Monday, March 10, 2014

The Final Fantasy XIII Series (Part 3 of 3)

Final Fantasy has always been a series that received either praise or criticism, both from fans and non-fans alike. Nothing made that more apparent than with the release of Final Fantasy XIII. The game had so much that was different from the average RPG that it literally split the fanbase in two. While many disliked the game, I was one of the few that actually liked it, despite its few faults. It had awesome characters and a cool story with interesting lore, and it summed everything up with a satisfying end.  The sequel, XIII-2 says "screw that mythos" and improves the gameplay. It also adds a non-coherent story in which two friends fight over a dead goddess, the villain wins, and ends the game on a cliffhanger. Finally we come to Lightning Returns, the final (hopefully) game in the trilogy. This time, Lightning literally returns, but not as a tutorial level, and to attempt to redeem the XIII trilogy with a satisfactory conclusion.

This is Part 3 of my Final Fantasy XIII trilogy review, so you might want to catch up: Final Fantasy XIII-2

Five hundred years after the events of XIII-2, Lightning has been chosen by the God known as Bhunivelze to lead souls to salvation. In return, she will be reunited with her younger sister, Serah, who died at the end of the last game. The thing is, Lightning only has thirteen days to do so, as Nova Chrysalia (the world created when Gran Pulse and Valhalla came together) will be destroyed, and a new one will be created in its place. All of the souls saved up to that point will be reborn into this new world, and any others will be gone forever. Thankfully (or in my case, unthankfully), Bhunivelze teams you up with Hope, although he’s regressed back to his 14-year old body. Now, Lightning is one of my favorite video game heroines, and it’s great to see her as a main character again, albeit the only one. She seems kind of dull now, and though I understand why that is, it’s hard to empathize with her or care about what she’s doing. At least in XIII, she had some semblance of a personality, one that I preferred and could identify with. Hope on the other hand, went from being an okay secondary character to one I felt was more of a placeholder. Anyone could have played his role, and he/she probably would have been less annoying. Speaking of which, others characters from the rest of the trilogy appear, though they have some pretty questionable roles. 

All of your favorites return in the third game, just don't expect to see them as much.

I have to say, that the graphics in this game is one of the PS3’s best. The four areas of Nova Chrysalia contains a mix of architecture ranging from medieval-style to modern. The NPCs also have their own style depending on the region; some await the creation of a new world, and others celebrate it with festivities. There are some low quality textures here and there, but nothing too bad. It seems like most of the graphics went into the battle system, which I have to say is the best of the trilogy. It takes everything great from the first two games and improves on it dramatically. Since Lightning is your only playable character, you now have three sets of equipment that you can switch between in battle called “Schemata”, which are basically Paradigms with outfits. Each outfits has its own stats and abilities, and have an enormous amount of customization options, creating an endless amounts of strategies. There are over 70 garbs to collect, some of which are from other Final Fantasy games, or even other franchises like Tomb Raider. Outside of battle, feels like an offline MMORPG, complete with its clichéd quests. While this isn't a bad thing, it becomes a chore when certain quests can only be completed at certain times of the day.

Plenty of variety in garbs, some of which needing DLC to unlock

This brings me to the most controversial aspect of this game; The "Doomsday Clock." When I first played this game, it was a dealbreaker for me. I hated the fact that I felt pressured to complete everything in a hurry, and it didn't help that Hope was reminding me of this every five minutes. Don't get me wrong, he isn't as annoying as Ocarina of Time's Navi, but when I was trying to explore or complete side quests I literally shut the sound off. On my revisit to this game for the review, I've come to the realization that the clock wasn't really all that bad. It doesn't really limit exploration; it only serves as a reminder that the situation is dire. Contrary to the assumption that there isn't enough time to do anything, there's also a handy power you have, called “Chronostasis” which allows you to stop time temporarily. If used correctly, you can literally travel from one end of the earth to the other in a few minutes of world time.

No time to be standing around, Light. You got cats to get out of trees.

One thing that almost made me throw my controller in rage was the lack of a leveling system after having one in XIII-2. Even the first game had the Crystarium System that I've grown to love. None of that here. You don't get stronger from fighting enemies; you gain money, items and EP, or Energy Points. Energy Points are used to activate abilities (like the aforementioned Chronostatis), buy healing items from Hope, and open certain treasure chests. The only way your stats increase is from completing quests, but there's no joy in watching Lightning grow stronger, other than the victory fanfare that sounds afterwards. The music is okay, if not forgettable, as most of the soundtracks are remixes from the rest of the trilogy as well as other FF games. Each of the continents feel like they have their own soundtrack, and change even further depending on the garb you're wearing. I don't have a favorite track this time around, as nothing really stood out for me. The voice acting is hilarious during cutscenes. Tell me you don't feel the same way after hearing Lumina say "You've been sucked, right in the middle" or Snow: "It's pretty hard to swallow, worst thing is it just keeps on growing." One voice I couldn't shake off was Hope's constant nagging. I never really liked Hope, but this made me hate his presence all together.

Lightning Returns made some bold moves, but I feel like the first game was already a complete entry. XIII-2 was a forced sequel, and LR attempts to wrap it all up. While I agree that it does tie up the trilogy, it did so in a pretty messy way. XIII should have been a standalone game. The story here is hard to get invested in, the characters are bland, but at least the gameplay keeps everything fresh. It seems like Square-Enix tried to fix everything bad from the first two games, but forgot what made them so good in the first place. The constant nods to better games in the franchise made me wish I was playing them instead. Either away, the XIII trilogy did it's purpose, as it showed us the future of the turn-based RPG.

No comments:

Post a Comment