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Final Fantasy XV & The Infamous Chapter 13

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So my journey through Final Fantasy XV has been continuing on, mixing up the story chapters with running back and doing batches of side quests and hunts.  Or just driving around and listening to the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack – because I mean, DAMN.  Terra, Celes, Locke, Sabin, & Edgar’s themes? AND Dancing Mad?  That is one fine collection of music.  More than I can say for Final Fantasy X’s selection of songs in XV which includes the battle music… and uh…  that one song that plays when Tidus whines about listening to his story?  Seriously? You left out the Hymn of the Fayth?  You could have dropped one of the FOUR compilations of Final Fantasy XI music to give us a few more iconic songs from X.  Or maybe included X-2, XIII-2 or Lightning Returns’ music AT ALL.  I mean, Dissidia and Type-0 is in there.  All I’m saying is I want my boy band quartet jamming out to Real Emotion as they drive around Duscae.

Anyway, I haven’t exactly been pursuing the ending with a fervor.  I take my time with RPGs and I enjoy exploring and all the little doodads.  Which is useful because like 50% of XV’s plot is told via radio blips, overheard conversations and newspaper clippings.  Seriously, if you aren’t checking that stuff out you will be missing a TON of whats going on in Eos.  However, if half the plot is revealed in little side things that you can check out, I’d say that about another 40% of the story isn’t told until you reach the most divisive and controversial moment of the game: Chapter 13.

Without spoiling too much of the narrative that goes on, Chapter 13 is the penultimate chapter of the game and could rightfully be viewed as the final dungeon.  Much of the explanation for what has been happening and why it is happening all occurs here.  However, the chapter itself is a 90+ minute jog through endless tight corridors without weapons, companions or the ability to save outside of the occasional safe room.  The halls are filled with enemies, jump scares, blind corridors, and the voice of the main villain enthusiastically mocking you.  Your only real defense is the Ring of the Lucii, which gives you three spells:

  • Death: Must be channeled and expends MP all the while. Tougher enemies take longer to channel than weaker ones. Heals you when the enemy ultimately dies.
  • Holy: It’s more of a dodge that also does damage than an attack. You hold down the button, MP starts draining. If you are melee attacked while holding the button down, you dodge and blast the enemy with power. Also recovers a bit of MP when successful.
  • Alterna: Uses your entire MP bar to suck everything in the area into a bubble and then destroy them.  It’s your only AOE attack, and it will automatically drop you into ‘Stasis’ when you use it.

I’m sure from those brief descriptions you can see why some may be annoyed with the Ring over things like your weapons, Royal Arms, or normal spells. I ended up mostly using Death for the daemons and Holy for the Magitek Troops. Alterna I used like twice when I got overwhelmed.  Then again, the enemies are pretty much all in their low 30’s, and I was level 88.  Nothing in this place could really kill me unless I intentionally let them.  About halfway through you do get one of the Royal Arms to help you with the fighting, but the Royal Arms weapons also drain your health with each swing.  Ultimately, unless you are loaded with items like potions or ethers, the whole chapter becomes about resource management between your health, your magic, and your patience.

Since the games release a few weeks ago, Chapter 13 has become infamous among fans as the worst part of the game.  Some have risen to defend it as almost an ‘artistic expression’ of the loneliness and isolation that Noctis is experiencing and forcing you – the player – to experience Noctis frustration as well.  Some have described the chapter as “physically and emotionally draining” including the radical plot developments that occur over the course and especially at the end of the chapter. A few even took the chapter number into account and thought the long hallways were a satirical stab at Final Fantasy XIII. Others call it “lazy design” and would rather just see the whole thing removed from the game.  So where do I stand?

Meh. I liked it.

I honestly did not see what the hub bub was about. I kept waiting for a Mass Effect 3 Ending level bomb to be dropped on me and quite honestly it just never came.  In fact, I found the design and work on the area to be very interesting.  Not in the “Noctis is frustrated, so you’ll be too” way but in the “This is a LOT like Resident Evil” way.  You’re in the enemy capital, daemons everywhere, and your walking down these tight tunnels with barely enough room for two people to pass.  There are blind corners everywhere and you have no clue what around them until you turn. All the while, the sound design gives spots of noises: scratches, weapons being dragged on concrete, grumbles of monsters from somewhere.  It puts you on edge.  It makes the whole thing feel dangerous.  And this is coming from someone whose character was 50 levels above everything in that place and I STILL was jumping about when bad guys leaped out at me.  It wasn’t lazy in my opinion, it was actually really cleverly designed to keep you in suspense.  The maps opened up a bit more as things went on, especially when more plot details starting being delivered.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to say it’s a flawless piece of perfection or anything.  Plot gets thrown at you fast and at full force and there’s a pile up of plot twists toward the end.  But is that really so different than say… Final Fantasy X?  Not saying that makes it better, but let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that Final Fantasy is renown for its well paced stories.  Interesting and cool stories? Sure. But the pacing is all over the place.

Still, over all I don’t understand the immense hatred this part of the game gets.  It’s a long maze of a dungeon. There’s a couple of puzzles in there.  You get some story.  It’s atmospheric.  Does it take a while? Eh. I did it all in 90 minutes and that was with looking in every nook and cranny for shiny dots and reading all the lore material.  Considering some of the areas you get to run through in Final Fantasy XIII, you’d think this would get more slack, yet I’ve seen – no joke – people comparing XIII favorably to this section of XV.  I mean, I loved XIII.  I’d pick it up and replay it in a heartbeat.  But come on.  Coooome ooooon.

In the end, I can see why some types of people would find Chapter 13 to be an annoyance or a slog. But I really wanted to throw my own hat in the ring and say that I really didn’t find it to be that way at all.  I really didn’t find to be nearly as bad or unappealing that so many voices out there are shouting it is.  I will say this though: It can be emotionally draining with all those big reveals and twists.  You will want to punch the bad guy by the end.  There is also some serious nightmare fuel hidden in the readable paper stacks scattered throughout.  But hey, that’s half the fun of a good story, right?

I’m almost done with the game, so expect to hear my full thoughts and probably another one of those Type-0 style “What actually just happened here?” style posts coming up in the next few weeks.

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.

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