I don’t think I’ve had an existential crisis this bad since I watched Transformers: Dark of the Moon and legitimately wanted to bash my head against something until everything went black.
Just thought I’d throw that out there to set the tone.
So. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 has been on store shelves and ready for purchase and digestion by gamers all over the states for months now. And frankly, I’m ecstatic -- not about the game, of course. At long last, this so-called, ill-advised, and poorly-executed (in my humble opinion, of course) “Lightning Saga” has come to an end. For the foreseeable future, at least; I get the feeling this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Miss Farron, even beyond an appearance in a hypothetical third Dissidia game. It’s safe to assume she’ll be popping up in the new Kingdom Hearts. I’m really looking forward to seeing the ever-energetic Sora talking to someone who has to struggle to show an emotion.
But like I said, I’m ecstatic. I’m happy. FF13 was the game that “broke” the franchise for me -- a game so bad that it makes Transformers look good. (At least they have the good grace to end in three hours or less; FF13 made empty promises of getting good eventually, asking players to tough it out for about twenty hours.) And as if that wasn’t bad enough, FF13-2 was significantly worse; I not only consider it the WORST game I’ve ever played, but so unbelievably bad that it makes vanilla 13 look good. That level of failure is like going up to 18.0 on the Richter scale. But hey. It’s over, right?
And that just brings up a new problem. The Lightning Saga is coming to an end in terms of production. But in terms of this story? In terms of this one-sided rivalry of mine? It’s not over.
Lightning’s calling me out. Calling me to the ultimate ring.
I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re at least vaguely familiar with my work. If you’re not, then I’ll be brief. I can and have written multiple posts dissecting the previous two games in this so-called Lightning Saga. I’ve used my unreasonably large head to reason and argue that Squeenix’s golden girl is (by way of incompetent writing and blind glorification) actually the villain of her saga, and more likely to destroy her world instead of save it…or if not that, then at least be responsible for everything that’s gone wrong with the saga. Simply put, if there was no Lightning, there would be no conflict. Period.
I have a hard time supporting or even liking a game if its main character is complete garbage. But that’s precisely what Lightning is to me -- and even if she wasn’t in the “Saga”, that would still leave two games with barely-there gameplay, a world that might as well be painted on, a story that the common ostrich would call stupid, and a level of gravitas that makes the “serious” tale that much sillier, and threatens to strangle the player with hands that would make Hellboy feel inadequate. If I was ever going to play the betrayal card, it would be for these games -- and merely the fact that a third game has seen release makes me want to choke on my rage and stocked-up hot dogs.
But I know how this goes. In fact, I’m only making this post -- or editing and posting it, since it’s been on the backburner for months -- because my brother brought it up in a conversation. He asked me if he should get Transistor (a game that’s not without flaws, but still MUCH appreciated), or snag Lightning Returns thanks to a once-in-a-blue-moon sale by Squeenix. You can guess which I pushed him towards, but he made it very clear that he’s GOING to get the game someday once there’s a high enough price drop. That’s no threat. That’ a promise. It’s the same type that led to him grabbing 13-2 -- and his intent, without question, is to see me suffer through the Saga anew. Because he wants revenge for that one time I tainted his shake with mayonnaise and pickle juice as per the greatest April Fool’s Day ever.
He wants me to see it through to the end. And now there’s a part of me that wants to do the same.
I haven’t beaten a single game in this “Saga” yet, but not for lack of trying; I threw up my hands when dealing with the last boss of vanilla 13 (random chance that he’ll instantly kill my leader and force a Game Over? Do not want), and it took all of my willpower to keep myself from taking a jackhammer to 13-2 when it expected me to do a time-wasting fetch quest after suffering through a cockamamie subplot -- which paradoxically might have gotten more attention in the story than the main plot. So on one level, clearing LR is a chance to reclaim my honor, and reassert my pride as a gamer.
Setting matters of pride (the greatest sin of all!) aside, I can’t shake the feeling that how I approach LR could say certain things about my character -- as a gamer or otherwise. I’ve been burned twice by this “Saga”, and badly. But the Final Fantasy brand used to mean something to me. FF10 was a fun little romp that, while certainly not perfect, is still something I don’t mind admitting I like. I spent many more hours than I should have creating an unbeatable task force in FF8, and got a kick out of the proceedings that followed. FF7 was my first, and in a lot of ways it opened my mind -- not just to the potential of video games, but the possibility of one day dreaming up my own tales of heroes. I’m no die-hard fan, but I don’t have to be. The series already had its effect on me.
With this howling hydra that Squeenix calls The Lightning Saga well in our midst, I have to admit (again) that I’ve decided to sever ties to the franchise that once inspired me, and once counted on. But it’s not something I did with ease. In fact, even now I feel kind of guilty about making such a bold declaration. “Is it really okay to turn my back on them?” I asked myself. “What if they turn it around with the next game?” I wondered. “Can I really call myself fair and just if I heap on the hate?” I thought. Indeed, hating a game that I never even touch would make me the worst sort of person -- something very near one of the fabled and reviled “nostalgiatards” that dwell in the annals of darkness.
