Pieces of straw
Once upon a time, I was planning to review Final Fantasy XIII-2: Excess Assets and We Need Money While We Find a Decent Direction to take XV for this website. For a while, I didn’t exactly have the time to even unwrap my shiny, $80 collector’s edition — it’s really nice packaging — let alone drop 80 hours into it. Eventually, I did start playing. We here at A/10 don’t mind a little belatedness. There are always — hopefully – things to say about games and those things don’t stop being useful or worthwhile just because a game has been out a few months and kicked to the curb by the collective enthusiast subconscious because a smattering of other loudly hyped titles have been released.
Yet, here I sit, nearing the one year anniversary commemorating XIII-2’s release with the hilariously named Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII on the horizon. Actually, the title is boring, not funny. I just can’t disassociate it with Lightning “coolly” putting sunglasses on like she’s straight from the 90’s. I guess I’ll deal with it. The point is, the review isn’t happening. Partially because I didn’t finish the game, even more because I kind of don’t want to. Maybe I will one day and post a long, late look on what’s so problematic about the game, as I did with Final Fantasy XIII, but for now I want to talk about one moment that wrecked Final Fantasy XIII-2 for me.
With how long games typically are — even four to ten hour experiences decried as “short” are a healthy time obligation — there are more and more chances for a game, particularly when it’s not paced well, to absolutely blow it and make players want to throw down the controller in exasperation and anger. Sometimes, we’ll get back to them. Sometimes we won’t. Sometimes something has come up in our own lives and it’s not even the game’s fault. In this case, though, it definitely is.
I was liking Final Fantasy XIII-2. Perhaps that not surprising, as I am far less down on Final Fantasy XIII than most; it’s incredibly problematic — read the afore-linked article for a fuller analysis — but it surprised me. I fully anticipated Noel to be insufferable and assumed Serah would just be an unholy amalgam of the worst parts of Vanille and Lightning, but scaling back to two main characters worked well (not so humble brag: the unwieldy “epic” scope of Final Fantasy XIII is one of the issues I focus on in the aforementioned article). I also assume the monster who wrote dialogue for Snow was fired (possibly from a cannon).
So, what happened? Well, things were moving along swimmingly, and in my ricocheting through time like a rocket propelled pinball I ended up in Academia. I was so happy. The futuristic city forcibly repelled the obsidian night with neon signage that reflected beautifully on the rain slick streets. It was something out of Blade Runner, a stark contrast to the mostly natural locales I had explored previously, and I was loving it. Then I was back in control and things fell apart. All the good will Square Enix had built up over the past couple dozen or however many hours evaporated, because Academia 400 AF is inexcusable in its bad design.
The sprawling area is filled with Cie’th, enemies that make for the most boring battles in the game (and probably in the previous, too) because of how long they take to be staggered. Fighting them is an exercise in dull endurance, not skill or engagement. And someone thought it was a good idea to make a giant, gorgeous location (with various, portioned off areas that require unlocking and general gallivanting around) and fill it to the god damn brim with these lumbering morons. You’re literally engaging in a mind numbing fight — the exact same mind numbing fight — every 10 steps or so. It’s probably one of my worst experiences with a video game last year.
I put up with a lot in Final Fantasy XIII, sure. Probably too much. I did have a little more time on my hands when it came out. But Final Fantasy XIII-2 was doing so well that its sudden nose dive was all the more disheartening. That the area looked so amazing and promising certainly did nothing to quell my ire. What a bait and switch, I thought. It made it all the more insulting.
To my credit, I persevered. I finished the awful area. I kept playing. However, things just weren’t the same. I had such a feeling of resentment for what the game had just put me through. It didn’t help that XIII-2 didn’t immediately right it’s ship after the razor sharp plunge in pacing and general not-being-awful-itude that would make the Black Thursday blush. Next, you’re funneled into a boring tower and tasked with reaching the top. The art direction in it reminded me of Dirge of Cerberus (and it was an interesting to look at as a low budget PS2 game, incidentally, with nothing going on) and there were some terribly dull “puzzles” that needed completing before you could move up each floor. Mediocre, boring padding.
I played a bit more, but with a growing disinterest. When I reached the bit that the game warned, “Things gon get real; best take care of any nagging obligations,” I took that as an excuse to toil away at certain sidequests and never returned from that ether. Other releases took precedence and gave me an excuse to stop playing entirely.
We all have that story, that breaking point in a game. One of my go-to’s is always trying to walk the trail of blood in Max Payne’s hallucinatory nightmarescape and falling off it for about 45 minutes (partially because I couldn’t get my TV settings to a point where I could see it clearly, partially because the PS2 version controlled as gracefully as a Ford Expedition). It’s sad; because of it, I haven’t played either of the Max Payne games sitting in one of several possible boxes, despite my love of noir. Because of Academia 400 AF, I might never play Final Fantasy XIII-2 again. And the 30 or 40 hours I put into it feel like an even bigger waste.