As it happened last year, this summer I’m trying to finish the follow-up, Final Fantasy XIII-2. This time the developers tried to address some of the many issues blamed on the first part but sadly the result isn’t very good.

From my point of view it’s the design approach to be wrong. The individual parts of the game are well done, but they lack coherence. In particular there’s a really big disconnect between the story being told and the actual gameplay and the result is a very ugly mishmash of parts. The developers tried to improve the individual parts, but this made even worse the lack of cohesiveness. Too quaint gameplay and storytelling.

There is a series of four videos (at the moment) that makes fun of this sort of disconnect (sometimes technically called Lugoscababib Discobiscuits) back at FFXIII part 1 even if sometimes it is a bit long in the tooth:

The premise of the game is actually very good. The previous game ended with a cataclysmic event, and this sequel is built on the “gimmick” of being able to jump between time portals so that the game can show you everything that happened afterward, leaping around in time and place and focusing on the pivotal scenes. Once again, for me the appeal of this game is about the mythology and the way it pushes its absurd ideas and utterly convoluted plot.

There are two ideas that aren’t directly part of the game but they are somewhat suggested by it, as if they didn’t want to push them all the way to eleven. I wonder what kind of game would have come out if they had embraced them:

1- The two protagonists of this game, Serah and Noel, jump between time portals and locations to fix some time paradoxes harrowing the timeline. When a paradox is solved it “disappears”, but there’s the interesting side-effect that sometimes people get stuck in these paradoxes, and when they realize that they don’t “belong” to that time and place, like ghosts, they also disappear. I’ve not finished the game, but I’m fairly sure this particular idea won’t be pushed to its potential. It made me think of Donnie Darko. The point is: what I just described should apply well even to the two protagonists. There’s a goddess, Ethro, that, as in the first game, “plucks out” certain people and forces them to accomplish a task. Serah and Noel mission is abut jumping through the timeline to heal this paradox that had a number of repercussions. It should be consequent, as in Donnie Darko, that when the paradox is ultimately solved also the agents-of-god would disappear with it. It describes heroic sacrifice, that is made even more bittersweet because from the external point of view of “reality” no one perceives the problem, neither the heroism that fixed it. These are heroes forgotten, that never existed. An unheard story of sacrifice. As the “witness!” idea Erikson uses. Which is also the purpose of “art”.

2- The other crazy-idea-that-is-not-there is about a possible link between this sequel and FFXIII that would have baffled the mind: what if the nonsensical plot of the first game was actually caused and manipulated by the events in the sequel? What if the fal’Cie gods are man-made and created by the same paradoxes that Serah and Noel actually triggered? As if in FFXIII-2 we are not seeing a “sequel”, but actually the origin story that will cause FFXIII, whose truth will be revealed at the end of the game. This is not in the game, since time travel only happens in the world post cataclysmic event, but it would have been interesting if this sequel would have embraced the whole breadth of the timeline, as a way to look at FFXIII convoluted plot, with reinterpretations and new shocking revelations. Those gods behind the plot of the first game, would become themselves the time paradox. Like in LOST the paradox about the compass. The objects loses its origin point, becomes recursively self-contained. Richard gives the compass to Locke, telling him to give it back to him when he’ll see him again. Locke gives Richard the compass in the future, then Richard goes back in time and gives Locke the compass. Where is the compass coming from? The origin is lost. Similarly, FFXIII plot may be nonsensical because of a privation. Some missing piece that was erased because of a paradox, and now can’t be retrieved. It’s like a story that lost one half and is caught in a horrible, unsolvable lack of certainty.

All this is interesting because of how one idea mirrors the other, if you think about it. Look at patterns. In the first idea the “real” world loses the story. The paradox itself is excised so that everything “makes sense” linearly. The trace of that paradox is also erased. No one will ever know that story. Instead in the second idea the opposite happens, it’s the story that makes sense that is excised by the paradox, and what is left is a timeline that can’t be explained, because the essential part is lost, not accessible. Like a book missing the most important chapter. So the two patterns fold together into one.

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