Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection

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The Metal Gear Solid series by Hideo Kojima is one of the most well respected game franchises in the world. From its debut on PS1 all the way to it’s somewhat lack luster ending on PS4, it has continued to push the bar and consistently be excellent. The Metal Gear Solid Legacy Collection is a remastered collection of the core games in this franchise,: Metal Gear Solid, it’s sequel Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, a prequel to both of those Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a sequel to Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and finally a sequel to Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Across this collection, which spans three generations of consoles, the series shows tremendous growth and tells one hell of a story.

The first game was pretty rough all around, not just in graphics as you would expect from a PS1 game, but also in terms of mechanics. The stealth features work pretty well, and seeing as they’re at the core of the game that makes the game quite good in its own right. The combat and especially armed combat was quite finicky and didn’t feel all that refined however, which made boss battles especially annoying. The area to explore was also only decent, though the back tracking was somewhat annoying. In terms of story, it features Snake breaking into Shadow Moses to prevent terrorists from stealing a special type of nuclear launcher, Metal Gear REX. It was pretty solid with a number of interesting twists, but overall a pretty standard plot all things considered. There were a lot of great characters though in terms of design and personality, though the story wasn’t very character oriented.

The second felt like a much more polished version of the mechanics from the first for the most part. It played largely the same and was also set for the most part in a singular complex. The weapons combat was considerably improved due to using first person when shooting, which vastly improved the boss battles, and hand to hand combat also felt less finicky. The exception to that is that the game also features sword combat, which played terribly. The stealth largely felt similar to the first game but less rough with more variety. There was back tracking in this as well, but it felt less annoying, in part because the area being played in looked nicer, as well as the areas playing differently from prior traversals. In terms of story, it features Snake now being part of an NGO dedicated to stopping the spread of Nuclear Weapons, but it then switches over to playing as Raiden, another agent, who has to infiltrate Big Shell to prevent terrorists who have taken over it from causing a major ecological disaster, though things get a lot more complicated. The story was tremendously different from the first one, pulling crazy twists in terms of characters, having completely ridiculous twists in terms of plot, having way larger than life characters, and pushing forth messages about society and information that were all kinds of insane, but in the end it was undoubtedly incredibly awesome. I think in terms of story, this may well be when Kojima was at his peak.

The third is a prequel that takes place long before the first, featuring Snake’s father, so to speak, as he gets involved with a conflict centered around the Cold War. In terms of game play, its pretty different from the first two, featuring a number of features such as stamina and silencers as well as much more verticality and a different camera system. All of this makes the game feel very different, so it felt somewhat awkward at first, but ultimately I would have to say it resulted in a solid improvement to the game play in all aspects: stealth, combat, etc. The story was a lot more focused than Sons of Liberty in that it was a standard Cold War espionage flick, about US spies secretly working to sabotage the USSR and deal with betrayals, however it was a tremendously good one featuring a number of tremendously amazing characters, and a story that hit stronger emotional notes than any of the previous ones. It did somewhat lack Kojima’s unique charm though. The theme music was also great, and using it during the final battle added to it tremendously.

Peace Walker came out after MGS4, but was a PSP game and is a sequel to MGS3, while MGS4 is a PS3 game and sequel to MGS2, so it makes more sense to play it directly after MGS3. However, this results in a game that is tremendously different from MGS3. It features completely redesigned combat featuring third person shooting and very different level design. The stealth I think worked tremendously better, and felt much more precise, though I feel the boss battle game play felt very different from what makes MGS, MGS and I wasn’t much of a fan of it. It also features a game play loop with doing missions, main and side, to contribute to base and personnel management and using those to grow and evolve for later missions. It was a very satisfying to see your organization grow, though the loop eventually gets repetitive. It was also annoying how sometimes it would present roadblocks with having to wait for things to happen related to said growth in order to progress with the story. In terms of story, it features the Snake from MGS3, now Big Boss, as he creates a mercenary group that helps Colombia deal with the CIA having projects within their borders, but ultimately results in a larger conspiracy involving the birth of Metal Gear and larger organizations.

