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Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is right around the corner for the Xbox 360 and PS3. However, not every gamer is riddled with unbridled excitement for the game. In fact, a lot of gamers are brimming with anticipatory apprehension for Lightning Returns, as the game could be a smash hit or a dud, depending mostly on how it turns out.
Given that the game is taking some massive leaps in a completely different direction from the previous Final Fantasy XIII games, and even more-so than any Final Fantasy game before it, there is a lot riding on this title for Square and a lot riding on this title in terms of gamers seeing if the series has a hope of being redeemed, especially as far as the Lightning saga goes. Here are a few reasons why gamers are about as excited as they are for the game as they are apprehensive about it.
More Cosplay Than GameplayThe Japanese love the niche culture of dressing up in fantastical costumes. They call it cosplay... like “costume play”. The trend extends beyond eager fans donning the outfits of their favorite manga, anime or game characters... it extends to the fictional characters as well. Art imitating life imitating art. Well, Square Enix is taking that meta-culture seriously and applying it to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
Having customization options is a great thing, and being able to modify the character with a bevy cache of costumes that alter the character's skillsets, special abilities and stats creates a smorgasbord of opportunities for gamers to exploit... in theory. In execution, we could really end up with anything: some costumes may be misbalanced with other costumes, or some skills may be over-powered (or under-powered) compared to other outfits. It's as cool a concept as it is a risky concept. Some gamers aren't completely sold on the cosplay elements of Lightning Returns and given that stat-based item manipulation has proven sketchy in the past (i.e., See Street Fighter X Tekken's Gem system), it's easy to see why gamers would be apprehensive of this feature.
Parkour, Platforming & ExplorationImplementing Assassin's Creed style exploration and parkour seemed like an ambitious thing for Lightning Returns. The inclusion of platform-style gameplay is such a massive divergence away from the typical structure of Final Fantasy games that most people were just glad it was a welcomed change from the first two Final Fantasy XIII games. “At least it's not a linear corridor, combat sim.” is the typical response. But then, on the flip side, there is the reality that platforming in Lightning Returns is an untested mechanic.
Just because a game lets you explore and scale the environment doesn't instantaneously mean that the gameplay is extended and scaled for the better. Heck, Sonic has had a hard time with platforming in the 3D realm ever since he made the transition during the Dreamcast era. There's also the issue that if the platforming seems too derivative or mechanically tiresome, there's the risk that the game ends up like Ninja Gaiden 3, Ninja Blade, Knack or countless other games where players aren't having fun but are mostly trying to grind through the platforming just because they're forced to.
Game TimerThis is an interesting case because the game's premise centers around the end of the world and players will only have a limited amount of time to save said world; 13 days to be exact. The timer counts down and players will have to race against the clock to save the game world. This has been characterized as a decision that helps promote replay and multiple play-throughs, as the game changes depending on that timer and what you complete or experience at certain points. Some gamers have been highly averse to this as they feel it compromises the fun-factors.
Now according to an interview with 4Gamer, Motomu Toriyama, the game's designer has made it known that the game timer can be manipulated directly by a player's actions. Defeating certain enemies or completing specific tasks will stave off the countdown timer and provide players with a bit of breathing room. Whether or not it's enough to win over the critics of this feature may depend on how gamers approach the title.
It's Still Final Fantasy XIIISometimes it doesn't matter how you dress up something, it'll always be whatever it is underneath that. You can wrap a hot dog in fried corn bread and call it a corn-dog, but it's still a hotdog underneath. Some gamers feel the same way about Lightning Returns. The exploration features and countless forms of cosplay customization aren't entirely enough to keep the skeptics from feeling skeptical about the title, and with good reason.
Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 have been two of the most controversial Final Fantasy games because of what they added and sacrificed as Square took the series in a completely different direction from previous games, especially in comparison to Final Fantasy XII, which seemed to be aiming the series toward a more open-world, free-roaming series. Given all the changes made to Lightning Returns, it's going to be a challenge from Square to convince gamers that despite still being Final Fantasy XIII, it's going to be a much better designed game.
Square Enix Isn't The Same AnymoreThe old Square that managed the crown as the greatest publisher of RPGs during the fourth and fifth generation of gaming isn't that Square anymore. Squaresoft was a name attached to titles that meant fantasy realized; it was quality name in the publishing ring that meant quality games. From Chrono Trigger to Secret of Mana to Final Fantasy, everyone used to respect Square to immeasurable degrees. But not anymore.
With Hironobu Sakaguchi having left to form Mistwalker Studios, the father of Final Fantasy took with him a lot of creative juices that helped put Square on the map in the first place. The company now feels very much like a shell of its former self; and that feeling now resonates like a deafening echo through every single one of their releases. Gamers are taking a real gamble with Lightning Returns, as it may or may not revive community faith in the waning series.