Over the last 3ish weeks I've played through FFXIII, FFXIII-2, and Lightning Returns all without wiki's or guides. Would like to share my thoughts while it's all fresh. Since I didn't use walkthroughs I wasn't going for a 100% completion, just a story completion in each case. In general I tend to take care of sidequests that I stumble across but I don't spend significant bits of time hunting blindly for new ones.
Edit: Some minor technical issues I forget to mention. Both XIII and XIII-2 needed some work to get to run in 1080p fullscreen and both disagreed with my headset. Specifically, the voice over audio is on a central channel by default and it was a little time trying to figure out how to get my specific headset to play that correctly. There were a few crashes. XIII crashes stopped entirely when I disabled cloud saves on steam. XIII-2 was more confusing - certain zones would not load unless cloud saves were enabled. It wouldn't crash on those zones, just hang on the loading screen. Fix was just to tab out, enable cloud saves again, and then wait a moment for the zone to finish loading.
~55 hours. I can see where the complaints about linearity come from, but honestly this game's storyline and events would not have performed well in a more open world format. The introduction to the paradigm system was extremely fun and combat felt much more fast paced and exciting that previous titles. I did feel like it lost a smidge of the micro control in combat but overall I enjoyed the system.
Lots of comments along the way where "wait until you get to the chapter where it opens up". In reality this chapter isn't a big deal. It does open up a little bit but most of the side quest's available are the form of FFXII's hunts.
Character development was hit or miss. Some of them had short shallow plots while others were better. An overall complaint from me throughout all three games is that Lightning didn't feel fleshed out much being the protagonist.
~30 hours. This felt like a straight improvement of FXIII to me. The linearity wasn't a problem since you could choose which place and time to explore next. Time travel felt like it was done 'right' to me. There were some holes that it created but overall much less so that I would have expected.
Having your third party member be a monster was also a fun way to do things. You can level them up and have up to three monsters ready to go (you can have as many as you'd like in 'storage'). During combat you can swap between these 3 monsters by changing paradigms and several of them could learn abilities that the two protagonists could not. I didn't spend a lot of time min-maxing my monster summons - I mostly had a Red Chocobo Commando and a Goblin Chieftain Sentinel (that I used for party buffs). I had a healing monster slotted in my third spot but found that it was rarely used.
Caius, the reoccurring baddie throughout this game has an awesome theme that plays and is overall one of my favorite characters and villains.
This game is vastly different from the other two. It plays less like Final Fantasy and more like a mashup between Monster Hunter and Dark Souls. Combat ranges from easy to extremely difficult depending on how well your current setup matches the weaknesses of your opponent. The game is fully 'off the rails' in that you can complete any quest in whichever order you choose. As you progress further into the game opponents and bosses will get stronger.
The elephant in the room on this game: The time limit. You have a limit in game-days until gameover. You can (and have to in order to reach the boss) extend this up to 13/14 days. Playing blindly, I didn't find the limit to be a problem. It took me maybe 2 days to finish the first area's main quest (out of 4 - kinda 5 but the 5th may or may not be optional and is spoilerly) and then probably another 3 days to finish another. After that I cleared all of them in the next couple of days, finishing all the main quests on day 7 out of 13. The rest of that time was spent on sidequests and collecting/empowering gear and abilities.
Though I didn't need to take advantage of it, the new game + system seems unique and well intertwined with the story. In short, when you reach the final boss if you are unable to defeat him you can optionally use a crystal to reset time. This resets all the quests in the game but Lightning keeps her gear, (most) items, and stats. This lets you continually build up Lightning's combat abilities to be stronger each time. I believe if you fail to reach the final day by extended the deadline you are forced into a NG+ from the gameover.
Speaking of stats, you don't gain any stats or levles from combat in this game. All permanent stat boosts come from quest rewards. A simple sidequest may give Lightning +10 hp and +1 Str or Mag, larger quests could give hundreds of hp and several dozen points in Str or Mag. You also have a limited resource called EP that is spent on major spells and can be used out of combat. This is refilled slowly by defeating enemies and your EP cap increases as you complete main story quests. One of these abilities is used to pause time, so you can greatly extend your time limit at the cost of EP.
