‘LIGHTNING RETURNS: FINAL FANTASY XIII’ (T)
After taking a break from your combat party in “Final Fantasy XIII-2,” Lightning is back as a playable character to close out the trilogy in all of her maddeningly stoic glory. Taking place 500 years after its predecessor, this chapter has Lightning waking up from hibernation seven days before the end of the world. Of course, since she has more than a week’s worth of work to accomplish, she’ll have to postpone Armageddon a few times, which can be done by completing the game’s missions as hastily as possible, adding up to six more days to her pre-doomsday itinerary. The ticking clock gimmick is somewhat at odds with the game’s open world, which encourages exploration for which there simply isn’t time. Each hour of play uses up a day of game-world time, but the clock pauses to accommodate conversations, which is fortunate since your buddy Hope Esthehim seems determined to devote the remainder of his life to tediously verbose exposition.
Combat is where this game really shines. Since the first installment in the trilogy, your party has been gradually shrinking, and now your sole combatant is Lightning. However, the “Garb” system makes her feel like several warriors in one. Lightning has an extensive wardrobe at her disposal, and each customizable outfit is accessorized with different weapons. During real-time battles, these costumes can be swapped on the fly, allowing for a great deal of variety without switching between party members. But weirdly, experience points are not earned through battles, but rather through accomplishing mission objectives, which makes several of the smaller skirmishes feel superfluous. Overall, the “Final Fantasy XIII” trilogy has been a mixed bag, with each subsequent episode randomly swapping bad ideas for good ones and vice versa. “Lightning Returns” is just as uneven, but in those moments when the music swells and the camera pans across a fantastical landscape, there’s no doubt you’re still playing a “Final Fantasy” game.
‘BRAVELY DEFAULT’ (T)
In this turn-based JRPG, you’ll notice two unusual options on your combat menu. “Brave” allows one of your party members to use up to four attack turns in rapid succession, meaning he’ll have to stand defenseless for the following four turns. “Default” allows one of your party members to skip an attack turn and bank it for later use. This clever debt and credit combat system allows you to easily blow past weaker foes and creates some interesting tactical situations when you’re up against enemies who like to heal themselves at the last minute, which is a nice time to cash in all of your saved attacks.
‘FABLE ANNIVERSARY’ (M)
Microsoft Game Studios
It’s been nearly a decade since we first quested through the land of Albion in the name of good (or pure evil), and though morality choices in video games have since grown more complex than the black and white system that defined Fable, it’s still fun to choose between playing the universally loved hero or the guy who’s literally sprouting horns from his devilish head. The graphics have been rebuilt from the ground up, but the characters still appear a tad dead-eyed and freakish. Nevertheless, the game’s chicken-kicking sense of humor has survived the upgrade fully intact. CV
Matthew Scott Hunter studied video games extensively while attending the University of Nevada Reno and Vancouver Film School (despite the fact that video games were not part of either school’s curriculum). He has been writing Sore Thumbs since 2004.