Metal Gear Solid 4 is a sequel to MGS2. It plays like an evolution of MGS3 but with some aspects like armed combat being more like MGS: PW, which makes sense as it was released between the two. It features solid stealth game play and great combat, especially the boss fights, ultimately resulting in it feeling the most polished of all the games. Furthermore, it also features the widest variety of locations that are in general a lot bigger than in any previous MGS game, and the graphics are of course also the best in this collection. The new characters and character designs are also great, and it’s quite evident that the improvement in graphics capabilities was used well. In terms of story, it wraps up the story being develop in all of the previous games with the various conspiracies and multiple conflicting factions. It was just as convoluted and messy as the second, arguably more so, but in the end it manages to wrap things up tremendously well, though the complete last story event felt quite a bit forced. The throwbacks to the previous games were also handled tremendously well, especially the return to Shadow Moses, the Psycho Mantis fight, and the final fight. The soundtrack was also excellent. Ultimately a Solid ending to an incredibly series.

A fantastic series with great stealth game play that evolves quite a bit, and a tremendously convoluted story that still manages to be amazing.

10/10

A Hideo Kojima Game

Prince of Persia

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A man nicknamed Prince is in search of his missing donkey in the middle of a dessert. He winds up falling into a hidden magical kingdom, where he finds a magical woman named Elika on the run from a couple soldiers. He ends up saving her, only to find that it was her father that was chasing her and somehow that leads to the seal on the ancient god of darkness, Ahriman, being broken. Hence, Prince and Elika, who has magical powers from the god of light Ormazd, must heal what are called Fertile Grounds all over the kingdom in order to reseal him before he fully escapes. However, even with only part of his power released, he is able to cast a shadow over the kingdom through releasing The Corrupted, his four generals, The Hunter, The Alchemist, The Concubine, and The Warrior, who had sold their souls to him in exchange for being granted a certain wish. Hence Prince and Elika journey across the abandoned kingdom, defeating evil and healing the land.

***

Prince of Persia is very different from the Sands of Time trilogy. It still has some central themes of platforming, combat, and a culture that resembles Persia, but beyond that not much is the same.

In terms of game play first off when it comes to the platforming, it’s very simple and easier than in the previous series, to the point it’s lacking the fluidity and responsiveness that made the other entries so great. The most difficult aspect really is centered around the new mechanic of Elika helping you jump further, though it can be hard to judge whether its needed at points simply leading to you falling. There are also no game overs however, as no matter what happens Elika simply saves you and puts you back to where you were before you started the platforming sequence, which is meant to replace the time rewind mechanic. However, I much prefer the time mechanic, as that was essentially meant to be used to fix mistakes wherever you make them, but would still somewhat punish you for them as they used up sand. This game however, encourages you to not really care much for the smaller sequences as you can just redo them however many times you want, and doesn’t help at all for the longer sequences as you always have to start the sequence over from the beginning, which is actually kind of annoying with the finicky controls, especially for the parts involving plates. These parts are essentially mini games where Prince auto-runs or flies and you have to guide him so that he doesn’t hit anything, but they aren’t done very well and it’s not clear what he needs to be avoiding, and some of these sequences can get pretty long only to have to start over from the beginning if you make a slight mistake. These are just as bad as the chariot sequences in Two Thrones, but a lot worse actually as there are far more of them. In terms of combat, they actually made a worst battle system than the Sands of Time trilogy somehow. The combo system is kind of cool, but getting to them is rather annoying, involving too many QTEs and just waiting. Furthermore, every enemy is pretty much the same, except for the Warrior who’s kind of different in that he essentially involves having to push him off a ledge, but that’s really the best way to deal with everyone so he’s not really any different either. To elaborate, in addition to enemies that are all exactly the same, there are four main bosses, the corrupted, that you each fight 6 times, so you would expect that to be annoying enough. But even beyond that there isn’t much different about the different bosses beyond the difference with the warrior I previously mentioned. It gets super old fighting them incredibly quickly because its incredibly repetitive. Then when you reach the epilogue, you finally get a new boss, which is literally an old boss that can transform into another old boss and requires killing twice very quickly. The puzzles I liked more than any in the Sands of Time trilogy, as there was more thought involved than just moving things until they worked, so that’s an area that’s definitely better. Overall though, the game play was definitely worse and barely passable.

