Final Fantasy and the importance of rules

My Final Fantasy XIII-2 review hit today, and I felt pretty lukewarm on the whole affair. I go into a lot of broader detail about the game as a whole in my review, but plot-wise I felt like the lack of “rules” really hurt it. I reference that in one paragraph, but this blog being my own personal place to ramble, I thought I’d go into more detail.

In sci-fi and fantasy, we’re offered fantastical worlds that work differently than our own. This makes for an excellent storytelling tool. However! Since these worlds are different from our own, we need a set of rules put in place to help us navigate it. These need to be readily apparent, logical, and most importantly, consistent.

Take Back to the Future, for example. In the first 20 minutes of the trilogy, we learn that time travel needs: (a) the flux capacitor, (b) fusion, and (c) 88 MPH. If any element is missing, time travel is impossible.

The rest of the trilogy hinges on those rules. Every conflict Doc and Marty run into is because they’re missing one of those key elements, and they need to solve it. They’re missing the fusion source, or the road to go 88 MPH. The rules define and drive the action.

Most of the time when a sci-fi or fantasy movie falls apart, it’s because the lack of established rules. We had a set of defined rules in the Star Wars universe, and then George Lucas gave us prophecies, virgin births, and midichlorians. People didn’t just hate this stuff because it was different, they hated it because it pulled the rug under our own rule set for the sake of plot contrivances. Also because it was really dumb.

That’s what Final Fantasy XIII-2 feels like. We’re given time travel, which can be a great narrative hook when it’s done right. But we don’t really get a set of criteria for why and how it works, and when problems might occur. We’re loosely told some bits about the line of Seeresses, but that’s not clear either. So to review the rules: Readily apparent? Negative. Logical? Nope. Consistent? Not even close. The plot is constantly introducing new elements, new rules, new deus ex machinas. It’s the story-telling equivalent of “a wizard did it” — sometimes literally, since a goddess plays into the action of this story.

More than anything else, that’s where XIII-2 failed. Give us rules. If you need help on how to do this within the structure of a video game, you are the studio that made Chrono Trigger. Play that a few times and report back.

As for that controversial ending, I’d rather not spoil anything too much. Suffice it to say that it’s the precise opposite of a deus ex machina. Rather than a sudden, inexplicable plot element solving all the problems when things look most grim, we get a sudden, inexplicable plot element that ruins everything when it all seemed peachy-keen. I wouldn’t mind the “to be continued” if it felt like the natural course of events, but in this case it just seemed contrived to shove some room in for a sequel.

For a full detailing of my opinions, including why the combat system remains and is actually even more totally fantastic, read my review.

  • Harmonix’s response is the best part of this story.
  • Place your bets, folks. Giants.
  • This reminds me ever-so-slightly of Elite Beat Agents.
  • I tend to think most people complaining about online passes like the one in Reckoning are usually being whiny and entitled. But, I do feel for people who don’t have an internet connection, and that’s the entire reason they want to buy a meaty single-player RPG, and they get locked out of content. I don’t understand why that doesn’t come up more in the conversation about this stuff.
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