@hailinel: Excellent post Hailinel and some interesting discussions and opinions in the comment thread. Definitely a series with a lot of mixed feelings. I've recently finished Lightning Returns; this year in fact I played through all three games straight after the other. One of the reasons I did so is because I tend to only keep physical copies of games I really like. I was unsure of where the XIII series was heading after the first game so just kept going to know whether I should free up space on my shelves or keep them for memories. My thoughts:
I started off really liking the game (first 5-9 hours) probably because it was new and flashy but then battle after battle after battle....it started to drag.I didn't feel that the battle system, although amazing as an idea and concept (no micromanagement! Over-arching tactics!), was enough to sustain a game that was pretty much battles only. I didn't mind its linear structure, but I wish there was more interactivity with the battles if that was what the game was only going to be. Thankfully XIII-2 improved things by being more responsive, and LR improved things by eclipsing it all-together and improving on it in every way.
Regarding the story, I didn't mind it, but I thought that a lot of the character interactions were very unnatural (this is becoming a general criticism of mine with modern (read: voice acted!) Final Fantasy games). I'm not sure if this is just a 'japanese/anime' thing (not trying to offend here, hopefully I can get what I mean across) but Sazh felt like the only real human being. I actually like anime but when the characters start looking as realistic as they do in X and XIII then any unnatural character interactions and dialogue that no real person would say starts to become more noticeable and off-putting. I wouldn't mind this style of acting in a less tonally serious game but I feel that Final Fantasy is a series that would like to be taken seriously.
Now that I think about it, a Japanese series with realistic looking characters that does do character interaction and nuance really well is the Yakuza series; I wish Square-Enix would take a leaf out of their book and make it less 'anime' and more 'real' if they want to tell the stories they seem to try to be tell (apologies once again for using the word 'anime' as a negative - I actually do like it, hopefully you know what I'm trying to get across).
In terms of how the story was delivered outside the character acting: I won't go into the details of why the way it builds its world is bad from a technical standpoint, it should be obvious by now and many have already touched upon it (Pulse, Le Cie, Ceith! Pulse Le Cie! Lindzei! Pulse, Cocoon! Cocoon Le Cie! etc)
Back to the battle system, by the end I hated it and just wanted the game to end. Even the promise of ''it gets good at 20 hours" (i.e. Gran Pulse) didn't hold true for me since I was bored of battles by then and more battles in an open field rather than a corridor isn't any different. I rage-quitted MANY times (and I'm a calm person). A lot of it may have been my 'fault' through not having optimum Paradgims but...man I wish that game was a little easier. Too many enemies just took way to long to kill (F***ing Barthandalus!!!!).
When I did finish it though I just HAD to dive into XIII-2 for some reason. I did hear that they addressed the criticisms of the first game and desperately wanted to find out: was XIII series for me?
XIII-2: Same/similar battle-system? Nope! Not for me! Thankfully the game had a easy mode so I could just go along for the ride. After a few hours in I knew XIII-2 would be for me either.
Things I hated:
- Mog. Why does this character exist! Annoying high-pitched voice, weird out of place look right next to real looking characters (don't care if he's a mascot or 'traditional'). I hate Mog.
- Chocolina. Seriously wtf. Make up your mind Final Fantasy. Either go all the way crazy like Persona 4 or get serious like Yakuza. What you're doing now is just weird man...
- Battle system. I was bored of it well before XIII-2, about halfway through XIII in fact.
- Time travel. Can't take any fiction with time travel in it seriously...it just doesn't work.
Things I liked:
- Sarah. She really became a 'character' in this game. I liked playing as her.
- Noel. A good strong, male 'hero' lead, better than Snow in every way and more nuanced.
- Caius. His logic was dumb, but man what a villan. Maybe it was having the same voice actor as Grimoire Weiss that did it for me....
Things I didn't mind:
- The Story. Once I accepted that it would change drastically in direction from XIII and become utter nonsense I just accepted it and went along for the ride.
Lightning Returns: This is the best game in the XIII series and feels like the a proper mainline FF game. I honestly felt like saying 'Welcome back final fantasy, its been a long time since 12!' Ok, the plot at this point was nonsense but coming off of XIII-2 I just accepted that the XIII series won't have a solid internal and external logic. I did enjoy it but you won't find me going round upholding it as a seminal price of fiction, writing and characterisation.
Why do I think this was a the best game in the XIII series?
- I played it for 9.5 hours on my first day with it. You know you're onto a good thing with a game when you start a game and can't stop playing it. I've heard this from other critics who are not fans of the XIII series in general (Kat Bailey for one). Whereas the other two games were a real slog for me at times and felt like a second job, I breezed through this, putting in 62.5 hours in total on my first play through and doing every single quest in the game except for the one that you need to do in newgame+ (extermination quest). I still had it on easy but I don't hold it against LR in general, too many games these days have enemies with too big a HP pool whether they are shooters or jrpgs...but that is largely a reflection of my current situation with a full time job and a amateur martial arts career. Maybe it was just the quest structure that did it for me but it just flowed for me. I enjoyed the schmata system, swapping weapons, garbs etc.
- It respects the player. You can play it on easy, normal and hard. You can do as many or as little quests as you want. You can fight as many or as little battles as you want. These traits were missing from the first two games I felt (yes XIII-2 had a lot of freedom but not the same kind as LR, I won't go into it here as it would take too long to explain)
- The time mechanic. Time mechanics in games just do something for me for some reason. This is different from Majora's Mask however; when people say its the same what they should say is that its similar.
- It made me finally like lightning as a character. Although I did like parts of lightning in the other games (her badass nature, her more vulnerable side) I felt that she finally became more whole in LR.
- The Mog costume. Yes I HATE that goddam mog but hearing lightning say ''Look I'm serious..." was hilarious.
I have a few misgivings however:
- Mog. Seriously, F*** mog.
Chocolina....ok fine she grew on me a bit...but I still don't, ugh, that annoying voice. Ack. ok fine chocolina I'll let you off.
- The story. Utter nonsense! If the series as a whole was a little more grounded and didn't try to go full Tengen Toppathen I fell I would have mad more attachments to the characters and the world. As others have said it just didn't feel like it mattered in the end. Time travel, coming back from the dead, fighting gods...it just lost a sense of anything having consequence. A bit like how in DBZ it didn't matter if anyone died because dragonballs etc.
Overall...Thanks Lightning Returns. You restored my faith in Final Fantasy. Its a good series with a high budget and amazing art production and music. Its just a little 'mis-directed' at times. Would I ever play XIII and XIII-2 ever again? Nope! Not a chance in hell. LR? Maybe. I'll keep this series on my shelf for my younger siblings to play sometime. And for my future self. Thanks for reading this @Hailinel. I look forward to your thoughts on future games. I'm looking forward to XV myself after LR. Hope they took some lessons from it.