Counterpoint: Lightning Returns Could Be the Final Nail in Final Fantasy XIII’s Coffin

By Zack Wheat on December 19th, 2013 (3 comments)

Before I start, I highly recommend reading Nick’s really great piece here.

Nick and I are both in agreement that Final Fantasy XIII was very not good- in fact, I believe I played to almost the very same chapter as him and quit for the very same reasons. And while I agree that Final Fantasy XIII-2 was unquestionably a step forward for the franchise, my opinion on Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is in stark contrast to his.

Final Fantasy XIII’s development was a catastrophe, by admission of even high-ranking members of its team, with this piece from Gamasutra summarizing the startling testimonies quite well. The game was a mess of internal conflicts, poor (and expensive) choices, and most importantly, a massive team of artists creating a mountain of assets without purpose or proper direction. Final Fantasy XIII was a massive drain on Square Enix’s coffers, and a slew of other bad decisions (Final Fantasy XIV) have only worsened things.

With enough cut content to make another game, it is thus not surprising that with a surplus of assets and not a lot of cash… they made another game.

Which, itself, featured a lot of cut content.

In my eyes, the Fabula Nova Crystallis “series” has been a slapdash mess of quality games (Versus, Type-0) jumping ship while Square Enix busies itself trying to fix a game that should have been forgotten in the first place. Final Fantasy XIII-2 was better, but what does that say when compared to a game that was almost objectively bad? Adding to that, its sales didn’t even crack half of its predecessors’- meaning that most of the people who purchased Final Fantasy XIII were not interested in coming back for a sequel. The game was a band-aid on a gaping wound and its meandering story rang very, very strongly of a company trying to tie together unused and incredibly random assets.

So, here we are: Lightning Returns. Lightning Returns, a game which could have been so promising were it not attached to a legacy which Square Enix has yet to realize is far too gone for widespread repair. On its own, detached from the Final Fantasy name, an action/RPG with a Majora’s Mask setup could be fascinating. Attached to this universe, it demands knowledge of the ridiculous characters and series mythos in order to appreciate or understand much of anything going on, and will thus be intensely hostile to newcomers. It will ride on the goodwill it no longer has of those who have followed the XIII storyline up to here. 

Don’t believe me on that last point? Its sales are so far the lowest in the trilogy by a massive amount. Final Fantasy XIII-2’s sales may have been pathetic compared to Final Fantasy XIII’s, but comparing the Japanese opening week sales between the three games tells the story of an audience rapidly dying out: at 53% of XIII-2’s launch week numbers and a pathetic 18% of XIII’s launch week numbers, it is fair to say that XIII’s audience has left the building.

Defenders have stated that the game’s sell-through rate was impressive (roughly 70%), but that becomes only more damning when one takes a step back. That sales of 275,000 sold out the majority of the game’s retail copies indicates retailers expected so little demand for a main series Final Fantasy game that they asked for a similarly pathetic number be brought to store shelves. 

The game’s marketing has been confused at moments and incredibly depressing at others, with the work done on Lightning’s now-jiggly bust indicating a company which is truly degrading itself in the hopes of support, and the gameplay does not move far enough away from XIII’s one-button combat to come anywhere close to what I would consider captivating. The addition of a dressphere-like system would be interesting if they were part of a larger tactical whole and not just a simple “Lightning is now a mage, now she is a warrior, now she is a cat” tied together with a few desperate throwbacks to beloved heroines and startlingly bad outfit designs in others.

I respect the beliefs and hopes of those who are looking forward to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, and Nick makes a damn fine case for his positive outlook on what it will mean for the XIII games. I, sadly, cannot join in the fun.

We’ll see for ourselves how it all shakes out come this February. 

Tags: Square Enix, Final Fantasy XIII, lightning returns, jrpg, lightning returns final fantasy xiii

Zack Wheat

Zack Wheat is the Lead Writer at 4Player and fights the urge every day to make sweeping statements about video games using as many words as possible. He has an unbridled love for anything Metal Gear or Ace Attorney, a fondness for JRPGs, and a bias towards Atlus games. Follow him on Twitter, because he loves you.

Comment!
  • Sid Bramons 8 months ago

    I think the problem originates in Square's insistence to use the Final Fantasy brand for every project they do. In the past, if they had an original idea for a game, they'd create a new IP for it. Perhaps that's more difficult now than it was in the past, but what they're doing now in trying to shoehorn the "Final Fantasy" brand name into every new game they have has not only cheapened the series from an anticipation standpoint, it has degraded a once powerful franchise by releasing failed experiments. I think had Square released the XIII miniseries as it's own IP, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. This series may have even been a success, but because that Final Fantasy moniker was slapped on it, people judged it accordingly. I think Square really shot itself in the foot on this by being too fearful to create and market a new IP. Until they realize there are some things that can't be done in the Final Fantasy universe, they're never going to be able to even hope to reach the heights they achieved during the PS1 era.

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    • Zack Wheat 8 months ago

      I think that's a great point. Had they come out and said "we're starting a new IP and will be exploring a new kind of cinematic RPG in which the player interaction is minimal but they still drive the story at its core", I think whatever XIII would have been would be regarded as at least an interesting experiment. What's here isn't an experiment, though- their own lack of confidence in creation of new worlds (combined with Toriyama's almost disturbing affection for Lightning) has bound them to a standard of quality that a development as troubled as XIII's was never going to attain. All of the flaws here stem from high-level failures, in my eyes. XIII is a mess because it had virtually zero oversight and they individual artists have been left with the unenviable task of picking up the pieces. The branding Squenix has become so enamored with has become their undoing. And refusing to put Versus/XV into full production for years because they wanted more manpower on XIII-2/XIII-3 is absolutely insane. But look at the parts where the individual artists have had their way with things. XIII-2's opening sequence could have used a bit more player interaction, but the artwork was breathtaking and it was wholly intense. Noel is the kind of character I wish they had been making for years. A moogle turning into a bow and arrow may be kind of dumb but at least it's fantastical and creative. And XIII-2's tone shift, had it been allowed to push a bit further, would represent bravery that I wish I saw elsewhere at this company.

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      • theottomatic91 8 months ago

        Nerds.

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