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|Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII|
|Developer(s)||Square Enix 1st Production Department[a]|
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (ライトニング リターンズ ファイナルファンタジーXIII Raitoningu Ritānzu: Fainaru Fantajī Sātīn) is an action role-playing video game developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was released in November 2013 for Japan and February 2014 for North America, Australia and Europe. A port to Microsoft Windows through Steam was released in December 2015 followed by iOS and Android in Japan during February 2016. The game is a direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII-2, concludes the storyline of Final Fantasy XIII, and forms part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis subseries. Lightning Returns employs a highly revamped version of the gameplay system from the previous two games, with an action-oriented battle system, the ability to customize the player character's outfits, and a time limit the player must extend by completing story missions and side quests.
The game's story takes place five hundred years after the previous game's ending. Lightning, the main protagonist of the first game and a key character in the second, awakes from a self-imposed hibernation 13 days before the world's end, and is chosen by the deity Bhunivelze to save the people of the dying world, including former friends and allies who have developed heavy emotional burdens. As she travels, she learns the full truth behind both the world's fate and Bhunivelze's true agenda.
Development of the game started in May 2012, shortly after the release of XIII-2's final piece of DLC, and was unveiled at a special 25th Anniversary Event for the Final Fantasy series in September that year. Most of the previous games' key creative minds and developers returned, and it was developed by Square Enix's First Production Department, with developer tri-Ace helping with the graphics. The development team wanted the game to bring a conclusive end to the story of both Lightning and the XIII universe, and to address criticisms leveled against the last two games. During its first week on sale in Japan, it sold 277,000 units, and by the end of 2013 become the 17th best-selling game of the year selling over 400,000 copies. It has sold 800,000 copies as of May 2014. It has received mixed reviews: while the main praise went to the game's battle system, opinions were more mixed for the graphics, time limit and other aspects of gameplay, while the story and characters were criticized for being weak or poorly developed. In September 2014, Square Enix announced the Final Fantasy XIII series has been widely successful and has shipped over 11 million copies worldwide. Final Fantasy series brand manager Shinji Hashimoto revealed in October 2016 that Lightning Returns met sales expectations and that Square Enix is satisfied with it. In November 2018, the series was added to Xbox One backwards compatibility.
The player directly controls the character Lightning through a third-person perspective to interact with people, objects, and enemies throughout the game. The player can also turn the camera around the character, which allows for a 360° view of the surroundings. The world of Lightning Returns, as with Final Fantasy XIII and its sequel XIII-2, is rendered to scale with the character, who navigates the world on foot. In one of the areas, the player can use chocobos, a recurring animal in the Final Fantasy series. The player is able to freely navigate the game's open world layout, explore towns and country areas, and accept quests from various non-playable characters (NPCs). Lightning is also able to sprint for limited periods, climb up ladders and jump freely. The game features three difficulty levels: Easy, Normal and Hard, the latter of which is unlocked after first completing the game. There is also a New Game+ option, whereby players can start a new game while carrying over their equipment and stats from a previous playthrough. The in-game clock runs continuously during normal navigation, with one in-game day equating to two to three hours in real time on Easy mode and one hour on Normal and Hard modes. The timer starts out at seven in-game days, but can be extended to a maximum of thirteen days. The timer stops during cutscenes, conversations and battles. Lightning can also pause time using an ability called Chronostasis.
Quests are directly linked to Lightning's growth: as she completes quests, her stats are boosted, with the main story quests yielding the biggest boosts. Many side quests can only be obtained at certain times, since the real-time build of the world means NPCs are in constant movement, and only appear in certain places at a given time. Lightning can also accept quests from the Canvas of Prayers, a post board found in all the main locations. Upon completing NPC quests, Lightning is rewarded with a portion of Eradia, spiritual energy retrieved when a person's burden is lifted. Every day at 6 AM game-time, Lightning is drawn back into the Ark, a location where the in-game clock does not progress. Once there, Lightning gives her gathered Eradia to a tree called Yggdrasil: if she has gathered enough, the in-game clock is extended by a day. She can also restock on supplies and collect new equipment. Another feature in the game was Outerworld Services, a feature where players could take photos and share them, along with their personal stats and battle scores, on Facebook and Twitter. The Facebook features were disabled in April 2015. All Outerworld services were terminated in April the following year.
The battle system, called the Style-Change Active Time Battle system, uses elements from the Active Time Battle (ATB)-based Paradigm system from the first and second XIII games and bears similarities to the dressphere system featured in Final Fantasy X-2. Lightning has access to several customizable outfits (garb) with different power sets (plural: Schemata; singular: Schema). Each garb has its own separate ATB gauge, and actions for them are mapped onto the controller's face buttons, meaning that the usual menu-style ATB battle system is no longer needed: this enables Lightning to be moved around the battle field to a limited degree. The majority of the garbs and their accessories are either purchasable in the in-game shops or received upon completing quests. Stronger garbs, items, shields and weapons are unlocked in Hard Mode, along with access to more challenging areas and boss battles. Lightning can equip three Schemata directly, while having additional slots for backup costumes which can be equipped outside battle. She can be equipped with a close-combat weapon (sword, spear, etc.), a shield and a cosmetic accessory. The color scheme of each garb can be customized using both pre-set and custom color: there are options to alter both specific portions and all portions of the costume.
