Today, I finally beat the plot to Final Fantasy XIII-2 (I had watched Holly beat it before), one of my favorite games of all time. Not an easy thing to say, in the face even of the rest of the Final Fantasy series, much less the rest of videogamedom. Nonetheless, say it I do. The game is rare, in that it is a sequel in the Final Fantasy series; however, this has advantages, as it gets to draw from the world and characters from Final Fantasy XIII, while adding to them and growing.
With the totally new idea of a Final Fantasy trilogy coming together here soon – Final Fantasy XIII Lightning Returns comes out in a couple of weeks – it seemed like a good time to recommend this series as a whole to you. I figure people are at all sorts of points in this series… started but not done with XIII, a game plagued with a long straight-forward tutorial-like opening… done with XIII but not through XIII-2… into but not done with XIII-2 like I was so recently… or, like us, perhaps done with XIII-2 and excited for Lightning Returns. The demo for which came out today (or so)…
I want to write a deeper, spoiler-filled review of XIII-2, and I will likely do that in the days to come. And Holly played the Lightning Returns demo tonight, so I’ll let her do a review of that. For now, I want to go spoiler-light, and talk through reasons to play, or at least get through, this series, at a good time to do so – with the end coming out here soon!
Final Fantasy XIII
Here’s a game that made fans just a little frustrated when it came out. The jokes were that it was 40 hours of tutorial, and it’s not far from wrong. Technically it’s just that it’s 40 hours of linear gameplay, with the party separated and in different regions for most of it. On the one hand, this kept the game challenging – with only two characters, you had limited options, powers, and support.
On the other hand, we (all the fans and basically anyone playing this game) knew from playing other Final Fantasy games or just from basic storytelling that we’d be getting the party together eventually and working together and it wouldn’t be so hard or linear. A grueling 40 or so hours later, the game opens up to you, but even then, the challenge levels stand in your way once it’s open-ended, and you still have to be kind of linear.
So, I’m not going to say “no, it’s amazing, play through it, you’ll see.” I mean, it is, but that’s a LONG haul we’re talking about. So instead, I recommend at least getting a bit invested in the game. The characters are great, and they spend a lot of time developing all six of them. They lead with Lightning as the main character, but they just as easily could have said it was Snow (Holly wrote a Character Study of him here). Hope has a lot of story, though in relation to Snow. Sazh is a strong supporting character, and really endearing. And Fang and Vanille have their own entire other story and background going on.
Especially for the person who started but did not finish this game, I recommend checking out the final videos on YouTube. As with any Final Fantasy game, there’s a lot of video, but they pull the plot together from a lot of pieces. There’s a big world they were building, part of what they were and are calling the Fabula Nova Crystallis project. They meant to spend some time in this world, and they did. So they’re tying together technology and magic, villains and deities, the past and the present. The characters have a forced fate to destroy the world – and it’s still in question right up to the end. And in the last seconds, they explain the symbol from the logo, and it’s amazing.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
And XIII-2 starts right from where XIII leaves off. Right there. At the end of the end video. So again, kind of worth at least making sure you know what happens there! Because… they take it apart. They make it the crux of a massive temporal paradox, a moment changed in history. And then they build an entire time travel story around it.
Yep, time travel. Like in SquareEnix classics like Chrono Trigger, they’re back to time travel. But they do it in such a way that they make use of some modern aspects of technology, like larger save files. The game saves where you are at – in every location. Then, at any moment, you can hop back to the timeline, and go somewhere else. Sometimes, you need to do this to solve puzzles, get items. Sometimes it would just be because you’ve done as much as you can in one spot, or to go side-questing, or level, or just because you can. Then, you can unlock items to reboot a spot in time, replay it. All sorts of great systems built around it.
But what about all the issues with XIII, you ask? Well, in XIII-2, they’re through introducing you to the system in about 3 hours, and you’re off and away in the timeline. And you can start exploring extra locations not long after. One of the earlier chapters even have two parts, which you can tackle in either order. And later on, there are alternate endings, throwing the idea of linear out the window. This game fixed every major problem with XIII in my opinion.
They do something interesting, though, by removing all of your playable characters from XIII, and giving you new characters. And they go with a limited set of playable characters, giving you the necessary third part member in the form of a monster-collecting system. Giving you that much more to do in the game. The characters from XIII all show up, supporting the plot, but don’t lead. Knowing them and being emotionally involved in them helps, but is not necessary.
So really, check out this game. Fun systems, time travel, a crazy plot, and… oh, you know how trilogies go, right? The middle story is rarely the one where the heroes are winning. But these low points make for some of the best storytelling.
Final Fantasy XIII Lightning Returns
I’m highly intrigued by this game. Just the idea of it. A Final Fantasy trilogy. And each game will have functioned very differently, worked through different plots, but will carry through the main characters, and the world and its mythos.
Now, we’re back to playing our main characters from XIII, but gone is the Paradigm system, which defined each character’s role so solidly. Instead, we have a job system, a Final Fantasy staple. More importantly, gone is the party – you control one character, rotating through jobs to fight your enemies.
The demo came out today, and while I want to leave the discussion of it to Holly, my two cents is that this game is reminding me of places like the end of time like when the Doctor visited it in Doctor Who Series 3, or like the Restaurant at the End of the Universe in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. But, in a good way. The universe is ending, and ending soon, and everyone knows it. And nothing is as it used to be.
You have 13 days – with an in-game clock ticking, not measuring actual days – to save the world. Meaning, you can’t do everything in one go, one play-through. There are going to be layers and layers of challenge, intrigue, and more to this game. At least, that is my hope, and the games that precede it do not give me doubt. So play these games! Need convincing? Play the demo! Or just watch this opening cutscene from the demo: