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Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy VIII

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The Plot

The story follows a group of elite teenage soldiers called SeeD who enter the organization with a live fire exam that drops them into an active war zone. Our protagonist and eventual leader of the SeeD team is Squall Leonheart, a moody teenager who isn’t quite sure what to do with himself.  He leads an adventurous team to help a group of freedom fighters take back their country but one goof leads to another and soon they’re trying to assassinate a Sorceress – a dangerous and powerful spellcaster – who has become the ambassador to the foremost military powerhouse in the world.  The assassination plot fails due to a sniper that can’t pull the trigger and a former SeeD/ Squall’s rival who has become the Sorceress’ personal “Knight.”  The whole botched job ends with Squall taking an ice spear to the chest and the team ending up in prison.

The next leg of the adventure splits the team up as they attempt to stop the Sorceress who has taken control of the entire nation from wreaking vengeance on their home bases in retaliation for the attempted assassination.  This results in the destruction of one home base – called Gardens – and another having to activate a flight mode amidst an internal power struggle civil war. After saving their home, the team takes some time before realizing that they actually all grew up in the same orphanage but couldn’t remember due to their summons erasing their memories, and that the caretaker of the orphanage was the Sorcereress Edea.  They head off to the site of the orphanage but find the third and last Garden also activated its flight mode and is there waiting. Amidst a massive brawl between the two Gardens, the team faces off with Sorceress Edea and her Knight and win, only to discover that Edea, while a sorceress, was not evil but being controlled by a Sorceress named Ultimecia in the distant future who has been controlling Sorceresses back in time so she could secure her rule in the future and become a god.  All the while, Rinoa – a girl from the freedom fighters that Squall has taken a liking too – becomes hypnotized and revives the Knight before falling into a coma.

Edea explains that Ultimecia is looking for a particular girl – Ellone – who has a unique power to send minds through time.  Using this, Ultimecia hopes to collapse all of time down into a single moment and combine all the sorceress’ powers through history to make herself a god. Squall however is less interested in that and more in having an existential crisis as he comes to grip with the strange new concept of ’emotions’ and decides to take Rinoa to the hidden country of Eshtar to get her some help and to find Ellone.  In Eshtar, they end up going to a space station to find Ellone. But Seifer – the Knight – awakens a 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith to suck monsters from the moon to the earth, attacking the spacestation and freeing the sorceress (Adel) imprisoned there. Squall and Rinoa have a romantic moment trying not to die in space and find a gassed up space ship that returns them to Eshtar, only to have Rinoa hauled off in cuffs for being found out as a Sorcereress herself. Squall’s friends convince him that these “emotions” means he loves Rinoa and he should save her.  With Rinoa saved, they decide the only way to stop Ultimecia is to fight her head on in her own time, and that means letting Ultimecia compress time.

The SeeD attack the Lunatic Pandora (the 2001 monolith) to face off with Ultimecia now possessing Sorceress Adel’s body. Adel takes Rinoa and attaches her to Adel’s body, thus allowing Ellone to send their united minds together and begin Time Compression.  Squall and his team assault Ultimecia’s castle.  They battle Ultimecia’s myriad of forms until she is defeated and sends a rippling explosion across compressed time.  As time begins to reset, the SeeDs are forced to try to navigate the void of time/space to try and find their way back home.  Squall and Ultimecia end up meeting Edea in the ruins behind the orphanage years before SeeD and the Gardens were even a thing. Ultimecia passes on her powers (as Sorceresses do before they die) to Edea, turning her into the Sorceress from earlier in the game, and then Squall makes mention of him being a SeeD from Garden on a mission to destroy the Sorceress thus setting in motion for Edea and her Husband to found the Gardens and create SeeD. Squall almost loses himself in the timestream before Rinoa finds him, the two are reunited and everyone lives happily ever after.

My Thoughts

Final Fantasy VIII was my first Final Fantasy in the Playstation era and from what I recall, I really liked it.  Enough that I and my ex back in high school actually cosplayed as Squall and Rinoa for our local anime convention.  I remember really enjoying the love story aspect of it and the idea that Squall and Rinoa fulfilled the ‘destined’ romance that their respective parents were unable to share.  I also remember really enjoying the completely jigsaw puzzle of a plot but then again I was also REALLY into Evangelion at the time, so that may have just been a thing I was in to.  I clearly wasn’t good at it because after replaying some of the game and re-reading the plot synopsis I totally missed like 30% of the stuff in this game.  Not that it’s hard to.  Much of the background details of the world and the story are doled out in small bites across dozens of random NPCs in the world.  Didn’t talk to Ma Dincht this one time you were passing through? Well, good luck figuring out the mythology of Hyne and what connection it has to the Sorceress’.  Seriously, this game begged for a Wiki years before Wikis were a thing.