As with the previous game, enemies appear in the open field and can be avoided or engaged. The number of enemies increases during night-time, and their strength and ability to deal damage increases the more days pass in-game. By killing all the standard versions of an enemy, a final version appears as a boss. Defeating it will yield a high reward and make the enemy type extinct in an area of the game. When Lightning attacks an enemy, or they attack her, the battle starts. If Lightning strikes a monster, they lose a small portion of health, while if the enemy strikes Lightning first, she will lose health. As Lightning performs attacks, her ATB meter is drained and she must switch to another assigned garb: the depleted garb's meter recharges while not being used. Lightning utilizes her many swords for short-range melee attacks and magic for long-range attacks. She can block enemy attacks using her shield and has the option to evade an attack, which can be assigned to any garb. Each enemy has a stagger meter, represented by a line behind their health bar. As Lightning lands certain kinds of magical or physical blows on the enemy, their meter oscillates more. Eventually, the enemy is staggered, rendering them vulnerable to damaging attacks. Lightning can also spend Energy Points to perform special moves or activate abilities, such as Overclock (which slows time for Lightning's opponents and enables her to land more hits); and Army of One, Lightning's signature move. By winning battles, Lightning earns gil, the in-game currency, and replenishes a portion of her Energy Point gauge. In Normal and Hard modes, if Lightning flees from or dies in battle, one in-game hour is lost. Unlike the last two games, the player character does not automatically recover HP after battles, instead needing to use remedies bought from merchants and shops, and there is no auto-battle mode, with Lightning needing to be controlled manually at all times. In Easy Mode, Lightning regenerates health if she stands idle.
Lightning Returns is set after the events of Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2. In XIII, Lightning is one of six people who are turned by a fal'Cie—one of a race created by the gods—into l'Cie, servants of the fal'Cie gifted with magical powers and a 'Focus'—an assigned task to be completed within a time limit; those that succeed in their Focus go into crystal stasis, while those that fail turn into monsters called Cie'th. The six were intended to cause the large, floating sphere named Cocoon to fall onto the world of Gran Pulse below, killing all the humans of Cocoon. At the finale of the game, two of the l'Cie transformed into a crystal pillar to support Cocoon, preventing the catastrophe. The remaining l'Cie were made human again by the Goddess Etro, the deity responsible for maintaining the balance between the mortal world and the Unseen Realm. In XIII-2, it is revealed that Etro's interference allowed Chaos, an energy trapped in the Unseen Realm, to escape and distort the timeline as written after the fall of Cocoon. Lightning was drawn to Valhalla, Etro's citadel, and decided to stay and act as her protector. Three years after Cocoon's fall, Lightning's sister Serah sets out to correct the distortions and reunite with Lightning, while the people of Gran Pulse construct a new Cocoon, since the old one is destined to collapse. The protagonists unwittingly end up instigating the death of Etro, which allows Chaos to spill into the mortal world and bring an end to time itself. Serah also dies, causing Lightning to nearly lose hope. Reassured by her sister's spirit, Lightning chooses to enter crystal stasis to preserve her sister's memory and keep hope alive.
Lightning Returns is set five hundred years after the ending of XIII-2, during the final thirteen days of the world's existence. Because of the unleashing of Chaos, the world of Gran Pulse has been consumed, leaving only a set of islands called Nova Chrysalia. The new Cocoon, called "Bhunivelze" after the key deity of the XIII universe, acts as the world's moon. The Chaos has halted human aging and no new children are born due to Etro's death, causing the human population to stagnate and shrink. Over the intervening centuries, two opposing religions have formed and dominate the life of Nova Chrysalia's people: the Order of Salvation, that worships Bhunivelze, and the Children of Etro, a rebel cult who worship the Goddess. The world itself is divided into four regions, each dominated by a specific mood and environment. The city of Luxerion is a capital of worship whose people are loyal to the Order. The pleasure capital of Yusnaan is a city of revelry where people live in a constant state of celebration. The Dead Dunes is a desert area dominated by ruins. The Wildlands is an untamed area where the human city of Academia used to stand; it also houses the remains of Valhalla, the capital of Etro. Within the New Cocoon is the Ark, a zone where time is frozen.
