I just completed Final Fantasy XIII-2 last night, and I am not happy. After working hard to complete dozens of monster hunts, frustrating quiz minigames, and Serendipity contests of sheer randomness in order to get to a point where finishing the actual game story made sense, they threw at me what is without a doubt the worst ending in the history of Japanese RPGs. That ending, which many of you have probably already heard about by now, isn’t as bad as you’ve heard. No, it’s worse. From a storytelling perspective, it’s much, much worse. The message at the end is only part of a much larger problem. They’ve managed to completely bury their carefully-crafted Fabula Nova Crystallis universe under tons of deus ex machina, and now I just want my 40 hours back.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK. SERIOUSLY, DO NOT READ ON IF YOU DON’T WANT THE ENDING OF FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 COMPLETELY SPOILED. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
The original idea behind Final Fantasy XIII-2 was to take the universe created in Final Fantasy XIII and build upon it, while addressing a lot of the criticisms of the first game. What they ended up creating was the missing half of Final Fantasy XIII, adding larger worlds, minigames, and customization options the lack of which made the first game feel very stifling and dull. However, adding all of that content into a rushed sequel came with a price: the story, one of the most important parts of the Japanese RPG experience, suffered tremendously for the privilege.
The time travel motif wasn’t used because the creators wanted to tell a good story. Square Enix wrote the story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 around two important development considerations: 1.) the ability to reuse resources to minimize development time, and 2.) the ability to nickel-and-dime customers with additional DLC expansions. Designing and creating a single area and then putting on different coats of paint to represent different time periods is a heck of a lot easier and less time-consuming than crafting new resources for each location. Indeed, many of the locations in Final Fantasy XIII-2 aren’t even new! They’re locations recycled from the original Final Fantasy XIII with slight tweaks. I’d like to know what happened to the “entire game worth of content” left out of the original Final Fantasy XIII, because it doesn’t seem like it was put to good use here.
As for the DLC, Square Enix had an opportunity to revolutionize the kind of content delivered to its fanbase. Instead, it chose to play it safe, releasing lots of costumes (including those catering to moe fans) and sidequest expansions. Colosseum battles gave them a chance to give players a chance to fight and recruit many characters from past Final Fantasy games, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen either, outside of characters from the original Final Fantasy XIII.
Which leads me to that ending I’m so ticked off about. Now, I can forgive killing off a main character at the end of a Final Fantasy game – after all, my favorite game in the series, Final Fantasy X, did just that (sort of). What I can’t forgive is shifting immediately from the killing of a main character to the end of the world less than one minute later and topping it all off with a “To Be Continued” message. If you’re going to kill a main character, you need to give that death time, meaning, and significance, as was the case in Final Fantasy X. Final Fantasy XIII-2 does none of this. There was no emotion or significance to the character’s death. And although the game hinted that such a death was possible for that character, it was never explained how that character managed to inherit the powers that eventually caused her demise. Instead, the game barely slows down to blink at what should have been one of the most important sequences in the game and decides instead to focus on large blobs of chaos swallowing the world. Typical melodrama, and bad form.
Adding insult to injury, the secret “true” ending obtained by collecting all 160 fragments doesn’t provide any sort of hope or resolution either. Instead, it makes it clear that everything Serah and Noel accomplished throughout the game did absolute jack for “saving the future”. If the storyteller’s goal was to ensure that players would be so frustrated and demoralized by the ending of the game that they have absolutely no desire to come back for the DLC episodes, then they were successful. Nice troll, guys. No money for you.
It’s notable that when interviewed concerning the ending, Final Fantasy XIII-2‘s producer said that DLC is in the works to expand the storyline, but not continue it. The “To Be Continued” message is talking about the paradox endings – not a resolution to the massive clusterfuck of a canon ending that they threw at Japanese RPG fans around the world. No, nothing short of more “paradox” BS or other deus ex machina “I’m just going to pull this out of nowhere” story constructs can repair the damage they’ve caused here. They’ve turned me off to the Final Fantasy XIII universe completely, which is a shame because I found the original game’s world and characters very, very interesting.
If there is a single bright spot in Final Fantasy XIII-2‘s ending, it’s that Caius is one of the cleverest, most interesting Final Fantasy villains to come along in recent years. Although he is a bit one-dimensional in his goals, players can identify with him a whole lot more than a villain like Barthandelus or Kefka. The consequences of the main characters’ decisions and how they were manipulated along the way make for a really interesting twist.
The game had so much promise that seeing just how badly they handled its conclusion disappoints me. I’ve been a genre defender of Japanese RPGs for years, and now I’m starting to see why so many people have abandoned the genre in droves. Square Enix, we need to talk. I don’t think it’s working out between us. It’s not you, it’s me. Okay…maybe it is you.