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Lightning Returns Demo Review: The Fall Of FF is Complete

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The demo is available to play right now, but you might be sorry you did.

For years now, I've watched the painful decline of my beloved Final Fantasy franchise.

It has now become something unrecognizable and worse, something that's borderline laughable. The playable demo (now available on the PS3 and Xbox 360) isn't the full game, so I won't issue a full review, but this is a bad, bad sign. After all, the game comes out on February 11.

Forget personal preference for a second

I know what some of you are thinking. "This is just a bitter old gamer who can't accept that things have changed in the industry." However, I fully believe many things have changed for the better and if Square Enix successfully reinvented Final Fantasy, I'd applaud the effort. I'm aware that a turn-based mechanic can no longer exist in this fast-paced hobby. I'm aware that we can have great action/RPGs with innovative new combat systems.

Sadly, this isn't one of them. It has nothing to do with personal preference; this first part is an objective analysis.

You can control the camera this time, and that's a problem.

It's a sluggish camera that doesn't properly capture the action, and it sits too close. This results in being backed up against the invisible barrier without even realizing it; not a good position to be in. Furthermore, the basic control doesn't feel spot-on, either; Square Enix tried to infuse more action into the series and the result is mediocre. It's not smooth enough and it it's too limited; hence, the extra movement feels tacked on and borderline useless.

For a moment, I was enthusiastic about the different classes.

Lightning can change costumes during battle (ala Final Fantasy X-2) and when she does, she gains access to all new skills and abilities. Each outift/class is called a "Schemata" and they can be fully customized. That's cool. Unfortunately, as there are no longer any menus during battle and each skill is assigned to a specific face button, you're limited to four abilities per Schemata. For a role-playing game? Really?

Basically, all you do is attack with a certain Schemata until you run out of energy, and then switch to another. There's some strategy involved because it helps to find out the monster's weaknesses, and you've still got the Stagger system, but that's about it. It plays sloppily and it has a fraction of the requisite depth, in my estimation.

Yeah, the CGI is pretty sweet. The in-game graphics are surprisingly outdated, though, which only adds to the aforementioned "sloppy" feeling.

Why? WHY do you think we want this, Square Enix?

No Final Fantasy fan ever said they wanted "faster and dumber." No fan ever finished a FF title and said to themselves, "gee, that would've been better if I had full control during battle and everything happened in real-time, at the expense of the strategy and depth we have now." And did I mention that there's no party? Guests can join you in battle but you only control Lightning at all times. Feels more and more like Devil May Cry, doesn't it?

This was once a franchise I really respected. It changed things constantly, only it never lost that shining core. The Materia system was nothing like Junction, and Junction was nothing like the Sphere Grid. Licenses and Gambits were new in FFXII and despite what some may think, FFX-2 featured one of the most advanced and intricate turn-based mechanics ever. New characters, new environments, new storylines, etc, etc, etc.

This has the same tired character, the same narrative (which has gotten beyond confusing), and the only thing that has really changed - the combat - changed for the worse. If you were going to make it an action/RPG, fine. It's not a good action/RPG, though. I would've hated the new system, I'm sure, but at least I would've given it props for quality.

Tragically, I think "quality" is out the window.

Published Jan. 22nd 2014
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