Category Archives: FF13 Trilogy Retrospective

Just Deicide: Lightning Returns (Final Part)

So we’ve talked gameplay and we’ve talked plot & characters – I think it’s time we wrap up the Lightning Trilogy with discussing probably my favorite part of Lightning Returns: the ending.  Not because it’s finally over oh sweet Noel Kreiss it’s over, but because I found it to be a satisfying conclusion to the overarching themes of the trilogy, even when the explicit details of the plot got a bit weird from game to game.  Let’s just go ahead and say that since we are talking the ending of a trilogy and then discussing said trilogy, there will be SPOILERS.

Alright, so as we previously discussed:  God is gathering up souls of the chosen using Lightning as his ‘Savior’, he will then usher those new souls to a New World and remove their hearts/chaos/emotions, then he will let the old world and all the souls of the dead there perish so that no one remembers any of them – the world or the people who died there – all so he can have HIS perfect world.  I don’t think it needs to be said, but Lightning and her friends do not exactly like that idea.

The ending to the game and the trilogy as a whole is done essentially in four parts.  There is the final dungeon, the final boss battle, the cutscene where you actually beat the final boss, and then the final final cutscene.  To get to the final dungeon on the last day (that’s Day 13 – or if you ran around and did 60+ side quests it will be Day 14), you show up at the church in Luxerion to bust up the ritual with Fang. Lightning holds back the guards while Fang talks down Vanille from doing the deed.  Luckily back up arrives in the form of Snow who proves that despite being a dummy at times is still able to deliver an epic smackdown. Snow is joined by Lightning’s other friends as it becomes one last stand as Vanille and Fang come together to guide all the lost souls – not to their destruction as the Church wanted but to Hope’s Ark to go be reborn on the New World with all the others.

Lightning’s job is not done however.  There is after all a god to deal with.  She enters the final dungeon which to be fair is essentially four monster filled corridors and a door leading to the final fight.  I’m not even sure you have to do the corridors – or ‘Trials’ – but I always do because they reward you with the Ultima Weapon and Ultima Shield, the two items that will not carry over to a new game+ because they are “story specific” to Bhunivelze’s temple.  Unfortunately, they don’t get any kind of cool unique appearance.  The Ultima items are pretty much just your starting sword and shield upgraded to have INSANE stats and abilities that will help immensely in the final boss fight.

Speaking of which, it’s time to show down with Bhuni-boy who is in an otherworldly realm dubbed ‘Cosmogenesis’ where he is putting the finishing touches on his New World and you finally get to see what this guy looks like:

LRFFXIII_Bhunivelze_Full_Render

Oh…  oh wow.  For the record, that checker pattern ‘skirt’?  Yea, that’s the ground.  He’s literally wrapped the world around himself.  It’s at this confrontation that the truth emerges to reinforce the theory:  Bhunivelze wishes to remove all the old souls and the bits of chaos that make up people’s hearts and emotions so that the New Humans on his New World will have euphoric peaceful lives without the burdens of sadness or pain.  They’ll be boring emotionless drones, but hey that’s the cost of never having to feel bad: never feeling at all. I honestly don’t know if I would take that offer.  I can imagine some who would argue that it’s a good thing and that God is kind to give us such a blessing.  Then again free will is nice.  Like SUPER nice.  He also reveals his plan to establish Lightning as the ‘New Etro’ to guard over the Unseen Realm and keep it in harmony with the Seen Realm.  Again, Lightning being someone he has a leash on as compared to his mother or Etro, both of which kind of had reasons to hold a grudge and good old Bhunie just loves to assume the worst.  Finally, it’s revealed that the Serah ‘soul’ that Bhunie has been dangling on a hook in front of Lightning this whole time is just a mocked up simulacrum.  Since God has no way of seeing into the Chaos, he legitimately has no idea where Serah’s soul actually is but is perfectly willing to offer the soulless copy of Lightning’s sister for her to dote on.  This pretty much where Lightning draws the line.

Lightning flat out declares her intent to kill God.  To perform one suicidal action to throw them both into the Chaos and free the souls to live in the New World without gods or fal’Cie masters.  Since Bhunivelze made her the savior with the intent to become a replacement for Etro, she may not have the power to kill Bhunivelze but she is finally strong enough to do this one desperation act.  But the Serah Simulacrum speaks to her and tells her that the real Serah IS still out there, and does still need her.  So thus begins the final battle, as Lightning abandons her suicide run in favor of just flat out trying to murder God.  Oh boy. When was the last time in Final Fantasy we actually killed God?  Not like a god-like being, but the actual creator of the universe capital-G God?  We’d have to go back a ways I think. I know we did in Final Fantasy Legends.  Kefka is debatable whether he was god like or actually ascended to become God proper but you do fight and kill the actual Gods of Magic.  Dissidia has you fighting Gods. But yea, it’s been a while since we did this.

The fight is massive and spans four different phases, each with a unique strategy to them.  Easily up there with Barthandelus and Orphan from XIII as the toughest non-Super Bosses fights in the Trilogy.  Not only that, but his fight has a ton of references to previous Final Fantasy games such as some of his attacks referencing the Emperor’s Starfall from Final Fantasy II, Almagest as used by Neo-ExDeath in Final Fantasy V, Hypernova based on Safer Sephiroth’s Supernova from Final Fantasy VII, several attacks including ‘Dancing Mad’, ‘Wings of Destruction’, and ‘Heartless Angel’ are inspired by either the abilities or even theme song of Kefka from Final Fantasy VI, and finally Bhunivelze’s pose in the final phase is based on the pose struck by the Cloud of Darkness in Final Fantasy III. He also draws several abilities and strategies from other bosses in the Lightning Trilogy. He’s immune to every status effect including poison, so forget using the poison and defend strategy from Orphan in the first game. Finally, he has several abilities that will drop you to either one or close to one HP regardless of your defense.  And all that is just on the normal version.  Oh yes, there’s a hard mode incarnation of this guy named Bhunivelze+.  I haven’t even tried that one yet.

So after four whole phases on intense fights is God finally dead? Oh heck no.  Bhunivelze created the universe (well along with his Mom), do you think four measly back to back fights will stop him?  It will knock him on his ass, but he crawls back ready to kill Lightning for the sheer insolence she has shown.  Luckily, Lightning has the one thing that Bhuni-boy doesn’t: Buddies.  Yes, this pen-ultimate cut scene has the entire assembled cast of the entire trilogy: Snow, Sazh, Dajh, Hope, Vanille, Fang, Noel, Caius, Yuel, and even Serah appear to help Lightning strike down God while utilizing all of the Souls of the Living gathered by Lightning and the Souls of the Dead gathered by Vanille as a giant sword of light to strike down Bhunivelze once and for all in an epic final blow worthy of Dragon Ball Z levels of sheer ridiculous epicness.

Bhunivelze’s death chimes in the death of the old universe however as the Unseen Realm and its tides of chaos begin to consume all that is left.  Caius and Yuel, both tired of their eternal struggle and cycle of life and death have agreed to stay behind and together serve the role that Etro once served.  But because Noel also wants a happy ending, Yuel gives him the last of her line – the final incarnation of Yuel in her cycle of Rebirth to take with him to the new universe.  With a new keeper of the Unseen Realm appointed, all that’s left is for the remaining team and all the souls to go to the new world in a brilliant stream of green lights and streaks that sort of looks like something that once helped stop a meteor from crushing a city (Yet another homage to an earlier game found here.  They really seem to enjoy the send ups.)

This brings us to the real ending of the series.  Claire Farron, the women once known as Lightning in another time and place, riding a train through what appears to be modern day France to go meet up with her friends once again.  It’s never flat out stated what this new world is, but theories have been as far flung as Gaia from Final Fantasy VII (Which considering there’s already a theory about Gaia is futuristic Spira from FFX, how does that work?) to Our Real Earth to the more modern and realistic setting of Final Fantasy XV.  Any and all are somewhat valid ways of viewing things, but the Real Earth seems to be the most likely since they do establish this as a world with No God, and No fal’Cie.  The FF7 connection is really reaching because all that connects them is the vaguely lifestream-y looking stream of souls, which has less traction then FF7 == FFX because Spheres are Materia idea.  We know that XV will have its own ties to the Fabula Nova Crystalis legend and that Etro will play some role in the story, so the No gods/fal’cie thing makes that one hard.  Plus… the signs are in French.  Like actual French.  Not even French sounding gibberish.  So that’s my best bet for where the ending takes place.

So with the story now finished, was it really worth it to play some 180 hours of game to reach that conclusion?  Well… yea. For me it was.  For all the game play issues, which really were improved on heavily after the feedback and criticisms of the first game (and even then most of those were – in my opinion – excusable to the nature of the story being told but admittedly flew in the face of what many people would expect from a Final Fantasy title), I found the story to be an incredible interesting and character driven narrative.  To the point where it utterly baffles me when I hear people say the characters are boring or bland.  There’s a difference between bland and subtle.  This is very subtle.  Not to mention the characters and their development is incredibly well rounded compared to many of the more popular Final Fantasy entries where the characters were almost defined by a single personality trait.  Optimisitc! Bad ass loner! Angry!  Moron!  Where as in the XIII trilogy, there were a lot of nuanced performances built around knowing these characters back stories and motivations.  Vanille is not a ditsy airhead.  She puts on a ditsy act as an act of denial about the immense guilt she feels, something that is quite noticeable if you contrast how she behaves around the others versus when she’s by herself.  The scene where it begins to dawn on her that her traveling companion, Sazh, has lost his son because of her actions and very existence, that she goes out and stands in the rain under the excuse to feel it on her skin but if you look, she’s trying to mask the tears coming down her face was a real punch in the feels.  Even Snow, the king of bravado, is dealing with the tragedy of his curse and the loss of his fiance by blindly marching forward like a hero to save the day, running from his problems.  But eventually, when he has lost Serah completely and the world is dying around him, he succumbs to depression and begins to slowly kill himself with a final silent noble act of absorbing the Chaos into his own body to try and give the people of Yusnaan another day of happiness before the end. Something he couldn’t do for Serah, despite all his trying.  The characters are THE reason to play through these games.  Just remember that the subtext is just as important, if not more, than what they are actually saying and doing.