In terms of story it moves very slowly for the vast majority of the game, just journeying around fighting the corrupted and healing Fertile Grounds. However, there’s a tremendous amount of character and world building that occurs here which makes this far from dull and makes it quite good. The world is definitely fleshed out a great deal more than it is in the Sands of Time Trilogy and is hence more interesting. I would also have to say I like Elika better than any of the side characters in the SoTT, and I like Prince just as much as the non-angsty Prince in SoTT. Furthermore, their chemistry together is much better than anything in the previous series, and is the greatest aspect of the game really. The villains too are better fleshed out and more interesting as well. The story picks up more as it reaches its conclusion. It actually makes a great point about how the journey is what’s important, and not the ending as it ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger that reverses essentially the entire game, and is somewhat unsatisfying but good in that that being the ending would truly be unexpected. However, with the Epilogue, we get rid of a lot of the mystery, severely damage the Prince and Elika’s relationship, and leave on a completely unsatisfying cliffhanger that’ll never get a sequel, taking a passable ending and making it into a train-wreck that retroactively does a tremendous amount of damage to the story.

The art style and sound track are also very highly regarded. It certainly does look good and has certainly aged a lot better than the SoTT, in part due to how colorful everything. The design of the world itself is also a lot more varied and interesting. The soundtrack too is very fitting with a good amount of variety, and here I would have to give it a point of clear superiority.

A game that looks and sound pretty nice with fantastic characters, but with mediocre game play and a train wreck cliffhanger of an ending.

6/10

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

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In between his first encounter with the Sands of Time and his quest to prevent their creation, at one point the Prince goes on a journey to the kingdom of his brother Malik where he is to learn how to be a strong leader. But as is expected, considering his luck, he arrives in the middle of his brother being overrun by foreign invaders. As a last ditch resort, his brother unseals Solomon’s Army, an army with as many soldiers as grains of sands in the desert as well as a host of powerful Djinn including an especially powerful Ifrit named Ratash. They scare off the invaders, but now the Prince has to deal with an even worse problem, an uncontrollable infinite army. The prince encounters another Djinn named Razia, who tells him the army must be resealed by reunited two parts of a medallion back together, one possessed by him and one by his brother, and gives him a host of powers to aid him in his journey. However, his brother seems to be being tempted by the power he’s absorbing from defeating the soldiers of Solomon’s Army, and hence this is a far more difficult task than expected.

***

The Forgotten Sands is another great entry in the Sands of Time Saga. It has the same great platforming as compared to it’s predecessors, but feels a lot more fluid and natural. Part of this is that the controls are pretty different, not just in terms of the buttons actions are assigned to, but also in how the Prince controls in respect to the camera and such. This led to making a lot of mistakes early on, but ultimately I would have to say it’s a definite improvement. Furthermore, it also has a lot more variety in terms of mechanics through the use of various powers, without ever feeling overburdened by too many. The overall result is the most satisfying platforming yet. The combat too is very improved as well, featuring much more active combat and actually good boss fights. To be honest, I miss the stealth kills which I enjoyed more, but they aren’t as necessary as they were in previous games. Furthermore, the growth mechanic was also improved with a talent tree where you gain experience from defeating enemies, which also adds to the value of combat. So the game play, just as with each entry before it was a solid improvement over it’s predecessors.

The story however, was a good amount weaker than any of the previous entries. The story in all of the games in the main trilogy on their own isn’t great, but holistically the series’s story works out great, but all around this felt like filler, which I suppose it was. It somewhat tries to explain why the Prince was so dark in Warrior Within, but it feels somewhat forced. The Prince is still at his best personality wise, but the new characters all feel flatter. The graphics are definitely improved but the designs for characters, enemies, locations, etc. all feel less interesting. The soundtrack was still good, but the overall atmosphere still felt lacking. Hence ultimately in these regards it felt like a step back and much weaker.