Lightning, a central character from both XIII and XIII-2, is the game's main protagonist, sole playable character, and narrator. The other main characters from the previous games also make appearances: Hope Estheim aids Lightning using a wireless communicator; Snow Villiers, devastated by the death of Serah Farron—his fiancée and Lightning's sister—becomes the leader of Yusnaan and the world's last l'Cie; Oerba Dia Vanille and Oerba Yun Fang, released from crystal stasis, go separate ways, with Fang becoming the leader of Monoculus, a bandit gang in the Dead Dunes, and Vanille gaining the power to hear the voices of the dead, thus being deemed a saint and falling under the constant protection of the Order in Luxerion. Noel Kreiss, feeling guilty over his role in the deaths of Etro and Serah and the world's current state, becomes a vigilante in Luxerion. Sazh Katzroy and his son Dajh, who fell into a comatose state, reside in the Wildlands. The region also becomes the home of Mog, Noel and Serah's former moogle companion from XIII-2; Caius Ballad, Lightning's old adversary and the one responsible for the unleashing of Chaos into the mortal world; and Paddra Nsu-Yeul, a former seeress and pivotal character in the previous game whose cycle of early death and reincarnation was the motivation behind Caius's actions. The game also introduces Lumina, a mysterious near-doppelganger of Serah who both aids and taunts Lightning during her quest; and Bhunivelze, the main deity of the Final Fantasy XIII universe who chooses Lightning as the world's savior.
Lightning is awoken from crystal stasis by the god Bhunivelze. The world is set to end in 13 days, and to this end Lightning is made the Savior, a figure who will free the souls of humanity from the burdens on their hearts and guide them to a new world that Bhunivelze will create once the 13 days are up. Lightning agrees to commit this task, on the condition that Bhunivelze ensure the rebirth of Serah's spirit. Hope acts as her guide from the Ark, which houses the rescued souls of humanity. Bhunivelze chose him and changed his physical form to his 14-year-old self from XIII. As she journeys and performs her task, she encounters her former allies and adversaries, many of whom carry heavy emotional burdens. She is also followed about by Lumina, who both gives her advice and taunts her at regular intervals.
In Luxerion, Lightning investigates a series of murders where all the victims match the physical description of the Savior; the culprits are the Children of Etro. During her journey, she is followed by Noel, who has become obsessed with a prophecy that he must kill Lightning to realize a better world and reunite with Yeul. The two briefly ally to rout the Children of Etro, then later do battle. Lightning uses Noel's rage to make him realize and accept his mistakes, lifting his burden. Lightning also meets Vanille in the Order's cathedral. Vanille shows Lightning a place within the cathedral where the souls of the dead have gathered. Vanille is being prepared for a ritual to take place on the final day that will apparently purify the souls. She hopes to atone for past actions by doing so. In the Dead Dunes, Lightning encounters Fang and goes with her on a journey through the region's dungeons in search of a relic called the Holy Clavis. When they find it, Fang reveals that it is key to the ritual in Luxerion as it has the power to draw in the souls of the dead, and that the ritual will kill Vanille. Fang attempts to destroy the relic, but the forces of the Order arrive and take it. On the eleventh day, the souls of the dead speak to Lightning through the visage of Cid Raines, a man Lightning encountered during XIII. He tells her that the Order has deceived Vanille and plans to sacrifice her to destroy the dead, so the living will forget their existence before their rebirth in the new world. Lightning decides to stop the ritual, though Cid warns her that she will be defying Bhunivelze's will.
In the Wildlands, Lightning saves a white chocobo called the "Angel of Valhalla" from monsters and nurses it back to health. The chocobo is revealed to be Odin, one of the Eidolon race who acted as her ally in XIII. She encounters Sazh, whose son Dajh has fallen into a coma and become unwilling to wake because of his father's current state. Lightning retrieves the fragments of Dajh's soul, lifting Sazh's emotional burden and waking his son. Traveling to the ruins of Valhalla, Lightning encounters Caius and multiple versions of Yeul. After fighting with Caius, Lightning learns that he has become tied to life by the Yeuls and thus cannot be saved. She also learns that it was Yeul's perpetual rebirth that caused the Chaos to seep into the mortal world and trigger the events of XIII-2. Encountering Mog as the leader of a moogle village, she helps him fend off attacking monsters. In Yusnaan, Lightning infiltrates Snow's palace and finds him preparing to enter a concentration of Chaos contained inside the palace. He plans to absorb the Chaos, transform into a Cie'th, and have Lightning kill him. Though he performs the act and they fight, Lightning manages to renew his hope of seeing Serah again, reverse his transformation and lift his burden. On Nova Chrysalia's final day, Hope reveals to Lightning that Bhunivelze used him to watch Lightning and that the deity will dispose of him now that his task is completed.
