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February 22, 2013

Final Fantasy 13-2: Good Morning, Kupo! (Part 5)

Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out. 

Breathe in…and…all right.  Let’s start with a little bit of context.

One of the most infamous elements of Final Fantasy 13’s story was the fal’Cie system.  Many have decried it as one of the key reasons why the game (opening and all) was so alienating.  I’ve personally decried it as a contrived, moronic system that only exists to generate artificial tension and genuine angst.  But for the purpose of this post, and for those who wisely dodged FF13, I’ll go ahead and explain the system once more.

The world of “The Lightning Saga” is split into two distinct parts.  The first part is Pulse, the untamed lands that presumably stretch from one corner of the planet to the next; the second, Cocoon, some sort of floating spherical colony that presumably contains all the major cities and the majority of the population.  It’s in Cocoon that presumably a fair number of the fal’Cie dwell -- biomechanical yet godlike beings who use their powers to make Cocoon a paradise for its inhabitants…which doesn’t explain why it’s full of monsters, but whatever. 

The tradeoff is that the fal’Cie will turn normal people into l’Cie -- servants that have been imbued with magic powers and a creepy tattoo, and given a special mission (a Focus) to carry out.  If the l’Cie succeeds in carrying out the Focus, they turn into crystal statues.  If they fail, they turn into Cie’th, shambling, rock-laden zombie monsters.  Still, presumably the occasional l’Cie indoctrination is something the people are willing to live with; as long as it’s not happening to them and the fal’Cie/Cocoon protects them from the supposedly-hellish Pulse, they’ll turn a blind eye to the proceedings.

I’m a little worried about how many times I had to use the word “presumably” to describe things, and there are issues with this system that I can and have pointed out.  But there are two things that are important to keep in mind.  First off, in spite of the “complex” world-building the story pretty much comes down to “free yourself from the control of the gods”; that is, living by one’s own merits and means instead of cribbing off the divine, and working to decide one’s own fate.  The second thing is that, even if FF13 was full of nonsense and garbage, it was ITS nonsense and garbage.  That was its framework.  Its rules.  Its ideas.

Which brings us to…

Part 5: The Subplot

Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out.     

You know, a part of me was actually curious to see how 13-2 would reconcile its fal’Cie system.  Granted it’s a stupid-ass system, but maybe a sequel would offer the chance to play with it a bit more.  Maybe use the ideas as a springboard.  Maybe move the plot in new directions, and quickly, now that we fully understand the context laid out in the first game.  Or better yet, show what the world is like as a result of the actions taken in --


In what is pretty much a throwaway line, the fal’Cie are apparently all gone.  MIA.  Nowhere to be found.  One of the key storyline elements to vanilla 13 is almost completely axed, replaced by a time travel system that the developers don’t even try to fully explain.  It is just baffling that they would treat their canon like this; the way 13-2 plays out, you almost get the sense that nearly everything that happened in the original didn’t matter.  The fal’Cie are gone.  And in another throwaway line, it’s revealed that the people have started adapting by learning how to use magic without being branded as l’Cie…which in retrospect sounds like a bullshit hand wave, but I guess I have no choice but to allow it.

There’s no indication as to how the world’s adapting to such a massive change, especially after the three-year time skip; the most we see is people chilling out in the beachside hamlet of New Bodhum, which of course is located somewhere in Pulse.  Considering that not too long ago there was an entire propagandist movement to convince the populace that Pulse was a nightmarish world overflowing with hellions looking to assault Cocoon and its peoples, you would think that we’d get to see how people would react to the revelation that Pulse is just a naturalistic world left nearly-uninhabited for centuries.  But then again, that would require…you know, thought on the developers’ part.

To be fair, the fal’Cie aren’t completely erased from the canon; in fact, they form a pretty big part of The Subplot.  But before I can get to that, I have to make it very clear that in games like these, context is everything.  Who are we playing as?  Who are we up against?  What are we fighting for?  Where are we fighting?  Questions like those and more need some kind of answer…and if you’ve been reading these posts, you’ll know that 13-2 has consistently failed to deliver us anything satisfying.  And if you’ve ever seen a bad movie, you may know the end result: if you’re not being entertained, you’re more likely to zero in on a movie’s flaws.  If there’s nothing to latch onto, the mind wanders and we get annoyed and cynical -- or more simply, start with the nitpicking.  In a way, you can consider the goal of any story to offer up something to latch onto.  It’s all about offering up distractions to cover up the flaws of a work.

So, what distractions does 13-2 have?  Well, it tries to compensate by making the same moves as its big brother: relying on its “all-star” cast.

You can probably guess how well that’s gone so far.

Serah was a non-entity in the original game, and is inoffensive at best in 13-2.  Lightning is barely in the game for ten minutes, but is treated with more reverence than the pope.  Sazh has been banished to DLC.  Fang and Vanille are lucky to get a cameo, if that.  Snow’s friends are re-introduced and re-dumped in almost the same breath.  There might as well have not even been NPCs in the original game or this game, for all the effect they have on…well, anything.  That just leaves us with two characters: Snow and Hope.  AKA the two characters EVERYBODY loved from vanilla 13.

…Should I be kind of pissed that anyone having any ethnicity beyond the quasi-Anglo-Japanese hybrids of JRPGs has been given the boot?  Or the fact that anyone over thirty (and ACTUALLY thirty, not just hundreds of years old thanks to time-space shenanigans) was given the boot?  Or the fact that if you’re a woman in a Squeenix game, you’re screwed?   No?  Anybody?  No?  Well, I guess I’ll just move on, then.

I probably should have expected foul play based on the little vignette you have with Snow.  Apparently, everyone’s favorite hero has been spending time in an alternate timeline/dimension trying to kill a giant gelatin monster and do his part to fix the timeline, and Serah and Noel try to help him do the same once they get on the scene.  Now, if you’re anything like me you’re probably wondering how Snow even got to that dimension, given that he presumably left long before these time travel shenanigans started -- and, you know, he has absolutely zero means to even TRY to travel through time.  But that’s the least of the player’s problems.  See, in the interstice between abandoning Serah and reuniting with her to participate in gelslaughter, apparently Snow sought out a fal’Cie and became a l’Cie in order to gain more power -- and after completing his Focus (which was to kill the gelatin thing, I guess…which is pretty damn convenient), he disappears, but not before getting an overwrought and shrieking goodbye from Serah.