A solid action platforming game that has game play that’s a solid improvement over it’s predecessors, but is seriously lacking in terms of story and style.

8/10

The Forgotten Sands is an entry to the Sands of Time saga, but is in a weird place as it sort of undo’s an earlier reboot of the series. I haven’t yet played the reboot, however though I will be playing it next.

Prince of Persia Sands of Time Trilogy

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The Prince of Persia trilogy is a series that grows tremendously while for the most part still managing to stay very close to it’s roots, both in terms of style and game play.

The first features the Prince being pursuaded by the Vizier of a neighboring kingdom to invade it, imprisoning some of it’s people including it’s princess Farah, and steal a magical artifact, an hour glass holding the Sands of Time. The Prince is then tricked into releasing the sands of time, turning everyone in the vicinity except him, Farah, and the Vizier into sand zombies. He and Farah go on a journey through the castle to undo the damage that was done, ultimately through using the powers of the Sands of Time. The tone while not absolutely lighthearted, is still pretty light, around the lines of a fairy tale like Aladdin, with an art style and soundtrack to match. I liked this style reasonably enough, though I had no special attachment to it.

The second features the Prince being hunted by a monster that wishes to kill him for altering the flow of time, and hence he journeys back to before the creation of the Sands of Time to prevent them from ever being created, and thus him from ever having used them. This involves travelling to an island and dealing with the Empress of Time, who has foreseen that the Prince will kill her in the future, and hence despite not believing in the ability to alter one’s fate, does her best to kill him. The tone in this game gets dramatically darker and downright edgy compared to the first. There’s a hard rock soundtrack, a generally more grim aesthetic, actual blood and other content leading to an M rating, and a somewhat dark story if you don’t get the secret ending. Many hate this change in style, and while I did find it jarring at first, overall I would have to say I liked it more than the first game.

The third directly follows the second game, opening with the Prince returning to Persia to find it in flames, taken over by the Vizier, who then uses what the Prince brought back from the island to release the Sands of Time once more, and begins a complete takeover of Persia. Furthermore, this ends up awakening a dark side within the Prince that’s more brutal and highly sarcastic and manifests in the form of a voice in the Prince’s head, also giving him the ability to transform into a sand monster himself under some circumstances. He meets up with and once again journeys with Farah to stop the Vizier, fighting his own dark side in the process. Here the tone is a lot less dark as compared to the second game, though it still isn’t anywhere near the first game. In my opinion it’s the entry with the best sense of style in terms of art, designs of enemies and characters, location design, soundtrack, etc. Furthermore, it seems to retroactively substantiate the major changes that occurred in the previous game, with the Prince essentially facing the darker prince that he had become in the second game head on and defeating him. The story across the series may have been pretty simplistic, but it wraps up tremendously well in terms of character development, story, and just all around bringing things full circle, resulting in an incredibly satisfying ending, which is a major part in what makes this series so good.

As for game play the platforming in the first is solid, though somewhat rough. However, it introduces the signature time reversal mechanics that act as a sort of crutch to get around how it can control somewhat finicky at times. The combat however is awful and downright annoying with no good boss fights.

As for the second, the platforming is a solid improvement over the previous game, though still lacks a certain fluidity. The combat is also improved, but still pretty bad. It also includes a somewhat open world with more exploration and back tracking, but to be honest, the world wasn’t anywhere near interesting enough to warrant that and it felt unnecessary.

The third had platforming about as good as the second, still good but lacking fluidity, though it didn’t really add much over it’s predecessor. The combat is also about the same as well, however it introduces the ability to use stealth to platform around most enemies and avoid combat completely if you’re so inclined for the majority of situations, which was incredibly welcome, much more enjoyable, and makes combat no longer an issue. The bosses are also a decent amount better than the previous games. A negative point however, is that it introduces random mechanics like chariot racing which are down right annoying and pointless. Ultimately though, I would have to say that this is a solid step over the previous game, and a great finale for the series.

Overall, a solid series that has good platforming but terrible combat that gets better and better with each entry and holistically is even better than the sum of it’s parts.