The trilogy also has a great overarching theme of the desire for free will and fighting against your fate, and the need to preserve it even if free will means doing something stupid, or getting hurt by your choices or actions.  In the first game, the message is very direct.  The fal’Cie have literally stripped the main six from having any autonomy in their actions.  It’s complete the focus or be doomed to be a cie’th for eternity.  Even if you complete the focus, all it means is getting stored in crystal until the fal’Cie want you to do something again.  You become a slave to these god-like creatures for all eternity, or suffer a fate worse than death. The reaction to this is each character walking their own path to try and preserve their free will – be it by running away to do whatever they want to actively trying to kill their new ‘masters’.  Ultimately, the sheer strength of their freedom overcomes the chains.  Something that seems weird but makes perfect sense in the context of the mythology: humans are the only creatures capable of Free Will thanks to Etro.  It’s an X factor that the fal’Cie literally can’t comprehend and only out of fear, myth, faith, and sheer power have managed to control their thralls to this point.  There are thousands of years of stories about the fal’Cie and their l’Cie and what happens.  Your promised eternal life and happiness in a crystal dream for completing your focus.  To many it’s consider a downright honor to be chosen.  Why? Because that’s the belief the fal’Cie have worked to create in humans so they obey.  When these six broke that control and killed Orphan, they proved that the fal’Cie only have as much power over the human spirit as we let them.  That in the end, our focus and our destiny is for us to decide.

In the second game, the nature of free will and even more so the concept of fighting destiny is explored through the idea of time and the question of is the future set in stone?  Serah and Noel each want to change something.  Serah wants to change the past, and Noel the future to get what they want.  However, it’s shown that their actions do have a very real cost in the end.  Changing the future, striking out and making your own path, is what is killing Yuel and ultimately Serah as well.  Serah chooses to risk death to get a future where everyone can be happy.  However, with each life of Yuel’s reincarnation that gets extinguished the Chaos also grows and threatens everything.  It becomes a question of risk vs. reward.  Are you willing to put it all on the line to get what you really want?  You have free will to make your own destiny, but that can come back and bite you.

Those repercussions are fully explored in Lightning Returns, which feature’s the titular character faced with the decision of asking which is preferable: Euphoria with no free will or free will with suffering? You are constantly bombarded with stories of loss and misery through the side quests and main story, but are told that this can be avoided by simply casting aside your emotions and freedom and living in peace for all eternity.  But you also see stories of love, compassion, and those who despite facing the end of all things choose to keep pressing on and living their lives to the fullest.   There’s a kid who just wants to pass his hunting trials and become a man of his clan before the end comes.  What does it matter? In the grand scheme it doesn’t but to him it’s everything.  Fang is fighting to save her friend, Sazh to save his son, Snow to protect the people – all knowing that there are only 13 days left, they still choose to fight to live.  Lightning’s ultimate choice is that freedom is more important than a guaranteed happiness.  To that end, she kills God and frees everyone to have whatever life they choose to have.  Even Caius who was given no choice in becoming a guardian, no agency in whether he lives or dies thanks to the Heart of Etro or the Yuels, finally gets to choose to stay in the Unseen Realm.  Really, there was no need for him to go, but he didn’t want the Yuels to be alone.

The only thing I do wish they had done was keep the song from the first game going through the whole trilogy.  While only included in the western release, Leona Lewis’ “My Hands” is a song that strongly resonates with both Lightning and Serah that only strengthens as the trilogy goes on.  The song’s solemn lyrics of longing and missing another person while having to go on without them becomes even more poignant by the third game when you start coming face to face with just how many people are now trapped in time, forced to live eternally, after losing loved ones to the slowly dying monster ravaged world and expanding chaos.  Sadly, the song is only featured on the first game where it sort of resonates with Lightning’s quest to get her sister back but doesn’t live up to its full potential.

So is the Trilogy a flawless masterpiece?  Hardly.  The story is confusing and told is a jarring all-over-the-place style that requires copious amounts of reading extra content to follow any of the over arching narrative. The gameplay – especially for the first game – can be boring and tedious and will definitely be a huge turn off to fans of the previous games (even though I’ll admit that the ‘run a straight path and fight monsters’ is pretty much the exact same style as the critically and fan adored Final Fantasy X).  It is a flawed trilogy of games and I will admit that.  But that doesn’t mean I think it should be tossed aside and forgotten to the annals of history.  There is a lot of great content here: Wonderful stories, brilliantly well rounded characters, and a fascinating mythology behind it all. The second game explores a lot of the same ideas that Chrono Trigger fans would find very much right at home and the third game has a truly engaging time-based system and active combat system that has a ton of optional stuff to explore and is short enough to encourage multiple playthroughs with a new game+ feature.

My recommendation is while I can’t wholly endorse these games at $60 a pop, if you can nab them used or new at a decent price (I only paid $15 for the first two, and got Lightning Returns new at release) I would recommend nabbing them.  If you really want to skip the first one, I can’t blame you. There’s a decent enough recap in the Extras menu of XIII-2 that will bring you up to speed but you will miss some excellent character writing that comes later in the first game.  These games also serve as a firm full exploration of the Fabula Nova Crystalis mythology and covers everything from Bhunivelze to his fal’Cie, Pulse, Lindzei and Etro, the concepts of the Seen and Unseen realms, and of course the idea of the l’Cie that plays a big role in Final Fantasy Type-0 and assuredly in the upcoming Final Fantasy XV.  Remember, the mythology is the only thing shared between the three and you’ll get no better crash course in that than from the XIII trilogy.

So that’s the end of my look at the hated XIII trilogy.  I don’t know if I changed anyone’s minds but hopefully I showed that there’s a bit more to these three games than what appears on the surface.  I know I discounted the games pretty harshly at first when I first rented the first one to give it a go back in the day, but after a second look was quite impressed with what I found.  I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all my readers and oddly enough Noah ‘The Spoony One’ Antwiler whose incredibly biased albeit hilariously entertaining reviews of the Final Fantasy games he doesn’t like inspired me to look deeper into these games and see if they were truly that bad.  They’re not in my opinion.  Hell, not even Final Fantasy X.  I mean, I didn’t like X as much, but it wasn’t garbage by any means.  Anyway, if you want a chuckle with someone ripping apart the games and riffing a lot of the admittedly silly parts, check it out.  I’ll be here finishing up class reviews for SWTOR, replaying Metal Gear while waiting for my PS4 to get repaired and trying to finish out Type-0 HD.

Stay weird, folks.

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God Damn It (Literally): Lightning Returns (Part 2)

LRFFXIII_Ending_Reunion

Welcome back one and all to yet another installment of Vry desperately tries to convince the world that Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t completely suck.  Today we’re going to be tackling the main story and the characters of Lightning Returns, since the two are pretty much interwoven.  Much like the Final Fantasy XIII prime, much of the story is driven by Lightning, her personal mission, and her interactions with her friends and enemies.  Which is important to note, because as you find out as soon as the short prologue mission you’ll find out that who falls on which side of that distinction may have shifted in the intervening 500 years that Lightning was snoozing in crystal.  This will also cover a good chunk of the story for the game, as most of the main story missions for Lightning are tied directly to her friends.  Fair warning, beyond this point there be SPOILERS for the entire trilogy.

We should probably start with our main protagonist:  Claire ‘Lightning’ Farron. A lot has happened to Lightning over the course of the trilogy.  She was branded a l’Cie, changed her destiny and defied the will of god-like beings known as fal’Cie, was sucked into the Unseen Realm of the Dead, became the knight guardian of the Goddess of Death, got out-chessmastered by a near immortal mad man, and sealed herself away in crystal slumber to avoid the apocalypse.  That was before this game starts.  At the beginning of this game, Lightning was drawn out of her crystal slumber by Bhunivelze, the ‘true’ god of the world and the being that created the first fal’Cie (Lindzei, Pulse, and Etro) and the world.  Bhunivelze tasks her with becoming the savior and to secure as many souls as she can before his arrival to erase existence.  In exchange for providing this service Bhunivelze will resurrect Serah, Lightning’s sister who the catalyst for the first game and the hero of the second game that met with a tragic end. Lightning agrees and sets out on her mission, but as things progress she begins to note things are amiss.  Like the fact that while she knows she should and normally WOULD be outraged at God using her sister as a bargaining chip, she feels utter indifference towards it.  She is driven solely by the goal she made for herself when she entered the crystal slumber – be reunited with Serah at any cost.

Helping Lightning in her mission is Hope Estheim.  Hope was Lightning’s travelling partner and pseudo-student in the first game who later would start an organization to help save the world by building a new world for everyone to avoid the apocalypse in called New Cocoon and later just The Ark (Hint: It didn’t work!)  Hope’s appearance in this game is that of his younger self as shown in the first game.  No one knows why.  Not even Hope.  He vanished some 169 (Get it? 13 x 13 = 169. HA!) years prior to the game, and when he returned he was regressed to the young boy that Lightning last saw him as and filled with all the knowledge he would need to help Lightning complete her mission.  Hope is weird.  He routinely tries to push Lightning to focus on her mission and to ignore all the questions she has about her changed behavior.  He speaks like he is ancient but with the body of a child, something to be expected when no one has aged in 500 years but here’s the kicker – NO ONE ELSE DOES.  In fact, no one ages or matures or anything in that time.  Children still act like children, despite being so for hundreds of years. So what’s up with Hope?  Well, that is explained later and we’ll get to that.

Next up is Snow.  Snow is now the “ruler” of the City of Yusnaan, which considering the last we saw was him continuously beating up a giant Flan monster like Sisyphus in XIII-2, I’d say that’s a step up.  Snow has had a depressing turn since his fiance, ‘SERAH!’, died 500 years prior.  He’s taken up the habit of becoming the protector of the city and thus its ruler mainly because he feels so much regret that he couldn’t save anything else.  He failed to find Lightning for Serah, he failed to protect Serah, and then he failed to protect the world from the Chaos – so now he feels he’s making up for that.  It’s also interesting to note that Snow is a l’Cie – a servant bound to a fal’Cie – and no, it’s never explained how he got re-l’Cie-ed after having the brand removed from him by Etro at the end of XIII.  Well, it technically is but only in an external light novel that was never published outside of Japan.  I really wish Square Enix would stop doing that.  These games can be confusing enough as it is without them putting out plot info in other books that I can’t get my hands on.  It’s like if the Hobbit movies only made sense if you were familiar with the Lost Tales books…  oh wait… Oh! And they were only published in Germany.  That’s more like it.

I’ll just tell you though.  During Snow’s Most Excellent Adventure through time and space during XIII-2, he found himself struggling to accomplish…  well anything.  After all, at that juncture Snow was just a normal dude with a super-powered trenchcoat (Yes, that’s still a thing in these games).  He can’t jump through time and space willie nilly.  But luckily he comes across an actually friendly fal’Cie called Cactuar.  They make a pact that Snow would help Cactuar, and Cactuar would make him a l’Cie so he could carry out his mission.  That’s why Snow has the l’Cie brand in XIII-2 and Lightning Returns. Back to the actual plot!

