Final Fantasy XIII-2: Anatomy of a Sequel to the “Most Hated” Final Fantasy – Part 1
We’ve known about the sequel to Final Fantasy XIII for quite a while, in fact, SquareEnix announced it last year, so it’s been over six months. However, we’ve known virtually nothing about it until this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. Now all sorts of details are coming out of the woodwork and many questions are raised. What makes Final Fantasy XIII to special so as to deserve a sequel? Will the sequel improve upon the arguably lackluster original title? What differences are there? In what ways will it succeed? Let’s look at all these questions and then some as I attempt to dissect all the info we know about this upcoming cross-platform sequel.
The Final Fantasy franchise is no stranger to sequels to their primary string of games. What’s interesting about all the titles that have received direct sequels – Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XIII – is that the endings of the original games were bittersweet, as opposed to relatively happy (see FFVI through FFIX and FFXII).
In Final Fantasy IV, Kain is left to atone for his sins, and it left players with a profound sense of loss, even though there were emotionally poignant moments with the wedding of Rosa and Cecil. Final Fantasy X left us with Yuna and Tidas separated, seemingly forever, at the end, casting a dagger in the heart of any happy ending love story we had imagined the first time we played through it. In Final Fantasy XIII, some of the main characters you’ve come to know throughout the course of the game give their lives to save their friends and the planet they call home.
Perhaps it is some subconscious need to swing these sorta-kinda-maybe-but-not-quite-happy-endings into the realm of solid closure that prompts SquareEnix to expand the story to a sequel. Or, perhaps, they may just be the most popular games in terms of sales that the franchise has seen.
(Note: I didn’t include Final Fantasy VII, even though it was expanded upon in a couple games and a feature film. It never had a true, direct sequel.)
Another, perhaps more interesting, reason they may keep pumping out sequels to certain Final Fantasy titles is the mindset that they want to “fix” their “mistakes”. Now, I do use those two words loosely, because there really isn’t a whole lot of fixing to be done, at least in my eyes. But, if you use it in the context of tying up loose ends and fixing bittersweet endings, I suppose it can work.
The attitude SquareEnix has – as do many other Japanese developers – is that of never leaving a failure, or perceived failure. People disliked the ending of games like Final Fantasy X because it was bittersweet and didn’t particularly wrap things up. That love story that was so strongly hinted at throughout the game never materialized, and people didn’t like it. What did they do? They released FFX-2.
Even going outside the realm of their single-player titles to something like Final Fantasy XIV we see this in action. It was pretty much a failure at launch. What has SquareEnix done? Allowed everyone to play the game for free up until this writing, and perhaps even farther, until they fix what went horribly wrong.
This is a very Japanese thing to do and is quite different from what Western developers do if a game fails – firing the workforce, closing the developer’s doors and all that unfortunate jazz. In a way, this is great, and is likely what is happening here with Final Fantasy XIII. It was a perceived failure, and now they’re going back in, developing a sequel, and “fixing” things.
Now that we know a sequel is coming – and relatively soon at that – will it improve upon the original? Well, to some, that is a no-brainer: Anything is better than Final Fantasy XIII, right? It wasn’t the most well received Final Fantasy title to series fans, yet they still gobbled it up right off the shelves to the order of millions of copies moved worldwide.
The way I see it, “better” is all relative. I happened to quite like Final Fantasy XIII, aside from some fairly obvious missteps in the story. I also had a love/hate relationship with the raging difficulty spikes and the fact that when your leader dies in battle, it’s Game Over. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Do they need to reinvent the FFXIII wheel? Not necessarily.
If things are pulled off correctly, I think FFXIII-2 can succeed in the way FFXIII did. What way is that? Financially. Look at it this way, mayhaps. All the reports we hear about people absolutely detesting the game, the characters, the story or the battle system are relatively confined instances to a vocal minority that tends to frequent sites like this one, or the very critical enthusiast press, which is an even smaller minority. I’m willing to bet based on the number of sales alone that the vast majority of Final Fantasy fans thought, at the very least, it was an alright game. This is the silent majority, those who don’t frequent online blogs and forums to whine about how Vanille’s accent is horrible or that the game is way too linear for their very limited tastes.
So yes, I can see this sequel selling into the millions, just on the principle that it is a sequel to a game that also sold millions. SquareEnix can’t really go wrong here, except maybe to alienate that vocal minority, which admittedly could include some of their stronger fans.
But, what exactly is changing? Quite a bit, but everything seems rather subtle, and I think it will be happy medium to the nearly unchanged gameplay in the FFIV sequel to the vastly different gameplay in the FFX sequel. Tune in next week as I go through some of the big character and gameplay changes that we’ve learned about Final Fantasy XIII-2 so far and how they may affect you, the player.