In December 2009, Square Enix released Final Fantasy XIII. It was a good game, a bit slow and tedious compared to the previous entries such as X-2 and XII. But it delivered a fresh dimension to storytelling, which, won't win any award whatsoever, but it was pretty darn good. And no, save-the-world is given, but it's the characters, their depth, and their engagements what made Final Fantasy XIII such a worthwhile piece.

I wish I can praise XIII-2. It turned out to be worse than Final Fantasy X-2 and that game's pretty bad (albeit, kind of fun). Though XIII-2 featured fun combat mechanic and speed, but the overall game was tedious and a lazy half-ass job with one of the worst stories ever slapped into a video game. Lightning Returns, the XIII's third game, OD's on that ass-job.

Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns will be hitting Steam real soon. Unless you're a hardcore Final Fantasy fan, this is something that I would never recommend to anyone. It's just a bad piece of work that anyone's time and effort are better put elsewhere, like, replaying the whole damnation of OblivionSkyrim, or emulate any Zelda or Contra games. Those stuff will yield greater personal rewards.

Though, I'm not saying Lightning Returns is a downright, horrible game. Combat was amusing at first, but it collapses pretty quickly, and with most of everything else having a weaker foundation, there's nothing really to make the game a solid experience. The most kick out of it is you'll get to see more of Lightning's skin, who was very protective of her flesh in the first game. (Really, not even a cleavage, and here we're getting a shit ton of them).

The game features a doomsday timer. It runs continuously regardless if Lightning takes action or not, unless she's in the confines of the Ark, where the timer is put on hold, or, when the player opens the menu screen. However marvel the idea sounds, it fails to optimize its potential, by delivering convoluted, half-thought missions as if designed to bore players out of "Final Fantasy" forever.

The main story is straightforward: Lightning is now the Savior and must go on a mission to save as many souls as possible, to let give them entry into the new world. Because, the world will end, inevitably.

The game becomes a troll in its own. The philosophy behind the doomsday timer, with a clock that tells the day and time, is for Lightning to balance her schedule. There are missions accessible only at certain hours and can only be completed at specific times of the day. Areas are closed, depending on the time, some creatures and items, are also depended on the time.

In between, there are several dozen missions. Accomplishing each one will increase Lightning's parameters, like giving her more health. Balancing Lightning's schedule becomes a core game mechanic: Started Mission A and it can only be completed later after six in-game hours - that's more than enough time to complete or start Mission B - or complete Missions C, D, F, and E, or any mission that simply requires Lightning to buy a carton of milk and give it to a crying child.

Most of these missions are fetch quests. You run from one corner of a huge - and I mean a huge - map to grab this one item, and return back to the mission giver. It's dull, tantalizing, and bears no deeper meaning. A girl has lost her dog, someone wants this, and someone wants that. The bulk of the missions will have Lightning scouring every corner of the map, gathering things to pass it along others, in exchange of increasing parameters - like health - and giving those mission givers access to the next world, and delaying the apocalypse for a few hours or an entire day.

First timers that are doing these missions blindly will find this tedious. The consumption of time isn't worth it. The missions themselves hold little interesting storylines, and yet you and Lightning are coerced into saving only specific people.

Lightning is zapped out of the strong, well-built character she was in Final Fantasy XIII. She has spiraled downward into a hollowed shell, robbed out of her physical will, no personality, saying the cheesiest of lines, while everyone demands what they want from her. At most, Lightning has been decimated, turning her into someone to be bullied and play dress up for display half-naked to be ogled at. It's demeaning, really.

The only saving grace of the game when selecting missions, is not everything can be accomplished in a single playthrough. This, leads us to believe that Lightning still has a modicum of will, re-asserting herself to make all the right calls. If this person isn't worth saving, then she will not save them. And that's also bothering in a way. Exactly, what kind of the world is Lightning preparing everyone she can gather, for? Obviously, she doesn't know herself.

At the heart of it, Lightning Returns is an attempted messiah simulator, where it is in fact, an errand girl simulator. Let me dwell in spoiler territory here: On a main mission, Lightning must breach Snow's palace. In order to do so, she first needs to get the lead role in a stage play. Before she gets the role, she needs to enter a competition to win a nice dress. And a few hours before the actual show, Lightning must run around the city and gather fireworks - along the way, fight monsters, provide alcohol to an alcoholic in exchange for fireworks, and other smaller things. All of this, as if the world is not ending in a few days. Such an excellent way to spend the limited time provided by the game.

