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Opinion – Going Down With The Ship

Earlier this year I wrote that I was done looking the other way when RPGs take too long to get rolling. Too many overlong tutorial phases and drip-fed storylines have burned me out. At the end of that article I mentioned I was looking forward to playing Final Fantasy XIII-2, hoping that it didn’t suffer the same issues. FF XIII-2 doesn’t suffer from classic RPG pitfalls, but I’m finding the game to be a real chore for a slew of different reasons. Despite my previous convictions to put down games when they overstay their welcome, I’m committed to finishing it. I’ve also been trying to figure out why.

I meant to check out Final Fantasy XIII-2 for a while now. Like many gamers, I didn’t love the first game’s story or linear design but I dug the gorgeous visuals and unique battle system. The trilogy of games has been completed with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, and many claim FFXIII-2 is the best entry of the three. To its credit, FF XIII-2 doesn’t suffer from usual RPG problems like tedious tutorials and initially boring storylines.

Instead, FF XIII-2 drops the ball by introducing time travel into an already confounding storyline. Fans complained that FF XIII was too linear, but the cryptic Historia Crux time traveling overcomplicates things and does a poor job of pointing players towards important areas. The most interesting character from the previous game, Lightning, is swapped out with her wooden mannequin of a sister named Serah. Cycling captured monsters into the party’s third slot is cool in concept, but I don’t like the idea of taking a step backwards with rookies (even with the merging system in mind). The steady difficulty curve of the original is much more uneven this time around; the auto-battle system allows you to sleepwalk through most encounters, then slams you with punishing boss battles out of left field. Some of these boss battles are good fun, requiring careful strategy and speedy fingers (the first true battle with Caius in particular). FF XIII-2 feels like a worse game than its predecessor in multiple categories, yet I keep playing it. Some people would call this behavior crazy, so why do I keep at it?

Intense battles sometimes turn the onscreen combat info into complete chaos

The Final Fantasy series is incredibly important to me. I have vivid memories of being shocked and enthralled by FF VII, then eagerly going back and playing a host of the older titles. Save for Square Enix’s MMO entries, the FF XIII series is the most extreme departure the franchise has seen. The developers have shown obvious commitment and dedication to the FF XIII universe, which has been among the most polarizing for fans and critics. I may not be having fun with FF XIII-2, but I feel sense of obligation to see this series through thick and thin. As with many game series, I’d love to have the entire library of Final Fantasy games under my belt so I can speak from a place of total knowledge about how odd of a sidestep FF XIII is. 

My commitment to FF XIII-2 goes against a relatively new principle I’ve adopted: Not completing games for the sake of it. The never-ending stream of quality games today has lobotomized the completionist in me by necessity. I like to play as many games as possible, and spending time on duds runs counter to that goal. But sometimes I feel an illogical obligation to keep up with franchises with sagging quality. You’ve probably overheard folks warn others to abandon certain TV series at certain points when the quality wanes. They say “Stop watching 24 around season six,” or “Don’t even bother with season eight of Dexter.” But we all know how this goes. Once you’re in, you’re in. You need to experience the duds yourself to truly understand where your favorite series went wrong. Being able to talk from a personal angle about where you think things went south is part of the fun when discussing your favorite series.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 isn’t the first game I’ve done this with, and it won’t be the last. I’ve struggled through stinkers in my favorite series, from Silent Hill: Homecoming to Devil May Cry 2, all with the intent of forming a more complete picture of the franchises’ histories. This practice isn’t just important to me as a journalist, but it’s been part of my gaming habits since early on. My tolerance for lackluster games has diminished over the years, but the thirst for complete knowledge of my favorite series is sometimes too much. 

I’ll finish FF XIII-2 through to the bitter end (I have to grind a bit to finish off the final, surprisingly difficult end-boss battles). And then I’ll inevitably pick up Lightning Returns sometime later to see the heroine’s journey through to the finale. As a rule, I don’t like to cast judgment on games before I start them. But given my time with FF XIII-2 and the critical reception of Lightning Returns, it looks like I may have a similar experience. But who knows? I may find myself pleasantly surprised and glad that I suffered through what I consider a subpar game in order to get to the good stuff. In the end, that would make it all worth it.

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