This is wrong.  This is wrong -- all wrong.  First off, where did Snow find a fal’Cie?  I thought they were all gone.  Second, why would Snow seek out a fal’Cie to gain more power, given that magic has been discovered and slowly but surely harnessed by the populace?  Third, why would Snow -- who by the end of 13 succeeded in punching out giant turtles, mobile suits, and suicidal gods -- need to gain more power?  Fourth, why would the fal’Cie give Snow a Focus that just so happens to coincide with Serah and Noel’s objective, especially considering that the fal’Cie have a dumbass habit of giving their peons missions that are phenomenally vague?  Fifth, why would Snow agree to become a l’Cie again if the Focus he gained would inevitably pull him away from his self-ordained Focus of finding Lightning and making his fiancé Serah happy?  Sixth -- and worst of all -- why would Snow let himself fall under the power of a fal’Cie when the entire point of the last game was moving past being pawns of the gods?  Especially considering that the fal’Cie put the original six characters through hell, and considering that they very nearly ended Serah’s life with their bullshit system, and considering that blustery hero Snow was the absolute LAST person who should be doing something so contradictory to the lessons of the last game?  I know my questions could be answered by just saying “Because Snow is a good-hearted idiot,” or “because Squeenix said so” -- but like I’ve said before, THAT’S NOT A GOOD ANSWER.

Look.  Let’s be real here.  It’s obvious that 13-2 is a rush job -- a way to both make up for the shameful mistakes of 13 and simultaneously restock the war chest after such a massive failure with FF14.  And you know what?  At the end of the day, that’s not automatically a bad thing.  There’s an argument to be made that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was also a rush job, but it ended up becoming not only a beloved part of the Zelda franchise, but a haunting and memorable story that few who experienced it are likely to dismiss…not to mention it’s one of my absolute favorite games ever.  But the key difference here is that even if you’re putting out a rush job, that doesn’t excuse you from making it good.  That doesn’t excuse you from begging for handouts with one hand and flipping the bird with the other.  But that’s exactly what Squeenix did.

And you want to know how I know?  You want to know what makes me be so bold?  It’s simple.  It’s because I have evidence.

I have The Subplot.

One of the first (or should I say, only) recurring NPCs throughout 13-2 is Hope.  Most people may remember him as the whiny mama’s boy who could pull a boomerang out of his ass, but for the purposes of boosting the game’s pretty boy quota he’s been aged up about ten years.  (See?  They had a plan for that time travel all along!)  So for whatever reason, Hope is not only put on the forefront of this game, but put in a seat of power as a researcher and high-ranking official, to the point where you can think of his comrades as a small army.

Now, I may be in the minority on this, but I don’t think vanilla 13 Hope was as bad as everyone said he was.  That’s not to say he was good by any means, but given whom and what else was in that game, he could have been a hell of a lot worse.  And if nothing else, he gives 13-2 some cohesion to the original game.  If nothing else, future-Hope has the potential to show just how the canon is advancing.  The ideas.  The intent.  The characters themselves.

And you know what?  That’s honestly all I really wanted from 13-2 -- and the closest I came to enjoying it was whenever Hope was on-screen.  He’s rational.  He’s reasonable.  He’s reliable.  He’s kindhearted, but still dedicated to his goals.  And said goals go beyond just doling out exposition or helping out Serah and Noel; he has to be one of the few main characters who’s actually trying to better the world beyond just killing monsters and demigods.  Yeah, he’s still a little too eager to go on and on about how awesome Lightning is, but that’s pretty much every character in this game; what’s important is that he shows a level of ambition and practicality that I can’t help but admire.

A huge part of this game is devoted to trying to figure out how to stop the now-crystallized Cocoon from falling; that is, they not only want to stop it, but save the people inside and around it.  Granted, you may be wondering why anyone would want to live in a crystal-shrouded husk that very nearly crashed into the ground like a meteor at the end of the first game, or why anyone would want to live there now that the fal’Cie that made it a paradise supposedly vacated, or why they can’t just leave that area and let Cocoon fall semi-harmlessly to the ground, given that they have more than four centuries to prepare for that fall and have no reason to live around it, or why anyone is trying to save Cocoon in the first place considering that natural processes like erosion will inevitably bring it falling down regardless.  But…er...I think there was a point in there somewhere…

…Oh, right, Hope.  After you handle some issues surrounding the expedition of Hope and comrades, Hope will start dedicating effort and resources toward finding a way to prevent Cocoon’s fall.  And in those moments, you realize that Hope’s grown up, and not just because Squeenix wanted teenage girls on DeviantArt to go gaga; it’s because he recognizes the lessons to be learned from the past, and how to proceed toward a better future.  Hope realizes that they can’t rely on the power of fal’Cie anymore, and that it’s up to human guts and ingenuity to build their own path.  And as much as Hope would love to go into the past to fix what went wrong -- namely, saving his mother from the opening hours of vanilla 13 -- he realizes that in the grand scheme of things, he’d be doing more harm than good.  The events of the past happened for a reason; it was a grisly reason, sure, and one generated by creatures he’d do well not to get entangled with in the future, but in the end those events helped him become the man the future needed.    

 And I bought it.  I bought it, and I believed it.  I thought that if anyone could bring about a revolution -- if anyone could bring some much-needed reason and breathe new life into this slapdash saga it was Hope.  He was primed and ready to make a change, and I was ready for it.  Hope actually made me believe that the critics and reviewers were on to something.  Maybe for all its missteps, Final Fantasy 13-2 actually DID have an improved story.

That was a mistake.  I made the assumption that Hope -- and the writers at large -- would act intelligently, and deliver something worthwhile both for the canon and the narrative.  What I got was less than ideal.

