Naughty dog is turning thirty this year. Very impressive considering their humble beginnings.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Opening Cinematic Does Little To Excite Me
Final Fantasy fans, rejoice! Square Enix, in their enduring generosity, has deemed us worthy of a premature sneak peek at the opening cinematic for the forthcoming Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Or, if you’re among the masses who found XIII and its sequel to be full of melodrama and provide an overall subpar experience, bemoan the reveal. I can’t say I won’t be doing the same.
Before I go any further, allow me to express the lack of satisfaction I derive from Final Fantasy-bashing. I’ve been a tremendous fan of the entire franchise since first happening upon it, and I’ve found many of its games to offer touching, emotional stories, terrific gameplay, and, of course, some of the most fantastic music from series composer Nobuo Uematsu. Even when the franchise (and Square Enix as a whole) began to derail with the dreaded Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, I remained an ardent supporter, uplifted by the prospect of titles such as Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Final Fantasy Type-0. With the former being rebranded XV and delayed for probably at least another year (culminating in almost a decade of development) and the latter likely never seeing an international release, a lot of my hopes for the franchise have understandably been crushed.
Then there’s Final Fantasy XIII. I was so stoked when I saw the trailers for the first game. It looked so pretty—not surprising for a franchise that has always been a graphical powerhouse—and even the concept sounded appealing. While I wasn’t as appalled by the final result as many others, it certainly didn’t stand up to the colossal name of its predecessors. The story was okay, not great, and the game was proof that there is such thing as too much characterization. The game teemed with melodramatic cut-scenes and abysmal character growth at every turn, with only a couple of characters saving it from disaster. I’ll also concede that the gameplay was fun, though there are legions that would disagree, citing the Paradigm system as faulty.
All that being said, I wasn’t nearly as kind toward XIII-2. I respect Square for listening to its fanbase, but really, XIII-2 just literally did a 180 from XIII without considering whether the end result would be good or not. While the nonlinear gameplay was welcome, it necessitated a story that was convoluted in the vein of Kingdom Hearts and pretty much lost the spirit of the first game, for better or worse…and I’m arguing worse. First off, the two lead characters were poor choices compared to the first game’s cast, and the whole timeline fracturing thing just begged for obfuscation and crappy narrative. Yes, it had its pros, but I’m in the minority that felt it was overall a worse effort than the original, and let’s not forget: no one asked for or even really wanted it. We just accepted it because Square was selling it.
Now we have yet another unwanted sequel in the form of Lightning Returns. I’ll give Square kudos for putting Lightning back in the player character role, but that’s about where my commendation stops. I was extremely skeptical of the game since its announcement, questioning why there’s a five-century gap when the second game’s ending could have segued into an immediate sequel and what the purpose of such a maneuver is. The questions have only continued to pile, and though the point is to heighten anticipation through curiosity, I fully expect most of the answers will be dumb and nonsensical.
Take the most obvious mystery: Snow’s change of heart. Obviously he’s succumbed to Chaos through the loss of Serah, but all I get from that is that we’ll be saturated with more cliche characterization that will overwhelm me with apathy because it beats me over the head with its blatancy. Then you have Lumina, the “mysterious” doppelganger of Lightning’s sister and Snow’s fiance, now deceased. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but haven’t we seen this in Final Fantasy before? (If you can’t think of an example, I present to you Tidus/Shuyin from Final Fantasy X/X-2.)
The opening sequence for Lightning Returns is supposed to continue building the intrigue and esoteric plot points of the next XIII installment, but all it did for me was make me roll my eyes. The fact that it’s the opening of the game makes it even worse. This seems more like a trailer than anything else, and at the end I really felt myself thinking, “Okay…so what’s the point?” Seriously, these characters have gone through such vast development during the gap between this game and XIII-2 that I don’t even find myself caring about them in this cinematic. Next to nothing has been explained about Lightning’s newly assigned role as “the Savior” or, as mentioned earlier, Snow’s uncharacteristic maleficence. It could very well be Snow is still good-natured and is just cast in the wrong light here. Again, it wouldn’t be terrible as a trailer, but knowing this will be the first thing I see after I select “New Game” from the main menu makes me groan.
Now that my griping is out of the way, I will give this move by Square the credit it deserves. I like that they’re releasing actual scenes from the game, and the opening minutes seem a logical enough choice. For those more optimistic than I, it likely will succeed in building hype, and I also like that Square persists in sticking to its trademark style. No matter how divergent the Final Fantasy games are, they all have a style and manner that is completely unique to them, and it’s cool to see it translate to current gen standards. Sadly, that’s about all the good I have to say about this. I will not say anyone with differing opinions are wrong; this is just my personal taste. I’m not extraordinarily excited about this game and, unless fan reception is overwhelmingly positive, I may pass on it altogether.
For those who haven’t seen it yet, you can check out the opening five minutes below. For those who have, what’s your opinion? Do you think Square missed the mark or does this trailer excite you? Let us know in the comments!