Lightning Returns Demo Review: The Fall Of FF is Complete

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.

Our Rating
The demo is available to play right now, but you might be sorry you did.
Published Jan. 22nd 2014
  • Jake G.
    How can you compare a turn-based game to a game like Devil May Cry? They have 2 very different gameplay formulas. I for one think the new combat system is fun and a breath of fresh air. Sure its no FF7, but its still fun to me. With that said I respect your opinion and I will take it into account before buying it.
  • Cortalia
    In the hopes of finding some middle grounds here.

    Every Final Fantasy... every single one of them... has been a Love it or Hate it game, because each game is unique, its only tied together by similarities (the name cid, chocobos, moogles, and an overall theme of fantasy tech)

    I hated FFVII and FFXII. I still played them but when I was done... i never put em back in my system. I would say I hated FFIX... but that was more because I played it with a friend and all he let me do was play as Garnet in battle...whoopdie do.

    I loved FFVIII, FFX,FFT, FFXIII, and of course FFXI, and the new X|V AAR (so addicted right meow)

    Every game has a different battle system, a different support system. I liked FFXIII because the paradigm system involved a bit of FFXI tactics for me, which gear + classes in your party are best for what situation, when is it best to swap out for different classes. But that's me, it may not be the same for you.
  • Mark_1988
    Your opinion seems to be in the minority here, so I'm going to say that this IS personal preference/opinion and not even slightly objective. Also:

    "The Materia system was nothing like Junction, and Junction was nothing like the Sphere Grid"

    The Materia system was an expansion of Magicite from FFVI. And the License Board from XII was similar in concept to the Sphere Grid. And the Chrystarium was even MORE similar to the sphere grid.
  • Ave_2650
    I was really hoping that I would like this game as much as 13-2 but the whole hack and slash thing isn't for me, sure it was exciting at first glance, but an entire game of this crap is gonna get old. By the end of the demo all I could think was, that was it?

    I grew up on final fantasy titles and I guess I just have to accept that they are no longer making games for my generation, games that take strategy, determination, and sometimes months to complete. Kids want fast and easy games that all but play themselves, it's all about the speed at which one can button mash. While these types of games can be entertaining, and often what I look for in my cell phone games while I'm using the toilet, it's not what I'm looking for in an RPG, and certainly not what I'm looking for in a final fantasy title.

    Well I'm off to cancel my preorder, no doubt the game will go the same route as all the other recent final fantasy titles and be dirt cheap in a month or two.
  • Sublimeprince
    Square Soft always was top of the line open world with full content, stunning effects and larger then life game play. Square Enix Lost the magic.... too much Linear-do what I want!! they are going more and more wacky with each FF guys its not trolling to say the Game went 13+ Titles plus the Chrono's with a similar combat system, ok we want some change fine its the same bad functionality that has plagued Tomb raider forward to present they may have saved Square but they lost alot more adding Enix then they saved you can see the Difference not only in 13 but its in 14 too you might like it but I say play thru the 1st 12 games then review it like some of us old timers can
  • Chai Chien Liang
    Have not played the demo yet, how does this game stand in comparison to Crisis Core?

    How many Schematas are usable at one time?
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Crisis Core is eons better. It actually had the depth of a role-playing game.

    In the demo, you can equip three Schematas at once, but I think I saw slots for more. Not sure if they'll be open for the full game or not. Each Schemata gives you access to four abilities in battle (each mapped to one of the face buttons).
  • serepticia
    You're insane. Crisis Core was an utter piece of shit. FFXIII (part one) was a total piece of shit too, but XIII-2 redeemed itself and XIII-3 looks like it's learning from the previous mistakes. Your article is arrogant and poorly written, as well as bias as hell.
  • GabrielKross
    Featured Columnist
    I played through the Demo. For all the "I am looking at this objectively," you really aren't. Costume changes take the place of Paradigms in this, but you have a bit of a limitation to what you can do with each costume. Same as you had with each role in previous games. For the most part combat in the previous XIII games was auto-pilot, now the player has to figure out what to use for themselves. It's a massive upgrade.