After Hope disappears, Lightning is transported to Luxerion and enters the cathedral, where Noel, Snow and Fang help her fight the Order to save Vanille. Lightning manages to convince her to free the souls of the dead. This act allows Lightning to find Serah's soul, kept safe inside Lumina, but Bhunivelze arrives using Hope as his host and captures everyone but Lightning. Transported to an otherworldly realm, Lightning meets Bhunivelze in person, and learns that he has been conditioning Lightning to replace Etro. After wounding the god in battle, she frees Hope and prepares to become the new Goddess and protect the new world by trapping herself and Bhunivelze in the Unseen Realm. An illusion of Serah then confronts Lightning, revealing Lumina as the physical manifestation of Lightning's suppressed vulnerabilities. Accepting Lumina as a part of herself, Lightning calls for aid. Hope, Snow, Noel, Vanille, Fang and the Eidolons answer her call, severing Bhunivelze's hold on the souls of humanity, including Sazh, Dajh, Mog, and Serah. The souls then unite and defeat Bhunivelze. In the aftermath, Caius and the multiple versions of Yeul choose to remain in the Unseen Realm and protect the balance between worlds in Etro's stead. The final incarnation of Yeul, who wishes to live with Noel, is allowed to accompany Lightning and her friends. After the Eidolons and Mog depart for the Unseen Realm, Lightning, her allies, and the souls of humanity travel to a new world where they can decide their own fate. In a post-credits scene, Lightning is seen in normal clothes arriving in a rural town, going to reunite with one of her friends.
The concept of Lightning Returns originated during development of XIII-2, while the development team was brainstorming ideas for possible continuations of the story and universe of the games, though there was no solid decision to make a second sequel to XIII at the time. Development of Lightning Returns started in May 2012, soon after the release of Requiem of the Goddess, the final story-based DLC episode for XIII-2. According to Motomu Toriyama, he had wanted to tell more stories about Lightning, and the DLC had not provided a satisfactory ending for her. The game was designed in a shorter time than the other games in the series; Yoshinori Kitase explained that this was because the team did not want players to forget the story of the previous games, and the team needed to work especially hard as a result. Another reason was that the team wished to bring the XIII series to a close before the release of the next generation of gaming hardware. The title was also chosen to be the last original Final Fantasy game on seventh generation consoles, and next-gen versions of the game were not considered. Developer tri-Ace, who had previously worked with the team on XIII-2, returned to help with the graphics.
One of the key story concepts behind the game was the "rebirth" of Lightning as a character: this was cited as the main reason why the game was called Lightning Returns and not XIII-3, alongside the team's desire to attract new players to the series. Lightning was also made into a darker and more vulnerable character, partly because Kitase felt that her previous stoic depictions might have alienated earlier players. The main scenario and script was written by Daisuke Watanabe, the main writer for the previous XIII games. During the concept process, Watanabe, Toriyama and other members of staff brainstormed ideas for important scenes and events leading up to them. The process of writing the script was slow, causing difficulties for the rest of the team. In response to this, Watanabe worked extra hard to create an appropriate finale for the characters and story. He also wrote the script as more hard-edged than those for the previous XIII games.
The game was designed as the final entry in the XIII storyline (generally dubbed the "Lightning Saga" by the production team), but was also intended to stand independent of the Final Fantasy series as a whole. One example of the breakaway from series norms is the game's logo, which was not designed by regular series logo artist Yoshitaka Amano, and which was one of several created during the early stages of development. The concept of the story's progression was termed as "world-driven", a concept whereby the world the player interacted with moved independently of their actions: i.e. NPCs would appear in different locations depending on the time of day. That concept partially gave rise to the game's time limit, which was suggested by game design director Yuji Abe after having read of the Doomsday Clock. Another inspiration behind the story pacing and time limit was the 2011 movie In Time. The open world aspect of the game was heavily influenced by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and some of the hard-edged gameplay ideas were borrowed from Dark Souls. The majority of the hardcore-gaming elements were eventually trimmed out in order to make the game accessible to newcomers.
In terms of assets, the team reused very little from the previous two games, choosing to build a large proportion of the game from the ground up, especially when it came to the overworld design and NPC behaviors. The Crystal Tools engine, used in the last two XIII games, required a major overhaul as it was not designed for open-world games. In contrast to the previous games, a lot of the game's cutscenes were created while the game was still in development, meaning many placeholder objects and models had to be used until the final assets could be put in place. The team also had to thoroughly check Lightning's various outfits and weapons, to ensure that there were no mistakes in cutscenes with the weapons going through the scenery, and that the character's underwear remained concealed during active battles even for her more revealing outfits. Because the team was mostly using new assets to create the game, the various continents took longer to create than the environments in XIII-2, and story scenes sometimes needed to be redone as the game's overall plot had yet to be finalized when development began. The voice actors, in contrast to the normal procedure doing their performances first and those being used to create the game characters' facial expressions, recorded their lines for the characters well after the various cutscenes had been created.