Snow has decided that the best way to protect Yusnaan from the Chaos is to absorb all the Chaos into his own body.  Hey, he’s a noble protecting of the people.  Just not a SMART noble protecting of the people.  Actually it seems more like his own personal honorable form of suicide since he’s pretty much lost everything he cares about.  Even when Lightning returns (See what I did there?) he makes it perfectly clear that she is NOT the Lightning he knows.  Which raises the question, who is she?  Snow has a cool mechanic in the game in that the longer you put off fighting him, the more and more he turns into this crystal monster and becomes MUCH more dangerous.  So first time players, fight Snow BEFORE Day 7 ends. You’ll be glad you did.  Save Monster Snow for your New Game+ or New Game++ playthrough.

Now with Snow out of the way, what about Vanille and Fang?  Well aren’t they still trapped in the crystal pillar? NO!  For some reason (the will of God? Who knows…) they both thawed out of the pillar thirteen years ago.  Vanille also came out of the pillar with the strange ability to hear the dead.  All of them.  Like everyone who has died since the chaos swept through the world.  So 500 years of dead people constantly screaming at her.  This has turned her into something of a religious icon for the church in Luxerion.  They plan on having her perform a giant ritual to ‘send’ the souls and ‘free them’ as per God’s will. Turns out the truth is a bit less Disney-esque:  She is literally purging the souls from the universe.  People will forget that the souls and the individuals that once possessed them ever existed.  Oh, and it will kill Vanille too.  This is all part of Bhunivelze’s big plot to save only the souls HE deems worthy and as chosen by HIS savior.  Dude’s a control freak (Not shocking from the ‘diety’ who literally destroyed time itself to find out if his dead mommy was plotting against him.) Enter Fang – who does NOT want Vanille to die.  She’s been in the desert trying to find the “Holy Clavice” which is a relic from ancient times needed to perform the ritual.  Her idea is to beat the Church to the relic and then destroy it so Vanille can’t perform the ritual.  Vanille refuses to listen to Fang about how the ritual is going to kill her, because she feels this is a higher calling and that sacrificing herself to save all these poor souls is worth it.  Vanille has had this self-sacrificing guilt thing going on since the first game, and it’s finally coming to a head here. So Fang’s storyline is essentially a Indiana Jones vs the Nazis style race to the huge religious artifact.  But at least not before we get some Les Yay laced dialogue between Fang and Lightning (No, this isn’t fan service.  It’s CANONICAL fan service.  Remember, Fang did use the “Let’s see how far your mark is progressing” excuse to scope Lightning’s breasts in the first game.  Fang also has a relationship with Vanille that – to paraphrase the developers – ‘transcends friendship and sisterhood’.)

Rounding out the first game’s crew there’s Sazh.  Last we saw of ol’ Sazh was that he was trapped in an outside-of-time Casino playing cards for his son’s life, and then he appears 500 years in the damn future to help during doomsday with no explanation how he got there.  Oookay, I was unfair when I said that.  It is somewhat explained in the Sazh DLC for XIII-2 when he asks the Casino owner to send him somewhere that he can make a difference.   However, it seems that all of that card playing was for not because in the post-chaos world of Nova Chrysalia, Dajh’s soul is missing! His body is fine, just sleeping away in Sazh’s bed, but the soul is gone to who knows where.  Thus Sazh’s quest for Lightning is to get Dajh’s soul back.  The kid’s soul is split into five pieces scattered across the world.  However the easiest to get is the one from Chocolina, who for those who don’t recall is essentially The Doctor from Doctor Who if he decided to open up a store where he landed and dress like a giant chicken.  Chocolina is also the baby chocobo that Sazh bought for Dajh in the first game given the power to change into human form by Etro.  In this instance, Etro may have been too nice.  Chocolina loves to tease Lightning about this and constantly remind Light that Chocolina knows who she is, but Lightning has NO CLUE who Chocolina is.

Well, that’s the original team but how about the XIII-2 characters?  Well, you’ll be happy to know that the fates of Noel, Yuel, and Caius are discussed here and oh boy is this one a doozy.  Strap in kids.  First we’ll get Noel out of the way.  Noel is actually the mysterious leader of the Children of Etro that have been killing off anyone who looks like Lightning in Luxerion in hopes of stopping the Savior.  Noel wants to kill Lightning not because of her jerking him around like a puppet in the previous game but because Noel has spent 500 years losing his mind obsessing over how to save ‘his’ Yuel, or the last  of the Yuels that died in his arms.   He was given a Prophecy Drive (an old device used to record the prophecies of the Seeress Yuel) that shows him killing Lightning and being reunited with Yuel.  Who gave him this drive? We’ll get to that.  Anyway, Lightning and Noel end up butting heads across Luxerion until she finally beats him and leaves him a broken man pretty much.

Caius and Yuel on the other hand? They’re having a much worse time.  Caius succeeded in his plan to break open Etro’s Gate and destroy time, and even somehow lived to tell about it.  But now 500 years later, his life is a living hell.  Why?  Because of Yuel.  Yuel the girl he fought so hard to save.  Yuel, the girl he destroyed time itself so she wouldn’t have to suffer.  Yuel, the first human and blessed by Etro to be reborn each time she died because her heart did not fade into the chaos like everyone elses.  Wait.  Does that mean?  Yes siree.  When the Unseen World poured out into the Seen World, every single incarnation of Yuel came with it.  Now Caius is stuck with them all. The Yuel who loved Poetry, the Yuel who liked Flowers, ALL OF THEM.  And worse, they can’t decide what to do with Caius.  Some pity him and want him to die so he can at last have peace, but some adore him and want him to live forever with him.  Now Caius is trapped and wants to be put out of his misery by Lightning.  The irony is not lost on him.  However, the more important thing we learn is that the Chaos, this stuff that seems to eat away at reality itself – that’s Yuel’s fault.  As she puts it, the Chaos is her ‘love for Caius’ but what that actually means is that her constant resurrections to be with her guardian was the reason that the Chaos was growing and bleeding through into the Seen World.  Her very nature of being reborn whenever she died was damaging reality and thus was responsible for pretty much everything that went wrong from the ending of XIII to now.  Again, the pity of Etro has messed things up.  Then again, that’s the way with fal’Cie isn’t it?

For the final stragglers of the series:  Serah is dead, her soul being the first one absorbed by Lightning while she was in Crystal Slumber to “protect it”. Odin, Lightning’s eidolon and ally, was turned into a majestic white chocobo by the Chaos (the Chaos is weird like that and transforms things a lot. Humans don’t get affected because they already have a touch of Chaos in them in the forms of “Hearts” that Etro gave them.) and Mog the Moogle is now the ruler of a village of moogle which is oddly hinted at being where he was from originally in XIII-2 making Mog’s very existence a weird time loop paradox, but since that’s an optional side quest in both XIII-2 and Lightning Returns, it never really gets addressed.

So that covers all the previous characters and most of the story but we’re missing something.  Something to unite all this disparate stories into a cohesive whole and the game has given us that in the form of Lumina.  Lumina is a brand new character for Lightning Returns who appears as early as the opening cutscene.  She is inexplicable woven into almost every main story quest in the game.  Who gave Noel the Prophecy Drive? Lumina.  Who gives Sazh the box to store and recombine Dajh’s soul fragments? Lumina.  Who is constantly pestering Snow? Yup.  Who tipped off Fang about the Holy Clavice and the Church’s plot? You bet.  So who the heck is she?  Well, the long story short is and this is a BIG spoiler: She’s Claire Farron.  She’s Lightning’s “heart” for the lack of a better term, given form by the Chaos.  When Bhunivelze resurrected Lightning from Crystal Slumber and raised her to the status of ‘Savior’, he cast away her emotions and her heart, leaving her with nothing but her memories and her last goal: be reunited with Serah.  She has no real emotional attachment to this goal other than it being ‘The Goal’ so when Bhunivelze uses it as a carrot on a stick to Lightning, she’s sees not someone using her dear sister as bait but as an opportunity to complete the goal.  Her discarded emotions, her heart as it were, were discarded and took shape in the Chaos manifesting as Lumina who has a combination of Serah’s looks and Lightning’s snark and compassion for her friends.  Throughout the game, Lumina pushes Lightning to realize what Bhunivelze took from her and to try to steer her back on the path to being reunited with her heart, her friends and ultimately her sister – who Bhunivelze never had any intention to return to life.  Serah’s soul was to be flushed away with all the others during Vanille’s ritual and then since no one would have any memory of the souls, Lightning would be none the wiser.

Which brings us to the final piece of this puzzle.  The grand architect of the Fabula Nova Crystalis himself: Bhunivelze, God of Light and yes, you actually get to meet him in this one.  Actually you meet him a lot but you wouldn’t know it because it turns out that the Hope that is inexplicably younger to match Lightning’s last memories of him (She never met older Hope in XIII-2) is actually just a puppet for Bhunivelze himself to speak through.  Oh, Hope has his memories buried somewhere, but Bhuni-boy won’t let him touch them unless needed.  Hope is just there to help manipulate Lightning into being the Savior, to round up the ‘chosen souls’ and help usher them to his ‘New Perfect World’.  Which brings us to Bhuni’s plan.  A quick recap: Bhunivelze kills his Mom Mwynn so he can rule the universe himself. He worries that his mother is plotting against him in the Unseen Realm but doesn’t know because as the God of the Seen Realm, his eyes can see all except through the Chaos of the Unseen Realm.  He tasks two fal’Cie – Pulse and Lindzei – with trying to break into the Unseen Realm to find out and then goes to sleep until the job is done.  He wakes up to find the chaos EVERYWHERE.  Yea, that crap he can’t see through? EVERYWHERE.  Including in all these humans’ “Hearts”.  So he says ‘Screw this, I’m starting over with my own universe where there is no Chaos, no hearts, and no Mom.’ Gets Lightning to do the dirty work and then plans to flush the old universe, dead not-gathered souls and all away so he can play with his brand new shiny universe with his perfect emotionless humans and his Mom won’t be able to stop him despite her being destroyed by the Chaos and turning over her guardianship of the Unseen Realm to Etro for ages already at the time all of this happens but since the Unseen Realm is still a thing where dead stuff goes, use the emotionless-and-has-no-memory-of-Serah Lightning to become the ‘New Etro’ and stand watch over the land of the dead.  That’s his plan in a nutshell.  I said it before: control freak.

I think that pretty much covers the characters and about 85% of the plot of the game.  It’s a bit weird to go about it this way, but the game is extremely non-linear so the only really way to talk about it is by discussing the characters’ roles in each of the quest lines.  Next time in our final installment we will discuss the ending of Lightning Returns and look back at the entirety of the XIII trilogy and the first chapter of the Fabula Nova Crystalis.  Thanks for reading!