The key thrust of The Subplot is, to some extent, the tale of an AI gone rogue.  When Serah and Noel enter the futuristic city Academia, it’s only about forty seconds before the once-stable urban network goes to hell.  The cause?  An AI detects Serah’s old l’Cie brand and goes haywire, summoning up hordes of monsters (monsters from the original game, I noted) to start a siege on the city.  Our heroes manage to clear a path, assuming that the AI’s acting under orders -- or corruption -- from Caius…but as a dying Yeul reveals at the end of their little adventure, the Caius they saw in Academia was just an illusion.  If they want the truth, and to stop the creature responsible, they’ll have to head to Augusta Tower.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering why an AI would send monsters after a girl with a now-nonexistent tattoo, and certainly why it would send monsters from an older game.  Likewise, you’re probably wondering why an AI would go batshit in spite of said tattoo being about four hundred years old from its perspective, or why it would send monsters to attack the entire city instead of just trying to assassinate one girl.  And the answer to that is a pretty simple one (besides the usual “because idiots” reason).  See, The Subplot isn’t just pitting you against an AI, one that has almost no relation to Caius, Yeul, the goddess Etro, or the search for Lightning.  No, the AI is actually just a part of a greater enemy.  Not an enemy by nature, considering that it was created for the sole purpose of keeping Cocoon afloat (under the reasoning that if its predecessors once kept it stable, its successor should be able to do the same).  No, this is a tool, and a poor one at that, that willingly became an enemy.

It’s a fal’Cie. 

A man-made fal’Cie, whose production was sanctioned and spearheaded by Hope.





How the FUCK could you think that was a good idea?  What made you think you could build your own mechanical god?  Did you have a blueprint?  Did you know what made them tick?  How could you if you’ve only just now figured out how to create your own magic?  What happened to you and the rest of humanity learning how to live by your own means and not relying on gods?  What happened to you and your buddies using science instead of magic?  Did you just forget about all that?

Did you completely fucking forget EVERYTHING that happened in the original game?  How could you?  YOU WERE RIGHT FUCKING THERE!  You were the one bitching the loudest about how your life was over and that there was no hope!  You were the one who got put through hell the most!  You were the one who had your mom killed because of some brainwashing into believing that the fal’Cie system was A-OK!  You fought and killed multiple versions of them!  One of your most notable battle quotes is “I decide my fate!”  YOU GOT THE MOST FUCKING CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT OUT OF THE ENTIRE CAST!

You and your cohorts had, and STILL HAVE, centuries to prepare for the fall of Cocoon, and THIS is the best answer you can come up with?  “Hey, guys, let’s make OUR OWN VERSION of an unfeeling, incomprehensible divine being that we all know is more than capable of turning civilians at large into unwilling slaves and demons!  Only we’ll give OUR VERSION an advanced AI that will never, EVER go rogue and decide to kill everyone!”  That’s your plan?  You had to resort to more bullshit magic that might never work instead of doing something like, oh, I don’t know, building something like THIS:

To hold it up?  You couldn’t start demolishing it, or making it implode, or just plain letting it fall on its own after abandoning it -- which, again, you could have done over the course of centuries?  No, your best plan -- YOUR BEST FUCKING PLAN -- is to create an untamable god and hope that it’ll do your bidding from now until the end of time?  Oh, and by the by, Hope?  That fal’Cie you made?  It might do its job a little better if you put it in or near Cocoon, and NOT IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING CITY WHERE IT CAN FLIP OUT AND KILL EVERYONE!


… Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in…and…


People…people, are you understanding where I’m coming from on this?  There’s no reason -- no reason -- for Hope to think that the answer to all his problems is going to come from making his own pet GODAnd even if that was the answer, even if there was no other hope and no other option, it shouldn’t have been Hope who’d even begin to think that was the answer.  He was one of the main characters of the original game.  He knows what the fal’Cie are.  He knows what they do, and what they almost did, and yet he still thought it was a good idea to go through with this?  This…this is…there’s being stupid, and there’s just…just…

You know what?  This is perfect.  This is the absolute perfect way to completely demolish Hope’s character.  There’s no way anybody -- in-game or otherwise -- could have thought this was a good idea.  There’s no way Hope could have gotten the funding for this, researched it, entered production, and put out a prototype without SOMEBODY raising a hand and saying, “Hey.  Um…maybe we shouldn’t mess with powers light-years beyond the mortal ken.  I mean…you know, these things nearly caused our extinction last time.  Maybe we should just leave well enough alone.”  But it’s fine.  It’s perfect.  Because this is not the only way to prove that 13-2 is an absolute load of shit.  Want to know how I know?  That’s easy.

This isn’t the worst part of The Subplot.

Oh, don’t get me wrong; Hope and his clubhouse buddies making a fal’Cie still feels like I got slapped in the face with vomit-soaked tripe, but that’s something that feels like a personal attack on me.  It might not mean anything to you, fair readers.  But I’d wager there’s a better chance of something resembling shock -- pure shock -- later on.

Remember how I said Yeul tells Serah and Noel to go to Augusta Tower?  Well, that’s not entirely true; see, the Caius that was in Academia warns our heroes that if they go to Augusta Tower, they’ll become trapped there, and help instigate some kind of disaster.  Generally speaking, going there is pretty much some kind of prophesized disaster.  So of course, our heroes see no other alternative but to head there and investigate for themselves, even if it means walking headfirst into a trap.  Not exactly the wisest of moves, but that’s the least of this sequence’s problems.  (The same goes for trying to clean up Hope’s dumbass mess, as well as the fact that he’s dragged the real plot to a halt…though in that regard, maybe I should be thankful.)

So you head to Augusta Tower, and…well, it’s less than impressive in terms of visuals and design.  If you’ve seen Tron: Legacy (or played Kingdom Hearts 2 or KH3D), then you’ve seen this area before -- dark platforms with glowing lines, cyber junk all over the place, and the usual virtual furnishings.  It ties in to another complaint I have with this game, but I’ll save it for another day; in any case, Serah and Noel decide to venture deeper into the tower, and catch glimpses of Caius -- or at least an image of him -- doing the same.  Naturally, they decide to follow him, even if it means getting caught in a trap.  Which they do…kind of…but it’s for a good cause.  They need to figure out what the Caius image is doing there, as well as gather information -- information that will save Hope, considering that they find out about the origin of the man-made fal’Cie, Adam.  Apparently, it decided to send monsters to attack and kill Hope, allowing its existence and growth to continue unchecked.  As they find themselves going deeper and deeper into the tower with no chance of escape, Serah and Noel reason that the only way to save Hope is to keep moving forward and take out the fal’Cie.