The concept of Lightning Returns' battle system originated while ideas were being discussed for the battle system in Final Fantasy XIII, but technical limitations and problems implementing it in a party-based battle system prevented it from being used in that game. It reemerged when some of the development team wanted Lightning to change her appearance during battle, and reducing to one playable character opened up the memory space necessary for such a system to be implemented. In making the system revolve around one character, the developers ended up removing any opportunity for story scenes between party members, which was cited by Abe as its main weakness. The time limit sprang from the story concept of a world with a set time to live. When the feature was first announced, there were some who felt it was too new a thing, as a time limit was seen as a taboo in role-playing video games. The mechanic originally received negative feedback from test players who were unable to complete the game in time. In response to this, the team made adjustments so that players were given a more comfortable amount of time. Along with sharing design elements with the previous two XIII games, the system also bears similarities to the battle system of Final Fantasy XV, although the developers said that they were not directly inspired by it.
Lightning's multiple outfits were designed by Isamu Kamikokuryo, the game's art director, Toshitaka Matsuda, the lead art designer, and Toshiyuki Itahana, a designer who had worked on Final Fantasy IX and the Crystal Chronicles series. The three drew inspiration from character designs done by Amano and the atmospheres of game locations. Matsuda and Itahana also respectively did the character designs for Bhunivelze and Lumina. Tetsuya Nomura returned to design Lightning and Snow's new looks. Kamikokuryo used the game's theme of a dying world to create Nova Chrysalia, as well as incorporating cultural and architectural influences from the Middle East, Asia, and London during the Industrial Revolution. Nova Chrysalia was originally conceived as a single island, but as the game's development advanced, the world grew into its final, four-island configuration. The world's open design was inspired by MMORPGs such as Final Fantasy XI, described by Abe as a "tourist guide style". Each island was designed to have a definite feel and theme, while their construction was handled by separate small teams, with the content for each area held and quality-controlled by each team. The art team used multiple real world locations as inspiration: Luxerion and Yusnaan were inspired by Paris and Las Vegas, while the Dead Dunes and Wildlands were influenced by Cairo and Costa Rica. The scenery for the final FMV was based on southern Europe.
The music of Lightning Returns was composed by Masashi Hamauzu, who composed the music for XIII, Naoshi Mizuta and Mitsuto Suzuki, who co-composed the music for XIII-2 with Hamauzu. Others involved in recording the soundtrack were Japanese band Language and the Video Game Orchestra, founded by Shota Nakama. Multiple tracks used "Blinded by Light", a recurring theme in the XIII games, as a leitmotif. Unlike the previous XIII games, a theme song was not created, with the composers instead creating a purely orchestral piece for the finale. The main soundtrack album, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Original Soundtrack, was released on four compact discs on November 21, 2013. A bonus album, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack Plus, featuring unreleased tracks and rearrangements of classic themes used in the game, was released on March 26, 2014. A promotional album, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Pre Soundtrack, was released in July 2013. The game featured multiple musical Easter eggs, including tunes from previous entries in the franchise. The commercial albums respectively reached #29 and #211 on the Oricon charts.
Rumors about a second sequel's existence started even before XIII-2's release, when a domain name was registered in the name of Final Fantasy XIII-3, however it turned out that the domain was registered by the company's western branch without the main company's knowledge. After XIII-2's cliffhanger ending became common knowledge, the game's creators released a statement saying that the ending was meant to prepare fans for coming DLC packets that would expand upon the game's story. However, after the release of the last piece of DLC, company officials stated that they would be releasing future content related to XIII. By August 2012, during the run-up to a special 25th Anniversary commemoration event for the Final Fantasy series, a teaser site titled "A Storm Gathers" was released, promising new developments for the XIII series and its main protagonist. The game itself was finally unveiled at the event, with Toriyama, Kamikokuryo, Abe and Kitase detailing the core concepts of the game. Because character dialogue varied due to the time of day in-game, the western release of the game was delayed by over two months after the local release, as there was far more translation, dubbing work and lip-synching than in previous titles. For the promotion and marketing of the game, the development team rethought their strategy. They worked closely with Yohei Murakami, the publicity and marketing agent for many Square Enix games. Lightning Returns was heavily promoted at gaming events throughout 2013. As part of the promotion campaign, Lightning and monsters from the XIII series featured in a series of player events in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
While the previous game had a large amount of downloadable content in the form of character costumes, extra story episodes and battles in the game's fighting arena, the reaction to these was mixed. The costumes were liked by fans, despite some complaints of them being purely cosmetic, but the presence of story DLC caused many to criticize the original game as incomplete. In reaction to this, the developers decided to package the game's entire story with the retail edition. However, they did create pre-order DLC for the game in the form of outfits Lightning could use in battle. One of these featured the clothing, weapon and equipment of Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII, available with the game's limited edition Pre-Order Bonus Pack, while another featured a collection of Samurai-inspired outfits. In addition to this, as part of a cross-game promotional campaign, Square Enix of Japan also made Yuna's costume from Final Fantasy X a playable garb for those who had purchased the Japanese HD Remaster of the game on either PS3 or Vita. The garb was later made available as a pre-order exclusive from Amazon.com. After the game's release, an additional set of DLC costumes was released, among them a moogle outfit. In the Western release of the game scheduled on February 11, 2014, a free DLC pack was released that enabled players to play the localized version of the game with Japanese voice acting and lip-synching. The DLC was free for the first two weeks, and then became paid DLC.
