-By Hariz B.
Final Fantasy XIII was not a bad game, but it was not the definitive next-gen Final Fantasy game that fans were pining for (like how the phenomenal Final Fantasy X was). Critics and gamers were quick to point out its shortcomings like its linear storyline, lack of exploration and irritating characters. When the direct sequel was announced, fans got hopeful, with Square Enix boldly proclaiming that the game would “[exceed] Final Fantasy XIII in every aspect”.
And it does improve a lot on the original game. The collection of monsters (which seems quite juvenile at first) surprisingly adds much needed depth to the Command Synergy Battle System. Its an addictive aspect of the game, and players might find themselves giving in to the temptation of training their monsters and seeking out better, rarer ones ala Pokemon. Towns can now be explored and interaction with Non Playable Characters is not only available, it is also made unobtrusive, sparing players who do not care for all the extra details. The visuals of the game remain as impressive as ever, and the new “Cinematic Action” segments, where gameplay and action-packed cutscenes are seamlessly integrated, makes the fights feel alive and believable.
Unfortunately, this second trip to the worlds of Cocoon and Pulse fails to fully impress. Although many of the flaws in Final Fantasy XIII have been dealt with, the biggest problems from the earlier game are still present. The journey that the characters undertake remains as linear as ever. It could be said that the game is one long fetch quest, with many detours that the player is forced to take. The new ‘live trigger’ mechanic tries to add variety to this rescue mission, but it falls short, giving the impression that instead of solving the problem Square Enix just added extra padding to the game, hoping that it would make the game better.
The personal journey that Noel and Serah undertake is disappointing as well. These characters make the most confusing of decisions and have unconvincing motivations. The player just does not feel attached to the characters anymore – I find myself playing the game just to complete it, not because I actually care what happens to Serah or Noel. The necessary emotional resonance between player and character is no longer there.
I think what gets me the most is the implications this has for the series. Where is the drive to continue playing? A numerical progression implies a certain amount of progress, a concept which has unfortunately been absent in the most recent entries in Final Fantasy. It’s as if Square Enix had to give up storytelling to make way for flashier graphics. The future of this franchise does not look good – who could forget the horror that was XIV, a game so bad that Square Enix is trying to repair and re-release it.
Square Enix needs to realise that no amount of CGI wizardry can compensate for a sub-par plot. The impressive visuals and sound effects might be able to stir up interest, but what gets players hooked, what grabs them by their heartstrings and keeps them glued to to their consoles, is stuff that no technological advancement can create.