8/10

This game is a lot like the Jak series in its progression. I suppose those were the market conditions at the time.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge

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Ryu Hayabusa is notified by the JSDF that a terrorist organization has taken over London demanding that he meet with them. In a sense, Ryu obliges, going in to fight them off. He encounters one of their leaders, Regent of the Mask, who after a fight uses alchemy to merge the Dragon Sword into Ryu’s right arm, cursing him with the sins of all those killed by the Dragon Sword. Ryu barely manages to escape, though with the cursed Dragon Sword still embedded in him, but continues to work to stop the terrorist organization. He discovers they are called Lords of Alchemy (LOA) and have the goal of giving birth to a new world, which involves the destruction of the old one. To stop them, he works with a special cell of JSDF composed of Mizuki McCloud, who is taking care of the daughter of her deceased sister Canna, and Cliff, the brother of Canna’s father. However, each of these characters are more involved with the events unfolding than it seems, and things ultimately get very personal.

***

Ninja Gaiden 3 was the first Ninja Gaiden game since the previous director Itadaki left Team Ninja. It was generally seen as a major step back, and quite simply not a good game. Razor’s Edge was a second try at it, similar to the Sigma games, it was a rebalanced and improved version of Ninja Gaiden 3. I have not played vanilla Ninja Gaiden 3, so I can’t comment on how much of an improvement Razor’s Edge is over it, but Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is still a major step back over it’s predecessors in pretty much every way.

First of all, the combat felt a lot less fair and was frankly simply annoying. It felt a lot cheaper than the previous entries, and ultimately required you to play in a way that was a lot less fluid and relied more heavily on luck. One of the key aspects of this is a mechanic called steel on bone, that can instant kill any enemy, and can be chained to kill numerous smaller enemies, but it relies on enemies initiating a grab, which is pretty much random, expect for a couple tricks that you can abuse. Furthermore, there’s a much heavier emphasis on using your bow, which doesn’t work all that well and makes everything less smooth. There are even bosses based entirely on using your bow, which was not a good idea in the slightest. Bosses in general in Ninja Gaiden have always been great, the highlights of the game for me, but there really weren’t any great bosses in Razor’s Edge. Some were downright horrible. Some were decent, such as Regent of the Mask. But the fact that that fight gets repeated so often is ridiculous and lazy. So all around the combat, the core of Ninja Giaden, while I wouldn’t call it terrible, it’s still not very good or anywhere near previous entries.

In terms of other game play, there’s not really any platforming anymore, being replaced by mostly really dumb QTEs as well as some other mechanics. I didn’t care that much for the platforming in previous titles, but the replacements are even worse. The climbing walls mechanic was completely pointless, as was the car chase scene as well as a bunch of other events.

As for growth, there are no usable items any longer, only having the option to gain back health through save points or using abilities, and upgrades in terms of abilities and weapons can be done at any time through a menu rather through a store. Overall I like this system a lot less than previous entries. It’s a lot less forgiving, but also removes the resource management aspect which I liked.

The story was literally terrible. The plots of previous games have been ridiculous, but they didn’t take themselves all that seriously, kind of embracing how tropey and ridiculous they were but still trying to seem cool. This game is just as tropey and ridiculous, with less enjoyable tropes in my opinion, but it took itself far too seriously despite that resulting in cliche awfulness. None of the new characters were that interesting, and in terms of Ryu’s character they completely destroyed it by taking things in a completely different paths from the previous games that just doesn’t fit or work. The story, which usually isn’t even important, still managed to drag the game down surprisingly.

Lastly, there’s not as much variety in level designs so it felt a lot less exciting going from going place to place like it was in Ninja Giaden II. The new level and character designs were also worse as compared to the characters from the previous entries, which was also somewhat disappointing. The soundtrack was fine, though nothing exceptional.

Ultimately a semi-decent action game with a terrible plot, but a major disappointment due to it’s predecessors.

6/10

Note: Ninja Trials or any multiplayer were not played at all.