Lightning Returns was released on November 21, 2013 in Japan and on February 11, 13 and 14, 2014 in North America, Australia and Europe respectively. Alongside the standard release, a special box set titled "Lightning Ultimate box" was released. It included Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2 and Lightning Returns, a figurine of Lightning, selected music from the games, a special stand from the game and a book of artwork. A limited edition of the PlayStation 3 version containing a specially-themed DualShock 3 controller was also released in Asia. A Collector's Edition exclusive to North America was released through Square Enix's online store. It contained a copy of the game, an artwork book, a pocket watch embossed with the game's logo and codes for costume DLC. The game was also ported to Microsoft Windows platforms via Steam for release in 2015. After a long delay, Kitase announced in October 2015 that the game would release in December that year. Its official release date was announced in November 2015. It features all DLC outfits apart from the Aerith-themed one, and removes the ability to name chocobos, map markers or schemata. A release on iOS and Android devices followed on February 17, 2016 in Japan.
As part of the game's promotion in Japan, Square Enix teamed up with Japanese confectionery company Ezaki Glico to market a range of Pocky snacks in packaging promoting the game. A Play Arts Kai figurine of Lightning as she appears in the game was also created by Square Enix. After the game's release, an Ultimania guide to the game was also released, containing concept and character artwork, interviews with staff members, and guides to the game's enemies, continent layouts and times for events. A book set between XIII-2 and Lightning Returns, Chronicle of Chaotic Era, was originally scheduled to be released alongside the game in Japan, but was eventually cancelled due to the author falling ill. After the game's release, a three-part novella set after Lightning Returns' ending was released through Famitsu Weekly magazine, titled Final Fantasy XIII Reminiscence: tracer of memories. Written by Watanabe based on and incorporating the material written for Chronicle of Chaotic Era, the book takes the form of a series of interviews with the main characters of the XIII series.
In Japan, the PS3 version of Lightning Returns reached the top of the Top 20 in software sales in its first week, selling just over 277,000 units and beating Nintendo's Super Mario 3D World. In the same period, the Xbox 360 version sold 4,000 units, under half of the initial sales of XIII-2 for that platform. By the end of 2013, the PS3 version was 17th among the 100 best-settling titles of the year, selling over 400,000 copies. In the United Kingdom, Lightning Returns debuted at third place in the top ten debut video games. The game was 8th in the top ten best-selling video games of February. By May 2014, the game had sold approximately 800,000 copies worldwide. According to Steam Spy, a further 376,000 copies of the Windows PC version were sold by April 2018.
Lightning Returns has received mixed to positive reviews from critics. The game scored 37/40 in Famitsu magazine, with the reviewers giving scores of 10, 10, 9 and 8 out of 10 for each console version of the game. Famitsu later gave the game an "Excellence" award during the 2013 Famitsu Awards. Review aggregator website Metacritic gave the Xbox 360 version 69/100 based on 21 reviews, and the PlayStation 3 version 66/100 based on 62 reviews.
The battle system gained the highest amount of praise. Matt Elliot of Official PlayStation Magazine said the battle system was fun and "[felt] like Final Fantasy: an energetic, modern approximation of combat that was previously turn-based." IGN's Marty Sliva greatly enjoyed the battle system, saying that "Lightning Returns did a great job of empowering me to create a [trio of Schema] that felt unique and personal." Joe Juba of Game Informer was also pleased with the system which he considered to be an improvement over the previous two XIII games, noting that the switching of Schema created "a fast-paced, high-tension system that makes fights exciting." Eurogamer's Simon Parkin called it "perhaps the best and certainly most flexible version yet" when compared to the other XIII games, while GameSpot's Kevin VanOrd stated that if it were not for a few flaws such as the blocking, "it may have even found a place among Final Fantasy's better battle systems." Famitsu generally cited the battle system as "excellent", noting it as fast-paced and fun, but also noting that some enemies were tricky even on Easy mode. It also praised the level of "uniqueness" available in garb customization.
The quest gameplay was less-well received, with Sliva saying it made him "feel like [he] was stuck in the opening hours of an MMO", while Juba called the tasks "dull". Parkin stated that the quests "can seem trivial under the eye of the apocalyptic clock". VanOrd commented that while many quests were "absorbing on their own", he admired their ability to get the player out into the world. Destructoid's Dale North felt that the time limit made the quests "a waste of the precious time left". The time limit itself received mixed reviews. Sliva said the time limit gave the game "a sense of urgency ... that I really enjoy.", while VanOrd said the limit worked against the player and "collides with almost every other aspect of the game." Juba enjoyed planning out his days, but on the other had felt that the time limit prevented exploration, and that it "severely [limited] your ability to fully dive into some of the systems." Elliot said the limit overly pressured him, and became unpleasant when coupled with the time penalty for fleeing battle. The Famitsu reviewers said that the time limit was not an overly stressful factor.
