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For the week following Final Fantasy 13-2's release, I played it with an all-consuming obsession. I spent every moment of my spare time paradigm-shifting, live-triggering, and Mog-chucking my way through every story sequence and side quest I could find. I can say with conviction that I've squeezed almost every last drop of content from the sprawling future of Gran Pulse.
I can say that because the game tells me so. In fact, it tells me that I'm exactly 152/160ths of the way there.
Make no mistake — Final Fantasy 13-2 wants you to know exactly how much of it you've completed and ultimately wants you to find absolutely everything. The Historia Crux menu, the hub from which you access the game's dozens of space-time locations, prominently displays the number of fragments you've gathered of the 160 available.
Knowing exactly what's left, though, is a double-edged sword.
With just a few button presses, you can see your fragments sorted by category or location. Not only do you know how many of these key collectibles you have left to find, you also know how many more you need from every zone in the game.
This information is a powerful tool for sculpting player behavior. Once I could see that I had both collected every fragment and opened every time gate in a given zone, that area basically became dead to me. Unless a quest objective from another place directly referenced the node again (in highlighted blue text, mind you), I could safely ignore it from that point forward.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. Armed with my trusty in-game fragment list, I knew I was never wasting my time searching an area that had been scoured clean of relevant collectibles. I became a paragon of efficient play, never wasting a moment in a fruitless pursuit.
But this knowledge has downsides. It can reduce what's presented in the fiction as a grand adventure to little more than a checklist in the player's head. Though the pursuit of fragments often propelled me into long stretches of gameplay, I would play these stretches mechanically.
I ceased to "stop and smell the roses." Roses didn't have fragments. Roses didn't open time gates. All that mattered was the steady flow of fragments into the fragment bin. If I stayed focused, I could usually get one every 15 to 20 minutes. I sipped on a steady drip-feed of progress, never having to doubt that the next incentive was right around the corner.
So here I stand; I'm poised on the verge of fully clearing what has been one of the most compelling Final Fantasy titles I've ever played, and yet I find myself torn. What is a fantasy with no horizon left for our heroes to explore?
When I first found myself able to resolve piece after piece of the game's side content quickly after finishing the main quest, I interpreted the additional content as being refreshingly attainable. It stood in stark contrast to some of the post-game super bosses of past Final Fantasies, which were only approachable after hours of tedious grinding. This game's extras could be faced with the skills, gear, and levels I'd acquired from just completing meaningful content.
Now, however, as I sit upon my heap of devastating super weapons and fearsome monster allies, I'm left with little more to attain with all of my power and skill. I know that the game has little left to offer until downloadable content drops, and that knowledge ultimately makes fully finishing Final Fantasy 13-2 an act that strips the world of its mystery.