Not helping matters is that it seems that the plot is all over the map.  It’s a coming of age tale, an epic battle of good versus evil, a war story, a love story, and a time travel story.  And it hits all those notes, but it’s definitely debatable if it hits them well or if it needed to hit them all.  The time travel bit honestly added the most confusion, with your characters occassionally falling unconscious to experience the adventures of Laguna and his crew thirty years prior.  You’re explicitly told that nothing you can do there can change the outcome of what happens so it’s not a time travel plot in that sense, nor are the events told linearly in these flashbacks either.  So it really just serves as very confusing exposition.  Arguably the worst kind of exposition.  Confusion really is a big factor here and I remember it leading into a lot of debate back in high school as we sat around and argued over plot details like ‘Is Squall Laguna’s son?’ (He is for the record. Ellone arrives at the orphanage with Raine’s child that was born after Laguna vanished.) and trying to make sense of the whole Time Compression thing.  The real issue I have with the plot is that in only works in the cursory glance that the game gives it and doesn’t really hold up to a lot of question in my opinion.  Why does Ellone have the power to send people’s minds through time? Why does Ultimecia become a god by squishing time into a single moment? Why when Ultimecia passes her power on to Edea, does Edea have ice powers instead of Ultimecia’s powers? Who built the Gardens?  Why build the Gardens?  Is each Garden a completely separate entity from each other?  WHY AND HOW DO GUARDIANS ERASE YOUR MEMORIES?! I honestly can keep going on this.  The story leaves a lot of things not fully developed and not fully explained.  It feels like a lot of this is because of a lack of focus on what they wanted the story to be about.

However, one common complaint I hear is that Squall is a whiny emo that is a terrible protagonist.  I disagree.  Honestly, Squall comes off to me as a teenager. One who acts like one.  He’s unsure, he’s cynical, he doesn’t know how to deal with things that are thrust upon him.  He reminds me of actual people I knew in high school.  Squall’s arc and his romance with Rinoa is honestly the best part of this game in my opinion. It feels like there’s a level of honesty with it that you don’t find in a lot of RPGs.  The other characters less so.  Seifer is clearly a school bully and would be an internet troll had the internet existed in the world. Most of the others seem like they’re built around school stereotypes that would fit in with an average high school anime.  Zell is the sporty dude bro with a short fuse. Selphie is the free spirit fun lover.  Quistis is the serious one with glasses. Irvine is the one who looks cool but is actually a complete mess. Rinoa is Usagi from Sailor Moon.

The game continues to push further into the experimental from VII with brand new mechanics such as not having equipment.  You have one weapon. You upgrade said weapon several times. There is no armor or accessories or anything.  This is all replaced with the Junction system!  Where you take your spells and slap them into slots to augment your stats. The more of a spell you have, the better the stat becomes. More of a spell, you ask? Well the spell system is completely different too. Instead of learning magic, you draw it from monsters and draw points around the world and stock it like items.  What does one Fira look like? No clue but I have 34 of them.  Even the whole young adult style story is a big experiment from the previous series.  With all these changes to the formula it’s not hard to see why this game is incredibly divisive.  Some folks love it, some hate it, and some like aspects of it.  I think I’m in that third category.

To me, VIII feels like a mess of a game. But it’s a mess of a game with a bunch of REALLY great moments scattered through out it.  The love story is solid, there’s a bunch of really good suspense building where you don’t know the fate of certain characters.  Heck, even the ending plays with this in not knowing if Squall is alright unless you watch the post-credits scene. And there is a video that plays through half the credits of everyone getting their happy ending on back at the Garden with Squall NOWHERE to be found. I remember honestly wondering if he actually made it, or simply vanished into the timestream after saving the world and going back in time to set everything on the path.  In this game, you just DON’T know.  There are no established rules at this point.  On the same hand, it feels like there were a lot of ideas in here that could of have been handled better and were in other games. Some of which we’ll be looking at as part of this series.