Fashion, Free Will, & Deicide: Lightning Returns (Part 1)

LightningReturns-Pose

So with Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 now firmly in the ‘dealt with’ drawer, and Type-0 HD along with the Final Fantasy XV demo knocking on the door, it’s time now to look at the final installment of the “Lightning Trilogy” of the Fabula Nova Crystallis – Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.  Which is kind of a backwards title to be honest.  That always confused me.  Surely it would make more sense as Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns.  But maybe they wanted it to be viewed as more of a standalone game.  Which is both odd and completely makes sense because this installment is about 90% references to people and events of the previous two games, and the other 10% is the where and how, and THOSE are completely brand new.  Yes, in a weird change of pace, the entire combat system of Lightning Returns is completely different than anything seen in the previous two games and almost seems built as a weird RPG/Fighting game hybrid that somehow manages to actually work really well.  As for the places, well…  that’s best explained by getting into the set up of the story for this installment.

For those who recall my recap of Final Fantasy XIII-2, the game ended with Caius claiming victory from beyond the grave and the heart of the goddess Etro destroyed, allowing the chaos to pour out of the Unseen Realm and into the Seen Realm destroying the space/time continuum pretty much.  Then our main protagonist, Serah, dies and Lightning seals herself in crystal in hopes to ride out the storm for a chance to be reunited with her dead sister someday somehow.  Lightning Returns begins 500 years later.  Yea. You did not read that wrong.  Five hundred years later.  Yea, it’s quite the time leap.  In that time, the world has completely changed.  No recycled areas this time. No, as the sea of chaos slowly consumes the world, the remaining land is divided up into 4 regions: Luxerion – the city of the faithful, Yusnaan – the city of the never ending party, The Dead Dunes – a savage desert, and The Wildlands – a wilderness where folks try to live with nature.  Across these four regions, the remnants of humanity try to live out the remaining few days of the world.  Humanity too has changed a bit.  Remember that bit about the space/time continuum going boom?  Yea, no one ages anymore.  Seriously!  People can still die from things like murder, getting ripped to shreds by monsters, disease, etc but no one has aged in 500 years.  Hence how pretty much every character from the series comes back in some fashion.  The chaos has also had some strange side effects now that Etro is dead.  People and creatures have had drastic changes to their shapes in some cases, or other things like a certain pair of Gran Pulse residents being woken from crystal slumber.

So with no aging and a brand new world, what is the basic plot?  Well, with the Unseen Realm opened up, Bhunivelze the God of Light, Creator of All, Giant Ass Who Killed His Mom, has returned to his creation to find it all broken beyond repair.  He has awoken and tasked Lightning with saving the souls of humanity and preserving them in the Ark (that giant ball that Hope built in XIII-2 which was supposed to be a replacement Cocoon for when the Crystal Pillar broke, which is now just considered a big second moon to the world at large.) before the world is destroyed in 13 days.  Yea, you get woken up and given the task of saving as many souls as you can in 13 days.  All the while you’ll meet up with old friends and enemies, meet new friends and enemies, and Lightning will learn an important lesson.  More on that later.  The whole saving souls thing is done in the form of completing quests.  Quests are the life blood of Lightning Returns.  Completing quests will give you access to equipment, cosmetic customizations, stat increases (no more levels or crystarium), and most importantly: TIME.  Oh yea, time is not on your side.  At the start of the game, you have 7 days of game time before game over.  Wait! Didn’t I say 13 earlier?  Well, yes.  See, the world will be destroyed in 13 days.  If it makes it that long.  You start with only 7 days left, but by helping others and completing quests you will gain more time which will ultimately give you 13 total (technically if you complete all 5 main story quests and enough side quests you can gain access to a special 14th day created from all the lost time after the Chaos flooded and days went from being on a 13 hour clock to a 12 hour one…  Just go with it.  All it really does is unlock the bonus dungeon, I’m surprised they tried to give it a lore based reason for existing at all.)  Any time you are not inside the Ark that serves as a safe haven and base of operations, the clock will be continuously counting down.  You can slow it down using bonus abilities that you’ll unlocked through out the game, but honestly I abused the hell out of them and ended up with 5 whole days of nothing to do but ride the train around.  So they’re not crucial to burn unless you are close to missing a window to complete something since certain quests are only available at certain times each day or give you so much time to complete the task.

So along with the new world and time mechanic, what else does Lightning Returns bring to the table?  Well, there’s the new combat system I mentioned.  Since Lightning is the only playable character this time around, how do you handle the myriad of enemies being tossed at you?  Well, besides being an agent of God (cue the Blues Brothers music please!) you have the ability of rotating through a myriad of abilities divided into the ‘roles’ established in FF13: Sentinel (Tank), Commando (Stagger Retention DPS), Ravager (Stagger Building DPS), Medic (Heals), Saboteur (Debuffs), and Synergist (Buffs).  You change your set of abilities, by changing outfits.  Yes, you play dress up and as a modern 30-something year old man in the 21st century, I will tell you…  it’s pretty damn fun.  The outfits consist of your clothes that dictate your abilities, your weapon that determines your attack power, and a shield that determines your defense.  There are insane amounts of each that allow you to mix and match to your hearts content to build the perfect outfit for combat or just to run around in.  On top of the stat and ability customization, you can change the color of outfits and add cosmetic accessories that do nothing (hats, glasses, plushies on your shoulder, badges, tattoos, etc) but add some aesthetic fun and other things to collect in the game.  In combat, each outfit has its own ATB bar (think of it as energy or mana) to use that outfits abilities.  It will refill as you fight but usually not fast enough that you won’t have to switch between your three outfit slots during the fight to continue the battle.  Each ability is assigned to one of the four main buttons (ABXY on Xbox 360, Square/Circle/X/Triangle on PS3) so you just hit buttons to do the attacks.  During combat (which occurs in a separate little universe like any other Final Fantasy combat), you actual control Lightning’s position, movement and blocking with the shield using the other buttons and joysticks.  So you can move out of a blast, or move to the side of the enemy, or get up close and personal.  Beyond that, the trilogy mechanic of ‘build stagger meter up till staggered then unleash hell for massive damage’ remains par for the course.

The whole combat system is much faster and attention holding than the traditional Final Fantasy turn based method.  As I said, it feels a bit like they tossed in some Fighting game into the mix and it really makes all the repetitive combats fun.  The only down side is that without the slower turn based system, strategizing is usually done with trial and error with lots of dying and restarting the combat, especially on bosses and the heavy hitting enemies.  You can usually load up right back to the start of combat or right before the combat was initiated for a chance to run away, so it’s not a huge loss of time but it can wear on you a bit after dying 5-10 times on a single encounter.  Still, I personally feel the change is a net win.

Moving around the game is fairly the same but with the addition of being able to actually jump whenever you want instead of just certain spots.  The moving around actually feels very similar to SquareEnix’s other series Kingdom Hearts where the movement is really fluid and you get used to jumping up and grabbing onto ladders or snatching poles to slide down on as you run around.  I actually found it perfectly entertaining to just run around Luxerion, climbing up on things and diving off high spots.

The last new mechanic in Lightning Returns is the ability to upgrade your stuff.  The main one is upgrading your abilities.  You will routinely encounter enemies that drop unattached abilities that can be slotted into the blank spots in outfits.  These unattached abilities can often be combined at a shop into more powerful versions of itself, creating higher level versions of the ability and gaining things like the ‘+’ suffix that gives it a bonus to its effects. (If you end up with a ton of them, you can also sell these abilities for cash. Helpful when you have 30 Blizzard Lv. 1’s sitting around.) It also seems clear that Lightning Returns was made to be a quick, enjoyable game that you can and should play through multiple times.  Not only do you get more stat boosts for redoing quests on a second, third or even fourth playthrough (it has diminishing returns and eventually just becomes extra cash instead of stat growth), the New Game+ option also opens up the ability to upgrade your weapons and shields, making them more and more powerful.  Thus you can almost treat the game like Diablo, where you can play through it on the lower difficulties to build up stats and gear to take on the higher difficulties (which also has exclusive gear for all you collectors out there).

Overall, I’ve always felt like the mechanical changes in Lightning Returns were a mixed back.  It felt like, much like the rest of the game, a radical departure not only from Final Fantasy as a whole, but the 13 trilogy as well.  On the other hand, the changes by no means detract from the game.  They are still fun and work with what this game in particular is trying to do.  It just feels odd calling it a Final Fantasy game, or as part of the Lightning Trilogy since its such a radical departure from the established status quo.  It kinda feels more like a spin off than a main entry in the series at the moment.  I supposed the best way to describe the feeling is like being an American trying to pronounce something with the British English pronunciation (think ‘aluminum’). You recognize it as a valid way of saying the word, and it may even make more sense then how you usually say it, but it still sits funny in your mouth.  That’s Lightning Returns on a mechanical level.  Fun, but different.

Anyway, next time I’ll crack deeper into the storyline and characters and we’ll see exactly what the deal with Bhunivelze is after all this time.

Serah the Explorah: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Part Three

XIII-2_Main_Menu

Well, it’s been a while. The wheels of time spin ever onward into the black nothing that is everything.  Or something.  That being said with the announcement of all three XIII games being released for PC via Steam, I think it’s time I put the finishing touches on my critique of the second installment of the “Lightning Trilogy” now that the Fabula Nova Chrystalis includes Final Fantasy Type-Zero and the upcoming Final Fantasy XV which I am eagerly awaiting and dreading since the sheer amount of cash I know I will have to drop on a Playstation 4 to play it will render me a pauper panhandling for pixels.

Anyway, the only thing really left for me to talk about is the general game mechanics and since this is a sequel you’d think there wouldn’t be much to talk about in that department, but there actually is.  See there were a lot of complaints people had with the original Final Fantasy XIII.  The lack of exploration, minimal sidequests, the extremely linear crystarium leveling system, and the list of course goes on.  XIII-2 does its best to try and remedy a lot of those complaints.

For instance, most locations you visit are quite open, with big fields and sprawling towns that you can look around and talk to people in.  The weird little floating terminal shops are replaced with the more annoying time-and-space-bending Chocolina (I like her but I’ve been told that she is…  ahem… “Weird and annoying.”  So there’s that.)  and there are a ton of sidequests that not only involve going around and exploring the area you are in, but will routinely require you to travel to alternate timeline versions or future/past versions of the same location to complete.  There’s a bunch of sidequests too.  Ranging from simple fetch quests through time and space to defeating powerful enemies.  Some include game wide spanning tasks like completing maps of areas (which requires time travel again because some areas are only accessible in certain points of time) or gathering lore objects to unlock new abilities.

The crystarium was brought back in an improved form as well.  The original crystarium was pretty much just a straight replacement for gaining experience and abilities from leveling up.  You got points, put those points into whatever class you wanted to level up, and unlocked new abilities.  Each path was pretty linear.  In XIII-2, the Crystarium is equally linear… sort of.  The actual path of the Crystarium is pretty much a straight line following the design of a character’s weapon.  However, where things got interesting is instead of having each node be a set bonus or ability, the game leaves it to you to decide which class (sentinel, commando, etc) to level up.  Based on which class you assign to a node determines which bonuses to attack, magic, or defense you get and the size of the node determines how big the bonus is.  So a larger sphere might give you a +10 to a stat, while a smaller one gives you a +2 or something.

