a review of Final Fantasy XIII-2
a videogame developed by Square Enix Product Development Division 1 and tri-Ace
and published by Square Enix
for the microsoft xbox 360 and the sony ps3
text by ben hornsby
What’s a l’Cie? I don’t really have any idea, though between these two games I guess I’ve spent probably 80 total hours trying to help (save the world from?) them (it?). When I Google “l’cie” the first sentence I get is “In Final Fantasy Type-0, l’Cie are branded and granted a Focus by the four Crystals of Oriense.” Okay! I don’t know what the hell Final Fantasy Type-0 is; I don’t feel like I’ve ever read the word “Oriense” in my life; why are so many of these words capitalized?
I mean this in the bad way: It’s hard for me to remember not knowing Final Fantasy XIII. It was sixty hours of frantic, screeching autism. XIII-2 is maybe less autistic once in a while, but it’s always more frantic. It’s videogame panic. It’s a mass of mechanics and settings and characters piled as high as the moon made out of girls at the center of its plot, with a few vague message board fanboy-isms to guide its way (Less linearity! More towns! More sidequests!). And of course there’s time travel; how the hell else were they gonna jam all these leftover holodeck destinations into one thing?
The battle system is back, screaming nonsense, ridiculous name and all. And, really, it’s even creepier than it seems. We’ve still got FFXIII’s bizarre push-pull battles where we need to deal magic damage to break an enemy’s guard and then launch it into the sky and attack for The Big Damage, and the best thing we can say is that it’s almost alright enough, in a way.These guys wanted to write The New RPG Battle, and they kind of did – but then they kind of said, well, we better put The Old RPG Battle in there somewhere; we don’t want it to go to waste; the fans might get angry if they don’t get to click on “firaga” and “esuna” from time to time.
So they sold out to themselves after all, and now it’s all clogged up. Enemies have elemental weaknesses arbitrarily tacked onto themselves, your characters still learn fire and then blizzard and then fira and then blizzara, there’s a class dedicated to lowering enemies’ stats and another dedicated to boosting your own, and through all of this some cardboard AI just keeps choosing what’s best for you every turn and none of it really means anything at all. You discover six spreadsheets where you’re pretty sure you left one – at least someone filled them all in for you!
RPG battle mechanics are a crushingly boring thing, and here’s a company releasing a commercially top-tier videogame that goes way out of its way to pander to that most disturbing sect of consumers: people emotionally invested in RPG battle mechanics. Do these people even exist, really? I can joke about it; I can tell myself that they did this because people would be upset if there was no “thundaga” in the new Final Fantasy. But my god, that can’t really be true, can it? Is that the world? Is that where I am?
I guess it must be, because when I kill one of these bosses – that is, take its HP down to zero – a cutscene usually starts, and in that cutscene a bunch of button prompts explode onto the screen, and when I follow these prompts my characters start to flip around and fire arrows and cut things in half, and the whole time numbers won’t stop popping out of everything.
In one of these Events near the beginning of the game – hell, it’s even in the PLAYABLE DEMO (holy shit it’s even in the demo) – a military helicopter shows up to shoot missiles at the giant robot boss you just killed. When this happens a button prompt appears – press B as fast as you can! Your twitchy button-slamming is tied to the missiles coming out of the helicopter. After enough slams, the missiles are fired, and – yes (oh god no) – numbers start popping out of the giant robot boss! The first missile does 432 damage; the next does 540; the next one does 1,188 damage! Wow!
What is pressing the B button doing? If you press it fast enough, do the missiles get… bigger? Do they multiply? Do they respond positively to sheer force of will? Maybe your button-slamming performance corresponds to how hard the guy in the helicopter psyches himself up before he flips the “fire missile” switch?
I guess that a fan of XIII-2 probably doesn’t try to make sense of stuff like this (look I mean they’re not even your missiles, it’s not like you’re flying the helicopter or anything), and instead it all just gets to seep in. It’s hard to blame these people; there’s stuff floating around all over the game meant to trick them into forgetting that nothing makes sense. Square Enix has truly Listened To The Youtube Comments, and yes, this is Final Fantasy XIII with towns, NPCs, and even More Chocobos! Red Chocobos are to Final Fantasy XIII-2 what firaga is to the Command Synergy Battle system (if you know what I mean). Or: Don’t get too caught up watching Tetsuya Nomura’s left hand; his right could be anywhere.
These games take Big Dollars, man. I don’t have the figures in front of me (where’s my intern?), but Final Fantasy budgets must be near the top of the Entertainment Budget Food Chain, and apparently the Final Fantasy team is a bunch of panicking psychopaths trying to figure out how to smash stuff they already have into their vague telephone-game versions of what the “fans” “want” (“buy”). This isn’t even entertainment anymore; Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a sixty-dollar, thirty-hour commercial, and even the guys that made it don’t know what they’re trying to sell (probably Fleshlights).
A slice of plot: The moon is being held up by a massive crystal stem growing from the ground. The stem is made out of two hot girls (or three, depending who you ask). There are these melty tomato enemies, and inside an orange jungle they have formed into one gigantic melty tomato monster. It rubs itself against the crystal stem for hundreds of years, eventually starting a civil war that causes the suspended moon to come crashing down. Once our heroine and her sidekick Anime Tom Cruise (and their temporary-tattoo bearing pet bird (who just ate their other pet, a robot shield or something)) stop her fiancee from punching the tomato (all day every day (for years (literally))), they travel through time to a remote region where a machine with two levers controls the weather. When they pull both levers, the sun comes out, and a dragon is revealed. This dragon is eating all the melty tomatoes in the remote region. Are you thinking what the game is thinking? Probably not! It somehow excretes the tomatoes from its skin in the form of a sandstorm. This storm makes its way to the orange jungle, where the tomatoes re-solidify out of the air, and go on their pilgrimage to merge into the giant crystal-rubbing melty tomato monster.
Where do you go from here? This shit is bewildering. If we stop to think about it (we can’t help it (we tried)) it sounds a little bit like a writer (intern?) was given a list of enemy models and environments that had already been Put Into Graphics and was told to come up with some way to use all of them in hours six through eight. And hey, maybe you could make a good game with this model – but it’s probably going to have to be one that doesn’t keep shooting me nervous glances to make sure that I’m taking it seriously.