It’s a page in the book of our lives that becomes forever dog-eared, burned into our memory as that moment we would give anything to take back. If we could have just said something a little less venomous, or conjured the courage to say how we really felt. If we could have warned the ones we love just one more time to be careful. The moment itself may be different for all of us, but we’re all burdened by the same superfluous knowledge of how to fix our pasts. Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes an idea we’ve all contemplated at some point in our lives, having the chance to go back and fix our mistakes, and then asks players to consider the ramifications.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is only loosely defined as a sequel to XIII. Apart from a few characters and scenery, the story is almost completely unrelated. The two protagonists Serah and Noel are brought together from different points in history and charged with the responsibility of traveling through time to correct changes being made to history. A figure named Caius has found a way to bend time to his will and seeks to erase humanity. But as they set out in a struggle for humanity, both Serah and Noel have more personal demons they hope to exorcise from their pasts.
Serah and Noel are very different characters with very different motivations for setting out on their quest. Whereas Noel struggles to avert his life as the last surviving human and save the entire race, Serah focuses only on finding her sister who, according to everyone else in her village, died three years ago. Despite her constructive means, her narrow focus is more in line with that of Caius than Noel, although his approach is more radical. Caius seeks to stop the suffering of a young girl he is ordained to protect who draws closer to death with every vision of the past or future she endures. Noel’s efforts for a peaceful resolution towards the same end are ironically the cause of Caius’ rampage through history. Caius, Noel, and the young girl Yuel were the last three humans alive before a disagreement between Caius and Noel about how best to save her sent Caius out on his desperate attempt to end time. The overlapping history and motives between Serah, Noel, and Caius are an intriguing and effective look at the power of regret and the mistakes we make as we struggle to cope with it, but there is little ambiguity in the characters or their roles in the story, and the game’s story suffers for it.
As they set to work restoring the past, the gravity of their actions becomes manifest. A question begins to pose itself: even if you could change the past, should you? Despite a disappointingly straightforward story, XIII-2 offers enough perspectives to effectively allow you to explore the subject on your own. If you can simply change your mistakes, what incentive do you have to learn from them? While Serah and Noel move through time freely, we simply move forward. If we could change our past at will, a desire to better ourselves in the present would be diminished, if not disappear entirely. More pressingly, would such an ability leave any vacancy for a desire to help others, or like Caius would we simply cut our way through the lives of others for our own betterment?
We may long to fix the mistakes of our past, but what may seem a mistake could simply be a step towards a chain of events someone with such limited knowledge could never hope to infer. These ideas eventually lead to the broader question of omnipotence. Are the lives we live what we’ve made of them, or are we simply walking down the path a higher power has laid out before us? More directly, are the lives we live the only true outcome, or do we, unknowingly, choose our own futures with every choice we make, just like Noel and Serah?
More than burdening yourself with the maddening notion of what could have been, I see a more productive alternative. The only viable option we have is to take our experiences, regrets and all, and use them as stepping stones towards bettering both our own lives and those around us. Mankind has the ability to affect not only each other’s lives, but the world itself. Looking at our pasts should serve as a guidepost, as well as a reminder, that our choices affect everything around us in ways we may never even know. Regardless of faith, or lack thereof, using our mistakes to help us benefit others in the future is the closest we may ever get to being able to change our pasts.