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  Writing > Games

March 29, 2015 - Eclair Returns

Despite being a huge fan of the series since FF4, it's been a while since I truly devoured a Final Fantasy game. I believe the last one was FF12, released a whopping 8-9 years ago - and a lot of that was owing to the excellent direction of its lead creators, many of whom have since left Square Enix in some manner. (Yasumi Matsuno was the original director and creator of Ivalice, Akihiko Yoshida was the lead artist and has since gone on to work on games like Bravely Default as an independent, and of course there's Hitoshi Sakimoto, master composer whose work is synonymous with Ivalice.)

I've made it no secret that I disliked FF13. After enduring the game for 30+ hours I gave up on its messy plot, frustratingly-written characters and infuriating, arbitrary combat. (The art and music were stellar, though, and I pity those artists for having to render such inferior material.) Often, I think I would've been less harsh on the game if it weren't a mainline Final Fantasy and had its own title. Its ambitious scope and experimental nature would have had more room to breathe without the high expectations of its namesake. (Interestingly, I had no intention of playing FF13-2 until finishing 13-3.)

I was saddened to see that the storytelling in Lightning Returns remained unsatisfactory - specifically the dialogue and cutscene direction - though mercifully it isn't front and center here. The voice acting was quite good throughout, and I had a nice time talking to individual NPC's, helping them with their daily troubles. This wasn't the case with the self-important diva main characters, whom the writer thought was more important than everyone else just because their arms glow in the dark or whatever. It seems the more powers someone has in this universe, the more melodramatic they become. I shook my head every time that smarmy buffoon Lumina appeared, while ironically I thought Lightning struck exactly the right tone. (Aside from Hope, she has the most reserved personality of the entire main cast.) I was pleased to find Lightning (whom I have a crush on, and whom I call Eclair when we're out getting coffee) quite endearing this time around. My favorite of her lines are when she mutters, "meow meow, choco-chow!" at those ridiculous chocobo girls. On that note, remarkably, Chocolina's character was so ditsy I actually really grew to enjoy listening to (and running away from) her as she spoke over the course of the campaign. "You're awesome, Lightning!" she squeals. "That was fantabulously..."

A secret of writing: The less the characters talk about dumb stuff, the more the audience can fill in the blanks with their imagination. That's a good thing! This is why Matrix 1 is way better than Matrix 3, and why "The Force" is cool, and "Midichlorians" are not.

Rabbit Trail / Nobody Cares / Spoilers:
A major plot "knot" which irked me to no end was the script's vague use of monotheistic terminology and themes in a polytheistic universe (as are most Final Fantasy games). Even if we're talking about gods with a lowercase "g", Bhunivelze is often referred to as "God" with a capital "G". As in, singular: Above everything else. The boss of the gods. The one and only. The script, unfortunately, reveals a college freshman's understanding of Nietzsche's* distaste for theism, having Lightning quote "God is dead!" as you strike a certain deity with a powerful apocalyptic sword, inflicting 30,000 HP damage on what I had assumed would be an omnipotent being who can create and destroy universes. How is it possible to physically harm such a being?! Why does said being have a physical body at all? If physical matter is contained within the universe (since it's logically impossible to have two infinites), how can this clearly finite being physically die and/or exist outside of the universe? Is Lightning's sword a metaphor for hurting their feelings? And why don't they just destroy the universe while you're wailing on them instead of throwing boomerang sickles at you?

(My head hurts. This is why Lightning Returns' final boss battle flustered me, in addition to being mechanically upsetting, forcing me to rebuild my Schemata several times to figure out the puzzle of how to win the fight's final phase, which took 15 minutes to even reach and experiment upon.)

The last boss of Xenogears is also sort-of referred to as "God", too, but is ultimately a giant blob made of physical material who eats worlds. (Like Lavos.) Xenogears was a cool game all the same, written by another fan of Nietzsche, Tetsuya Takahashi. Maybe this is actually a localization problem. Don't these translators realize western audiences are going to lose something in the translation due to their cultural predispositions? It's said the word "God" is one of the most vague words in the English language, because it means something different to everyone. Every time I hear someone talk about "God," I want to interrupt them and ask, "which?" >_<

I know I'm reading too much into this and "Lightning Returns" is a work of fiction. I'm just saying I want to respect the source material enough so that it allows me to suspend my disbelief. Being a skeptical person by nature, I'm often ecstatic when a story can successfully "trick" me into believing its internal goings on. What I'm saying is, Final Fantasy X at least made sense, even if its final boss turned out to be a religious fanatic who became a giant spider.

*For more on Nietzsche, I defer to The Big Lebowski.

Anyway. I found the rest of Lightning Returns to be delightful. (Aside from one or two insane difficulty spikes at the end.) The story's scenario (a very different thing from individual lines of dialogue) was actually really cool and fresh, excluding the last boss; sort of a combination of Valkyrie Profile and Majora's Mask. Running around, saving souls, I actually cared about the quest and wanted to help everybody I talked to. Lightning's quest was my quest. In that sense, it was a very good Role-Playing Game.

The combat system was brisk and rewarding. (At least during 1v1 fights; otherwise it got a bit too chaotic for my taste.) Building and customizing your costumes/abilities reminded me, in the good way, of FFX-2. The music was outstanding - one of my favorite memories was running around south Luxerion, contemplating Lightning's bittersweet mission while listening to the track, "Nova Chrysalia.". The world and character art, while clearly made on a time budget, was rich with detail. Despite the locations ultimately being quite limited, feeling more like "levels" than places, they felt good to run around in and explore. (A few more shortcuts would have been appreciated, as running laps around one city got a bit dull after the twentieth time.)

Though I spent the majority of this blurb complaining, I honestly did enjoy my time with the game. (If I hadn't, I wouldn't have finished it - which is a rare complement, as I find many games to be quite tedious to my snobbish palette these days.) All the same, I give my full seal of approval to "Lightning Returns." If you're looking for a vigorous RPG with a little bit of an MMO quest structure, give this a try. My playthrough lasted 60 hours and it only cost 15 bucks. =P A fine deal.

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