|Yep. They made a third one.|
Enough has been written about the controversies of Final Fantasy XIII (including by yours truly), so I don't really feel the need for additional summary. I played both of the previous games and enjoyed them to varying degrees, and now that I've sunk some time into the concluding chapter of Lightning's saga, I think it may be safe to say that the original XIII might have been the best of the bunch. As it stands, Lightning Returns is a very interesting game.
Lightning Returns takes place 500 years after the cliffhanger ending of XIII-2, and stars the eponymous heroine on a mission from God to save the souls of humanity before the existing world ends and a new one is born. Final Fantasy XIII presented an interesting science-fiction universe, and XIII-2 threw unnecessary time travel nonsense into the mix, so it should come as no surprise that Lightning Returns feels less like the concluding chapter to an epic narrative and more like a weird experiment that ostensibly features pre-established characters (who spend most of their time behaving out of character, but that's a subject for the review).
Lightning Returns also elects to scrap the gameplay conventions of the two earlier games, in favor of a brand-new combat system and an open-world structure that emphasizes sidequests. The Paradigm System was perhaps the best aspect of Final Fantasy XIII, but the new Schemata system actually works really well once you get used to it. Think of Schemata like Dresspheres from Final Fantasy X-2, although with even more of a fanservice component, as you're now able to customize Lightning's appearance with new armor, weapons, and accessories.
One final thing to note is that, at first glance, the presentation has taken a significant hit in Lightning Returns. The initial zone, the city of Luxerion, is plagued with slowdown in busy streets and has a lot of really ugly character models and textures. Since the original XIII was one of the most astoundingly beautiful games of the generation, from an artistic and technical perspective, the mundanity of Lightning Returns' presentation is a bit of a disappointment. It's clear that Crystal Tools wasn't really built to handle this sort of game, and one can only hope that the new Luminous engine won't suffer these kinds of problems.