Except they’re not really trapped.  They can never be trapped.  See, one of the gameplay mechanics is that at any time on the field, the player can stop the action and go back to the “level select” screen, better known as the Historia Crux.  Even if the player hasn’t done everything there is to do in a level, they can still bail at any time and go back to a different area (and era, or even alternate histories).  This isn’t even a matter of gameplay and story segregation; Serah and Noel know about the Crux; they not only travel through it in cutscenes, but mention it in a conversation or two.  Given that, how is it even remotely possible that they can be trapped anywhere by anyone?  If someone seals them in a cage, they can just go “screw this noise” and spring back into the Crux.  Time is literally at their beck and call.  It’s their failsafe, their cushion, the very reason why they and they alone are supposed to be this game’s champions.  So why not use it?

And I say “why not use it” because of the context.  It doesn’t take very long for them to find out that Hope made the rogue fal’Cie (and it’s possible that they figured that out before they even entered the tower, but my brain has been trying to do a mass dump of all 13-2-related materials for weeks).  Why do they have to go up the tower to find out more?  Why do they have to fight the fal’Cie with swords and arrows?  Time is the most powerful weapon you have; go back to when you talked to Hope, tell him NOT to be a dumbass and build his own god, and BOOM!  Adam’s erased without a fight.  And better yet, Hope can use his resources to do something not rock-stupid.  Isn’t that a pretty good alternative?  Isn’t that a possible way to create an even better future, one where a city doesn’t fall under siege four hundred years later?  Wouldn’t that be the much smarter thing to do?

I certainly think so, but our heroes don’t share the same sentiment.  So what follows is a trek up the tower, travelling from one neon-lined floor to the next.  It wasn’t a pleasant experience, I promise you.  First off, while you’re walking NPCs (and occasionally the level itself) will suddenly spout off numbers, and you use those numbers to input passwords.  Problem is, you might not be paying attention to the numbers spoken, because like all NPC encounters in the game, monsters will appear in a burst of noise that not only blankets the words spoken but also brings the conversation to a halt.  It wouldn’t be a problem if I could talk to NPCs at my leisure instead of being forced to eavesdrop, but this is what 13-2 considers “a step forward”.  Thankfully there are only four possible password combinations at a time, so choosing the right one comes down to just overhearing a few numbers thrown at you and hoping there’s an option where they’re in the right order.

There’s also a series of rotating room puzzles that you need to handle in order to advance.  Basically, there are some big cube-shaped rooms on a number of the floors, and by pressing buttons on a console you can rotate them to create a path to the switches you have to press to get to the next console and/or activate the elevator to the next floor.  It’s not at all taxing, but it comes off as a time-sink; moving these rooms takes much more time than it should, and it’s pretty common for you to have to rotate a room multiple times before it’s in the right position -- and pray that you get it exactly right on the first try, or you’ll just end up rotating and rotating to get it in just the right spot.  Compounding the problem is the fact that the floors you’re traversing are just a series of narrow pathways -- something that I would have been axed entirely, given vanilla 13, but old habits die hard. 

What this means is that if an enemy pops up, it’s virtually impossible to run past them, and you WILL want to run past them because by that point, no matter how you’ve built your characters they’ll be unstoppable by the common enemy mob.  And on top of that, enemies will do more than appear in front of or behind you; they’ll spawn either a step in front of or right on top of you, immediately sending you into a battle where, as always, the dominant strategy is to hammer the X button until the fight is over.  And your reward is to be restored the glorious privilege of slogging your way through time-wasting puzzles in a bland environment on a subplot that’s entirely avoidable and completely derails the main plot.  Joy of joys.

But what really pissed me off was an instance early on.  Serah and Noel catch a glimpse of Not-Caius making his way through a floor of the tower, and their first instinct is to chase after him.  Problem is, there’s a slight obstacle in the way.  The path to the area he’s entered is gone; that is, there’s a gap that they can’t traverse, and need to find a key to unlock an alternate route.  Said key, IIRC, is in an alternate version of the tower, demanding a quest to go and find that instead of…you know…advancing the plot.  By the way, the gap in the path?  The one that has completely thwarted our heroes?  Not even all that long.  In fact, I’m pretty damn sure the player can and has cleared gaps bigger than that over the course of the game.  I’m serious.  Serah and Noel have displayed superhuman leaping ability in cutscenes and out of them, either leaping massive distances to strike at giant monsters, or just using insane vertical leaps to traverse cliffs and plateaus.  And now, when we need to jump from one area to the next -- when it’s “absolutely vital” that we get moving quickly -- there’s an invisible wall in our way.  And we have to take a detour so we can keep going down this detour.

I hate this game. 

But you know what?  You want to know a secret?  That’s still not the worst part of The Subplot.

Clearing Augusta Tower was a multi-day endeavor for me.  Not because it was hard, mind you; the difficulty bar for 13-2 is permanently capped at Piss-Easy.  It’s just that the dungeon is so exhaustively bland that I couldn’t bring myself to get through all of it without a headache.  I mean, what am I supposed to do when the area is boring, the fights are boring, the puzzles are boring, and the context that brought me there makes me want to punt a goat?  My only hope for some semblance of satisfaction was the much-hyped boss fight, and with it a mercy-killing of this moronic subplot.  But of course, Adam (by the way, great naming convention there, Squeenix -- a shame there’s no Judeo-Christian worldview in The Lightning Saga to give it more merit) goes down just like every other boss in the game, slain by The Almighty X Button. 

