriously. I liked that you could actually customise Lightnings' outfits for once, and it was a significant part of the gameplay, but the story never addresses the mechanics you're actually engaging with. I would never want them to repeat this development cycle, because it just reads like the worst of the worst fan fiction. I find it hilarious whilst I'm playing, but in retrospect, it's just becomes upsetting. Sorry if that sounds rude to you.

It's great that you can just buy into it. Good for you, I wish I could. I'll stop now anyway.

#47 Posted by Hailinel (24735 posts) -

That's fine. It's not a bad game. I definitely enjoyed it but I would never take it seriously. I liked that you could actually customise Lightnings' outfits for once, and it was a significant part of the gameplay, but the story never addresses the mechanics you're actually engaging with. I would never want them to repeat this development cycle, because it just reads like the worst of the worst fan fiction. I find it hilarious whilst I'm playing, but in retrospect, it's just becomes upsetting. Sorry if that sounds rude to you.

It's great that you can just buy into it. Good for you, I wish I could. I'll stop now anyway.

That's not what sounds rude. It's the judging of another's opinion as being wrong that's rude. It comes across as though you believe your opinion and those like it are correct, as though what we were discussing was in any way absolute. I'd recommend you keep that in mind the next time someone judges something you personally find touching and affecting to be laughable garbage.

This is not about being right or wrong. The original blog post was me stating the reasons why I enjoy the game as I do in all of its aspects. I and others have also stated reasons why we find the game to be rather dark. You don't have to agree, but to state that my opinion is simply "wrong" because you don't agree, or because you find the story laughable, is not a good argument nor a good tactic for debate in any manner. From my perspective, it doesn't appear that you gave what the game presented much in the way of serious thought or consideration, but rather took in the surface elements and judged it on those, based on your own personal tastes. Which is fine, as no one is saying you have to give an in-depth analysis on why you do or don't like something. But when you approach others that have put a lot of thought into a subject that is not objective, and present a surface-level argument while asserting yourself as objectively right, either in whole or in part, don't be surprised if you're rebuffed.

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