    I'd recommend replaying the series again before passing judgement on the narrative as well. It fits, and I haven't even finished XIII-2 for myself yet. I happened to see the end cutscene while someone else was playing. On that alone XIII-3 demo wise fits into the series. Same tired character? Who else would you get to be the star of the finale of a three part trilogy other than the star of the first part, since the second part's star can't fill the role for obvious reasons.

    Your review is clouded by the fact that you dislike the previous games. Your last paragraph screams that distaste of the XIII series.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Thank you, but I know what I'm talking about. I played both FFXIII and XIII-2 through to completion. Even got 100% on the latter.

    The Paradigms are NOT the same as the Schematas. Each Paradigm selected gave you ALL the learned abilities in that skill sub-set. Having a Schemata selected gives you access to a grand total of four skills, which is ridiculous for most any action game, and outrageously ridiculous for anything claims to be an RPG. Have you ever heard of an RPG that gives you four skills per class in battle?

    They did it just so they could map them all to a face button and turn the entire mechanic into a real-time battle. And that's the epitome of dumbing down.

    You didn't play FFXIII-2 and you think you're qualified to say this is an "upgrade?" I don't understand that. As I said, I played XIII-2 all the way through and trust me this is a huge step back in terms of depth and freedom. FFXIII also didn't HAVE to be on "auto-pilot;" that was merely a choice. It certainly wasn't auto-pilot in XIII-2.

    I really liked XIII-2. I defended it many times even. Hence, your last statement is completely and entirely incorrect. I'd appreciate it if you didn't make snap judgments about me, as if you know me and my gaming history.
  • GabrielKross
    Featured Columnist
    I said I didn't beat XIII-2 not that I haven't played it. Further more you don't state liking FFXIII-2 anywhere in the post I read through it a few times thinking I must have missed it the first time. You talk about XII and X-2 but never about XIII-2.

    If you wanted to 5 star things in FFXIII and FFXIII-2 most of the time the only way to do this was using autopilot because you lose a lot of time doing it manually..

    Yes you had access to all your abilities in the old games, but you had to dig through a bunch of crap to find them losing valuable time and sometimes causing you to die. Hence the auto-pilot system being the prevelant battle mechanic. Also there are menus, there's atleast an item menu that I brought up during one of the battles. straight forward layout of 5-6 item slots, it won't get you killed cycling through the menu, and strategy based on having a limited ability spec. Sounds like an upgrade.

    Most action based RPGs have limited action sets when considering they are primarily console based. I dare you to find any current action based RPG that is not a limited skill-set. MMOs don't count because they technically are a different genre.

    At most I'd say your article is an opinion piece and shouldn't be labeled a review since you have only 10 minutes or so worth of actuall gameplay to go on. You seem to be the only one I've heard of so far having camera issues also, I've not even had to mess with the camera myself.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    I never put the game on manual and managed to five-star just about everything. I also managed to beat the game's toughest bosses. Auto = flat-out cheating, as far as I'm concerned.

    I also don't recall dying because I couldn't get to the ability I wanted. I'm not entirely sure you even knew how to play, based on those comments. No offense or anything but I don't believe you fully grasped that was really easy.

    And action/RPGs absolutely never have limited abilities; if they do, they're not RPGs. Look at Dragon Age, for instance. Or Mass Effect. They use real-time, with the ability to pause, and you've got dozens upon dozens of skills right at your fingertips at all times. You even get a party and every member of that party is full-on customizable and everything you learn can be used in battle.

    This is dumbing down, from top to bottom. I see no upgrade. Lastly, as I said in the article, I wasn't going to issue a full review. That's not what that is. However, what's going to change in the full game? I saw the important things, like the combat mechanic...and it's just depressingly stupid.

    Faster and dumber, that's all this is. I'm not saying you can't like it. I'm glad if you end up enjoying it. I'm just saying what it is.
  • Lightning Strikes Three Times
    It has now become something unrecognizable and worse, something that's borderline laughable.
    ---Looks and feels like FF to me.

    ---Played through it twice and never once had a problem with the camera.

    Basically, all you do is attack with a certain Schemata until you run out of energy, and then switch to another.
    ---You're missing that half the strategy is selecting, setting up, and customizing your Schemata in advance.

