For Realz?! Final Fantasy XIII-2

A little birdy told me last week about the rumor that Square-Enix was preparing a direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII, and today, it was confirmed:

Are you for realz?!

This isn’t the first time that Square-Enix has made a direct sequel to a main entry in their never-ending series.  But why would they be doing it for XIII?  I’d like to suggest a few reasons:

1. But we spent all that time!

It’s no secret that XIII spent years plagued by developmental woes.  It began development in 2005 and wasn’t released until four years later.  They had to pull the team from another game in order to speed up the development process and get the game finished on time. And, as you’ll read later, the game was fraught with a lack of vision.  All of these things meant that the development team spent a much longer than anticipated length of time developing an engine, working with the programming language of the PS3 for the first time, and just getting the game done.  After all that effort, why not craft a sequel that doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel?  The mythology, characters, models, animations, and monsters are already complete.  There’s no need to build from the ground up.  Instead, a sequel allows for an accelerated development cycle that ends with the birth of another Final Fantasy game much sooner than we can ever expect to see a new game in the series.

2. This bread is getting stale. :S

Let’s face it: Square-Enix has had a crappy year. The mediocre reception for the company’s releases during 2010 caused them to slash their profit estimates for the fiscal year by 25%. On top of that, the abysmal reception of Final Fantasy XIV: Online, a game that is free to play until it earns its rightful place as a “complete” game, has also likely cost the company millions and millions of lost revenue.  At the end of the day, the company needs to look to its popular products in order to achieve profit.  With the Final Fantasy VII cow having been milked to death repeatedly, it’s no surprise that the company would err to a safer and more recent release in Final Fantasy XIII, which was well-received despite a few criticisms, as we’ll see below.

3. Sorry about that!

Sometimes, sequels aren’t about fan service at all–they’re also about righting developmental “wrongs”.  Despite it’s relatively positive reception (if a bit lukewarm), Final Fantasy XIII was highly criticized for its linearity, lack of exploration and limited character customization.  Many gamers will remember that Final Fantasy X was criticized for the same shortcomings, and its sequel (the first ever for the main series entries) corrected those “wrongs” by introducing a mission system that allowed visits to any location at any time, a story that would unfold in any order, and the garment grid system that allowed for flexible character customization and dynamic battles.  Will XIII-2 seek to do the same?  The answer is a likely “Yes!” if we take into consideration this public apology uttered by the creators of XIII back in October 2010:

“Linearity and command-based battles were two of the features being perceived negatively. This was something that the team was very conscious about, and there were concerns about whether JRPGs would still be accepted in the West. Because Final Fantasy XIII’s mission was to succeed worldwide, we could not ignore this issue, as we felt it could deeply affect the future of the franchise.

Around the same time, we were experimenting with Western development methods, and there were talks within the team of global focus groups, which we had rarely conducted with previous projects. At the same time, Square Enix set up international focus groups for certain titles, including Final Fantasy XIII.

Unfortunately, we were already quite far along in development, and knew it would be too late to implement most of the feedback from the player test sessions. Even so, we still signed up for the opportunity, as this would be our only chance before the game’s release to see how Western players would respond to all that we had been working on.”

While I certainly understand the sentiment here, I would disagree that Final Fantasy XIII made such egregous errors in gameplay that it warranted this type of statement.  The fact is: not every game can appeal to every gamer. The strong aspects of Final Fantasy XIII (story, character development, mythology, motivation, conflict) are ones that, arguably, would have been significantly weakened by allowing players too much freedom. It thus seems plausible that the development team will make an effort to ensure that XIII-2 allows players the opportunity to interact with the game in ways that they could not while playing XIII.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, sequels are about two things: making money and appeasing fans.  Final Fantasy XIII-2 may strive to do both whether it’s warranted as a necessary game or not. (I could argue to the ends of the earth that, from the perspective of the story, a sequel is completely unnecessary but it seems to make no difference now.)  And given the release date of this year (!), it seems as though we won’t have to wait too long to find out!

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering…

Lightning still looks effing awesome. ;)


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