Once you’ve assigned a certain number of spheres to a class, you will unlock abilities.  For example, every 10th sphere for a class grants a new ability and everything in between gives stat bonuses.  It’s actually a really clever system to add some customization. You can min max to make sure you get all the bonus you want, or you can just do what I want and just fill out the Crystarium with a single class until you unlock everything and then move on to the next one.

Now, you may be wondering how this is possible when a linear crystarium with a set pattern clearly has a beginning and end.  Well, once you completely fill up the pattern you get a new blank one to fill out.  When this happens you get a choice to either boost an existing class you put spheres in on this “level” of the crystarium, or unlock a class you don’t already have like saboteur or medic. But keep in mind, the point cost for each sphere continually increases. So the higher you go, the pricier things get.

Speaking of classes, in Final Fantasy XIII you had three party members to balance out the roles.  But in XIII-2 you only have Noel and Serah! How can this work?  Well, that’s something else they added to this game: Monster partners.  There’s a chance when you defeat a monster, you’ll have a chance to get a crystal that carries that monster’s essence, which will allow you to summon them in combat to assist.  Each monster has a pre-set class that can be leveled with its own crystarium that improves with monster food that you can find or buy.  You can also dress the monsters up in silly hats.  Not that I did.   Much.

I suppose I should talk about the elephant in the room: The downloadable content.  Yes, this is – as far as I’m aware – the first Final Fantasy to employ DLC.  I might be wrong there. The DLC for this game falls into three categories: Outfits, Arena Opponents, and Story DLC. There’s not much to say about the outfits.  They’re usually just skimpy outfits for Serah and increasingly weird outfits for Noel that look like something from Cirque Du Soleil. The one I DID like was the Mass Effect N7 armor, because then I can put Serah in something that looks like practical armor for once instead of a bikini.  There are also some weapons you can buy, and to be fair they tend to be fairly powerful in the early game but quickly get eclipsed once you start upgrading the other weapons in the late game.

The Arena Opponents are insanely powerful monsters to test your mettle against in  the Coliseum that gets unlocked with the Snow DLC.  They include anything from Snow and Lightning, to homages like Ultros and Typhon from FF6 to staples of the series like Omega Weapon.  The best part is that if you defeat these powerful enemies, you gain the ability to summon them in battle like the monsters.  Which is kind of weird for Snow and Lightning, but whatever.  I was never able to beat any of them during the actual game.  Pretty sure these are for the folks that are on their New Game+ playthrough or something.

Finally, the two story DLCs are Sazh and Lightning’s stories.  They kind of fill in some of the gaps with the other characters.  Sazh’s DLC is essentially playing at a trans-dimensional casino for both his and his son’s lives, and learning the truth behind our supernaturally everywhere-at-once shop keep Chocolina.  Lightning’s DLC is actually an epilogue to the game that bridges the gap between XIII-2 and Lightning Returns and features an insanely long battle against Caius that involves Lightning dying over and over and coming back stronger each time like a season of Dragonball Z.

If you want my recommendation, skip the outfits and the arena stuff unless you really want to do dress up and have a good challenge.  The Story DLC is actually kind cool and a fun break from the main game.  Especially the Sazh stuff, since it actually lets you play the casino games which include poker, slots, and a weird clock based card game that is really fun.

The only other thing that comes to mind to talk about would be the fact that like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy XIII-2 employs a New Game+ that allows you to access multiple endings called “Paradox Endings”.  At the end of the game, you get a special ability called a Paradox Scope.  By re-beating levels, sometimes with alternates means, with the Paradox Scope activated you can get the eight extra Paradox Endings for the game.  The fights for these Paradox Endings are incredibly tough but also kind of cool to see all the different ways the story would have ended by creating paradoxes.

An interesting thing to note, is that each of the Paradox Endings supposedly make references to things that happen or exist in Lightning Returns, a game that takes place after the Chaos floods the world at the end of this game.  No clue why.  It’s just one of those really neat things someone noticed.

Overall, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is probably my favorite of the XIII games.  A return to exploration and side-quests, a lighter more enjoyable story that doesn’t feel rushed or jam packed with “See Wiki for more info” bits, and the whole time travel thing was actually really enjoyable.  Especially seeing all the different locations with hundreds of years of difference.  It’s probably the most fun of the three in terms of sheer attitude.  I know some people really didn’t like Serah or Noel for…  reasons I suppose.  I never quite got it myself.  Serah is pretty much the best parts of Vanille and Lightning in the first game without all the annoying beats or horrifically tragic backstory.

Well, that wraps up my talk on Final Fantasy XIII-2 and hopefully I’ve convinced at least a few people to try it out when it comes out on Steam.   While I would recommend playing XIII first, I know that’s a hard sell so I won’t blame you if you skip it.  Heck, Square Enix won’t either.  The console version had a recap of FF13 option right on the main menu of XIII-2, and I’m going to assume that it will on the Steam version too.  So go ahead and skip the first game and just use the recap.  It’s easier to understand I’ll admit.  But if you enjoy Final Fantasy, I would recommend trying out this gem that many overlooked because of the negative reception of the first game.

Time Warp: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Part Two

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So now that we’ve gotten the characters out of the way, we should discuss the story a bit.  Really, pretty much everything in Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a step up from the original.  The crystarium offers more choices, there are side quests, the plot doesn’t really require a crap ton of external reading to make sense, and the whole thing is more of a fun adventurous romp through time and space than a dreary struggle to survive and usurp the god-like powers that rule over us.  Sort of.  In the end, it’s best explained that XIII-2 is a more complicated Chrono Trigger, but not as complicated as Chrono Cross.  Which is a very good description, unless you haven’t played those games at all.  Which in case you haven’t…  shaaaame.

Allow me to go into things a bit more so you have a better idea of what I’m talking about.  Fair warning, ye travellers of the interwebs, thar be spoilers ahead.  Of course, most people hate the now titled Lightning Trilogy of the Fabula Nova Chrystallis, so I’m not sure anywhere cares if I spoil things.  Still, you will complain about the lack of warning regardless of whether you cared. I know you too well internet.

The general plot follows four characters and their separate goals.  There’s Serah who wants to travel to the end of everything to find her sister who fights a never ending war in the land of the dead.  Her partner in all this is Noel, the last human who was conscripted by Lightning to help Serah who wants to change history so that his time doesn’t completely suck as much with everyone being dead and whatnot.  Next is Hope, who is now aged up since the first game and is working on advancing humanity to prepare for the potentially doomed future and also enjoys freezing himself with hundreds of years at a time to do so.  Finally, there’s our sort of villain Caius who wants to create a world where Yeul will stop dying over and over.

Serah and Noel travel around time and space using time gates (Chrono Trigger people, starting to see similarities yet?) and by travelling through different times, they work to solve Paradoxes – errors in the time stream – to find anachronistic fragments of time that will allow them to open other time gates and eventually work their way to Valhalla at the end of time.  The hitch to this whole thing, is that every time the timeline changes, Yeul the Seeress gets a vision of the new future and it sucks a bit of her life away, hence her constant dying.  This puts Noel and Serah in direct confrontation with Caius, who is either trying to preserve the timeline, or destroy time completely by flooding reality with a force known as Chaos that dwells in the Unseen World of Valhalla.  How does he plan to do this?  Why by finishing the fal’Cie’s goal from the first game and killing a ton of people to open Etro’s Gate wide enough that the Unseen World pours into the Seen Wold.

It’s at this point that I feel it’s important to revisit the cosmology of the Fabula Nova Chrystallis mythology. In reality, there is the Seen World – the physical real world where time flows, the fal’Cie of Lindzei and Pulse once ruled, and was shaped and formed by Bhunivelze, God of Light – and then there is the Unseen World – the land of the dead, also called Valhalla, floating in a sea of Chaos where no time exists and God (Bhunivelze) cannot see into, hence the name Unseen World. The whole set up for the Lightning Trilogy is that God wants to find the Unseen World, so he goes into hibernation while his servants: Lindzei and Pulse, and their servants – the lesser fal’cie and thus the l’Cie – search for a way to get into the Unseen World.  That’s ultimately very important to what happens in Lightning Returns.

There’s also part of the mythos that when Etro killed herself and descended to the Unseen World, her blood was  to shape the first humans. The very first one being a girl named Yeul, formed to look like Etro herself.  However, something strange happened when Yuel passed on to Valhalla: she did not fade away like other souls.  Trapped there alone and without anyone, Etro pitied her and sent her back to the land of the living, gifting her with the Eyes of Etro which allowed her to see the future and giving her a protector and eternal companion – the Guardians, a long line of warriors entrusted with the heart of Etro herself.

Caius plans to do this by destroying Cocoon and dropping into on to Gran Pulse just like the fal’Cie did.  He works throughout the time stream to cause the crystal pillar formed at the end of the last game to erode.   But Caius isn’t the kind of person to let things ride on a single plan that has already been thwarted once before. No, no, no. Caius has a secondary plan.  He plans to die.  That’s right, because you see, part of his charge as the protector and companion to Yuel, Etro had to make sure he wouldn’t die and fade away like everyone else besides Yuel.  So the Goddess gave Caius her heart.  The Heart of Chaos as it has been called. Which makes him effectively immortal.  It heals him, it gives him eternal youth, and it makes him nigh indestructible.  But if someone were to kill him, they would effectively kill the Goddess at the same time and destroy the only force holding back the chaos and keeping it sealed in the Unseen World.  So if he wins or loses, he wins.

And that’s the big thing at the end of the game.  After all the altered time lines, changed futures, and more Yuels than you can shake a stick at, you finally showdown with Caius and defeat him, and he demands that you kill him.  You can choose to refuse, but if you do all it does is Caius forces himself onto Noel’s twin blades and impales the Heart of Chaos.  And thus the timeline changes, Yuel dies and so does Serah as she also gained the “gift” of the Eyes of Etro along the journey (Potentially due to Etro’s involvement on the Day of Ragnarok at the end of the first game, which would explain how Serah knows about Lightning surviving and everyone else thinks she is trapped in the crystal pillar) and with the Goddess’ heart destroyed, the chaos pours out of the Unseen World and floods the Seen world, merging the two into a new reality with no time.  Caius wins.

Yea.  You heard me.  In the end of the game, Caius wins. Bad guy victorious.  World doomed.  The real downside is you just spent half a game trying to work with Hope to find a way to save all of humanity and now it’s all null and void.  On the upside: HOLY CRAP THE BAD GUY WON!  How often does that happen?  There’s even a secret ending showing Caius smugly looking victorious as the world reshapes itself.

