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The Conundrum of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

There's one guy I know, owner of friend of the site, who swears up and down that Final Fantasy's most valuable asset isn't its battles, characters or story, but its art.

Across several debates with him, I've come to agree. While many FFs have amazing stories and characters, the world is almost always one of the most successful characters of all.

Another impressive asset of the FF series is its established history of frequent change, while the advantage of a sequel is building what already exists into something greater. Thus, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a conundrum.

This game and its predecessor are stranger than other FF sequels too, for both aren't quite direct sequels to what's shown in the previous game. The second FF13 title immediately changes what happens in the first game's ending, switching events off into some sort of weird alternate timeline - one that only gets more convoluted as the story progresses.

Characters crop up in weird places, flung off into unfamiliar sub-plots by the change in history - and Lightning Returns goes even deeper. It takes place so long after its predecessors - several hundred years - that there is next to nothing recognizable about its world.

This is a new place, with a new, rather beautiful artistic flair from the mind of Isamu Kamikokuryo - but its connections to the original FF13 and its spawn feel slim.

These connections appear to be less in the world of the game and more in its cast. The main connective tissue, Lightning, has her motivations rooted in the past, even if in the process she fights to save the current world.

Lightning herself is a character whose development is best described as bumpy. In FF13 she is a strong, stoic soldier with a love of and sense of duty to her sister, but in the first sequel she has risen to an even more stoical goddess role.

It's promised that Lighting Returns will see her battle with her humanity again, but when we only saw her as a god for twenty minutes in the previous game, such a concept lacks punch.

Thus here lies the greatest conundrum of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII - why it's connected to FF13 at all.

It's true that FF is the master of reinvention, as mentioned earlier. However, if the greatest strength of a direct sequel is developing what's already there, I can't help but wonder why each of the FF13 sequels has decided to skirt around, ignore or throw away a large chunk of each of the previous titles - be it in story, world or character development.

It's difficult to tell how much of those games seeps through past what is being shown to press currently - a lot is of course still under wraps.

Questions such as what the exact nature of the connection between new gothic lolita girl Lumina and Serah, who she is nearly identical to, will prove vital - but that doesn't change what appears to be a complete overhaul of Lightning's world.

Love it or hate it, one of the great joys about FF10's gun-slinging, costume-changing sequel was experiencing the world of Spira after its religious upheaval.

That game was also a little lazy in reusing locations and assets, but one of the greatest joys in Ivalice is seeing so many different areas of the war-torn country at so many different times on so many different platforms.

FF12 and Final Fantasy Tactics might take place many years apart, but looking at Ivalice I can see the places that were and that will be - and it's an exciting feeling. It feels like a cohesive universe that changes and shifts, while what I've seen of Lightning Returns appears to almost be in a bubble; this is a new world with the relevant characters and plot points to make a game tick transplanted in from the confusing continuity FF13-2 left behind.

That new world is intriguing, as are many of the possibilities it presents with vastly changed combat systems and more out-of-battle interactivity - but I'm sad it isn't a continuing development on what came before. My issue isn't with this game being made up of entirely new material - that's great to see - but with the fact that it feels so disconnected from what came before that it could well be a whole new game.

The greatest asset Lightning Returns has right now in the battle for my personal attention is that intrigue as to why it is what it is and how it all fits together. It's due a worldwide release during autumn 2013.

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