Feature Article

Lightning Returns: A Goddess Among Us

Sins of the flesh.

Lightning is returning. So why don't I feel any spark?

I've been playing Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII for the last few days, and it's curious just how little I've learned about her. I know she is the world's savior, awoken after 500 years by Bhunivelze--that is, God. I know she must save as many souls as she can before chaos consumes the world in a matter of days. And I know about a prophecy that states that she is the one who will ultimately destroy the world. In fact, Lightning Returns is chock full of prophecy talk, though I have yet to put all of its jumbled pieces together into a coherent whole.

I know these things, and many others, because the characters talk about them at length, but I don't know Lightning. As the rosy-haired heroine chats with returning character Hope Estheim aboard his floating ark, I learn that she herself is surprised by her lack of emotion. God has promised her that she will be reunited with her lost sister Serah as a reward for her sacrifices. But Lightning isn't moved or excited by the notion, and doesn't fully know why. Hope tells her it's because she's evolving into a deity herself. The implication is that deities are above such petty concerns as love and expectations, and Lightning doesn't look forward to the possibility that she might sit at God's side once she has performed her duties. The problem is that I'm not above those petty concerns, and Lightning's stoicism erects a wall between me and the game. She outright doesn't care, and she's not doing a very good job of convincing me that I should, either.

Mind you, these are the words of one of the world's only apparent fans of Final Fantasy XIII. I liked Lightning then, and against all odds, I even could conjure up affection for several of her cohorts--even Vanille, in spite of her excessive chirpiness. Lightning and Snow were driven by their love for Serah, who was frozen in crystal, destined to remain there now that she had fulfilled the will of the fal'Cie. (For some of you out there, this should all make perfect sense, though after investing more time than I care to admit with Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, I am not sure I've retained all the vital details.) Love is a relatable emotion, and its role in driving our actions is universally acknowledged.

Lightning doesn't look forward to the possibility that she might sit at God's side once she has performed her duties.

Those furry ears don't look at all out of place on the stalwart heroine's head.

Planets and random souls, on the other hand, are more difficult to relate to. Ironically, saving your sister can be a more powerful goal than saving a society. It's the personal versus the impersonal. It's empathy versus sympathy. Lightning is ambivalent about her duty. And in turn, I'm ambivalent about her ambivalence.

It didn't have to be that way. Lightning now does battle all on her own. I like the battle system, which molds the previous games' paradigm shifts into a semi-real-time combat mechanic that keeps me switching between customizable roles called schemata, with each role being assigned its own spells, its own outfit, and its own weapon. But lone-wolf Lightning is an uninteresting Lightning. She keeps in constant contact with Hope, who chatters so much that he's constantly cutting off conversations with others, or being cut off when you trigger battle or dialogue events. Yet without an adventuring party to balance Lightning's stoicism, to broaden the story, or even to provide comic relief, Lightning is the hollow shell that she says she is.

Don't take my ambivalence as a sign that Lightning Returns doesn't have narrative merit. I'm not very invested in Lightning's rescuing duties and random fetch quests at this stage, nor is the game very effective at filling in the narrative gulf separating these events from those that concluded Final Fantasy XIII-2. Yet I'm intrigued by game's depiction of religion and the religious, most notably in how Western religious themes are represented. Bhunivelze is sometimes referred to by name, but is typically known as capital-G God. With Lightning cast as the savior, it's not difficult to draw the obvious parallels between Bhunivelze and Jehovah, and even Hope in his hovering craft would seem to be a holy angel, acting as Lightning's spiritual guide. Eventually, the story both fulfills its Christian allegories and subverts them, though sharing exactly how would spoil important plot points.

Elements and style.

Meanwhile, a murderous cult channels Herod the Great, killing young women who physically fit the description of the rumored savior. This is the Final Fantasy telling of the Book of Matthew, Chapter 2, in which Herod commands the slaughter of all newborn boys throughout Bethlehem, fearful of the rise of the prophesied Messiah. Of course, Lightning Returns doesn't echo the New Testament in every detail; this murderous cult incorrectly assumes it is acting on behalf of a great warrior destined to conquer the savior, for example. Japanese role-playing games have never shied away from religious and mythological themes--killing deities is a popular pastime in RPGs, after all--but it's rare that such a game would so closely mirror accounts from the Bible.

As for Lightning, she's a reluctant savior, leaving me to seek pockets of personality in the game's nooks and crannies. Various quests lead me across multiple locales, and don't need to be accessed in any particular order. And it's in places like the aptly named Dead Dunes that I find the little touches that can mean so much. There, Lightning skims down heaps of sand as if she's surfing, evoking memories of Journey, and I activate cactuars to use as quick-travel devices--a pleasant nod to the series' common themes and characters. It's in this arid place that I find the most hope. The locals tell me there's treasure out there to be found, and I think to myself that maybe there's a grand adventure here after all.

I'll be excited if Lightning finds intriguing secrets buried out in the sandy wasteland. I'll be more excited, however, if she finds herself.