Binary Domain

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In the year 2080, global warming has resulted in major increases in sea level, leading to many major cities being flooded, leading to a strong necessity for labor to build new cities, leading to an entirely new workforce composed of robots. Robotics grew to be the core technological industry of the new age, leading to a New Geneva convention related to development in the area, and a new cross-national military task force called Rust Crews to deal with such. One such rust rust crew is called in when one of the provisions of this convention, that development robots indistinguishable from humans would be forbidden, is broken by what is presumed to be Japanese company Ammon. One of the key soldiers in the rust crew is Dan Marshall, also known as ‘Survivor’, an ex-US Army soldier with a knack for surviving tough situations. The other members include ex-US Army Roy Boateng, ex-MI6 Charles Gregory and Rachael Townsend, ex-Chinese Army Faye Lee, and French robot Cain. This team begins their mission without the knowledge of the Japanese government, who is currently in control of the nationalist and somewhat fascistic ‘New Order’ who are very close to the Ammon corporation, and despite their own conflicts within the team begin their mission to find evidence of wrong doing and bring the perpetrators to justice.

***

Binary Domain is for the most part an incredibly generic shooter where you play as generic soldier Dan Marshall. The gun play itself is incredibly standard with not much to make it stand out. It has very generic weapons and generic enemies. The bosses are pretty unique, but because of how simple the gun play is they aren’t that interesting either, and while they are unique I wouldn’t say that they’re exceptionally good, just decent. There’s an upgrade system, which is somewhat unique for a title like this, but pretty generic in general. However, what does make the gun play stand out is that enemy robots fall apart in a very satisfying manner when you shoot them, better than any other game out there. And while it is incredibly generic, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. The gun play itself is quite good in fact. It also ties in to the story more so than in other games based on the trust system. This system involves every character in the game having a rating of how much they trust Dan. This trust can be developed in two main ways. The first is choosing the right things to say, which is simple enough and done often. The other is to play well. This I found more interesting, because it gives an incentive to play well, while not completely blocking you if you fail. I thought it was a good concept implemented decently in general, but was very rough around the edges. First off in that its really hard to push every character to max without abusing some areas, and even then its somewhat annoying, so it felt very unbalanced, and second in that they don’t explain the system that well. What I mean by that is that while the game tells you that the system affects others following orders, it doesn’t don’t tell you that it has a tremendous impact on the ending at the end of the game. Now that’s a good concept, but if it isn’t made clear why its happening its actually makes the ending very annoying.

On that note, the story is somewhat decent. Its very predictable while also being somewhat ridiculous, but it works for the game. The relationships between characters are supposed to be one of the highlights, and while they’re not fantastic, if you play properly they’re pretty good. The ending too if you play properly is pretty good, and one I’m satisfied with, though the twist at the end being so common is kind of annoying. The graphics are decent for game released then, though not much to talk about now. The music was decent, though pretty forgettable. The mini-games weren’t that good but were easy enough to not be annoying.

A solid but pretty generic shooter, though with a couple interesting and satisfying twists.

7/10

Note: Voice recognition was not used because I rather dislike the concept. Online play was not judged because it doesn’t really seem to exist at this point.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

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After the final battle between Noel and Serah against Gaius that resulted in the destruction of the goddess of death, Etro, chaos was unleashed that consumed the world and killed Serah, causing Lightning to go into a long slumber to prepare for what was coming. She emerged at the behest of the god Bhunivelze, 500 years later to find the world had changed tremendously. Without the goddess of death, people did not die of natural causes, and even when dying of injuries or disease, their souls would just stay in the swirling chaos, never to be reborn. Furthermore, in just 13 days the world would collapse. Bhunivelze wanted her to become his champion, and collect the souls of the inhabitants of the dying world, so that he may take them to a new world that he was creating, and a new world may be born. In exchange, he would bring back Lightning’s sister, Serah as well. With this motivation, Lightning sets out to complete this task, running into many old faces, as well as many new ones, saving souls but ultimately questioning her role in the world’s final act.

