Monday, 6 February 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2 - After the Credits

     For countless years now, it's become the norm among RPGs (in particular JRPGs) that there be some form of post-game content. Sometimes it isn't actually something that occurs after the credits but it's something that is harder than beating the game, and so its usually done after the credits roll. We're talking massive side quests, bonus dungeons and super bosses (or some combination therein), all of which have more or less become an expected part of the genre. Every Final Fantasy game released in the past 15 years has had a post-game in some form or another, and in fact, they have even gone back and added bonus dungeons to pretty much every prior Final Fantasy title via re-releases as well. So with all this in mind, having beaten Final Fantasy XIII-2 and dipped my toe into the "post-game", I thought I would give some initial thoughts. After the break.

      Now, before I start talking specifically to XIII-2 I want to take a little bit of time to outline what exactly the post-game means to me, as someone who has been playing JRPGs for my entire life. For someone like me, the events that take place on the storyline of most RPGs doesn't really tend to be very challenging. This has become even more the case as years go on as developers become more worried about alienating their players by putting tall obstacles in the required path. So as a result, the post-game is where you have to go to get the real challenges, but it goes deeper than that. Post-game is a place where you are making a point to go above and beyond to tackle all of the hardest challenges the developers could throw at you. This is where you find the biggest challenges, the biggest rewards, and as a result it's often the most fun or memorable part (for me at least). I had way more fun powering up my party getting ready for the super boss than I ever did during the story, in Final Fantasy XIII. To me that's what it's really about. Post-game sets a high bar, a boss that you couldn't possibly defeat, but then it provides you with a series of progressive steps along the way. It's the post game, so you start to get ridiculously strong, you take down harder and harder challenges until finally you are somehow strong enough to take down the super boss.
     I can still recall the first time I ever defeated Emerald Weapon as a young boy. I was way more excited to have downed this titan with virtually no story behind it, than I ever was fighting Sephiroth. As it's massive green form shook and melted away on my screen I literally jumped for joy. I'd gone above and beyond. I'd conquered every soul crushing challenge that the developers could throw at me. As a long term player of RPGs, this is the kind of thing I am looking for after the fade to black. I want a challenge that isn't meant for everyone, I want that ridiculous goal to strive for, and I want to have to work for it. When I say work I don't mean grind. I mean I shouldn't be able to hop from the final boss to the Super Boss and steamroll him. I should have to find the best equipment, learn the best abilities and build the perfect fighting force before I am worth of facing the boss, and even then I should lose without a sound strategy.
     So how does this all relate to Final Fantasy XIII-2? Well, it doesn't and that's the problem. XIII-2 has a bit of an odd setup in that about 90% of the content is perfectly doable before the final boss. The only things that really require the story's completion, require it for plot reasons. Which is fine, plenty of games don't literally require you to beat the game before tackling the biggest challenges. In the case of XIII-2 however, almost all it is actually easier than the final boss. Let me expand here. So I don't claim to know everything about the game yet, it's not even been out a week after all, but there are six enemies that come to mind when I think about what qualifies as "post-game". Two of the enemies are foes that you actually face early on in the story, but must use plot devices to weaken before beating them. Then, using the game's time travel mechanic you have the option to go back and fight the non-weakened versions. This is a neat mechanic and the fights were challenging when I did them - however they are also easier than then final boss.
     Beyond that, there is an area known as the Arclyte Steppe which should be familiar to fans of XIII-2's predecessor, and is in fact where all of said predecessor's post-game took place. Within this area in FFXIII-2 there are a grand total of 4 noteworthy opponents (whereas FFXIII had a good 10-15 enemies that were legitimate challenges). Of these 4 opponents the first two are once again, easier than the final boss. The third opponent is an odd case in that it's not a mechanically difficult fight, but requires some fairly high numbers to beat. Luckily you get an absurd amount of CP from the final boss and the two prior enemies, and this puts this third fellow well within reach. Finally we have enemy #4, by the name of Yomi. Yomi is virtually identical to the Super Boss of Final Fantasy XIII, Vercingetorix, but more importantly, is just not sufficiently challenging. Now I should point out that I can't definitely say Yomi is XIII-2's hardest opponent, as at this point I haven't done "everything", but all my searching both online as well as through the official strategy guide have turned up no challengers to that title. There is one opponent you can fight after collecting all of the game's "fragments", and is required to get the "secret" ending, but none of what I have heard indicate them as being significantly harder than Yomi, and in fact the condition you fight this opponent in invalidates him as a true Super Boss in my mind.
     So I guess the issue I am trying to get at here is that Final Fantasy XIII-2's post game is just bad if Yomi truly is the game's Super Boss. In this regard I actually hope I am wrong. Yomi was a challenging encounter, don't get me wrong, but not Super Boss material. Look up at what I said a few paragraphs ago about what I said a super boss should be. Yomi is none of these things. When I killed Yomi I was a good 130-150 role levels from maxing out my characters. I wasn't wielding the best weapons you can buy with straight up money, let alone what can be crafted with monster components or found. My group of monster allies was identical to what I had been using for the past 15-20 hours of gameplay, and were nowhere near being maxed out themselves. I didn't even make a single change to the Paradigms that I had been using for about as long as my monster ally. I didn't do anything special to prepare and I was nowhere near as strong as you can possibly get. I should not have stood a chance in hell of taking on a Super Boss in the state that I took down Yomi in.
     Now where does this leave me? What do I have left to do in the post game now that the challenging monsters are dead? All four of the opponents in Arclyte Steppe have rare and valuable drops that are worth farming, and I could definitely find more powerful monster allies. Heck I haven't even bothered working on my monsters since I always figured at the end of the game I would find the best monsters, infuse them with all the best abilities etc, and so I never worked on the guys I was currently using much. I could go and collect all the fragments I am missing, this is in fact something I do want to do, and it will also likely get me most/all of the required CP to max out my characters. This mostly comes down to side quests and such though, nothing actually "post-game" worthy or challenging. The point I am trying to make here is, there is so much left for me to do in the game, but all of it is purely for the sake of doing said things. There is nothing left for my to test my might against, and so it's all somewhat fruitless unless I want to see how low I can get my kill time on Yomi. The bar to aim for isn't there, and that is the most important part.
     With all of these things said and done, the lack of anything to really strive for, I find it hard to motivate myself to continue completing the things I have left to do. That players need a carrot on a stick, is one of the oldest concepts in game design, and it's severely missing in Final Fantasy XIII-2's post game. This turns what should be a glorious victory lap into depressing busywork. Of course there is the issue of downloadable content. Some people got a code for some sort of "Omega Battle" with their game's pre-order, and we've already heard mumblings of at least two different DLC packs coming. It certainly possible that one of these will contain the kind of challenge that this type of game needs, but that is not an acceptable answer. That could be an entire article in itself, but the short version is that a proper RPG needs a proper carrot on a stick. It's like running a marathon and then being told that you either have to pay for your medal, or you should have registered for the race at a different place. Completely unacceptable.

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