For all the graphical, mechanical, and conceptual upgrades Final Fantasy XIII-2 may have brought to the table, the best feature Square Enix's latest apparently has going for it is that it's not Final Fantasy XIII. At this point, it's not exactly a secret that popular and critical reception to Final Fantasy XIII was, shall we say, divisive. As The Escapist's own Susan Arendt most eloquently put it, "Final Fantasy XIII made a lot of series fans "very, very angry." Indeed.
Final Fantasy XIII wasn't really an RPG. Nor did it ever want to be.
What may be more of a secret is where all the hatred for the latest core entry (ill-fated MMO excursions aside) in such a beloved franchise may have stemmed from. Yes, there's been a known litany of common complaints held against the title: "It's too linear." "There are no towns." "There aren't enough side quests." "Some of the characters are unbearable." "I don't feel like I have enough control over my character." "I just want Kingdom Hearts 3." In essence, most of these largely legitimate gripes were all saying the same thing: "This isn't the Final Fantasy RPG experience I've come to know and love."
There's a reason for that, though: Final Fantasy XIII wasn't really an RPG. Nor did it ever want to be.
You don't have to take my word for this. In a 2010 interview with 1up before the North American release of the game, FFXIII producer Yoshinori Kitase himself noted that his team "didn't really intend to work within the RPG template."
"We wanted to create a new game, even a new genre," he said. "The way we look at it, there's isn't a certain format that we have to keep to and build a game around."
But that "certain format" that had become synonymous with Final Fantasy's turn-based combat, a large open map that is gradually expanded upon as one progresses, a large party of exchangeable and upgradable characters, an abundance of (awkwardly-controlled) minigames, airships and goofy haircuts, etc.- had become the template for the modern JRPG, and was exactly what fans clamored for, what they desired, what they demanded. Again.
The people didn't want Final Fantasy XIII, the game, the attempted reinvention of streamlining a decades-old formula. They wanted "Final Fantasy," the template, the familiar modus operandi, the standard, comforting type of game that, even in the eyes of its own creators, was frankly starting to get old.
This is where things start to get puzzling, where the angry forum posts, hysterical YouTube rants, and scathing columns deriding the new direction FFXIII adopted begin to become a bit baffling.
We know change is scary. Everyone's felt that lingering uneasiness gurgling within the throes of their guts, that pervading sense of dread that trudges along with each instance of experimentation. But if there's any industry that welcomes the excitement and potential benefits that change and innovation bring to the creative table, it's the gaming industry. So why then, when Final Fantasy XIII, an installment in one of the franchises that is explicitly representative of what could be called the "old guard" of gaming, simply tried to shake things up a bit, did so many people resent it for its attempts at innovation? Was everyone just misinformed, not paying any mind to Kitase and the rest of the game's creators when he spouted off quips like "in a lot of senses FFXIII is more like an FPS than an RPG?" Or is the Final Fantasy series just some sort of strange exception to a gaming public that has always cried out for change in their beloved games?