Written By

Want the latest news about Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII?

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Discussion

231 comments
Gaz9000
Gaz9000

I really liked ffXIII part 2, loved the time traveling, it has brilliant music throughout as well. Just a great RPG

nathan-d0313
nathan-d0313

come on people, this isn't a bad game, first of all it's a final fantasy, a sorta succession to FFVII and secondly, I'm playing the japanese one, despite I know nothing about, and get nothing outa that, and it's pretty good, Yes i get nothing from the story but the gameplay is really good, and I learned japanese a bit. stop doing this, if you hate the game don't come check over it, you probably got other things to do!!!!

duttonsnake
duttonsnake

No I dont think i will be taking the word of the same blowhard who gave RE6 a 4.5. If he says its not looking so good it must mean its going to be fantastic!

RAD_RADIO
RAD_RADIO

You said it Kevin!

That was the biggest problem for me in the Final Fantasy XIII games, I couldn't care less about the characters, and hardly ever could consider their motivations. I would often quite literally mutter to myself "these characters are idiots".

Putting that aside though, I hope the writers have something more interesting for this game. Hearing that the storey in FF XIII had a lot to do with deity's and doctrine, I really thought I would enjoy it, I find that sort of thing interesting. However, the story and characters in the other two games were hopelessly convoluted and sloppily written.

Here's to hoping the Final Fantasy franchise get's back on it's feet.

Halloll
Halloll

I don't care how good this game will be, it will always suck in my eyes.

ratchet200
ratchet200

I feel like she's tainting Yuna's summoner outfit in that picture...

GOGOHeadray
GOGOHeadray

SE has been a absolute disater this gen; hopefully they shape up and create games that their fans actually want to play not forcefeed us crap like this.

maybock3000
maybock3000

They should have just made this game into a movie already. Lightning is a very cool character, but the game is so horribly boring almost nobody wants to finish it.

desperate001
desperate001

Probably pick this game up once I finish XIII, if I ever finish it...

Godlikan
Godlikan

After FF12 they destroyed it utterly...

daikkenaurora12
daikkenaurora12

I couldnt careless about this game.  Looks like the usual pretty graphics and lame story.  This review proves that the game is a pass for me.  And can we please get FFVII.  FFVI and FFVIII have both come out.  What is the deal? 

ncogneegro
ncogneegro

Ok this is the last time I will say this, but this should have been the Final Fantasy 7 sequel we wanted staring Cloud.  FF13 was just the most underwhelming Final Fantasy I have ever played.  I couldn't care less for any of those characters.  I just had to get that out. 

PacoTaco
PacoTaco

Hopefully once she returns, she will soon disappear.  I'd rather they make sequels to better titles in the franchise...or Chrono Trigger.  What do I know? :)

AndreJr7
AndreJr7

NIce article by my favourite reviewer.I hope this game gets a good score!

kashkropsntokes
kashkropsntokes

Thanks for telling me so I don't have to play it. Square has already trampled the shit out of metaphysical territory, and with better games--FF VII, X and Tactics are already excellent meditations on man and his relationship with divinity. Of course, I played XIII and couldn't get into it, so my frame of reference on this story's arc isn't reliable.

Moogle07
Moogle07

Wow, spoiler alert Kevin. Come on man, tone down the details.

korvus
korvus moderator

Cutscenes and gameplay look like The Last Remnant turned one man army...

zzz802
zzz802

Lightning Returns: A Goddess Among Us

Injustice: Gods Among Us

The Wolf Among Us


What's next?

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

You want to play a real Final Fantasy game?  Don't get this FF13 garbage that no one wants - buy Bravely Default.

Keeper_Artemus
Keeper_Artemus

It is interesting seeing Western cultural stuff reflected back at us through Japan, but yeah, Square isn't actually going to do anything intelligent with it; I'll bet my collection of dusty PS2 and PS3 FFs on it.  And yeah, it's been years since the first FFXIII and just the thought of Vanille makes me shudder.  Vanille < Jar-Jar (< Navi).

Lambchopzin
Lambchopzin

I was also among the few (apparently) who actually liked FF13, although I do think it's a step down from previous entries in many ways. I actually liked the battle system, though. It was a very good game, however, the expectations for the series are so skyhigh at this point (or they were then, at any rate) that anything short of a masterpiece would have been met with criticism from the fanbase. It wasn't an instant classic like pretty much every entry in the series from 1 - 10, and that's the problem I suppose.


Anyways, I'm actually looking forward to this, the combat looks fun and the religious themes actually do interest me assuming they are handled well. I'm not religious myself but I think it tends to make really, really good fodder for any fictional setting as long as it's not some hamfisted pro or anti religious propaganda masked as a narrative.


I do find the obvious pandering of giving Lightning outfits from previous games and making her cup size bigger just cause slightly insulting but I'll get over it.

sirapathetic01
sirapathetic01

Can't wait to play this game.