The graphics received mixed reviews. Sliva referred to the locations as "visually interesting and varied", while VanOrd said the player "can't help but gawk at the beautiful spectacle before [them]." Juba liked the overall look and design of the main cast and environment, but critiqued the environment textures and NPCs. Elliot praised the CG cutscenes, but said that "the tired, boxy side streets feel unfinished." However, he further said that the expansive nature of environments balanced this issue out. The environments were praised by Famitsu, which stated that due to the expansive nature of the environments and the lack of hints concerning quests, new players might take a bit of time getting used to it. It also generally called the game "quite nice".
The game's story received mixed reviews. Sliva said the narrative was "drenched in uninteresting pathos that failed to give me a reason to care about these characters that I've spent well over 100 hours with." Juba called the story "a joke", saying that there was little development for Lightning as a character, and that the narrative "killed whatever lingering investment [he] had in the universe." VanOrd found the large amount of character dialogue a distracting and jarring feature, while Parkin said that the game's narrative could not fix the issues present in the previous two XIII games, although the side-quests and dialogue helped lighten Lightning's character. Elliot spoke of it as one of the reasons to play the game, terming it a "typically bonkers narrative".
The Final Fantasy XIII series won a Sound Division: Award of Excellence at the CEDEC AWARDS 2014 for the sound development team.
Lightning Returns won a Famitsu Excellence Award in April 2014.
Both Toriyama and Kitase have responded to the mixed review scores the game received. Speaking to Siliconera about the Japanese reviews, Toriyama said that most of the negativity stemmed from the time limit, and that "opinions on the game become more positive after some time since Lightning Returns' initial release [after players get used to the nuances]." Speaking with Joystiq, Kitase said that he "wasn't really shocked. There are negative reviews and positive reviews, it's a real mixture. When I started making this game I took on very new challenges, so in a way I had anticipated that there would be mixed opinions, so this is more or less what we had anticipated." Shinji Hashimoto revealed in October 2016 that Lightning Returns met sales expectations and that Square Enix is satisfied with it.
Datalog – On gods and fal'Cie: Etro was a goddess without any powers of her own. In contrast, both Pulse and Lindzei were granted limitless power, and they built the fal'Cie, servants that possess supernatural powers.
Datalog – The l'Cie: The l'Cie are humans who have been cursed by the fal'Cie. They are given great powers and magic, but they are forced to obey the gods' will to achieve their Focus, or mission. If they fail, the l'Cie turn into mindless monsters called Cie'th.
Datalog – The destruction of the old world: The goddess Etro, who maintained the equilibrium between the world of the living and the world of the dead, was gone. And with her went the barrier that help the power of the Chaos at bay, allowing it to flood into the human world.
Datalog – Nova Chrysalia's past: The history of Nova Chrysalia began 500 years ago, when the walls between this world and the next broke, allowing Chaos to flood the dimension in which humanity lives. The influx of Chaos slowly covered the lands, leaving only small tracts still inhabitable by man.
Hope: The Chaos brought destruction—and a kind of immortality, too. Suddenly, everyone just stopped growing. It was like we'd lost our time. But if that was a gift, it was a poisoned one. We could not age—and neither could new life be born. There were no more children. But although we were ageless, we were not immune to death. Sickness, accidents, and violence could still kill us. Life remained as fragile as it had always been. And so humanity began a new chapter in its history. The population slowly shrinking, the survivors falling into a kind of ennui born of lives that last too long.
Lightning: The life force that exists in all of us. The goddess took the souls of the dead and made them be reborn. She breathed life into each new generation. / Hope/Bhunivelze: Yes, but when she was destroyed, that cycle was broken. After that, the world was doomed.
Datalog – The Order of Salvation: The Order now governs much of human society from its seat of power in the grand cathedral in Luxerion. Believe in the coming of the new world, entrust yourself and all you are to God on high—this is the teaching that has won over the majority of humanity.
Datalog – The Children of Etro: The Children of Etro is a religious group pledged to the goddess of death.
Datalog – Lumina: This mysterious young girl appears to be able to control the power of Chaos, and likes to get in Lightning's way at every turn. ... [Lightning] cannot deny that the girl bears a striking similarity to Serah. But Serah is dead, and this Lumina seems to have her own goals.
Datalog – Almighty Bhunivelze: Almighty Bhunivelze, god of light, stands above all others and holds the world in his palm. ... It was Bhunivelze who called to Lightning, forcing her to awaken from her long crystal sleep and become the savior.
Datalog – Creating a new world: Almighty Bhunivelze has decided to bring this world to an end and make a new one. There is no way to save Nova Chrysalia from the chaos in which it is sinking. ... Bhunivelze will use the souls of the saved to populate his new world. For that purpose, he has selected a savior to gather the souls and prepare them for the new world.
Datalog – God's Plan: God made a promise. He told Lightning that he would bring Serah back to her, if she became his servant and acted as his savior. She agreed at once.