    You clearly didn't enjoy any of the XIII games so you probably shouldn't have expected to like this one. There are many of us who have loved both XIII games and are excited about this one. XIII-2 ended with "To Be Continued". Its a trilogy and this is the end. The first was story driven, second was player driven, and this is world-driven. It's all a bit experimental but the fans of XIII will always be happy, and those who don't enjoy it will have to enjoy X/X-2 HD until XV comes out. Thats pretty much all there is to it.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    If you think this looks and feels like Final Fantasy, that tells me you've never played any of the Final Fantasy games before FXIII. If so, you're disqualified to make any such statement. If not, it makes zero sense. Past games in the series were RPGs. This really isn't.

    I didn't "miss" anything. The strategy takes place outside of combat, in the menus, as it should do. ALL that strategy, with the exception of spotting weaknesses in the enemies, goes right out the window when you enter battle.

    If you want to compare it only to the two previous FFs, fine. Then I guess it's not terrible; it's just mediocre. Comparing it to the entries before it? Then it's a disgrace.
  • GabrielKross
    Featured Columnist
    your coming across as very arrogant stating what people are qualified to say or not.

    Further more I'd like to clarify something. You're saying that this game isn't an RPG based on the number of skills a single outfit has. Last I checked RPGs weren't based on the number of skills. RPGs are based on whether or not there is a story, which even though you don't get enough plot in the demo to judge the game, you can clearly see that it is built around a story. So the fact that you're saying this game is not an RPG when all facts including the developers say otherwise really makes the likelihood of people continuing to read your work very unlikely. You're arguing against fact based on your personal preference which you claim this review has nothing to do with. Please remember that just because you say something doesn't make it fact.

    The true fact here is that someone made an account just to make a comment and you tried to bully them out of their opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions.

    I feel this game is very FF like myself. It's never been about the combat system with FF games. It's always been about the experience. We just happen to remember combat systems the most because besides cutscenes, that's where you spend most of your in-game time.

    By the way the last paragraph of your reply proves that you took your preference of previous Final Fantasies into account when writing your review.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Nobody is bullying anyone. I merely responded.

    And I'm sorry, but "role-playing" has nothing to do with story. Nothing at all. The definition of a "role-playing game" varies widely from person to person, but nobody is going to claim that story has any bearing. Every single video game in existence has a story.

    RPGs revolve around character progression. Many aficionados will say that if you gain experience and levels for a character, and if you can outfit andcustomize them, that makes it an RPG. But it's difficult because these days, a lot of games let you do that. That being said, comparing Lightning Returns to other games in the same genre (that being action/RPG as the developer stated), it feels extremely watered down and dumbed down. ...because it is.

    I also said it was an action/RPG in the article, which it is; it just doesn't feel like full role-playing, which it doesn't. I made both of those points very clear. I apologize if I come across as strong, but based on your comments, I'm not sure you have any place in this debate. It sounds like you had no idea how to play FFXIII or XIII-2 (died because you couldn't get to an ability? ...really?), and I'm not even sure you played a FF prior to that trilogy.

    This review is based on the evaluation of the franchise as a whole. It's not about preferring the previous games, it's about comparing it to those games. Which we should always do in any ongoing franchise. I've played the entire franchise. Have either of you? Sounds like you haven't. Not only that, I question your experience with the role-playing genre in general. Saying the story dictates genre is just...weird. I'm sorry, my friend, but no RPG fan is going to agree with you. They might say some RPGs have the best stories (I'd say that, too), but that's hardly what makes a game "role-playing."

    My only honest question is- how much of FF have you played and how often do you even play games that are in the genre? That's all. Based on what I see, I don't think you have much experience at all. Therefore, I fail to see how you can lecture me on what I can and can't say.

    My guess is that you bit off more than you can chew here and now you're a little annoyed at yourself for doing so. But that's okay. Like I already siad, I'm glad if you enjoy the game. I'm glad when anyone enjoys a game, because it means they had fun. :)
  • serepticia
    "Past games in the series were RPGs. This really isn't." is the most stupid fucking comment I've seen about this game demo.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Brilliant rebuttal.
  • Jake G.

New Cache - article_comments_article_11572
More Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Content

Get Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII news the moment it happens!

You have been successfully subscribed to this newsletter.