Predictable responses: 

"Haha, good joke bro" 

"Sthu, FFX and FFVII is better because"

"Pfft! You clearly haven't played games that I have in the past because you wouldn't say that right now if you played games I have" 

tsunami2311
tsunami2311

I hated FFXIII hate the battle system more hate that they only aloud you to control one person

IMO FF went off the rails after X and FF XV I dont even care for cause it look like hack and slash now.


FF threw 10 where what I grow know FF as everything after that dont remind me why I started play FF in firstplace

amdreallyfast
amdreallyfast

A few things:

(1) "even Vanille, in spite of her excessive chirpiness"  You forgot to mention a tone of voice that could bore holes through steel.  She made me want to hide

(2)  "killing deities is a popular pastime in RPGs, after all"  Right there with you!  Xenogears and FFX, two of my favorite Square RPGs, were all about that.

(3) This article gives me little hope that XIII can redeem itself.  Thanks for the heads up.

nathan-d0313
nathan-d0313

one question, not really related to the topic, but the english one hasn't released yet how'd you used english pics on your topic?
has the demo released already?

lilrobda1
lilrobda1

Noctis is coming:  A Prince(or rather King) soon among us.

rsj2
rsj2

Sounds like there's more going on here than I thought, but however interesting the religious allegorical content turns out to be it can't make me buy back in to the FF13 universe.  I'm too scarred by the cringe-inducing dialogue, voice acting and character design of the original FF13, particularly when I compare it to FFs 6 through 10.  

What's funny is that in many other respects (graphics, combat, story) FF13 wasn't terrible, but when I played it I still thought Final Fantasy was the series that set the standard for RPG quality.  Maybe it became a victim of its own success.

Now, for me, it's the Souls series that I consider the best RPGs, and if FF15 disappoints too, it may be the last Final Fantasy I buy.

divinejester
divinejester

The whole Christian allegory took the Matrix from a masterpiece to rubbish; what is it going to do to a game that started as rubbish?

Breyant
Breyant

Interesting read Kevin. Looking forward to playing the game myself and forming my own opinions.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@ncogneegroDon't worry, most people hate these garbage characters.  Fabula Nova Crapalis was the worst thing to come out of Square since Unlimited SaGa.

Raven_1981
Raven_1981

@AndreJr7 I hope the game is great too, XIII and specially XIII-2 left me with so much questions, I have really liked those games, I love lightning and all the characters, I'm sure that all the things that have happened to lightning in the games are part of the reason of why her emotions or lack of them are messed up, she is the main character of the game so I'm sure the answers will come..... she has been through so manny things that can change you eventually

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@Moogle07 These are all story elements that occur in the first few hours of the game, the most important of them coming in the first 30 minutes. All things considered, I wouldn't worry too much that I gave you too much information. 

korvus
korvus moderator

@zzz802 The answer should be obvious. To continue the trends, it will be "something something zombies among us".

finalfantasy94
finalfantasy94

@Thanatos2k 

eh everything iv seen for that game doesint really intrest me plus I hate how the game looks.Pretty fugly.

player1711
player1711

@Lambchopzin Final Fantasy XIII's biggest sin is that it has Final fantasy in the title. It couldn't deliver what was expected from it. I personally thought it was great my first play through of it, although upon reflection there are things I didn't like. 

I think that the combat system of Final Fantasy should keep evolving. I don't want to go back where it was. However, 13 for the most part consisted of pressing auto all the time. I find that dull. 

Disappointed that Lighting has just become another mascot.

Gen007
Gen007

@Lambchopzin The battle system in 13 was not nearly as bad as people made it out to be problem is it didn't get interesting from a strategy / tactical view point until you after you beat the game and that's pretty bad. That's like 30 - 40 hours of boring brain dead combat. Some of the later missions are quite hard though and require good strats and timing to beat. They really should have went for a more traditional town and side quest structure. Instead you have a game that is almost on rails as a light gun game and then at the end they dump a giant free roam area with a ton of side quest you cant complete for the most part until after you beat the game

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@nathan-d0313 We have a copy of the game, and Square has released movies and screens in English. 

Raven_1981
Raven_1981

@Breyant Same here, really want the game already

RAD_RADIO
RAD_RADIO

@finalfantasy94 

Review - (noun)

 - a reexamination or reconsideration.
 - a retrospective view or survey.

While it may not be a formal journalistic review, with a score. By several definitions of the word, this article is a review.

finalfantasy94
finalfantasy94

@Gen007 @Lambchopzin 

To be honest I found the combat interesting and involving.Also I felt even the older FF game lacked strategy in combat untill a boss fight.FF4 combat was boring and I auto battled the majority of all my fights and ff13 kept me entertained and I really only auto battled when I knew I was beast in a certain area.

nathan-d0313
nathan-d0313

@Kevin-V @nathan-d0313 Can I have one too? I really want this game, since FF XIII-2 it passed like a whole century for, (don't know why I really love this game this much despite that the others don't)
thx for replying!