And as you can guess, I have a personal stake in the matter. If the hydra really is coming my way, I have my doubts that I can just turn my back on it. Call it perversion if you will, because it’s probably something very close to it. I have to know how the story ends; if I didn’t, I would have spoiled the ending for myself a long time ago. Moreover, I need to know about the events leading up to it; 13-2’s ending may be infamous, but the “journey” there (and the dreaded subplot therein) is more telling than ten thousand evidence lockers. But beyond that, I want to believe that there’s still a tiny glimmer of hope, some minute fragment that makes the “Saga” worthwhile. I want to play the game, and by some miracle have it offer something substantial to me. Something that’ll put my mind at ease, and heal the scars left by its gnashing heads.
I don’t want to be afraid to play another Final Fantasy game. But the fact that I feel that way in the first place has me worried.
I’m beginning to think that my instincts are a lot better than I give myself credit for. I was worried about DmC, and you just have to spot the tactical omission of the subtitle to know how I feel about that. I had my suspicions about Beyond: Two Souls, and wouldn’t you know it, everything that I suspected would be a problem became a problem. And when I was wrong, I was wrong in the worst way possible; The Last of Us went past just being a not-quite-worthy GOTY contender and became something not-even-mediocre, popular opinion be damned. So is there a chance that Lightning’s Last Hurrah will give me what I’m looking for in a game? Yes. Will it deliver? Sign after sign after sign seems to suggest that I should stay the hell away, to the point where I’m afraid the demo alone will scare me off.
Like I said, I’m not a die-hard FF fan. But isn’t this the exact same thought process thousands of other gamers have gone through? Haven’t they been burned by a FF game in the past, but bought the next one anyway because there’s a chance the new one will recapture the magic? What kind of message would I be sending if I gave Squeenix the satisfaction in knowing that I played one of their post-Sakaguchi games? What kind of standard would I be setting for myself if I caved after saying “No more Final Fantasy” and played the sequel to a game that was effectively the cringe-worthy Apology Edition to a game that made me want to cry tears of blood? Wouldn’t caving in make me part of the problem, and not the solution?
And beyond all that, I have my doubts I’d be playing the game for the right reasons. I can tell you right now that I’m not the type who buys into the “turn your brain off” practice of entertainment; if you have to turn your brain off to enjoy something, then the story doesn’t deserve to be enjoyed. So whether the game is good or bad, I expect that if I play it (or rage-quit and watch the rest through an LP, as I did with 13-2), I’ll likely be posting my needlessly in-depth thoughts of it across the internet.
And frankly, I wonder if that’s the only reason I’m interested in the game. Do I want to play it because I want closure on multiple levels? Do I want to play it so I can put another notch on my gamer belt? Do I want to play it just so I can revel smugly over how bad the game is, or how bad the franchise has gotten? Do I want to play it just so I can have something to complain about, or prove that I’m right? Do I have any intention of engaging with the game on its terms -- as a game designed to be rewarding in some form -- or just as proof that the joke’s still being told by Squeenix?
…It’s very possible that I’m over-thinking this. I do that sometimes.
Let’s be real here. The days when Final Fantasy and its creators -- Squaresoft, Square-Enix or otherwise -- ruled the roost have long since past. If I want a consistently-good franchise, I have the Tales Series. If I want a depressingly-rare but oh-so-satisfying release, I’ve got Atlus. If I want one-off games that come out of nowhere but hit like Muhammad Ali with rocket boosters in his gloves, I’ve got Lost Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Ni no Kuni. And those are just the JRPGs. I have a feeling that Squeenix thinks it’s done something revolutionary by making a FF game that’s action-oriented -- and as such, I have a feeling that their vision is being distorted by the vacuum they make their games in.
I don’t think I’m going to lose any sleep over another bad FF game. Nor will that be the case if (or when) I swear off the series for real, despite its best efforts to pull me back in. But in order to bring this story to an end, I have to drop down into the coal mines one last time -- to go deep into the bowels of the earth, and say goodbye to the stars above. The question is, do I have the willpower for it? Do I have the justified reasons to give it one more shot? Do I have the courage to ride with the devil?
…Kamen Rider W reference. Yes.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that there’s no clear-cut answer to all of these questions, so I’ll clam up here. And I’ll let you all weigh in on the subject. Should I take the plunge? How should I approach this game? Is anyone else struggling with the decision? Ever felt the same way? By all means, go on and chat it up in the comments.
As for me? Well, let me say this to start: I’m not going to play Lightning Returns for a while. Because there’s something else that’s calling me into the ring.
Guys? There’s a chance -- a slight, but ever-increasing chance -- that this might be one of the worst games I’ve ever played.
So much so that I had to ease the sting with a Kamen Rider Den-O reference.
Ah, good ol’ Deneb. Such a cool guy. He's got gun fingers -- ain't nobody beatin' that.