In the end, the story is really good.  It’s downright enjoyable.  It’s not a slog to figure out exactly what everyone is doing and why, motivations are simple and to the point but still grand in scale.  The ending however puts a damper on things.  It undoes most of the work you’ve done through the game, which really makes things feel like a waste of time.  Of course, none of those things would have happened.  And I’ll admit that was irritating, but not wholly a deal breaker for me.

As I said, they did away with all the countless pages of external research to understand the basic plot. Oh sure, the deeper nuances like the nature of Etro, or the history of the Seen and Unseen worlds are not fully fleshed out except in the datalogs. There’s also some random little elements in the game that are never really explained at all in the game or the logs.  Like when you run into Snow.  How did he get lost in time?  Why does he have a l’Cie brand again?  This is apparently all spelled out in a novel that was released in Japan.  There’s actually like three or four novel tie-ins to the game that explain a lot of the details for the smaller elements.  More explanation for Caius and Yuel’s relationship, details about Snow, and a bunch of other things.  Though in the greater plot, these don’t really bear any great weight.  The paradoxes that occur are more than enough explanation for the weirdness that pops up in the plot, like Snow and Sazh’s inexplicable time leaps (Hope’s is actually given a fairly thorough explanation.)

So in terms of sheer narrative after playing the entire Lightning Trilogy, this game is really my favorite story.  It’s a fun adventure.

Next time I’ll to talk about the mechanics a bit more.

(Just an afterthought, I know some people often wonder why it’s Lightning and Caius on the title logo instead of Serah and Noel.  Really, the entire story is a giant chess match between Lightning and Caius. Serah, Noel, Mog and Hope are Lightning’s pawns in trying to thwart Caius’ attempts to end the world.  So that would be why.)

Doctor Yuel: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Part 1

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I was all getting ready to write up a post on Lightning Returns when it suddenly struck me: I never talked about 13-2! Oh golly gee, I feel bad now.  I actually finished 13-2 way back in February but was thinking so much about revisiting I never even thought to write a post about it.  “Revisit? Surely you don’t mean you actually WANT to play a Final Fantasy 13 trilogy game more than once, do you Vry?”  In fact, I do!  Especially since both 13-2 and Lightning Returns make liberal use of a New Game+ feature and I really enjoyed them ESPECIALLY 13-2 which is my favorite of the trilogy.  But more on the whole new game+ thing later.  Let’s get in to talking about the characters first shall we?

While most of the cast of Final Fantasy XIII appears mostly in cameos and DLC, even Lightning who appears front and center on the box as well as the title logo, the game focuses on the always mentioned, sort of present, but only got like three lines Serah Farron- Lightning’s younger sister who spent 99% of the first game as a crystal.  She’s on a mission to find her sister, whose story got a bit wonky at the end of Final Fantasy XIII.  See at the end of the last game, everyone was reunited thanks to the Goddess Etro’s intervention.  Lightning blessed Snow and Serah’s engagement and even smiled for the first time in the game.  But here’s the twist: Only Serah remembers this happening.  Everyone else seems to think that at the end of the last game Lightning vanished and is assumed to be trapped in the crystal pillar with Fang and Vanille (again from the end of the last game).  So is Serah crazy?  She starts to think so, until we meet our second main character –

Noel Kreiss.  Whose name I’ve started using as a substitute for other exclamations (Noel Tap-Dancing Kreiss on a cracker!)  You spend most of the game not knowing a ton about Noel other than a) he’s from the future, b) he’s the last human and c) Lightning sent him to Serah to help her.  The future? Yes, the future.  You see, Noel here is the one that introduces the primary idea that the entire game spins around: Time Travel.  Being a time traveller himself, he guides Serah through the timelines, and to alternate timelines, in hopes of reaching Valhalla (Which is shown as being at the end of time, but is also the unseen realm of the dead.  How are these the same thing? Well, Lightning Returns sooort of answers that.)  Noel also seems to be very familiar with our villains, but again the answer to how isn’t revealed until the late game when you learn about Noel’s past.

The sort of third main character is little Mog.  That’s right, for the first time since… Final Fantasy VI? We have an honest to goodness Moogle party member.  NO CAIT SITH DOESN’T COUNT.  He’s a ROBOT.  Granted, Mog doesn’t exactly occupy a party slot.  He kind of is actually Serah’s weapon.  Yea…  Given to Noel to pass on to Serah from Lightning, Mog has the unique ability of turning into a bow that can also turn into a sword. However, he does provide a lot of utility as you explore the game world.  He can reveal hidden items, you can learn to chuck the little guy across pits or up onto ledges to get items for you (You can also throw him into pits if he annoys you.  He’ll come back in a bit.)  He also has a storyline about where he comes from, and offers a good deal of both comedic relief and cuteness to the story.

Our villains this time are luckily not the insane and poorly scheming fal’cie, but a man named Caius Ballad.  Caius is a great villain in my opinion because his goals are relate-able, and for a good long while you can kind of see his point and it can make you question if you are really the bad guy in this story (And honestly, the big divide comes down to methodology and the concept of the needs of the many over the needs of the few.) Caius also doesn’t adhere to the Final Fantasy stereotypical villain that thinks the world is full of suffering so he wants to destroy the world to end the suffering (Logic!)  All he really wants is to save the various incarnations of the girl he’s been tasked to protect through all time.

Which brings us to Yuel.  Yuel is interesting.  You see, Yuel is a seeress who can see the future, but keeps dying for reasons you’ll find out about late in the game.  However, there are “Other Yuels”, each with a different personality and Caius guards each of them.  Caius differentiates all the Yeuls by their interests or personality: The Yuel Who Liked Dancing, The Yuel Who Loved Flowers, The Yuel Who…  etc etc etc.  Yuel isn’t really a villain or hero in the story.  She’s more of a force, and a motivation. Some Yuels are actually pretty nice.  Others see Serah and Noel as a threat since they keep changing the timeline.

Last and probably least is Lightning.  Yes, Lightning is in the game.  Yes, she’s fairly important to the plot as she is pretty much the instigator for the entire thing.  And no, you will not be seeing a lot of her.  She spends the vast majority of the game in Valhalla battling Caius to protect the Goddess Etro.  If you find yourself asking how she can be fighting Caius while you keep bumping into him, welcome to a time travel plot.  Lightning’s main role in this is that she is the one who sends Noel and Mog to find Serah and set them on the path to reach Valhalla, and she shows up at the ending.  She also gets her own DLC that explains her fate a bit better after the ending of the game, but I’ll get to that when I talk about the DLC later.

As for secondary characters, you do bump into Snow and Hope throughout the main story.  Hope actually shows up multiple time across the timeline trying to save the world in his own way. You also meet Chocolina, the chocobo dressed sales lady who seems to defy time and space and has a bigger tie to the overall plot than she is willing to say.  And there’s Hope’s assistant, Alyssa who actually is fairly involved in the plot but requires some reading between the lines to grasp her full involvement.  The rest of the NORA team is living with Serah and keeping an eye on her at the beginning after Snow leaves to find Lightning for Serah.  And that’s pretty much it for side characters.

The whole thing is a pretty condensed list of characters that mostly gets utilized fairly well compared to the first game in the series, who would introduce interesting characters then do nothing with them followed by just killing them off at some point later which left you kind of sitting there going “That’s it? That’s all they did?”  I mean, again I get why they did it, with the whole being told through the main six’s eyes thing, we wouldn’t be privy to a lot of the behind the scenes work.  But that and 13-2 both show why that form of story just doesn’t work for those games.  13-2 is perfectly willing to show you things that are not directly seen by the protagonists and it helps immensely flesh out the story.  But we’ll get to that more next time when we discuss the plot of the game.

Final Fantasy XIII Part 5: The Big Fat Kill

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In this post I will be talking about the ending of Final Fantasy XIII and the plot overall.  If you wish to avoid spoilers about how the game ends, I would stopping right now.  Back there.  No, not here. Over there.  That period you reached? After the word “now”? That’s where you should have stopped.  Yes, that’s it. Wait, you’re still reading aren’t you?  Okay, well, I warned you.

So with Gran Pulse in the rear view mirror it’s time to head back to Cocoon and finish this whole thing.  But wait, isn’t that what the villain wants?  Why would they do that?  All they had to do to save Cocoon was just sit on Gran Pulse and live out their lives there.  Or get crushed by a giant turtle. Again.  So why go back?  Well, the game offers a few reasons for it.  One is that if they didn’t go back, they were essentially dooming others to their same focus.  That was a big one because it leads to their ultimate resolve to “save” Cocoon by ending the rule of the fal’Cie.  By killing them.  It really didn’t seem too logical considering that killing the fal’Cie – especially Orphan – is dooming Cocoon to plummet to the Gran Pulse and kill everyone right? Well, the answer is kind of embedded in the themes of the game.  The idea that humans are always capable of moving forward, building their own destiny, and never giving up is touched upon repeatedly.  Ultimately, the hope seems to be that by removing the shackles of the fal’Cie even at the cost of destroying their home, humanity itself will persevere. At least that’s what I took away from it. They may not save “Cocoon” the giant ball of land, but they’ll save “Cocoon” the people.

Of course that’s not the only reason they had to go back to Cocoon.  Barthandelus is pretty much putting all his cards on the table by manipulating the military into attacking Eden to assault Orphan, who’ve they’ve been led into thinking is the fal’Cie that enslaved their leader AND Barty has awoken and unleashed all the Gran Pulse nasties on the Ark that you spent hours hanging out on earlier.  So the Gran Pulse baddies are killing the people, the military is going after the fal’Cie that’s gonna drop Cocoon onto Gran Pulse but they don’t KNOW that…  Essentially, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Thanks to the protagonists intervention however, the military is mostly diverted to helping out people (the military that isn’t turned into crystal monsters) and it seems that overall that is what helped make sure that a lot of folks survived when Cocoon drops at the end.  Oh, did I mention that Cocoon DOES fall?

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Yes, after facing off and finally killing Barthandelus (or so they think), Barty seems to merge with Orphan giving “birth” to some three-faced monstrosity.  It then proceeds to try and force Fang to become Ragnarok, a monster of incredible power, to destroy Orphan-tandelus and blow up Cocoon.  Faced with the choice of becoming Ragnarok or seeing Vanille die, she chooses Ragnarok.  Meanwhile, everyone else has turned into Cieth zombies. But in the midst of Fang-narok’s rage, the heroes are visited by visions of all that they struggled through and overcame through their journey, and BAM! No more Cieth Zombies.  And honestly, there is never given any sort of explicit reason why this happens.  Oh you can infer from the fact that they have whited out “burnt” l’Cie brands that something happened involving their focus. Most interpretations I’ve read is that they overcame their curse by sheer willpower of how much inner strength they had built over their journey. Hence seeing all the hardships they overcame in the flashes.  Other theories stand that it was Etro who intervened, but the official answer says that doesn’t happen till a bit later.  Ultimately, they overcame their focus and found a new one.  A rather ambiguous focus of them all smiling. So a happy ending.  Their focus is to have a happy ending now.