Except the boss fight isn’t quite over.  See, this is the first time that the game’s much-touted “Live Trigger” comes into effect.  If you weren’t aware, the Live Trigger is a new addition to 13-2, allowing the player to pick responses that’ll slightly alter how a scene plays out.  It’s kind of like the branching conversations of Mass Effect, but infinitely inferior because virtually all of them have no effect on anything…unless you want to have a laugh (and admittedly, I did get one -- but only because it made Serah start spouting off about starting an investigation and reiterating the fact that she has the same voice actress as Persona 4’s Rise).  But in this instance, the Live Trigger is -- for the first time -- plot-relevant.  You have four options to choose from; pick the right one, and you’ll bring an end to the boss fight.  Pick the wrong one, and Adam will regenerate and you’ll have to fight him again, albeit in a more softened-up state…at least, I assume it was a softened-up state, given how easily I trounced him.  And "trounce" is the last word you want to use to describe a battle against something like this:

“Okay, this is interesting,” I said to myself.  “So all I have to do is pick the right answer, and the fight’s over.  Fair enough.”  The four options are “throw Mog,” “lure out the original,” “keep fighting until it disappears,” and “scream at Hope.”  Given that it wasn’t the first time I’d had well-coiffed warriors going up against fal’Cie, I figured that it wasn’t as immortal as one would think.  So I opted to toss Mog at it; if the little critter could find treasure chests and chronological discrepancies, then surely picking up an enemy weakness wouldn’t be that hard.  It failed, of course.  So I had to fight the boss again.  But the weird thing is, Serah and Noel actually try to reason their way through each option.  That is, if you think the answer is “throw Mog,” they’ll rationalize it and make it sound like that’s a good plan.  The same goes for “lure out the original.”  They’ll actually try to give sound reasoning as to why that’s the best course of action…but of course, it ends up being the wrong course, and you fight it again.

It was at that point when I realized something.  I only had two options left: “keep fighting” and “scream at Hope”. 

And that was when, very suddenly and very thoroughly, I started to get a headache.

…You know, I’d like to think that, for all my talk and posturing of being crazy and silly and awkward and out there, I’m actually a pretty average guy.  I know I seem pretty wild at times, but I think I’ve made it more than obvious by now that I’m a nice, level-headed person.  Not without quirks, and not immune to bouts of anger (rare as they may be), but in the end, I’m not that much different from you or the next guy.  So I hope I can sympathize with people.  Form a common ground.  I’d like to think that the points I raise aren’t just obsessive nitpicks.  I hope that what bothers me can, does, or will bother you -- which is part of the reason why I prefer going in-depth when it comes to games and my posts.  Too few people are willing to give games the deep analyses they need; in a way, you can think of me as a friendly virtual vanguard.  I can pinpoint what works in a game.  What to do in a game.  What not to do, or what doesn’t work.  I deal in the trade of insight, for your benefit far more than mine.

A part of me thinks that sometimes, when I do my Let’s Discuss posts, I run the risk of devolving into mindless nitpicking and bashing of games I’m obligated to dislike.  But I don’t like doing that.  All I can do is play a game, or watch a movie, and give a report of what I see.  Maybe that means I’ll find something worth praising and gushing about, like Majora’s Mask, or Devil Survivor 2.  That’s great.  Preferable, even.  Maybe I’ll encounter something like Halo 4, or DmC, and get burned so severely by them that I HAVE to speak up.  I have to offer my own thoughts, because -- again -- the things that bother me might be things that bother others, too.  I’m trying to help, because in the end we’re on a common ground here.  We all want the same things, at the very basest level.  We all want good experiences.  Good games, good movies, good stories.

With all that in mind, dear reader -- with all that said, does ANY PART of Final Fantasy 13-2 sound like a good experience to you?

Am I just going crazy here?  Am I projecting?  Am I just talking to myself, or thinking out loud?  Did you…did you see the video there?  We didn’t stop that monster using strength, skill, or ingenuity.  We didn’t recoup our losses and retreat, or come with a viable strategy.  There hasn’t been a single part of The Subplot yet that had any level of intelligence applied, be it by the people in the game, or the developers behind it.  And the proof -- the conclusive, decisive proof -- of that fact is the end of that boss fight.  Logic was useless.  Strength was useless.  Willpower was useless.  Even knowledge of past events, themes, and conversations held just minutes beforehand was useless.  No.  No, no, no.  In order to stop a rogue AI-god created by someone with no business creating his own divine being on a leash, the only option that works -- the ONLY option -- is for Serah to bitch so hard that it shatters the space-time continuum and causes Hope to retroactively abandon his plan because a hundred-pound girl yelled at him.  AND IT WORKS.

That’s it.  That’s all she wrote, folks.  Say what you will about FF7, 8, 9, 10, 10-2, 11, 12, 13, or 14.  This is it.  This is where Final Fantasy dies.  But you know what?  You know what the sad thing is?  This STILL isn’t the worst part of The Subplot.

I know I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: with Adam straight-up erased and a path to a new area open, Serah and Noel get a chance to catch their breath.  During their little victory party, Noel mentions to Serah that she’s starting to remind him of her sister Lightning, saying so as if that’s a compliment.  I don’t think I need to explain (again) why this is more along the lines of an insult, so I’ll come at this from a different angle. 

All right then, Noel.  I’ll bite.  Why does Serah remind you of Lightning?  You barely knew Lightning for ten minutes, and most of that time was spent staring at her armored back while she fired off magic and spouted terrible one-liners.  Her default setting throughout that sequence was steely rage.  Steely rage, but at the very least she was a competent (if overpowered) fighter.  Serah was not.  The most Serah could do was squeal at a researcher currently dozens of centuries behind them, and then flail at a monster you failed to kill as many as four times.  Furthermore, if her trans-spatial whining hadn’t worked, she would have just gotten smacked aside by a biomechanical god’s pimp hand.  And note that even when she succeeded, she very nearly ended up tumbling into the tower’s depths, which she probably could have avoided if she’d remembered that her sword doubled as a bow. 

Furthermore, Lightning’s powers may have been ill-defined and annoyingly vast, but if nothing else they were (trying to be) impressive; Serah has to spaz out to do anything of merit, and even then there was absolutely no guarantee that anything would happen.  Let’s not forget that you’ve spent the better part of God knows how long in the company of a girl who, while (designed to be) intelligent, is also unconfident, indecisive, and constantly longs for her sister; even in her most badass moments (in QTE-filled cutscenes, natch), you’re the one doing most of the badass action, while Serah just lends support by shooting arrows or offering a quick assist.  So generally speaking, you’re not just helping to make Lightning look like an undeserving messiah, but you’re making Serah look like a fragile moron, and making yourself look like an asshole.  So congratulations, Noel!  You’ve managed to ruin three characters simultaneously!  Give yourself a pat on the back!

