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'Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII': Read This Before Playing

Primer for "Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII"

Check out our full review of "Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII" to learn what happens next!

On Feb. 11, "Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII" will hit Xbox 360s and PS3s on Western shores, completing a saga that Japanese game publisher Square Enix began in 2010 with "Final Fantasy XIII."

Whether you're a series aficionado and need a refresher, or a neophyte looking to dive in headfirst, here's everything you need to know before you pop "Lightning Returns" into the disc tray.

What's this game all about?

"Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII" is the third and final entry in a sub-series of the "Final Fantasy" franchise. "Final Fantasy XIII" was the first game, and "Final Fantasy XIII-2" was, predictably, the second.

The numbering can get confusing, but just remember: "Final Fantasy" games are generally unrelated to each other. You don't need to play "Final Fantasy XII" before "Final Fantasy XIII," and you don't need to play "Final Fantasy XIV" after that. Except for direct sequels, such as "Final Fantasy XIII-2" and "Lightning Returns," each game in the series takes place in a different setting.

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Releasing direct sequels is not unprecedented for "Final Fantasy." "Final Fantasy IV," "Final Fantasy VII," "Final Fantasy X" and "Final Fantasy XII" all have multiple games set in their specific worlds.

The story so far

"Final Fantasy XIII" isn't exactly known for its succinct and concise story. Visiting "Final Fantasy" fan sites and wikis will give you novella-length breakdowns of what happened in "Final Fantasy XIII" and "XIII-2," but if you want to pick up "Lightning Returns" upon release, you'll probably want something that takes less time to read than a Tolstoy novel.

Here's a breakdown of what happened in the first two games. It's not comprehensive by any means, but it'll tell you what you need to know to jump right in.