Lightning: Hope Estheim. Once, long ago, we fought side by side, bound by a common destiny. ... When I woke, the Hope who I'd seen become a man was a boy again.
Lightning: All this time, you've been dreaming of a new world where you're reunited with Yeul. / Noel: It's no dream, Lightning. The future's right there in the Oracle Drive. If I kill the savior, then the world will be reborn. And this time, it's going to happen like it's supposed to. It's going to work.
Datalog – The Winds of Chaos: Vanille herself says that she wants to use this power to bring the peace to the dead. It is a wish born of the remorse that she still feels for all the deaths for which she believes she was responsible.
Lightning: Fang. What are you doing!? This is what you've been looking for! / Fang: I'm not letting anyone else have it! If Vanille uses this damn thing, she'll die. ... Yeah, "purity" the dead, put them to their eternal rest - all it'll take is the life of a saint!
Lightning: Cid Raines. / Cid: That was once a man's name, but now it means nothing. His soul has dissolved into the swirl of Chaos. ... I am the voice of the many, of the countless multitude who call Chaos home. I am the speaker for the dead.
Lightning: She can do what I can't. Vanille can bring salvation to the dead. / Cid: Yes. But she doesn't know what she is capable of. The Order has kept the truth from her. ... The Soulsong will destroy us and make you forget we ever existed. Murder on a grand scale. / Lightning: You want me to stop her, right? / Cid: Yes. And then you must tell her what her real power is, so she can lead us to salvation. / Lightning: Is this what you all want? / Cid: It is. But it is not God's will. If you answer our prayer, it will mean defying Bhunivelze.
Datalog – Odin: Odin, the silver eidolon, is Lightning's sworn ally. ... Lightning never knew what happened to Odin after she was defeated in Valhalla, but he was in fact reborn as the Angel of Valhalla.
Lumina: Sazh was desperate to save his son - but that desperation nearly drove him mad. Dajh saw what was happening and got scared. So he hid his heart away.
Caius: You are the hunter of souls. But you cannot claim mine. Behold! [Caius impales himself, then reforms from the Chaos] Even if one Yeul desires my salvation, another demands my rebirth. ... / Lightning: So Yeul ... is never gonna let you go.
Lumina: You can see it now, right? Why time was distorted, why the world fell apart? Why you got dragged into Valhalla? It was all because of the power of the unseen Chaos. And the Chaos came from that girl, reborn and splintered, generation after generation. From Yeul.
Datalog – Mission 2-3: A Solitary Patron: Snow has been using his l'Cie powers to absorb the Chaos, fighting a solitary battle against the rising tide. In a last desperate act, Snow allows himself to be transformed into a Cie'th and attacks Lightning. But she cries out one last appeal: Don't let your love for Serah disappear into the Chaos! Somehow, Snow hears her - and returns to human form.
Hope: It's too late for me now. I had a job. I was God's eyes and ears, made to watch over everything you did. But now the last day is here, and God doesn't need me anymore. I'll just ... disappear.
Datalog – The Saint's Decision: Noel. Fang. Snow. Lightning's friends and allies from the past all came together to stop the Soulsong. ... The Soulsong was a lie, meant to destroy the souls of the dead and keep the new world for the chosen few. When Vanille realized this, she stopped the ceremony and instead worked together with Fang to summon the dead to her.
Datalog – Judgment: Lightning turned her back on God and put a stop to the Soulsong—and Serah's soul appeared before her, as if she had been waiting for Lightning to make the correct choice. ... Yet their reunion was fleeting. The bells that marked the end of the world began tolling, and Bhunivelze awoke. The almighty god descended upon the world in Hope's body and snatched away the souls of Serah and Lightning's friends.
Datalog – The Final Battle: In God's plan, Lightning is to take the place of the fallen Etro and watch over the souls of the dead, ensuring that they are reborn and that the cycle of life continues. Without such a goddess, the new world will suffer the same fate as the old one has.
Lightning: I have to stay. Someone has to control the Chaos. I have to keep it safe. The new world ... and you ... and all of humanity.
Serah: Do you remember? What you tried to do? You tried to kill me. [Lumina appears before Lightning.] / Lightning: You! You're me. Young ... weak ... / Serah: I'm Claire Farron. Her selfishness, her loneliness, her fear. That little bit of your soul that you couldn't accept.
Lightning: We don't need God anymore. / Caius: The living don't need a god, but the dead do. A god to protect them. A god of salvation. / Yeuls: We shall become that god. We will rule over the Unseen Realm, and from there, we will look over the cycle of death and rebirth.
Caius: If it is your wish - you will die in her place. / Noel: Go ahead. Do your worst. / Caius: Then swear on your life ... Keep [Yeul] safe. / Yeuls: She is the last of us. Only she can be free. Caius has released her from the fate of the seeress.
Lightning: This journey is over now. I wonder when the next will begin. I only know ... that soon, we'll be together.