As you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly in a good mood when I got done with Augusta Tower.  But I thought to myself -- I had to tell myself -- things would get better.  That was just a rough patch of the game; there’s still a ways to go, and much more…well, SOME enjoyment to be had.  So I took up the artifact, used it to open the Time Gate, and headed for the next area…which, as it turned out, was a new version of the once-pillaged city of Academia.  And by “new version” I mean the exact same city, only during the daytime and not infested with monsters.  The mere sight of that city sent my mood through the roof, I promise you that.  But not long after entering this new Academia, I actually ended up meeting a familiar face: Hope and his assistant Alyssa had apparently managed to travel through time, and have a little pow wow with Serah and Noel.

Now, if you’re like me you’re probably thinking how convenient it is for these two to show up right when the plot has completely lost all direction Serah and Noel need guidance and intel.  Or maybe you’re thinking that instead of just seeing the same two NPCs over and over again, we’d actually be able to interact with other people -- you know, to establish that the world and characters therein are more than just cardboard cutouts.  And you may be a bit distressed by the fact that Hope and Alyssa reveal that the machine they used to travel to this version of Academia was, in fact, a one-way trip; in other words, they jumped in with no plan of how to get back, or where they were going, or even if they’d arrive safely, and certainly how they’d communicate their success to others when there are generations separating them from the rest of their comrades.  So basically, because Serah and Noel didn’t do the smart thing and go back in time to tell Hope not to make a dumbass decision (instead choosing to rely on some vague suggestion that Hope himself hardly understood), Hope decided to make another dumbass decision and moved himself miles down the timeline, reappearing in a place where he has absolutely no chance of ever enacting any good as a result of his team’s efforts.  Guess that’s four characters ruined, then.  How about you go the extra mile and reveal that Caius has a chocobo fetish, or that Yeul used her seeress powers to cheat at every poker night?

Okay, so what’s Hope doing here in the future?  Well, he’s convinced that if there isn’t an answer in the present (which he probably could have come up with if he hadn’t given up and skipped ahead a few centuries), there must be one in the future -- a surefire way to prevent Cocoon from falling.  And he thinks he’s found it; apparently, there’s a floating ship that’s just now being mentioned, and if they can harness its power, they can maybe save Cocoon.  Basically, Hope and Alyssa tell you that they need to acquire these things called Graviton Cores; problem is, there aren’t any in the current area, or even time period.  So your new mission -- that is, if you want to advance the plot -- is to go scour at least five specified areas you’ve already visited all across space and time to find these scattered Graviton Cores and bring them back to Alyssa.

And that, my friends, is the worst part of The Subplot.

 It’s not the fact that it was started by the most moronic and contrived decision possible.  It’s not the fact that the conflict driving it is completely artificial.  It’s not the fact that you have to slog through a boring, tedious dungeon.  It’s not the fact that you have to fight a boss that doesn’t require a strategy any more in-depth than the one you used fifteen hours ago, and also fight multiple times if you try to use reason.  It’s not the fact that you’re forced to resolve the battle by giving in to a horrifically-warped idea of a triumphant moment.  It’s not the fact that a step forward in character development is to be more like a pink-haired marketing tool.  It’s not the fact that you’re brought to the same location with a different paint job.  It’s not the fact that you’re forced to look at the smiling face of someone who deserves to be thrown into a pit of snakes after all he’s put you through.

No.  None of that is the worst part.  The worst part about it is your reward.  After spending hours on this pointless, moronic venture -- while Caius and Yeul continue their own chronological shenanigans unchecked -- your reward for all of this isn’t plot advancement, or character development, or insight into the world, or any idea more advanced than “don’t try to make your own god.”  Your reward for all this is a roadblock telling you to turn around and go do some arbitrary legwork if you want to keep playing; your reward is shameless, unrepentant padding.

Your reward for The Subplot is a goddamn fetch quest.


  1. I have never played Final Fantasy. But I'm impressed by your analysis of the game--that's a lot of dedication to detail!

  2. To be honest, I haven't played EVERY Final Fantasy (the seventh one was my first), but from what I've heard if you pick up -- or watch on YouTube -- 4, 6, or 7, you're in good hands. Those are supposed to be the top three, and based on the minor instances I've had with them, there's truth to that. Opinions vary on when exactly FF started to slide, though; some argue it was as early as 7, maybe more.

    Minor history lesson aside, thanks for the praise...though it doesn't really take much "dedication to detail" to point out the myriad flaws with this game (some of which I left out both in this post and the posts leading up to it). Even if this game wasn't a slap in the face to anyone even remotely familiar with the canon of the original game -- itself riddled with issues -- the excess melodrama and needless gravitas combined with cliches and plot holes by the dozen makes for a SUPREMELY awful game. Some people have been able to find some fun with it, and to be honest I envy them; I just can't ignore the problems here. And no one should have to do the same.

    FF used to be an exemplar of high standards. Now it struggles just to reach par.

    ...Well, this was a phenomenally depressing comment. In any case, thanks for popping in and giving it a read. Nice to know that I managed to do something right with this extended bout of "nerd rage".

  3. Your rage is founded. Over the years Final Fantasy is a game series that found excellence in combining storytelling, atmosphere and gaming. As someone that played the series since FF 1 I can shed light on how someone can find enjoyment out of this train-wreck of a game.

    Final Fantasy 1 was a terrible game. There. I said it. In it's original form, mages were dangerous liabilities as magic was set up in the D & D Memorization system. The best your mage could do was use their best spell 9 times on a rest. There were no rest points in dungeons.

    Regular battles took almost three minutes to complete. A round of combat Played out like a pitcher's duel in a baseball game: WARR attacks imp. WARR hits imp for 5 damage. Imp Fell. BMAG Attacks imp. BMAG miss.

