Paige FTW: Serial Storytelling Woes

A spate of unsatisfying series finales — Kingdom Hearts III, Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones (OK, that last one isn’t done but the buildup hasn’t exactly been inspiring)— has me thinking about another weird series: Final Fantasy XIII and its related sequels.

The trilogy remains among the less-liked installments in the hallowed series, and for good reason: They are a mess in terms of plot and characterization. (The gameplay is actually quite good, though.)

Its failure boils down to two main issues: a lack of world building and an inability to show, not tell.

I challenge anyone to tell me what exactly The Lightning Saga is all about. We start off in a futuristic society powered by gods and machines, and we end in a world that looks decidedly baroque. There was an apocalypse in between those two events? There are a lot of gods and time travel and reincarnation?

Compare that mess to Final Fantasy VII’s relatively straightforward timeline: A bad alien crash-landed on Earth and screwed everything up, and mankind just mucked things up from there. Who knew Sephiroth could be that simple in comparison to whatever the heck Lightning went through from ordinary soldier to … immortal psychopomp of the dead.

That leads us to the next issue in serial storytelling: consistency. The emotional Hope is a more self-contained adult in the second installment, then suddenly an emotionless robot in the third (because he was … possessed by a god). Cheerful Snow is a depressed shut-in by Lightning Returns and we are told it happened over hundreds of years. We are told why a character has changed, but we never see the transformation for ourselves. We simply see two different realities and are told to link them.

(Does that sound like a familiar Mother of Dragons to you?) 

Next week: What long-running series does story right?