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Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes another stab at telling the story of Lightning, Serah, Snow in a more open and wild world. Unfortunately it replaces the charm and narrative drive of the first game with confusion, convolution and complexity.
I often wonder about the basic elements of good story telling. I have been affected by the paths the characters take and the challenges they faced along the way and how that builds towards a satisfying conclusion. A really great story can be retold a thousand times due to one simple factor that they rely on pure, human emotion.
Many onlookers argued that Christopher Nolanís Inception was too dense and complicated to be enjoyed as a work of dramatic fiction because the premise was so convoluted that the humanity of the story was lost entirely. Whereas Nolanís film was certainly intricate, the depth of feeling was still at the forefront of the action and with a second viewing everything became clear.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 attempts a similarly brave premise involving time travel and catastrophic events in the future. Unfortunately the deft touch needed to weave such an intricate tale is simply not present. I spend much of my time furrowing my brow desperately trying to understand what was going on.
XIII-2 starts a few years after then end of the first game and relies heavily on having played it through to completion. Picking up control of Lightningís sister Serah you set off to change the future by fixing paradoxes that have begun to appear along the timeline. You are accompanied this time by a young time traveler named Noel and conversations usually revolve around crystals, magic and whether Serah is going crazy or not.
Time travel in general is a complex idea. I was exposed to it through the usual channels open to a young boy in the Ď90s Quantum Leap, Back to the Future and Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure. They made it understandable and reasonable and, more than anything, fun. What stood at the heart of these films were not the complexities of hopping from one timeframe to the next, but how that impacted on real people.
Videogames are just starting to breach the surface of social acceptance.
This is where XIII-2 falls down. The plot is rife with peril, heartache and emotion set to a time traveling beat, but none of it feels real. Itís weighed down with the constant and ever evolving crystal-babble needed to explain its knotted narrative. The characters donít react, speak or feel like real people. Theyíve become caricatures of Final Fantasy characters from previous games. While I used to feel engaged by this now I roll my eyes and wait for the fighting.
I live in world where videogames are just starting to breach the surface of social acceptance. Iíve played some hugely mature and involving games that embraced humanity as the jumping off point. Heavy Rain, Portal 2, L.A. Noire and Uncharted 3 all embraced the idea of mature scripting and plot development, each one was memorable.
It is a shame that XIII-2 makes such a hash of its story as its basic elements have been greatly improved. The battle system is an evolution of the ATB system seen in the previous game which includes a Pokemon style monster management sim to strengthen your team.
The game world has been opened up dramatically as well after major criticism over the linearity of the first game. Levels can be replayed in different time zones as you solve mysteries and paradoxes which reveal hidden areas. It is refreshing to have your perseverance pay off and the heady buzz of finding something not everyone that plays the game will discover is still rather intoxicating.
The environments are a mixture of old and new and each is more beautiful than the last. Light glistens off great white oceans and cool wind ripples the grasses of great barren plains inviting you to explore and forget all about Historia time cruxes, crystal fragments and Mog the Moogle.
I want games to mature and grow with me and Iíve been playing Final Fantasy games for as long as I can remember.
Sadly though Square has played fast and loose with the actual physics of time travel under the remit of magic crystals. I want games to mature and grow with me and Iíve been playing Final Fantasy games for as long as I can remember. I really want the series to take a more human approach to its characters. I want it to still to be relevant to me now.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a well polished and unique experience, but over the years Iíve grown tired of its themes and obsessions. Time travel is an exciting and alluring concept for any script writer but here they miss the fun of unusual predicaments facing regular people; Noel and Serah seem more bored by the prospect than surprised or excited. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a series desperately in need of its own cultural revolution.
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