    Beyond that, it had potential to be better with polish. It challenged the norm and laid the framework for many successful and solid games that age very well. (See 4 and 6)

    When the story is laughably bad it brings back find memories of the terrible localization of FF1. "See your face in the water! How dirty!" It is because of this, I can play a bad FF game. It reminds me of days when Square was allowed to make mistakes because they were taking design risks.

    Nothing stings worse than disappointment. And this is where this rage is coming from. FF13-2 is a disappointing game with technical improvements to the original without paying attention to it's ridiculous storytelling. This is just like involving yourself with a absurdly beautiful woman that drives you insane. You have to consider focusing on her looks and mechanics rather than her substance.

    If the benefits aren't worth the pain; it might be time for you to start seeing other game companies.

  4. I've been pondering lately, about your rage and this game. You seem to have no shortage of disgust for this game, and the game seems to have no shortage of bad game decisions and sloppy storytelling. And yet, so many people seem to regard these flaws with mild irritation at worst. Heavens, some even go on to say that this was a better game than XIII, for some reason. Personally, I'm not too familiar with the FF13 saga, but I have siblings who seem to not mind the weak characters, plot holes, and general badness that seems to fill you with hate. I mean, sure, they're not the most analytical, but I know they're not the type to be completely numb to this sort of stupidity.

    And that's not to say your hate isn't justified; these are very valid reasons to hate a supposed triple-A game. These are flaws of an overambitious amateur piece (like an Idea Factory game or something), being flagrantly committed by the sequel to a game Famitsu gave a perfect score to. It doesn't seem to work on any meaningful level, and yet it's like it's doing something right for it to still have fans. But what? Is it just because it looks and sounds pretty? Is the gameplay good enough - or perhaps just easy enough - to make people numb to all this story nonsensery? Is there really something compelling about these games that we're missing out here?

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm confused. I'm so very confused. I really, really, really hate being the guy who bashes new games like some sort of crotchety fogey, but why do these recent games have to punish gamers for thinking things out? Why do gamers not care about this? The mind boggles.

  5. "If the benefits aren't worth the pain; it might be time for you to start seeing other game companies."

    Oh, you don't have to worry about that, my friend; unless the fabled Versus 13 or the inevitable FF15 rises from the ashes like some kind of phoenix (or the people behind The Lightning Saga are kept far far away), I don't see myself getting into FF anytime soon. Based on what happened going from 13 to 13-2, I'm willing to bet that the transition from 13-2 to Lightning Returns is going to be more of the same: a complete ignorance of what happened in the previous game, and practically hitting the reset button...and not for the better. So I'm done.

    ...At least, as done as I can be before Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out. I'm a hypocrite, I know, but still...I want to believe that it'll be a magical adventure.

    But back on topic, you've pretty much got me pegged. FF13 was a disappointment for me, and in my eyes the straw that broke the camel's back. 13-2 has gone the extra step and ground the camel's back into powder -- and frankly, it's not something I can comprehend. I've disliked games before, but these games have been the first time I've ever really felt like (if you'll let me borrow a certain internet reviewer's infamous phrase) a betrayal...and I guess I don't know how to deal with it.

    Playing things like Devil Survivor 2 or Xenoblade helps, but in the end, I just can't quite forget my first real betrayal. Not yet, at least...but once Persona 5 comes out I'll be all better. I can only hope Atlus makes my dreams come true and gives the main cast Norse mythology-based Personas and infuses the game itself with metal motifs and sounds. Ah, if only...

  6. Those are all very good questions -- and they're questions that there's no good answer to. As long as there's more than one gamer on the planet, there's never going to be a solid consensus as to why and how the industry keeps going wrong. But if you'll let me be a little bold, I have a theory.

    In a nutshell? People aren't being critical enough.

    I hate how I have to keep trotting out DmC as an example, but it really is the perfect whipping boy in this situation. You don't need to be even remotely analytical to realize that it's full of plot holes, it's juvenile, and its themes and ideas collapse under the weight of swears and dubstep (well, "aggrotech", to be fair, but you get the idea). But for whatever reason, reviewers and gamers alike were willing to gloss over such a key element -- a key element, because the reboot was specifically handed to Ninja Theory for their work on Heavenly Sword and the story therein -- because the gameplay offers a few thrills. And I stress a few thrills, because the combat and exploration are both full of problems in their own right. I'll admit that the combat of DmC is its greatest strength, and that the stories of the Devil May Cry games weren't 100% gold, but one good-ish element of a game isn't enough to compensate for a completely shitty element. Just imagine what this mindset would mean in other industries: would you want to buy a car that goes fast, but its parts fall off if the wind blows? Sure, it has one nice perk, and functionally speaking it works, but wouldn't you want something better?

    I don't think it's too much to ask for people to raise their standards, and accept more than "par for the course" -- especially considering that "par" in this case seems to be getting lower and lower. It's not a quick or surefire fix, but as soon as gamers en masse start applying even a modicum of critical thinking (or again, standards) to their games, we'll start moving toward brighter days. Granted it'd help if more developers embraced creativity and intellect and treated gamers as more than just tadpole-brained sycophants, but the idea is there.

    But that's enough ranting. Speaking specifically about FF13-2, I'm hard-pressed to figure that one out too. I guess in this case, being "good" just comes down to being "better than FF13" -- proof that the bar is set so low a worm couldn't slip under it. But I can tell you right now that ignoring the story, 13-2 is full of gameplay issues as bad as, or worse than vanilla 13. By the way, the whole "looks and sounds pretty" element? That's highly debatable here; the graphics, as noted by other reviewers, have taken a hit, and I'm personally convinced that Serah swerves in and out of the uncanny valley.

  7. Okay, this is gonna sound a bit crazy, but I went over your Subplot rage and I have a much more viable alternative to the existing subplot:

    What if we say that the 400-year old AI is attacking the characters because it as acting without it own volition, based on a sub-routine that's still kicking in, having been deprived of any updates on the existing Fal'Cie status?

    This way the quest could go in an entirely different direction: the players could, for example, choose to work their way around it and try to find the mainframe and update it, thus halting the attack.

