Tuesday, February 21, 2012

FFXIII-2's bullshit ending, and other musings on the series

I'm angry. Angry because I just put 40 hours into a video game and what did I get? I got a big "fuck you" from the game's developers. But let's rewind a bit.

Spoilers follow, obviously.

The era of the CGI cinematic didn't start with Final Fantasy VII, but it was the first game that really got it right. That game used the medium of the CD-ROM to tell an epic story along with its 60+ hours of gameplay, and it rewarded gamers both along the way and at the end with CG animated scenes. Here's its ending:

Crude animation by modern standards, but you can see how this is a fitting ending to a long and in-depth story. I still tear up a bit when I see Aeris in that last shot.

Square started to really perfect their animation skills with FFVIII, a game that was otherwise disappointing but did have a fantastic ending in both content and technique:

You can really see Square hitting their stride here. Still no voices, but they had learned to tell stories through visuals and music. It was like watching a great, modern silent movie. But as good as it looks and sounds, it's what's in that ending that makes it great. It wasn't all wine and roses, either - one of the characters dies, but you can see that her spirit lives on in her daughter. So it's bittersweet, but still satisfying.

And so the series went on like that for a while - I won't post all the endings but you get the idea. Great animation, beautifully told stories.

Even FFXIII still had a pretty good ending, despite being a basically crap game. I'll post that one because it leads directly into FFXIII-2, which is the problem here:

Not quite as emotional as the best FF endings, and a little derivative of FFVII, but not bad. Fang and Vanille save the world, Lightning's sister Serah wakes up from her crystal prison, and Lightning gives her blessing to Serah and Snow's wedding. And everyone lives happily ever after.

OR DO THEY? FFXIII-2: holy crap, what the fuck is this?

If you don't feel like sitting through 17 minutes, you can just fast forward to around the 12 minute mark below, where the real cinematic begins.

Saving the world? Failed. Restoring the timeline? Failed. Saving Lightning, who had disappeared? Failed. The game's main character Serah? Dead. And in the stupidest of ways - standing around fine, then suddenly falls down dead. What, did she have an aneurysm? (The game hinted this might happen but never really explains why it has to. Foreshadowing and cause/effect are two different things.)

And remember that Serah's a newlywed, to a different guy? Yeah, no mention of him either. She even chooses to live 500 years in the future before she dies (with Noel), leaving Snow behind without a second thought! Their love was one of the main driving forces behind the plot of FFXIII, and it's as if none of that ever happened in FFXIII-2.

Oh, but it's "to be continued" - we all know audiences love that shit.

It's as if Square had a brainstorming session about all the ways they could piss people off. Then they put those things in the ending. And purposely omitted resolutions to anything. Not only do you fail at every single thing you set out to do in the game, you actually undo all the things you did in FFXIII.

This is what you should see if you lose the game. Not if you win.

I'm not saying all Final Fantasy games need to have a happy ending that ties up all the loose ends... wait, yes I am. Because we paid $60 for this, and we invested 40+ hours of our lives into it. It's not like a film, where you're a voyeur watching other people's lives for a couple of hours, so you can just appreciate it on a detached, artistic level. Playing a Final Fantasy game can easily take over your own life for a month or more, and during that time you become the character you're playing, on some level. You control them directly, living and acting out events with them; you're not merely a spectator. And there is an expectation that you will be rewarded at the end.

FF games have killed major characters in the past - so that's not really the problem. Aeris dies in FFVII, Tidus disappears at the end of FFX. But those deaths meant something. Aeris dies to enter the lifestream and save the planet (yes, the writers were big Star Wars fans). Tidus has to disappear for the story to even make sense. Serah's death is meaningless to the story, and completely undignified. Why did you kill my Serah, Square?

The dumbest part? You can keep playing as zombie Serah. I assume she's a zombie; she looks the same but she is clearly dead up there. But the game keeps going. And it's not like the world is just still open for you to tie up loose ends, I mean there are whole quests that you actually can't undertake until the story is over. With a dead main character. You are even rewarded with items and materials to level her up after the credits roll.

Supposedly, the "to be continued" refers not to another upcoming sequel, but to downloadable content that you need to pay extra for. You'll be able to download individual character episodes, one of which is Lightning's, which supposedly "completes the story".  Yes, you have to pay extra for the real ending. Maybe. People aren't really sure yet if even that ending will tie everything up, because it's not out yet.

Sorry, Square Enix, this is not how it works. I pay for a game, I get the completed game for the money I pay you. And you give me a proper ending on the disc. If not, I do not buy your next game. Is that clear enough? That's the deal. Pissing off your customers is not how you sell products.

I'm actually going to pretend this ending never happened, and I'll keep playing the game until I'm really done with it, then I'll see what's going on with the downloadable content or a potential re-release of the game (a "game of the year" edition with all the downloadable content is probable). And I will buy one of those, this time, because I invested a lot of hours into this. But this is one of those "fool me once..." things. I'll be watching next time to see if Square repeats this in FFXV or FFXIII-3, and I won't make this same mistake twice. Square, you had better be careful with your signature series.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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