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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.

TranscriptEdit

With the possible exception of when Alone in the Dark became Stuck With Shrieky Love Interest In A Fire, no series has been more misnamed than Final Fantasy or, as it would be called in a sane world, Tortuously Drawn Out Claptrap. No, perhaps that wasn't a particularly fresh observation on Final Fantasy, but it's not like the argument has become less valid now that Final Fantasy XIII has had two spin-offs, the latest one being Lightning Returns. "Not to be confused with Batman Returns" was the first lame snarky joke that crossed my mind. I wouldn't have mentioned it, but the first we see of Lightning in this game, she's standing on a rooftop at nighttime looking broody, so it seems confusion may be more understandable than I realized. Was there much clamouring for a spin-off game about Lightning? I don't remember signing that particular petition, although I can see that it's a good idea, because among the casts of the many Final Fantasy games there have been, she's a real standout character: She's broody with a big sword, and stupid hair and dresses weird — talk about a round peg in a Square Enix.

When I reviewed Final Fantasy XIII, I did so after only having played the first five hours 'cause I had better things to do and so — I hoped — did the entire universe. Well, you'll be pleased to hear I did a bit better with Lightning Returns, and this time managed to play the first three hours of it; I'm hoping to get this down to one hour for the next Final Fantasy game. Anyway, here's what I gathered of the plot: Lightning's Brood-Factor went into overdrive after the death of her sister Serah Not-Spelt-The-Way-It-Sounds, so she put herself in what amounts to Cryosleep for five hundred years only to find, when she gets out, that the world is basically the same and no one's aged, so everyone she knew from five centuries ago is still around — one wonders, in that case, how the five-century time jump serves the plot in any way, except that it gave Lightning a chance to look all angsty, and cool. She must've felt like a right ninny when she woke up, though: "What? No one was aging anyway? Shit! I could've stayed awake and caught up on my The Wire boxset." The flimsy excuse given for nobody aging is that the world is ending, so apparently the first thing that falls victim to entropy is entropy itself. Make the plot holes bigger, Final Fantasy, I don't think this trainwreck's gonna fit through them yet.

Lightning is then literally given a mission from God. God's building a new world (with blackjack, and hookers) and Lightning has to save everyone she can on the dying one. In return, God will bring Serah back to life. Also, it is discussed in an early scene that God appears to have taken away Lightning's emotions, which explains why the End Of The World can be six days away, and she's not running around flapping her arms going (panicked whimpering) "Meh-uhhuherrhurr!". Hang on, though; God takes away her emotions, and then motivates her with the chance of an emotional reunion with the dead sister? Choo-choo, now arriving at Plot Hole Station!

Lightning is assisted by Hope from the original game (also emotion-deprived, presumably so he'd stop crying all over the place), who was apparently a young man in the last game, but has now been reverted to Original Mummy's-Boy Hope Classic. And you'd think a discontinuity like that would want to go unnoticed, but weirdly the game draws attention to it, and then mumbles "God moves in mysterious ways". This may all sound arse-bleedingly contrived, but the plot makes more sense if you mentally replace the word "God" with the word "Square Enix": Hope has been de-aged because it is the ineffable will of Square Enix, and Lightning has no emotions 'cause Square Enix couldn't be arsed to write an interesting character, fair enough.

In the Prologue, Lightning confronts Snow, from the old times, who has become the King of Party-Town, and tries to nag him into ending his partying ways and let Jesus into his heart before it's too late; the evangelism isn't so much a subtext as it is a hot pancake to the face. But Snow won't listen because he's still mad about Serah — oh for fuck's sake, why is everyone so hung up on Serah all the time; did her hooters dispense soft-serve ice cream? — and we're introduced to the combat, which is yet another instance of the game throwing all its toys out of the pram when you try to tell it it has to have either live combat or turn-based combat.

The combat GUI looks like what used to happen with old consoles when you pulled the cartridge out half-way through. How it works is that you select an enemy, then hold down buttons to attack or to guard their attacks. You do this until the batteries run out in your underpants, then switch to another pair of underpants with different guards and attacks assigned to its button slots, and all's lovely lingerie until you have to fight more than one lad, and you can only guard against the one you're selecting, and if someone else is winding up to kick your arse, then whether the 'Switch Target' button will select him, or the bloke rummaging through the dustbins ten feet away, is a matter left in the hands of the little Baby Jesus. And he's a baby; he can't hold shit

It's not an efficient system for fighting things; it is a pretty good system for watching a character play dress-ups in a variety of outfits that were the results of a prolonged experiment to establish how many parts of a garment can be cut out before it turns into a sex aid, but as tends to be the case with JRPGs, the combat exists in another dimension to the rest of the game entirely; you're running through a crowded civilian city full of people announcing at the top of their lungs that they're about to have dinner, and then there'll be a monster bumbling along for you to fight, and the dinner monologues continue regardless, and it all feels kinda surreal. The game takes on open-ended qualities after the Prologue, perhaps because of the complaints that Final Fantasy XIII was basically sixty hours of running down a corridor, although they've done nothing about the irritating 'clop-clop' footstep sound that's like you'd got a metronome set up next to the hole in your skull, and there's a Dead Rising-y aspect wherein time constantly passes, quests must be completed within certain time windows, and if you just sit around watching The Wire, then the world will end earlier than scheduled and God will get his narc on.

The combat difficulty ramped up quickly, and suddenly regular enemies had healthbars like Christmas Toblerones that I could only patiently chip away at all through early to mid-January. I don't know if I was wearing underpants with the wrong stats, but fights quickly became tedious as well as a confusing mess of keeping an eye on both the enemy and the properties of the underpants you're currently wearing. Things came to a head when I clopped three complete circuits around the town like a two-legged badly-dressed donkey ride, killing things, taking quests and waiting for the window to the next story mission to open, but when it did the first enemies I met kept taking off all my health with one attack; blocking didn't seem to do shit! So what am I supposed to do now, game? Grind? Buy better underpants? I've only got four in-game hours to do this bloody quest.

I'm finding this whole timer thing very paralyzing, but not as much as the knowledge that even if I get through this, my only reward would be more time spent with Shite-ning and Hope-On-A-Rope whereas, if I just stopped playing, I could instead eat all the individual Mr. Kipling Apple Pies in the house. Sorry, Lightning Returns, you lose to Pie-tning Returns.

AddendaEdit

  • Trousers Tightening: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • See I wouldn't call it 'fantasy' cos just imagine trying to explain all of it to your sex partner
  • Now available for underpants modelling
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2

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