Lightning Returns may redeem the fallen Final Fantasy

By Melissa Platero, CCNN Writer

Lightning Returns graphics
I see Square Enix is returning to its open world exploration roots!

For longtime Final Fantasy fans, the series has taken a turn for the worst in recent years.

What once made Square Enix’s past games the most popular RPGs in history – open world exploration, turn-based strategy combat, and mesmerizing stories – has been replaced instead by overly limited areas, simple fighting systems, and boring characters nobody cares about.

Where are the side quests? Why do so many FF pros wish for the days when they weren’t merely being dragged along a straight railroad to the ending credits? Where are the villains like Sephiroth and Kefka that still to this day are fondly remembered?

Lightning Returns, due February 11, 2014, looks to meet some of those old desires with a popular female character and endless quest variety. I’m still waiting on an epic bad guy, but so far I like what I’m seeing.

Now, you’d think after the lukewarm reactions gamers had for Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2, that Square Enix would give up on the “Fabula Nova Crystallis” world they created. But no, here they are bringing the redheaded sword-swinging Lightning back. Producer Yoshinori Kitase apparently isn’t tired of the characters, but does admit that this’ll be the last we see of Lightning, because “in terms of this story, the whole Lightning saga story, this is going to be the end, and we’re going to be moving on and not continuing in any sort of way.”

Well, so what motivation do fans have for showing up to Lightning’s final appearance with cash in hand and eager hearts? How about beautiful open-world exploration, tiny villages filled with side quests, specialized merchants selling their curious items, and fast-paced strategic combat? Oh, and the monsters and townspeople change over time, evolving in response to the day/night cycles and your character! Sounds like a good start, to me.

Lightning Returns town
You mean these towns will have actual people and side quests? Thank you Square Enix, for finally listening to the fans. While I doubt it’ll ever quite have the epic feeling of Midgar or Balamb Garden, one can only hope.

As far as the tale being spun, Kitase says, “The story takes place 500 years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Lightning is crystallized and dormant and doesn’t know what’s happened in that 500 years.  The other characters lived through that, but Lightning has no idea what’s going on. So the player plays from Lightning’s point of view.” Hmm, I must admit I am intrigued.

Also, you’ll be running against a doomsday clock, meaning you won’t have time to do every single quest – this sounds like a cheap way to encourage replay, but hey, maybe it’ll add some emotional intensity to it. However, unless Square Enix pulls a surprise hit from their Black Mage hat, I’m very cautious about believing the company will ever take us back to the glory days of Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and X.

Images courtesy of Square Enix.