    As for the Adam Fal'Cie, why couldn't we lie to ourselves and say that it wasn't Hope who made it, but Coccoon's people, in an attempt to create a counter-measure to destroy the Fal'Cie by using a weapon of equal or greater force? It could also be destroyed by, for example, breaking the battle into sequences, with each one having the monster chase after the characters as they look for a solution or, at the very least, the OFF switch.

    And lastly, I honestly think that Hope (in his current Lex Luthor-y stage) could make a villain, as long as his plan didn't suck. He hates Snow (whom he considers responsible for killing his mother) and now has allowed his hatred to bloom into a convoluted revenge scheme. Come to think of it, if I knew more about the game I could spin a yarn of bullshit that would make Hope the final boss, thus tying in the Subplot in a meaningful and interesting manner.

    God, this game's experience through your articles reminds me of Mummy 3: I spent the entire movie reqwriting the damn thing in my head.

  8. "Okay, this is gonna sound a bit crazy, but I went over your Subplot rage and I have a much more viable alternative to the existing subplot"

    Dude, that's not crazy. That's saintly. You're doing a greater service than Squeenix ever could than this point.

    You know what the sad thing is? Your alternate Subplot could have worked. It really, really could have. As you walk past NPCs in certain areas, they'll moan about how much harder life is without the pleasures of Cocoon or the fal'Cie. They could have gotten desperate and made their own (or a weapon even greater to bring about some kind of super-paradise). And I agree that Hope could have been the villain of the Subplot, if not the main plot; it'd keep the focus on the original six characters, offer some unique development, and give players everywhere the chance to ram a sword down his throat. Seriously, a lot of people hate Hope; GameInformer named him as one of their top ten worst characters a while back.

    Your plot could have worked. Given a bit of time, I could come up with my own plot. Any plot could have worked except for the one they went with...and that's the one they went with.

    You know what's even sadder, though? There actually ARE ideas in 13-2 that they could have pursued and developed. There IS a good story in there underneath all the self-aggrandizing and BS. It could have been this story about the futility of human effort, or the fallible nature of divine beings, or even the dangers of poorly-thought out heroism. Hell, there's even a story in there about Serah coming into her own independent of Lightning; she has every right to snap at her sister and tell her off, or at least realize that her "idol" is actually anything but. There are ideas, there are threads, there is potential.

    But they didn't do anything with it. ANYTHING. And that's probably the saddest thing of all.

    ...On a more positive note, I don't remember a damn thing from Mummy 3. I'm willing to assume that's a good thing.

  9. So much... what's the word? Anger? Frustration? Fury? Outrage? Is there any word in any language that can properly convey your emotions over "the subplot"?

    I'm so sorry you had to go through this. I am so, so, so, so sorry.

    Square Enix... you are permanently cemented onto the shit list. It's amazing how long you have not been called out on your bullshit. Capcom and EA don't get any elbow room, even when they do something mediocre, so how come SE gets to slide?

    We need more critics like you, Voltech, except with enough power to put a crap-ton of pressure on the company until they are forced to make changes. Or that power can be used to push the masses away from any Final Fantasy game. Either one works.

    ... I hope you took a nice, long spiritual break after going through "the subplot". Hopefully - no pun intended - that was the worst of the storm.

  10. Oh, don't worry. I haven't touched 13-2 in...weeks? Months? Well, it's been a while. And that's probably the way it's going to stay. I'd like to hold onto the ever-shrinking glimmer of hope that Squeenix can pull out of this tailspin; as it stands, with this complete DISASTER of a trilogy produced (or in production, in the case of Lightning Returns), it's time for Final Fantasy to go to sleep. Or at the very least, take a long, long, LONG break. The developers need to figure out what to do, how to regain the magic, how to evolve properly without turning into a hollow string of art assets, and how to know, fun.

    But given that some Squeenix bigwig was just boasting about an announcement of a new FF at this year's E3...well, I think it might be a while before they learn their lesson.

    And now that I think about it, there IS a word that describes how I feel about The Subplot -- and 13-2 in general. It's "disappointment." I'll give a product a lot of crap if it's not up to snuff, but that's not just because it's low quality; it's because it's wasting its potential.

    Just think about the good things that could have been done with the money to fund this game.

    Now think about where that money actually ended up going.

    Now think about how much money they made back.

    Now think about what they plan to do with that money.

    ...Yeah. Not a very enticing prospect, is it?

  11. Oh man, I got a headache from that fight too just watching it.

    Out of anything, the Live Trigger thing is the ONE aspect that actually has potential behind it. Being able to change the outcome of fights by how you respond to them can be used to benefit, I'm sure of it. They could have made it to where you could have the battle play out in different ways: use pure logic and gone back in time via the Historia Crux to tell Hope not to make the machine; go for a more tactical approach and indeed lure out the original fal'Cie; go more a more overpower-everything approach and throw Mog at it to overpower the machine; or flail at it endlessly and die, as the "keep fighting until it disappears" would have done. What it SHOULDN'T be used for, though, is to shove in even MORE angsty wailing and cause the plot to go completely ass-backwards.

    And then... after all of that... to throw in a damn fetch quest as your reward.... ALL MY HATE!!!

  12. To be fair, there is a possibility that the Live Trigger might be used in the story later on; I'm pretty sure 13-2 has multiple endings, so in the absolute worst-case scenario getting Ending B over Ending A could just come down to pressing the Circle button when you get the prompt. Buuuuuuuuuuuut I doubt it'd be that easy, and it's kind of a cop-out.

    ...So in other words, it's PERFECT for this game. *rimshot*

    To be honest, I'm not 100% opposed to fetch quests. Your Metroid Prime example brings up a good point -- it's woven into the story and world-building, but I'd also add that there's real context to it. The game enthralls you from the start, keeps on enthralling you, and in order to get a satisfying conclusion, a fetch quest is a welcome price to pay. It certainly helps that the game is pretty fun in its own right, so it's less like busywork and more like...well, a game.

    Not so with 13-2. It's a slog to play through, you aren't being rewarded for the time you put in, and if you think about anything that's going on for even a nanosecond (especially if you played the original game), then the entire story just implodes. It's sad to say, but if this is supposed to represent the future of Final Fantasy, then I hope the series (or its developers, more than anything) has the graces to bow out -- and soon. This game is just plain embarrassing.