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

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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!

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Serah the Explorah: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Part Three

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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.

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).

remnant-ffxiii-ending

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.

Post Apocalypse, One Year Later ~ Looking Back

Oh geeze, what a crazy past two months.  I moved, I went to Disney World (those who follow me on Twitter got treated a series of photos of Vry & his girlfriend wearing various hats), and then the insane holiday whose name is so feared it begins with the dread letter “X” (except not really. But X-mas is almost X-men, so that makes it the better spelling. WOLVERINE SAYS SO.)  And of course the one year anniversary of the end of the world.  Kind of crazy to think that the world was completely destroyed by the planet Nibiru and a simultaneous massive solar flare only a year ago. How time flies in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, even when you don’t push the ‘T’ key. (That’s for you Fallout 3 fans)

As for gaming this year, I haven’t explored a ton of new ground I’m sad to say.  Mostly exploring my two major MMOs (SWTOR and WoW), and then dabbling in a few indie titles and oldies like Game Dev Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon 3.  I suppose I did get my feet wet with some newer titles.  Finally starting to explore more in Skyrim by going around from town to town and completing them instead of doing the main storyline. I finally got to play Bioshock Infinite late this year and absolutely loved it.  That ending.  Oh geeze. I might have to do another post at some point just gushing my love for that ending.  Probably when Burial At Sea – Episode 2 comes out and I’ll just yak about the whole thing.

Of course the other big game that I tackled this year – and still working at it – would be Final Fantasy XIII.  The always controversial title that I went from downright loathing to absolutely being absorbed into the mythology of.  I really need to write more about it.  I keep scolding myself for not keeping up with that.  But I recently got a copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns on pre-order now.  So I imagine you will be seeing more from that.

Finally in gaming news, my girlfriend and I have recently begun our own personal retrospective on the console games of the Zelda franchise.  Starting with the original NES title and currently progressing through Ocarina of Time, I haven’t decided if I’ll share my thoughts on going back through these wonderful games. But hey, if people ask I definitely will.

In some good news for the future of this blog, I received for the holidays a BlackMagicDesign Intensity Pro HD/SD capture card.  This little piece of shiny tech will let me capture video from any of my consoles instead of just stuff on my computer.  Combine this with a new copy of some editing software, and a 1 terabyte hard drive and hopefully I’ll be able to start producing Let’s Play videos that I keep talking about soon.  I actually have the stuff.  Now I just need to do it.

Overall, I must admit that I’ve been stearing towards single player games more lately than my MMOs.  Neither SWTOR or WoW seems to be keeping my attention for any long period of time at the moment.  I have no desire to start from scratch in another MMO, and my Steam Library is now boiling over 100 titles at the moment.  Perhaps it’s time to explore the rest of my library for a bit instead of sinking time into MMOs out of habit.  I want to finish leveling up some professions, but honestly I can do that later.  So you’ll probably being seeing less MMO posts and more “Adventures of Vry in Skyrim” or some other weirdness for a while.  If you come here looking only for weird anecdotes or rants about only specifically MMO content…  I’d say sorry but let’s be honest you’ve been disappointed for a loooong while.

And now for a quick run down of non-video gaming stuff I’ve done this year:

– D&D Next Playtest: Enjoyed it. Ran a Halloween adventure. Might post it. Still need to get used to the whole saves thing.
– Doctor Who 50th Anniversary: I’m a fairly recent convert to the show, but the special was nice. Only seemed to focus on the new show – bad. John Hurt got some awesome lines – good! Answered some questions and gave the show somewhere to go – Good! Pretty much undermined a ton of my favorite characterization bits – bad.
– Comic Books! Pretty much stopped reading them.  Pretty much entirely Scott Lobdell’s fault.
– Cartoons: CARTOON NETWORK. STOP CANCELING SHIT I LOVE. DAMNIT.
– Anime: I just watch stuff on Netflix.  But that’s been pretty fun! That’s about it.  Really.

So here’s to 2014.  One year away from Third Impact.  Let’s make a fun one!

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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