Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Each garb comes with different abilities and stats, and are rendered realtime in cutscenes!

It's too bad that Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII isn't really a Final Fantasy game, because it's got so many things that I like about it. Graphically, it's a masterpiece with amazing realtime cutscenes, costume design for your main character, and environment design. Musically, this is the best non-Uematsu soundtrack out there, with a LOT of battle themes, and probably the best chocobo theme to date. In terms of voice acting, the 100 or so NPCs almost all have their own voice actor, accent and mannerisms. This game also has the most mature characters I've seen in a Final Fantasy.

"Gah!...damnit, Lumina! Go chase a tree!"
Lightning is a really developed character; the tough savior of mankind who doesn't sugar coat anything. Other than 2 or 3 of the 50+ costumes, your main character isn't depicted as sexy, bimboish, or overly feminine. Instead, you play a warrior who is hella cynical, a bit gruff, and doesn't take bullshit either. There's a really girly character that appears throughout the game and pesters you with the "I know something you don't know" attitude, and Lightning clearly wants to kick her teeth in.

You solve people's problems to save their souls, in the final 14 days of humanity's existence. Whether you're helping a drunk who lost his wife forgive himself or slaying 20 monsters to prove your worth, this game hasn't gotten old in the 55 hours I've put into it. There's even a quest where 3 moogles - flying, cute, magical cat-fairies - are lost just outside their village. Lightning suggests that they look for their village from the air, because in the 10 days that they've been lost, it's never occured to them to simply fly higher off the ground. There are other parts in the story where the savior calls people out on their ignorance. She's got a very tough-love attitude toward her big dumb brother-in-law and ends up beating the piss out of him. I just don't feel like I've heard an FF game be so mature in its approach to dialogue and character thinking.

Since Final Fantasy games have had spoken dialogue (as of the 10th title) there have been lots of barriers to prevent me from liking characters. FFX is filled with all kinds of awkward pauses between dialogue lines, awful lip synching, and suffers from bad localization. FFX-2 has much better dialogue-synching and each character moves differently when they speak, but their banter is so painfully childish. Better localization would mean adults aren't teasing other adults about having boyfriends. It just doesn't work that well in this culture.

Earlier, I said this game wasn't a proper Final Fantasy game because the franchise staples, such as the espers/gods/aeons are almost completely missing in favor of a two-god religious setting. There is no airship, you control one character. The battle system is close to ATB, but you don't gain stats by doing battle: you get stats from completing quests. The game is also non-linear: there are 4 distinct areas that you do quests in. Each area has it's own unique setting and feel, with some great music pieces that vary during different times of day. Ironically, it's also not a Final Fantasy because it's actually a sequel! The nice part of it is that this game's story is a nice place to wrap up the Nova Chrystallis universe, and possibly move to Ivalice (FF Tactics, FF XII) or somewhere else.

Good run in your FF trilogy, guys. NOW MOVE OVER!
As a tangent to this game's obsession with religion, I noticed that Japanese writers really really want to talk about "God," which just doesn't have the same cultural context. Through my experience with Japan and its cultures, I've gotten the impression that some Japanese are worried about being seen as godless. I'll say that Japanese religion is in their routine. Bathing is done in two stages; shower to clean, and then soak in the tub to relax. Food presentation is especially important, and when you eat with others, you usually say itadakimasu. Giving and receiving gifts is just about required for trips, and many holidays in the year. This gets very expensive, but everyone gets everyone everything. You could call it cultural habits, but the conviction behind these practices is at the level of deeply religious behaviors. Do they go into a building, play music and talk about His Omnipotence? No. But I think that the Japanese tenacity to procedures and rules is quite religious.

Dem graphics!
Anyway, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII - 3 is so far one of my top Squaresoft games, without the benefit of nostalgia. I recommend you play it for its impressively-done characters, music and graphics. You only need a vague recollection of the first FF XIII, and even then the story is decently contained into the one title.

"Luxerion, is it? This is the city of light? Problem is, the brightest lights cast the darkest shadows." --Lightning's reacting quote to starting in the middle of a murder mystery.

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