Combat was outstanding. Positionals, perfect block timing, chaining attacks, fast swapping gear sets (between up to 3 that you have prepared), all made things fun and fast paced. There is also a Stagger system similar to the previous 2 games. Each monster has it's own unique ways to be staggered, and various debilitating effects once it is staggered. In some cases a monster is nearly impossible to damage in any way until you're able to stagger it.
Overall, I've had a very enjoyable experience in these games. I don't see myself playing XIII or XIII-2 again in the near future but Lightning Returns is a likely candidate for a replay using the NG+ option. I'll be happy to answer any questions and feel free to berate me in all the places you feel I'm wrong!
Glad you gave them a real shot and glad you enjoyed them! The entire trilogy is my favorite FF experience and I've played through the whole thing 3 times (all since I first got into FF about 4 years ago). I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head with a lot of this. Very good write up!
I’m disappointed in my self for not giving this series a real chance. I had FF13 on PS3 for years and never beat it because I was MUCH more invested into Final Fantasy 14. It was the only reason I bought a PS3 at the time- for the eventual day it would come to the platform.
That being said, I have gone back on a run through today and am almost done with 13-2. This game is fantastic and I’m glad they kept going. Soundtrack is a banger, Serah is not a princess who constantly needs saving (despite some claiming otherwise, she totally get how to stand of up for her self.). Lightning is such a grown-up her character doesn’t really need development- BUT it is that archetype alone that makes the supporting cast show thier own growth. They reflect their growth off of her. Especially Hope Estheim, whom I regard as the true protagonist almost more so than Lightning. If part 3 is a mix of monster hunter and dark souls than I’m already sold tbh.
I’m also a big Kingdom Hearts fan, and today I have come to the conclusion that it was SE’s intention to make players like me feel compelled to play FF13 by hiding tidbits of what is next to come in KH. Fabula Nova Chrysalis leaves a huge trail of breadcrumbs. I know now, beyond a doubt what the MoM’s Black Box holds- Hope. Hope Estheim.ID: gq6gph5
Any advice for 14? I wrote that review topic then started downloading the trial. I thought lightning returns was a GREAT ending to the series. Gameplay, as I mentioned, significantly different but it was super fun to play and really wrapped things up in the end.
Awesome great roundup and review!
I've only played through XIII but I own them all in the trilogy. My own opinion is that I would definitely play through XIII again! I love that game. I would want to play the other two one day but it that desire isn't as powerful yet.ID: gq4mccd
If I went back to XIII the only thing I can really think of that I would like to try are the post game monsters and hunts. It seems like both XIII and XIII-2 have a LOT of bigger than the boss type of monsters intended for post game.
Wonderful series - always felt the criticism was way, way too harsh. Glad you enjoyed them!
Nice reviews! I haven’t gotten to LR yet but I really enjoyed the first two.ID: gq4sla6
It's a very different way to play but I highly recommend it!
I would upvote but there are currently XIII UPVOTES
Yeah, the replay value of LR is staggeringly (see what I did there) high. I was pretty underwhelmed with XIII-2, but I really loved XIII. It gripped me emotionally in a way few games in the series have.
So, in regards to the chapter where XIII "opens up", I want to say that I've always disliked how people talked about it. I see a lot of people who dislike XIII say things like "I shouldn't need to wait 30 hours for the game to get good", but that's not what people who like XIII mean by that. If you hate the game before that moment you aren't going to suddenly like it. XIII was already good before this moment.
However, it is a drastic change and I think it's more rewarding the more you put into it. You can rush through it to where the objective marker is telling you to go, but you can also spend more time here than whole rest of the game combined, and it's a lot more than just "doing some hunts". There are entire major areas to explore that the main story never takes you to, including some unique cutscenes that add some good character stuff. There's also little goals to obtain that slowly populate the main "open" area with more stuff. You do things to add Chocobos, to add Cactuars running around, and so on.
And then on top of all that there's the Missions/Hunts and the Superbosses. Admittedly there's also a lot of grinding if you want to do everything, which isn't always great, but I got into it at the time.
The entire section, and the pacing of the game in general, is meant to be an evolution of FFX, and this is the new version of the Calm Lands, only there's like 10x the stuff going on here. It's great.ID: gq59mc6
I view it as "30 hours until the game gets good" because the game spends far, FAR, too much time having you go through an extended tutorial of the combat. The game itself doesn't put the time in to sell the story, and I, like many others, don't care for the characters. That in combination with dull combat for dozens of hours to begin the game is just unacceptable to many who play it.