As I mentioned in an earlier post I love the concept of time travel. It has such potential in how you decide to use it in terms of storytelling. A recent game that used time travel in an amazing way is Final Fantasy XIII-2. I enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII and recognize that it had some flaws… I loved Final Fantasy XIII-2. It takes the story in a whole different direction and does such an amazing job telling it, but you do need to understand what happened in Final Fantasy XIII to understand what is happening in Final Fantasy XIII-2.
Early on we discover that Lightning has disappeared from the timeline from the point right at the end video of Final Fantasy XIII. Everyone says that she is with Vanille and Fang holding up Cocoon, but Serah remembers the version that we saw at the end of Final Fantasy XIII, even though no one else does. So then we the audience, just like Serah, are wondering what happened to change that moment in time. (Spoilers for Final Fantasy XIII-2 after the jump)
Very quickly we get introduced to a character named Noel who is from – what might be considered – the end of time. It makes sense that Serah and Noel come together. Noel wants to change his time because he is the last person alive and Serah wants to know how come she is the only one who remembers Lightning surviving, as well as what changed the timeline. We soon discover that the timelines are starting to bleed together and things from a different time are starting to show up. At first it is just an innocent item of a mirror, but later it gets much deadlier.
These distortions are causing time gates to appear that Noel and Serah can use to travel to different times. As you begin to unlock gates you unlock passage to different locations and times. Often you are able to visit a single location at multiple points in time. You are even able to create alternate timeline locations, by completing specific tasks in other timelines, usually in the future.
Change the Future, Change the Past
With the timelines bleeding into each other, the current progression of time is messed up, but at the same time that is currently the standard timeline. In your first trek into the future you end up fighting a big mechanical monster called Atlas who technically should not be there, but is. At first it is just the ghostly image of his hand, but then you have to fight the whole monster. This is just one example of where the timelines bleeding together is causing some major problems, and it also starts others looking into the problems with the timeline. Which leads to the discovery of vision cubes which are recordings of the visions that prophets had about the future.
This leads into one of the most interesting fights of the game. So through time travel and Noel it is discovered that the pillar created by Vanille and Fang is going to break, and Cocoon is going to come crashing into Pulse killing millions. In an effort to keep this from happening, a group of scientists try to create a Proto Fal’Cie to take over the job of keeping Cocoon afloat, but of course this turns out badly and the Proto Fal’Cie named Adam instead turns everyone into new L’Cie and basically takes over the human race. Noel and Serah in their time travel figure out where Proto Fal’Cie Adam is manipulating the timeline from, and go to face him. They climb up the tower and finally get to the fight with Adam and they think they have defeated him, but Adam has the ability to see into the future from the past. So when he sees himself defeated in the future he upgrades himself from the past so that he rises from the dead in the future to fight them again.
This fight could technically go on and on and the game gives you a few different options for a response after Adam re-emerges for the second time. One of which is yelling at the scientists who created Adam that their machine is killing them. This recording ends up in a vision cube from the prophetess that is then seen by the scientists before they create Adam, thus making his existence never happen and therefore creating another timeline in the future. The way the creators used the bleeding of the storylines to have effects happen is brilliant and if visions between the timelines are possible and you have access to them you can see the future. Therefore if the future changes, it changes the vision cube and you in the past can change the outcome of the future by seeing the updated vision.
There are a couple of different times where this happens and it has repercussions on other points in the timeline, thus creating places where it is the same time and place, but you can have two different experiences. It is just an amazing thought in a game with time travel to be able to travel to alternate histories and in the game play they allow you to reset a point in time in order to redo it, but if you do that you will lose access to some of the other points on the timeline until you turn it back. There are just such amazing implications of how you need to think about time in order to understand the story.
So the gameplay and time travel is amazing in Final Fantasy XIII-2, but my favorite part was that they created alternate endings to the game that they called Paradox Endings (which I will explain why later). The first one you encounter you have been sent into a dream world and are back in New Bodhum, but now Lightning is there with you, along with Snow. In the dream world it is like you have just woken from another dream, so it would be easy to question what was real and what wasn’t. After you have talked to a couple people you find Lightning on the pier and you are given a choice. If you choose to stay in New Bodhum then you get what looks like a final video showing what would happen if Serah chose that path. You can than go back to that moment and choose the other options to continue with the story.
With such a complex story it is amazing that they give the option for alternate endings, but it adds such a layer of depth to the whole story. One of the options is you end up running off with Snow to continue to search for Lightning. Another is that Proto Fal’Cie Adam makes you think you defeated it, but really your consciousness gets uploaded into a computer where you live out your life thinking you are fixing the timeline, when in reality you are trapped in the tower still. With the timeline and time travel there are so many ways that the story could end and they give you a way to explore those endings. (Something David and I wished could have been explored better in Mass Effect 3).
The thing to remember though is that these are called Paradox Endings, which brings us to Valhalla. For the whole game we know that Lightning is locked in an epic battle in Valhalla, a place that is located completely outside of time. The things that happen in Valhalla are, will be, and have happened. The whole reason the timeline is messed up is because of what happens at the end in Valhalla and for that to happen, Serah and Noel have to end up there or else the timeline would not be messed up and Serah and Noel would not be traveling through time in the first place. Thus, anything that does not end up with them in Valhalla facing the final bad guy is a Paradox Ending.
There is more I could probably write about, but that gives the best parts about the time travel in Final Fantasy XIII-2. The stories are so intricate about how they fit together and there is even the ability to do things in slightly different orders. When you deal with time travel there are so many things to keep in mind and I think the storytellers have done an excellent job. The save files are actually enormous because there are so many options it can save, for the time the location you are at and the times and locations you have unlocked. Remember: “Change the future, change the past”.