The Great Debate: Will Final Fantasy XIII-2 reclaim lost fans?
The sequel to the much criticised Final Fantasy XIII is trying to steer the series back towards its roots, but has Square Enix done enough to reclaim its lost fans, those who were left alienated by Final Fantasy XIII’s never-ending corridor? PS3 Attitude’s Stefhutch20 and Seanoc offer their verdicts.
Staff writer Stefhutch20 roars yay
While there are those gamers who will defend Final Fantasy XIII to the very end (myself among them), there can be no denying that Square Enix’s story-heavy adventure has become somewhat of an elephant in the room for diehard Final Fantasy fans.
With its strictly linear path to follow, no towns to explore, a re-designed battle system, and various other changes from the tried and tested Final Fantasy formula, the game was the victim of a severe backlash upon its release two years ago.
However, Square Enix is far too clever a developer to make the same mistake twice, so XIII-2 is a much more traditional Final Fantasy game, which I firmly believe has the power to bring back their disillusioned fans.
Clearly the main area Square Enix needed to work on was the incessant linearity of FFXIII, not only in the shape of the world, but also the story and gameplay. For many, the problem with XIII was that they were given virtually no freedom whatsoever, which isn’t great for any RPG, and even worse for a Final Fantasy game.
The main reason for this linearity was so that Square Enix could give the story the justice it deserved, and this wouldn’t have been possible in an open world. Naturally, FFXIII-2’s more open structure means a less concrete story, hence the game’s multiple endings (although only one is canonical).
Although not a completely open world, Final Fantasy XIII-2’s map design is also a definite improvement over its predecessor, with multiple paths and rewards for exploration. There are even non-playable characters to talk to and receive quests from, just like in the good old days.
Speaking of side quests, it was thought to be sacrilege to make a Final Fantasy game without them, but, in XIII, all fans got was a bunch of hunting missions. It was fun to try for five stars on all of them, but the game was crying out for a bit of diversity, which is where XIII-2 comes in.
Combat is also a lot more varied this time around, largely thanks to the monster collection feature. Noel and Serah are the only two permanent members of the battle party, and the third slot is taken up by any defeated enemy, which can be swapped at any time. With over 150 monsters to recruit, the player is able to shape the party to their liking, in a way that simply wasn’t possible in XIII.
And let’s not forget all the other fan-favourite features Square Enix has pumped into FFXIII-2, including the franchise’s trademark minigames, random encounters and the return of the moogle; the company has clearly gone out of its way to appease its fans.
If you ask me, the idea that a Final Fantasy devotee would ignore XIII-2, just because it has the word ‘XIII’ in, is ridiculous. In fact, if you’re a fan of a game franchise and choose to abandon the entire series when it takes a new direction, then in my opinion you were never really a fan in the first place.
Features editor Seanoc cries nay
My esteemed colleague will tell you Final Fantasy XIII-2 has righted most of XIII’s wrongs, and he would be correct. Square Enix has worked tirelessly to reintroduce the traditional Final Fantasy features that were missing in XIII, such as minigames, sidequests and chatty NPCs – even basic exploration. Square has listened to and acted on the vocal criticisms and they deserve praise for this. But I’m afraid they’re fighting an uphill battle on this one.
The problem is that those who don’t frequent specialist gaming sites or read gaming mags are unlikely to know this. They will see the trailers and screenshots showing Lightning and Serah and the same art style and they will think it’s more of the same. This won’t appeal to those left disappointed by XIII. Once bitten, twice shy – as the old idiom goes.
Can you blame them? It still has XIII in the title. That -2 hardly offers any reassurance that this is anything other than a closely related mini-sequel, not a proper sequel. Long-time fans who remember the last (and only) Final Fantasy with -2 in the title will be entitled to expect baby steps.
Even if Square can successfully convince those disappointed in XIII to give it another go, where is the appeal here for fans who skipped XIII?
The gameplay trailers, as much as I enjoyed them, are geared towards winning back disillusioned XIII players. It’s as if they’re saying, “Sorry about that, it was a blip – we’ll do better this time”. That’s all very good, but it only appeals to a very specific audience. The case hasn’t been made to convince everyone else that they can jump in on XIII-2 without playing XIII. It’ll be particularly tough getting those who have never played Final Fantasy on board. Starting off with a sort-of sequel, to a thirteenth iteration in the series: that’s daunting.
This all comes down to Square’s ongoing issue concerning their management of the Final Fantasy brand. From the outside looking in, it looks as though their strategy has been to attach Final Fantasy to any game they’re working on, no matter how tenuous the link is. A casual observer might have heard about Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Final Fantasy Agito/Type-O, Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, Crystal Chronicles, and more.
One of the key rules in marketing is to keep it clear and simple. If a customer doesn’t know or understand what you’re offering, you’re about to lose a sale. The Final Fantasy range is over-saturated and potential customers must be confused, and if they’re not confused, then there is a good chance they feel like they’re being taken for a ride. When they see that -2 at the end of XIII, the words “milking it” must spring into their heads. It says something when Square Enix can only generate modest sales in Japan.
I’m not convinced the fans have ditched the series completely, but I suspect many are waiting for the next proper sequel (as in the Final Fantasy definition of the word) before coming back. That would be Final Fantasy XIV then - but, oh wait, isn’t that an MMO? Oh, bloody hell, now I’m confused…