Look at this dog.
I mean, really look at her. She looks like a crappy toy you'd get as a consolation prize from spending too much money on skee-ball at a second-rate Chuck E. Cheese rip-off. She looks like she's been dipped in wax and then wrapped in cellophane. Her eyes look like Skittles and her nose and tongue are literally painted on her big, goofy, low-poly face.
And she's not some background texture hastily slapped together to stand in the background of a crowd as filler somewhere - this dog just hangs out in one of the big open-world areas of Lightning Returns. You can walk up to her and say hi. She's the centerpiece of an entire quest.
The Final Fantasy 13 series has turned into Square Enix's whipping boy over the last few years - a summation of all of the Japanese publisher's excesses and worst habits wrapped up into a trilogy of video games. The first game was as beautiful as it was rigid and immovable, funneling players through a linear series of painfully pretty corridors whether they liked it or not. Final Fantasy 13-2 fixed the linearity, but introduced a whole new set of problems, like an incomprehensible time-hopping plot, a duo of airheaded protagonists, and an unbelievably idiotic cliffhanger ending.
The fact that Lightning Returns even exists at all, then, is a small miracle. Not only were sales declining between Final Fantasy 13 games, the overall Final Fantasy brand had effectively turned into mud, and even its die-hard fans were finding it difficult to defend the series. But director Motomu Toriyama and producer Yoshinori Kitase weren't just working against public opinion when they developed Lightning Returns - they were working against time, as the team had 18 months to not only build a final chapter that would effectively tie up all of this misguided narrative's loose ends, but also repent for all of its series' previous sins by providing an entirely different battle system, character progression system, and world and quest structure from the previous two games.
And that's how you get this PS1-looking pupper.
This dog is everything I love about Lightning Returns. In a game with gorgeous cutscenes, huge, open environments, and dozens upon dozens of highly-detailed and meticulously crafted costumes, this dog looks like someone picked the first model they found in the Unity asset store, threw it on an animation rig, and said "Ship it". But even as rough as she looks, I can't help but love her goofy charm, her earnest desire to please.
Lightning Returns' overall design is highly flawed - its Dead Rising-like time-crunch quest design is overly stressful, and limiting experience points to those quests makes its random battles feel like a time-wasting chore - and it carries so much baggage with it that it seems impossible to like. But the more time you spend with it, the more you realize how strange it is, how its story about a poe-faced anime heroine on a mission from god to reboot a world that can no longer die is as much about the series' own development as it is its characters.
And then you complete a quest to heal an oversized chocobo, who also happens to be a fabled Warrior of Valhalla. And then you punch a centuries-old Snow in the face in the bowels of a debaucherous night club. And then you see this dog, and you can't help but just laugh at it all and love it for what it is.
Lightning Returns attempts to do so much more than expected within its already flawed framework, and it's not always successful, but the fact that it tried to shoot for the moon and missed is far more admirable than merely attempting to make the same exact game no-one really liked again for the third time in a row. So I forgive this beady-eyed abomination and his permanent sweet bun-shaped tail, because she's part of a game that's, for better or worse, completely unlike anything out there.
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