Actually, that works for me.  We’ve seen twice that humans possess the power to make their focus whatever they want if they have the fortitude and faith to do so.  So why not?  Anyway, the team is re-assembled and Fang calmed down, its time to kick fal’Cie butt.  Barty and Orphan both go down and Cocoon starts to plummet.  And our heroes?  They hope for a miracle.  Yes, that’s right.  They kill the thing holding Cocoon up and then hope for the best.  Honestly, as much as I defend this story that’s a pretty WAFFy Anime facepalm moment for me.  Luckily, Fang and Vanille DO have an idea what to do.  THEY turn into Ragnarok.

See the story went that Fang and Vanille were always supposed to turn into the beast together, but Vanille was scared so Fang did it alone, hence why her mark is burned out but Vanille’s isn’t.  It’s also why the attack on Cocoon hundreds of years failed, and why Fang-narok alone couldn’t do anything to Orphan.  But together, Ragnarok is fully powered and able to do amazing and miraculous things that no normal human could do.  Ragnarok then dives into a massive volcano in Cocoon, spilling a pillar of lava below the falling sphere.  They then turn the whole thing into crystal and envelope the whole thing in a crystal cradle to hold it aloft.

The interesting thing I found about this was the way the crystals formed was very much akin to the way everything was turned into crystal when Animus, the fal’Cie in the Bodhum Vestige at the beginning of the game, died or completed IT’S focus (because as it’s been established, fal’Cie are bound to focuses as well, but lack the free will of humans to do anything about it). Does this mean that Ragnarok is a fal’Cie or of fal’Cie like power?  We’re never really told much about Ragnarok other than it was the ultimate monster to destroy Cocoon both at the present and during the War hundreds of years ago.  But it’s not summoned the way the eidolons/summons are.  Two l’Cie are tasked with transforming into the creature.  So it’s certainly possible that Ragnarok is a fal’Cie created by merging two l’Cie together, or of an ascended l’Cie like “Fang-narok”.

Then finally at the end we have a glimpse of Etro’s actual involvement in the story.  After saving Cocoon through Fang and Vanille’s sacrifice, the rest of the party is turned to crystal for fulfilling their new self-appointed focus of saving the world.  However, they are turned back into flesh and blood along with Serah and Dajh (Sazh’s son), with their l’Cie brands removed entirely.  This is the action of Etro intervening as a reward to protecting human lives.  Of course, Etro piercing through from the Unseen World (Dead Land) to the Seen World (Not-Dead Land), is what allows the Chaos in the Unseen World to spill out and kick start the plot of XIII-2.

So now at the end of the game and looking back, how was it?  Well, I’m not going to claim it was the best Final Fantasy game ever.  That title still belongs in my mind to the sixth installment.  Still, I don’t think this game is deserving of the completely and utter spite it gets.  The characters are far from flat, displaying a range of complex and difficult to deal with emotional struggles and trying to come to terms with both their faults, regrets, and fates.  They each develop and come to terms with things in their own ways, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatically.  Sazh being given the choice to kill Vanille for costing him his son, Lightning facing the fact that her way of thinking is setting Hope on the path to becoming a murderer, or Snow having to deal with the fact that he isn’t an invincible hero and can’t always save people.  All of which I felt were handled magnificently.

Where the game really hurt was the sometimes frustrating game of keep away the plot plays.  Not explaining everything in favor of a situation where no one has all the cards, and you never know if someone is lying or telling the truth. This is used to great extent with characters like Vanille, and handled horribly with characters like Barthandelus.  The game requires an extensive amount of in-game and out-of-game reading and knowledge that it often felt like watching the later episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion (Another series where the plot is actually fairly simple but is obscured heavily to the point of utter BS.)  To compile the problem is the pacing, in which it takes 25-30 hours of gameplay to find out what the villain hopes to actually achieve.

The saddest part is that it makes a rich and fantastic mythology very difficult to get in to.  The Fabula Nova Crystalis has a great narrative to it but this first game does very little to deliver on it.  And really it all comes down to scope I think.  The story is centered entirely on the six main characters, and their perceptions shape everything we see.  So if they don’t know, we don’t know.  Now that works in a lot of stories and games, but not when you’re trying to tell Lord of the Rings.  Imagine Lord of the Rings if you only focused on Sam and Frodo.  Now try to think how you can relate to the reader what was happening at Helm’s Deep or Gondor from the point of view of two hobbits wandering into Mordor.  Can you think of a way? Me neither.  Other than a LOT of foot notes (or “Datalogs” if you will).

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Overall, I enjoyed it.  Most of the issues had work arounds in the form of Wiki articles or extra reading. I didn’t mind the linearity so much. Some of the story elements required interpretation but it’s not anything more than your average anime fan has to probably deal with.  However, it might be worth a second look for people.

And yes, I do plan on playing and likely talking about FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns.

Final Fantasy XIII Part 4: The Pulse on Pulse

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Okay, so after like a full 24 hours holy crap that’s an actual full day of following the storyline from point to point, you finally get off Cocoon and to Gran Pulse.  At this point, most of the details of the plot have been offered.  Although the explanation requires some extra explanation.  Honestly, the whole thing is a fascinating attempt at telling a story where no one, and I mean NO ONE, is holding all the cards and knows all the details.  The villain? As mustache twirly as he is, he doesn’t know everything.  Heck, he doesn’t even know if his scheme will actually work.  Like at all.  To even begin to figure out what is going on in the story at this point you either need to do a LOT of reading between the lines or use a wiki.  I did a bit of both and honestly felt very comfortable with what was going on.  It felt a lot like watching an old anime where the story is coherent only within the themes being explored. In this case, the nature of free will and overcoming one’s past.  The l’Cie are told they have to complete their focus or are doomed to a terrible fate, but twice they’ve seen people turn to crystal (eternal slumber in happy dreams being the reward for fulfilling a focus) by doing something they’ve been told wasn’t their focus.  So it’s implied that they can kind of set their own focus.

That of course makes sense when you know the never mentioned in game at all mythos for the Fabula Nova Crystalis.  Humans were formed by the god Lindzei out of the blood of the goddess Etro.  Etro being one of the three “deity fal’Cie” being created by the Maker, but unlike Lindzei and Pulse, Etro was never given a focus of her own.  So she had the freedom to do as she pleased, but with the grief of not being given equal treatment or power like the other two, she used her freedom to off herself.  Bam. Done. Dead.  The blood of a “free fal’Cie” was the building blocks of humans.  So it stands to reason that despite being branded with the l’Cie curse, they still possess the power to do as they please including deciding their own fate or focus.  It’s a shame they neglected to add the Fabula Nova Crystalis myth to the game in any proper sense, because it really does clear up a ton about what the fal’Cie wish to do, why the humans can break their curse, and the nature of the Goddess Etro whose mercy intervenes at different points in the game from the Unseen World (Land of the Dead) and also sets up the primary conflict of the second game. And yes, I fully plan on talking about the second game when I get to playing it.  Because despite all the rage and hate this game has gotten (and admittedly, a LOT of it is certainly understandable given the amount of extra-curricular work you have to do to assemble the larger narrative), I STILL like them.  A lot.

Anyway, back to Gran Pulse.  Hell on Earth.  Despite no one having the vaguest concept of what hell or earth are.  This is the point where the game actually appears to open up a bit more instead of the run from plot point to plot point down tunnels that we have experienced thus far.  You get access to a few wide open areas, some side missions that unlock things like chocobos or better items, and the freedom to wander around these areas and complete whichever tasks you can as you see fit.  Granted, this is the only area like this in the game, but it does offer a great reprieve in comparison to what you’ve done so far.  There is no overworld map still, and the only transportation you get around Gran Pulse is chocobos that move about 50% than you do on foot and can dig up hidden treasures, and certain mission stones can be used as teleporters to the different areas.  The teleporters are honestly the most limiting aspect of this.  They tend to drop you right at the edges of areas, and can only be accessed by using a stone to go to another stone.  So if you’re grinding at the end of a tunnel, you have to go through 3/4ths of the tunnel to teleport out to somewhere else.  It’s not as bad once you get the hang of dodging enemies so you don’t have to do every battle along the way.

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The mission stones, called c’Ieth Stones technically because they are actually the final devolved form of what happens to a l’Cie that doesn’t complete their focus, offer a ranked mission starting from the easiest (D) to the hardest (A) and usually involve you finding and killing a monster.  They’re not all unlocked as once as you need to complete the difficulty ranks or use abilities that some of them unlock (like Chocobos) to reach.  Around the mid-B rank is where things go from “Need to take a minute to figure out the strategy here” to “OH GOD I AM DEAD AGAIN BEFORE I CAN DO A THING?!”  and it starts to become clear that some of the missions are not meant to be done on your first visit to Gran Pulse in Chapter 11.  Oh no. They are for the “End game” after you’ve beat the final boss and unlock your final tier of progression to go grind out.  I was able to beat one A-rank boss by using Vanille and spamming the hell out of the Death spell on it. It only took like 12 retries with about 10 spell casts per try I think before it finally insta-killed the boss and then just had to widdle away his insanely powerful minions. I didn’t really plan on doing that more than just that once.

However, all things must come to an end and the freedom of Gran Pulse gives away to the linear corridors of plot as you head back to Cocoon for the final mission: To free humanity from the tyranny of fal’Cie once and for all! Which may or may not involve dooming Cocoon in the larger sense.  But they will die free!

Final Fantasy XIII Part 3: The Craft

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You know, I’ve been quite kind to this game in my previous assessments. Talking about the characters, and the story, and how it is actually quite enjoyable if you can make it through the utterly confusing first few hours.  But oh man, oh man, oh man, is there one aspect of this game that had me smashing my head into my keyboard just trying to find a way to UNDERSTAND how it worked: The Crafting System.

Oh yes. Final Fantasy XIII has  a crafting system.  Tucked away beneath the save menu and the shops like some stack of dirty magazines that while you are ashamed of, proved somewhat (cough) vital in your mid-“game”.  The crafting system feels like this weird system that was tacked on to provide some semblance of more classical RPG systems with levels and experience since the actual characters did away with that in favor of the expanding Crystarium.  What you have to do is apply various components you’ve gathered to your weapons and accessories to give them experience points, when they reach enough experience points that weapon or accessory goes up a level.