***

Lightning Returns is the last entry in the FFXIII series. While it certainly continues and completes the story of FFXIII, it has a tremendously different game play to it’s predecessors. First of all, the combat is entirely different. It’s much more active, with attacks, which are mapped to the four face buttons rather than a menu, occurring immediately after they are selected, and furthermore provides manual control of Lightning’s movement during battle. The core of the combat system is the schema system, which allows Lightning to switch between three schemas on the fly in battle, which is similar  in concept to switching paradigms but occurs much faster. This feels awkward at first, with having to switch incredibly often, and while this aspect is somewhat rough, in the end it makes the combat feel like it has the same tactical essence as the previous games but is more fast paced, and once you get the hang of it, the combat can be very satisfying. Overall, I would have to say the combat is about as good as the second, meaning better than the first.

I wasn’t much of a fan of the growth system however, in that it was incredibly lacking. It was different in that there was no XP or levelling up, and only completing quests increased Lightning’s inherent stats, though of course equipment increased stats as well. There was also synthesis of abilities to get newer more powerful ones, though another misstep was that synthesis wasn’t available for items until NG+. Overall, while that did make major upgrades that had noticeable effects on combat, which is quite satisfying, more common, ultimately it felt like there was a lot less control over increasing Lightning’s stats or abilities, which was the opposite of the improvements in the fantastic system from XIII-2. Lastly, there is a single party member at a very limited number of points, which ultimately felt really random and somewhat pointless. Overall, this entire aspect felt very rough.

In terms of exploration it’s essentially open world, though the only opportunity to move between areas is through trains at first, but eventually you gain the ability to teleport and move by foot which makes things much easier. Less loading times was definitely a major plus after XIII-2. While each of the areas are thematically connected, they mostly have a good amount of variety to them in terms of environment and don’t feel repetitive. Despite this openness, the game flowed pretty well and felt less haphazard than previous games.

In terms of content there are six main quests that you can do in any order as well as a long set of story oriented side quests and less so canvas of prayer quests, which is a good amount of content. However, there’s this issue about how everything is timed and running on a real clock, which was a major nag at first and made me feel constrained for the majority of the main story of the game, constantly using abilities that would halt the clock down, but as I progressed I realized that it really isn’t that much of an issue. I had completed everything in the game I wished to way early and killed a lot of time pointlessly even though I did all the side content except some Canvas of Prayer quests. I should note that while the total time itself isn’t an issue, there are quests that can only be done at certain times of the day, and hence you need to keep track of it and plan around it, though that’s somewhat fun in a way as well. Ultimately, the time constraint without any quantifiers of how long you should be taking made me feel rushed pointlessly, but that’s not too much of an issue.

I liked the style of the world and characters the most out of all of the FFXIII games. It had an undercurrent that was somewhat dreary and depressing even when it was cheerful or celebratory which made it very unique. The story was also the best out of the entire series. All of the games in the series have the issue that they’re completely and utterly ridiculous, but they seem to make some attempt at grounding in reality and making some sense along those lines. Lightning Returns doesn’t even try, being set in a world that couldn’t possibly engender any comparisons to anything realistic other than highlighting how its massively different and making no attempt at trying to create a coherent self contained system for the worlds events to take place in, but also taking the epic moments to a whole other level, which makes the ridiculousness and cheesy dialogue a lot easier to bear and less awkward. The ending tied up a most of the loose ends in a pretty satisfying manner, though in just as a ridiculous if not more so manner than the previous games, but by far the most epic with best CG.

The soundtrack was the worst of them. It wasn’t bad but it was really forgettable, with the best parts being appearances of the main tracks from the previous games. The graphics were good at points, but also terrible in others. In a way I feel that every entry got lower and lower budget, and though that doesn’t mean that the production values fall to the point that they’re bad, it is very noticeable.

A much faster paced and open entry than the previous games in the saga, feeling tremendously different but also sticking to the same concepts, and while rough around the edges a decently solid experience.

8/10

Each of the games feels really different and somewhat disconnected in terms of story and game play, though with repeating themes, concepts and mechanics. Its a solid ending to the saga: not on a high note, but not on a low note. I’m satisfied with the ending and though I certainly think they could have done a better job for the time I put into it I’m satisfied with the entirety of XIII at the end of the day. Next stop FFXV… at some point.