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Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII seeks to wrap up Square's trilogy with a flourish, discarding the prior games' battle mechanics and settings for more captivating systems and environments. Despite introducing numerous inventive concepts, the game regrettably fumbles in its storytelling, leading to a muddled and tonally inconsistent end to the series.

The overhauled battle system in Lightning Returns is its crowning achievement. With a single party member and a stronger focus on action, the game maintains the essence of classic RPGs by allowing players to equip and personalize three distinct Schemata. Each Schema acts as a unique party member with individual appearances, attacks, and ATB meters. The game consistently urges players to explore new combinations, providing an engaging and customized experience.

However, battles take a backseat, as leveling up happens through quest completion rather than combat. While some quests deliver engaging story-driven encounters, many devolve into monotonous fetch-quests reminiscent of early MMOs. This design choice often dissuades players from partaking in the enjoyable combat system and instead pushes them to level up faster via quest completion.

The game's visual variety and vast locations offset the tedium of certain quests. Players can traverse a range of environments, including expansive deserts, verdant landscapes, and lively cities, each presenting unique challenges and discoveries. The world's day-night cycle enhances immersion and instills a sense of urgency.

Regrettably, this urgency is absent from the characters. Lightning, the protagonist, appears unlikable and disconnected from humanity. The main story quests suffer from unengaging emotional content, failing to make players care about the characters they've invested time in. Efforts to resolve Lightning's relationships with other characters prove lackluster and unsatisfying.

Moreover, the game's dialogue and staging are often hindered by technical issues. Characters frequently face away from each other during conversations, interactions feel disconnected, and NPCs seem poorly designed. Attempts at humor or lightheartedness in side quests fall short, generating dissonance between the main story's emotional desolation and the whimsical side quests.

In summary, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is a peculiar conclusion to the trilogy. Its innovative combat system and stunningly designed world make it worth playing, but the inconsistent tone and underwhelming narrative detract from overall satisfaction. Lightning Returns is a solid game, but it overlooks the vital role of compelling characters that have made the Final Fantasy series so unforgettable.

Gameplay 4 / 5
Soundtrack 4.5 / 5
Replay Value 3 / 5
Storyline 2.5 / 5
3.5 / 5 Average