So YOU don’t gain experience, but your weapons do.  By pouring stuff you ripped off a dead beastie on it.  Seems somewhat simple if a bit confusing if you try to imagine how it works in any real world sense.  Or in any physical sense beyond a menu screen.  But that’s not all.  See once you get your item to a max level (indicated by the level becoming a star), you can upgrade the item with a stone which will transform it to a new, more powerful weapon.  So your weapons are also Eevees.  Oh oh but there’s more.  Sometimes you don’t WANT to upgrade the item with a stone, because when you disassemble (break down into more components…  think disenchant in World of Warcraft) a star level item, you might get another item that could be useful as well.  How do you know whether you should upgrade or disassemble an item?  Well, that’s easy.  You drop 20 bucks on a strategy guide or spend HOURS google-ing this crap like I had to.

Oh but before the whole “Do I upgrade or disassemble” thing, there’s the issue of how do you level up these things to star level to begin with?  Oh you use components like I said.  Tons of them.  All kinds.  Glow horns, sharp fangs, dull fangs, sparkle ooze, eye of newt, breath of frog, computer chips, various lengths of wire, this thing I found in a garage, parts of a bomb…  the list goes on.  And each one gives different amounts of experience for different items. Oh and some items give bonuses like adding a multiplier to future experience gains.  Confused yet? Feel overwhelmed? Welcome to the club.

The worst part is that trying to make heads or tails out of this system is so convoluted, it took me 45 hours of gameplay before I figured out roughly how to make it work properly.  So I will share my conclusions with you to prevent you from suffering as I did.  All components can be broken down into two major categories: Organic and Technology.  While there is no clear indicator of which category the component belongs to, you can usually tell from the name of the component or the name of the shop you are ordering from.  Organic components have things like oozes, fangs, or claws.  Technology components are usually wires, machine parts, cables, computer chips, or any other techie sounding thing.  The two categories are used for different things.  Organics are useful for building up multipliers but don’t offer as much experience.  Technology components give large amounts of experience but will reduce the multiplier on the item after they’ve been applied.  So you want to use organic things to get up to your 3x multiplier, then unload a single massive dose of a technology component to maximize that multiplier before it vanishes.  That’s pretty much the ebb and flow of the crafting system.  It only took nearly 2 full days worth of playing to figure that out.

The crafting system is just a pain.  It’s a tedious grind, since until way late in the game, you will not have the money to buy components or finding them with enough frequency.  Really, the whole thing doesn’t become doable until around Chapter 11 when you begin to wander around Gran Pulse and can do the repeatable missions for items, cash and components.  Note that the system becomes available in Chapter 4.   Out of 13.  So for almost half of the game, the whole thing is pointless and for another quarter of it, it isn’t available anyway.  Really, this is my biggest complaint with the game thus far.  Heck, it’s an RPG.  I’m used to grinding experience/crystarium points.  I expect that!  But this is grinding, so you can grind, to help you with grinding.  It’s so frustrating that I’m not even going to use a “Yo dawg I heard you like…” joke for that, because I am just tired of it (The grind and the joke really).

So for people who HATED Final Fantasy XIII, and sought out any positive opinions they could on the internet to help fuel their rage and smugness…  well, you got me.  This part of the game really kinda stinks.

Final Fantasy XIII Part 1 & 2: Introduction, Gameplay & Characters

(Reposted from my Tumblr)

Potential Spoiler Warning! This is the warning:  There may be potential spoilers. You have now been warned by the Potential Spoiler Warning.

Introduction & Gameplay

Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it. Maybe this game isn’t as bad as I first assumed.

I rented FF13 way back when it first came out and I didn’t even get more than a couple of hours into the game.  Just the initial wham of a ton of stuff happening with no information or context completely put me off the whole thing.  Finally, because of Spoony’s SCATHING review of the game, I actually had the opposite reaction and decided to give it a try again.

However, I will say this.  Now that I’ve read up some on the shared mythology of the Fabula Nova Crystallis, the entirety of the first chapter of this game would have been immensely improved by the inclusion of a Legend of Zelda style opening narration that established some of the game’s mythology.  Like have Vanille or Lightning – probably Lightning for reasons that are all spoilery about Vanille – giving a short summation about the Gods, the Fal’cie, and the l’cie.  Heck, you don’t even need to establish Etro yet, just Bhunivelze, Pulse and Lindzei. That they created Fal’cie to accomplish tasks before departing the world, and that the Fal’cie create l’cie to carry out tasks that they themselves cannot.  There. Done.  Now Chapter One makes SO much more sense and no need to read datalogs.

As for gameplay, there’s not much to say that hasn’t been said.  The long hallway like level design can be tedious at first.  But it’s not that bad if you know to expect it.  You run to the next story point, and kill monsters along the way.  Occasionally switching parties. Which sounds horrible, right?  Just running from point to point for story and killing monsters?  How can that be any good?  I dunno. Was pretty fun when it was called Final Fantasy I.  Seriously, think back to the dawn of the series.  You just went from town to town for story points, and killed monsters along the way.  Yes, from time to time there was a dungeon that usually had one path to bottom with some side branches that dead ended for some optional treasure.  Final Fantasy XIII? Same deal.  The only downfall is that the fact that the path is pretty damn obviously a straight line with some dead end branches, and that the monster fights aren’t random.

Characters

It’s not exactly a secret to those who know me that I am not a fan of the later ‘half’ of the Final Fantasy series.  In my personal opinion, the series peaked at Final Fantasy VI (the last game I was able to personally complete in the series in full) and then suffered from somewhat of an indentity crisis as soon as it found new ways of making itself pretty.  Not to say there aren’t games in the latter half of the series I like.  Final Fantasy 7 was okay, even if I beat every character in it with a chair.  Final Fantasy 8 had some good character moments but I don’t know if the plot knew what it wanted to do.  Final Fantasy X and XII were completely focused on the wrong character and Tidus just annoyed me to death.  Vaan was a bit more tolerable, until it became blatantly obvious that he was only there so the characters that were actually involved in the story would have to explain things to him and thus inform the audience about the story. I did like XII’s attempt to move towards the political machinations of two warring nations, not to mention I like the fact that Ivalice returned as a setting.

That said, the reason that usually makes or breaks a Final Fantasy for me is the characters.  Final Fantasy VI had 12 amazing characters, each with their own story and arc that they went through between the Worlds of Balance and Ruin.  Some more than others, but each character – not including the bonus characters of Umaro and Gogo though there’s plenty of speculation about Gogo’s backstory – got a story, and got some form of closure through the game.  So… how does FF13 hold up in the character department?  Well, keep in mind I’m only halfway through the game but so far… pretty well!  Most of the game focuses on the subtext in the characters dialogue.  What’s not said is often more important than what IS said with the characters and each reacts differently to the one life-changing event at the beginning of the game.

Lightning: The devoted soldier who blindly focused solely on her duty after the death of her parents.  She spends a good chunk of the game saddled with the guilt of not believing her sister when Serah told her she was a l’cie.  She buries this guilt the same way she deals with everything, by blindly focusing on a goal at all costs which in this case is the destruction of the Sanctum (the Government).  She breaks and is forced to actually deal with her emotions when she realizes that her behavior is teaching Hope to be like her – cold and ruthless. Lightning is the cynical one of the party.

Snow: Foolishly and childishly acting the ‘hero’ as a means to cope with his grief over losing his fiance, and the death of all of those who followed his lead during the purge, Snow is insufferable and intentionally so.  The others get annoyed with it, and it fuels Hope’s quest for revenge for Snow getting his mother killed.  Ultimately, Snow’s poker face breaks and he admits that he’s just running away from his guilt.  He becomes a bit more likable after that. Snow is the optimist of the party, believing in the ideas of good vs bad and Serah’s final words as a mission statement.

Vanille: If you were to ask most people about Vanille, the best responses you’d get are “weird” and “annoying”.  She’s that eccentric upbeat character you find in Final Fantasy games.  Though the interesting part is, that it’s a complete and utter facade.  Several times you’ll see her let her guard done and wallow in the misery she truly feels.  You see, pretty much most of the first half of the game is Vanille’s fault.  The incident at the reactor where Sazh lost his son? Vanille & Fang. Opening the Bodun Vestige so Serah becomes a l’Cie? Vanille & Fang. Heck, the insane reaction in Cocoon  to anything Pulse related can be tied back to being Vanille’s fault too. And unlike Fang, She KNOWS this.  She spends most of the early game lying and manipulating the other characters with this upbeat cutesy persona towards her own ends.

Hope: A young boy who watched his mother die and since his mother was following Snow into combat, well, he blames Snow.  He spends most of the early game working up the nerve to confront Snow and take his revenge.  He also has a not-so-great relationship with his father that is never explained.  At all. I have no idea why this kid hates his dad but will murder people to avenge his mom.  The only explanation given is “He’s a teenager.” Oookay?  I always figured it was because early on Hope is very much someone who relies on others as a crutch. His mother, then Vanille, then Lightning.  His father on the other hand, only tells him that he should walk his own path thus not being someone to coddle him like he wants.  That’s almost all I can figure out.  Hope’s resolution comes mostly in the guise of Snow’s, in which he finally tries to kill Snow and Snow STILL tries to protect him because Snow promised Hope’s mom that Snow would get Hope home safely.

Sazh: The realist of the group.  Lost his kid when his kid got turned into a Cocoon l’Cie (As opposed to Pulse l’Cie who are enemies, Cocoon l’Cie are apparently celebrities taken to be trained by the Sanctum). Tried to blow up the Pulse fal’Cie thinking he could get his kid back by fulfilling his son’s focus and got turned into his son’s enemy instead. Despite all this Sazh tends to err on the side of ‘you can’t change the past’, even when confronted with the truth about who is responsible for his son becoming a l’Cie, he won’t kill her because it won’t change anything.  Sazh is the only character who is pretty much willing to stop everything and say “Wait. You don’t realize this is all insane, right?”.  I like that about Sazh.  Even when he’s dealing with incredibly painful emotional stuff, he is the most adult and well-reasoned about how to react to it.

SERAH!: Serah is a block of crystal.  That’s about her role in the story. Yes, Kairi in Kingdom Hearts had a more influential role. She has some stuff in the flashbacks that sets up Snow and Lightning’s own stories, but beyond that her goal was to drag these schmucks to get branded as l’Cie.  Kind of makes sense why her though.  She has strong connections with at least two trained fighters. Even if just Snow and Lightning were turned, the fal’Cie had a pretty good chance of getting something done. On the upside, she gets plenty of time in the spotlight in part 2 as the main character. So there.

Fang: I’ve barely met Fang, so I might have more to say as the game goes on, but she’s pretty laid back.  She has a ‘burned out’ l’Cie brand which means she completed her focus, though she doesn’t know what or how because she has amnesia. Beyond that, she seems more concerned with helping Vanille complete her focus than anything.  Her personality is free, loose, and very open minded.  In a non-plot crucial point, she has also managed to check out Vanille’s butt and Lightning’s breasts with the old “Let me check your brand” trick. ^_-

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