Part 38: Interlude 9 - Pretty Line SyndromeInterlude 9 - Pretty Line Syndrome
When people talk about this game's non-linearity, they generally do so with the unspoken assumption that it is a positive feature. Now that it's being taken away from us, we have the opportunity to move past that kind of lazy thinking.
Let's go back to the prequel first. If we were to construct a sort of loose diagram of the gameplay of FFX, it might look something like this;
Roughly speaking, FFX can be divided into three segments. For the first 10% of the game or so, Tidus is lost and confused and has no control over his own predicament, being flung around between Sin attacks and Al Bhed slavery. The gameplay in this segment is geared toward getting the player into the same mindset by giving us no clear mission objectives, locking off half the Main Menu options and pulling us by the hand through a series of tutorials. In the middle 80%, Tidus has decided to follow Yuna as she pursues her destiny, and the plot is laid out with the inevitability of a kabuki play; correspondingly, the gameplay is almost entirely linear. Near the end, when Yuna throws off her fate, the game opens up and gives the player control of the airship and sidequests to complete.
I've occasionally heard that FFX would make a good movie, but I don't entirely agree. A lot of the power of the game's narrative is the way that the gameplay enhances the plot. It wouldn't have the same impact in a non-interactive medium.
With that in mind, let's do something similar for X-2, up to the point we've played;
At the beginning of the game, and within each chapter, we are allowed monumental gameplay freedom that mirrors Yuna's newfound individuality, but the plot missions and the chapter ends funnel all the branching paths back to points of commonality. Those points, and the linearity for this chapter, serve two themes. The first is that we can escape our fate but not our duty; whatever we use our freedom for, it comes bundled with responsibilities that we must meet. It's a modern variation on the usual Eastern society-focused philosophy, and one we're not unfamiliar with either (the price of freedom is eternal vigilance). The second, which has been touched on before and will be reinforced in the next update, is that we don't have as much control over our personal growth as we think we do. Yuna's a hero, and a year of gallivanting around on an airship doesn't erase that, not entirely.
So while the two games have wildly different approaches to linearity, they both apply them to great effect to put the player in the main character's emotional state. In this way, neither is superior, and the transition from one to the other is a metamechanic that illustrates how much Yuna's grown between games.