PSLS Senior Editor Jonathan Leack did an excellent job expressing his dismay, confusion, and a dash of resentment about the fact that Final Fantasy XIII, of all games, is getting direct sequel treatment in his editorial, “Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a Cruel Joke.” He, like a great amount of gamers, is puzzled as to why one of the least popular, most polarizing Final Fantasy games would get a follow-up within only a couple years while others are left in the dust. It is definitely baffling, but when all evidence is weighed, things become more clear. Most importantly, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was in planning before XIII even had a release date.
Disclaimer: I am not bemoaning the existence of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Nothing’s over till the fat lady is on the store shelves, or something like that. This is simply an analysis of why Final Fantasy XIII is getting sequel treatment instead of other FF titles.
A lot of people are quick to jump on blaming the 360 for clips and cuts to Final Fantasy XIII, but this presumption is misguided. The design decisions that disappointed such a vast portion of the audience would be there regardless of the jump to the 360, a primarily western platform. Some were made because of Final Fantasy XIII‘s plot, but others were made because the story got so huge, the team eventually took a step back and realized that they could make double their money off of the project, all without doubling the work load. At a base monetary level, the title exists because it’s easy to make a profit off of it, more quickly and more efficiently than with other options. The function of any business is to find the most efficient way to make the most money, and this is an example of that.
Developing a game requires a lot of work, from concept, to graphics, to writing, to testing, among a thousand other steps. As a business, it’s easy to see why, when a product gets huge, the developer and/or publisher should divide it into multiple projects; you see it all the time in other industries. For example, you’re reading a game website on the internet. You ever notice what most sites do with huge features? Divide them into a bewildering amount of pages, of course. Sometimes you need to do such things for convenience, and it’s a service to the reader, but just as often you’ll see a “Five Coolest (insert item here)” article that’s spread across six pages — one item per page. Each item might even only be about four sentences with an embedded YouTube video. It’s terribly lame, but sites utilize this tactic all the time, from your smallest blogs, to your worldwide top 500 juggernauts. But sites keep doing it because people keep getting in there and clicking. Maybe not you, certainly not me, but enough people to make the practice go on. Even better is to take a feature and break it up into multiple parts posted on different days. Sad as it is to say, it increases hits.
The same strategy above works for games too. Why would a company go through all the trouble to build a new game from the ground up when they can just shave off parts of a larger game and use those to quickly skip the first steps? This is purely a business move, plain and simple. One might doubt this initially, but let’s take a look at some facts that support the notion. The Final Fantasy numbered titles have been spending several years in development lately. Even putting that aside, think about any game’s development process for a moment. Long before we hear announcements, you better believe there are sketches being drawn, subplots being pitched, and worlds being designed. Game companies don’t just have a character, background story, and screenshots to show you Monday morning because they decided to make a game on Sunday. No, the process takes time. With Final Fantasy games since the middle of the PS2 era, the norm has become for it to take an inordinate amount of time, and FFXIII was no different, taking longer than perhaps any other title in the series before it, thanks in-part to its extremely beautiful and refined first-party engine.
Somehow, Square Enix was ready to announce a sequel and slap a release time frame on it mere months after the release of its predecessor. Only a little over a year after the release of FFXIII, we’ve already got our characters, plot skeleton, battle system, and playable demos happening? That wasn’t a mistake, and chances are reception had little to do with it. This idea popped into the Square Enix meeting rooms very early on, perhaps even right from the beginning.
To continue, we must look at this premise: many people aren’t very bright. Square Enix is taking a bit of a gamble by preparing to give its customers the middle finger for about the fifth time this generation, but holy smokes, these guys might just pull it off. They might release yet another total hack job and laugh all the way to the bank. The company’s most obvious poor works are still raking in big sales. With Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded, Square simply ported a cell phone game to the Nintendo DS, and playing it was a constant reminder of that fact. It didn’t matter to a whole heck of a lot of people though, as fans from all around were still announcing their purchase plans loudly and proudly. Yes, it is apparently that easy to sell a game to some people. This is what makes slapping together a sequel out of leftovers such an appealing idea for a business feeling as invincible as Square Enix is.
I spend more time than I should reading message boards, and they’re gradually wearing on my sanity. The topic of Final Fantasy XIII-2 has shown me a side of human beings I wasn’t aware even existed. I saw one forum-goer say (grammar edited):
Final Fantasy XIII was awful, I’m betting XIII-2 turns it all around.
…Say what now? Look, if you’re looking forward to Final Fantasy XIII-2, that’s fine. If you liked Final Fantasy XIII, hey, more power to you. But this fellow expressly found it “awful,” yet he is willing to throw down the wallet and bet that the sequel will somehow revitalize the series.
Another chap said this of XIII-2:
Day 1 buy, but you’re on notice, Square Enix, this BETTER be good this time!
Oh yeah, tough words. You tell ’em right where to stick it, Mr. Pre-order Man. Nothing tells a game company that you were dissatisfied like lining up to buy the direct sequel on release day.
These guys aren’t alone, and that’s the crazy thing. It’s like the masses are running on auto pilot.
With all that said, it’s easy to see why Square Enix executives might be feeling plenty confident that shaving content and concepts from one game in order to cook up a sequel is a great business move. If the original is well-received, then your company looks heroic by delivering a sequel so quickly; if the original gets massacred, then your company can save face by saying “We’re listening to player feedback and making this one better!” Oh, and knowing that this game is going to inevitably sell boatloads more than the average game? Well hey, that’s win-win.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 was in its early development stages long before its public revelation. Square Enix knows a ton of people will buy it regardless of the original’s reception. The release is coming suspiciously fast for this generation, and even if XIII-2 fails, Square Enix knows it has Versus XIII to fall back on. The company has nothing to lose and everything to gain, while driving plenty of revenue for less work. That’s why Final Fantasy XIII is getting a direct sequel.