Lightning is too docile. She once beat the shit out of Snow, telling him to get real. And we see her here, doing the exact opposite. Come on, that guy demanding a bottle of wine before surrendering the fireworks? The real Lightning ought to slap the stupid out of him. She literally doesn't have the time to waste. And yet, she's letting herself get pushed around.

Perhaps this is where the messiah complex all fits in. Other NPCs don't need saving, because their entry is guaranteed? Only the ones that needs attention, needs to be saved? Nope, sorry, the way it was handled in Lightning Returns doesn't work for me. It was devoid of all soul, and we lose all the characters in a haze of self-destruction.

The game mechanic, Dress Sphere 2.0, dubbed as Garbs, is another idea that failed to meet up its potential. We collect Garbs and customize them by assigning specific skills into them. You get to use three garbs per battle, each one tailored fit to your battle play. It's Lightning's solo Paradigm Shift.

The garbs are plenty. There are a number of sweet and elegant garbs: Hunter of the Wild, Crimson Bloom, and Black Rose. And there are garbs that are designed to make Light look hip and cool, such as Ignition and Cold Rebellion.

While the Garb, Miqote Dress, was meant to look cute and turned Lightning into a promotional poster for "Final Fantasy XIV." There were just those that just completely dehumanized her, such as the Nightmare and Amazon Warrior garbs.

I should give credit to the number of Garbs available in the game. They don't exactly add another layer of gameplay depth. (Though it does make things interesting). But they are more than just that power ups. These garbs of different tastes and fashion symbolizes Lightning's own identity crisis.

She was the older sister who needed to play mom to an orphaned boy. The soldier doing her duty. The Big Sis trying to rescue Little Sis. She might have had a momentary sexual confusion when meeting Fang, who was obviously into girls. Lightning becomes a Knightess of the Goddess. Now, Savior of all humanity.

All these garbs are her own expressions to seek out who she really is. If we think about it, we never really get to know who Lightning is. We know her real name is Claire. We know her parents died. We know despite the coldness she emits, she just wants to be loved, and it's probably because of this coldness that drives away all potential admirers. There's a lot of layers about her that we don't fully know.

While Lightning brings closure to all major characters in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, the greatest flaw in "Lightning Returns" is its weak storytelling. Characters are cheesy with little depth. All of them blame Lightning for all the misery they are going through. The other missions had the potential to develop into more interesting storylines. But the game doesn't do anything more than show the surface, the shallowness of each mission story, and how things just become unbelievably ridiculous.

This Savior storyline simply falls flat. The game Okami does this Savior type of storyline very well, I find it difficult to believe how Square Enix couldn't replicate it. Why couldn't Lightning achieve missions that means to everyone, instead of a single individual? For a game that tries to show some religious tones, everyone displays selfish desires. If anything, "Lightning Returns" is an anti-thesis of religion. I'd like to talk about that but I'm not smart enough.

It comes off to me that Lightning Returns was a prototype of something bigger. Earlier this week, during the PlayStation Experience we got to see some cool stuff for the Final Fantasy VII remake. Combat looks like a faster version of Final Fantasy XV, but then there's an Active Time Battle (ATB) bar, which means we can't button mash. Attacks will need to be coordinated and timed. If anything, it seems Lightning Returns is the prototype of VII's remake.

Despite it all, Lightning remains gorgeous and among the most attractive figures in the "Final Fantasy" universe, but that's the character. The game itself is not a monumental failure exactly, but it is a big one. The real purpose of ever putting this title out in the first place was to make a quick cash grab to increase budgets for Final Fantasy XV and/or Final Fantasy VII.

I love Lightning. She's gorgeous and strong. The details on her shoulders, those toned biceps, the navel piercing, she's hot and she knows it. The degradation done to her in Lightning Returns is uncalled for, and begs the question: Why punish her so much? Like majority of the characters in the game, Lightning is blamed for everything that has gone wrong in the whole trilogy. And yet, she's the only one trying to put things right. At least she smiles in the end. Something that has been rehashed in the original game.

Bottom line, Lightning Returns just isn't worth it. 

About the author: Jon Castillo

Jonathan is hiding from a lynch mob after messing with the wrong basketball team. His favorite song is "Boys do Fall in Love" by Robin Gibb.

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