Yesterday saw the PAL release of the final chapter in the Final Fantasy XIII subseries, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, so I spent a few hours getting to grips with the game. I’ve currently got about three hours on the game clock, so I’m not very far in, but here’s some thoughts from the opening few hours.

In those first few hours, I managed to finish the first day and it doesn’t feel like I got a lot done to be honest; I completed three or four quick fetch quests and a small part of the main quest, ‘explored’ a bit and picked up some new abilities, bought a new schema and replenished my HP at a food vendor.

So far, I’m really quite liking it (though with one rather large caveat, which I’ll touch on later). I’m a big fan of the way progression works. It’s no secret that traditional levels are out for Lightning Returns, replaced with a system of rewards for certain actions; finished a low-level side quest? Have +30 max HP. Found a treasure sphere? Here’s an equippable Thundara Lv2 spell. Ended the first day? Here’s an improved sword and shield. It might sound a bit piecemeal – and it is – but it means your character is frequently growing stronger and you’re rewarded immediately for every little thing you do.

And it’s this immediacy of character growth that I really like. Generally, to gain better stats in an RPG, you have to grind out XP until you hit a threshold and level up. Until you hit that threshold, all your XP accumulated since the last level is nothing but potential – it’s worthless until you complete that one battle that will push you over the top. In Lightning Returns, you’re constantly improving. New attacks and abilities can be found in treasure spheres throughout the world (and can be immediately equipped to your current schema), even the quickest and lowliest of fetch quests will furnish you with a stat boost, and you even get a stronger sword and shield just for finishing the first day. It feels like you’re always pushing forward, always improving your character, always getting stronger. I like that.

So far, the side quests that I’ve encountered have all been very basic fetch quests – an NPC will ask you to look for something or someone, and return to them with your objective in tow. Quest difficulty is marked with a star difficulty meter above the NPC’s head, and so far all the quests I’ve completed have been one star, so I’m guessing later, more difficult assignments will be more involved (and thus take up more of your precious time). Handing in a quest will save the giver’s soul and earn Lightning ‘Eradia’, which she can offer up to Yggdrasil (yes, the world tree of Norse mythology) at the end of the day to extend the world’s lifespan.

LRYggy

But that caveat I mentioned? The time limit of course. The minutes and hours tick by very fast and it makes more considered exploration difficult. I feel like I have to be constantly sprinting everywhere, and I’m using the map that came with my limited edition guide to hunt out treasure spheres so I don’t waste any unnecessary minutes searching them out. I always like to find my own way through a game, so had been planning to use the guide for an NG+, but I find myself feeling worried that I’ll miss something big – some powerful skill or schema, perhaps – so using the map is my trade-off against that.

I also tend to take ages playing a game, as I like to slowly wander around and enjoy the scenery, panning the camera around to take in the sights. I can’t do this in Lightning Returns because it’s just wasted time. One of the reasons I play videogames (especially those with a fantasy or sci-fi aesthetic) is that I love the opportunity to explore new worlds that the medium offers. A large team of people spent hundreds of hours creating this expansive, detailed world but I feel like I can’t stop to admire the sights and sounds, or take the time to wander over to Luxerion’s enormous cathedral just to see it. It seems a shame, and I find myself wishing there was no hard time limit so I could enjoy the team’s creation at my own pace. They could even have given players an option to remove the time limit in an NG+ and I’d be happy, but as far as I’m aware that’s not the case.

It’s quite an annoying niggle at this point, but then I’ve only played a few hours – perhaps I’ll slip into a decent groove with a few more hours under my belt. But even so, I’ll never be able to slowly wander through the world, drinking it all in.

So, the tl;dr version? I really like the game, but I really don’t like the time limit. Hopefully I’ll get used to it, because I’m really enjoying the progression and battle systems and I love that Square-Enix is really experimenting with this final title in the trilogy. Personally, I think it bodes well for the future of the series as a whole.

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