So is VIII a BAD game?  Eh, maybe.  But much like a fundamentally bad movie it doesn’t mean there isn’t something to love about it.  It wouldn’t be my first recommendation to a new fan, but it’s not like I would warn them away from it either.

Next time we’ll be getting some sun, some surf, and exposing an ancient conspiracy that has trapped the world in the iron grip of an endless spiral of death.

Till then, May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

 

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Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy VII

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The Story

The general tale of Final Fantasy VII is told is a somewhat non-linear fashion where the facts often turn out to be obscured lies until late in the game.  I’m going to do my best to summarize this in a LINEAR fashion, so it actually makes sense.

Long long ago, the Planet (Yes, that’s its name. Hence the capital P.) was inhabited by a race called the Cetra who lived in harmony with the Planet. Then a giant meteor crashed into the planet’s northern pole 2000 years prior to the game’s beginning and brought a creature known as Jenova with it.  Jenova pretty much wiped out the Cetra before they were able to contain the thing.

Skip to a few prior to the main game, protagonist and sword enthusiast Cloud Strife, a lowly Shinra soldier, accompanies SOLDIERs (the capitalization makes it different) Zack and Sephiroth on a mission to Cloud’s hometown of Nibelheim.  There Sephiroth discovers the horrible “truth” of his existence: He was imbued with the cells of Jenova, discovered by the Shinra Corporation and mistaken for a Cetra, to create a Supersoldier.  Believing that he is a Cetra, and thus the true ruler of the Planet, and also driven to madness by the Jenova cells in his body, he burns the village to the ground and goes to retrieve the body of Jenova hidden inside a Mako Reactor nearby (Mako being the life energy of the planet and the Reactor is a power plant that sucks up Mako to turn into electricity and such.)  Zack tries to stop him but is defeated, and Cloud ultimately strikes down Sephiroth and throws him into the Planet’s Lifestream below the Mako Reactor.  Shinra shows up and uses the villagers of the destroyed town as experiments to infuse Jenova cells into and create a new Sephiroth to replace them. Zack and Cloud are deemed failures of this experiment and to be locked away.  They escaped but Zack died from injuries sustained and Cloud’s mental state from the experiments shattered his memories, blurring them with Zack’s.

The story starts proper a few years after the Nibelheim incident, with Cloud working as a mercenary for the Eco-Terrorist group AVALANCHE along with his childhood friend Tifa and the group’s revolutionary leader Barrett.  They’re on a mission to destroy the Mako Reactors and stop the Shinra Corporation from harming the Planet.  The first part of the game follows AVALANCHE’s missions including the destruction of two Mako Reactors, saving Tifa from a slumlord pimp, Cloud meeting the flower girl Aeris/Aerith who is relentlessly pursued by the Shinra special ops team called the Turks because she is an actual Cetra, trying and failing to stop Shinra from dropping one of the city’s upper levels onto the sector of the city that AVALANCHE’s base is in, and then assaulting Shinra directly to find the president murdered by Sephiroth who apparently survived the whole Lifestream ordeal.  The first ‘act’ ends with President Shinra’s son Rufus taking the big chair and chasing down the remnants of AVALANCHE as they flee from the mega city.

Realizing that Sephiroth is back, Cloud declares his intentions to hunt down the man who destroyed Tifa and his’ hometown.  This launches into a global chase as the party pursues clues about where to find Sephiroth while Shinra and their Turks chase down the party.  They learn about the Planet and the Lifestream where all life is said to come from and return to when it dies, they find a restored Nibelheim full of crazy Sephitorh “Clones” (Other people injected with Jenova cells to test out the ‘Reunion Theory’ that all lifeforms infected with Jenova will strive to reunite with the original) and that Sephiroth is looking for something called the Black Materia that contains the ultimate destructive magic (Materia being a magical crystal formed from condensed Mako energy).  This is followed by the party getting the Black Materia, then Cloud getting brainwashed to hand it over to Sephiroth.  Then the party getting the Black Materia again, only to have Cloud get brainwashed and hand it over to Sephiroth.  In between these two, you get the tragic moment of Aeris dying while praying to the Planet with Sephiroth (Actually Jenova disguised as Sephiroth) turning her into a shiskabob.  Sepiroth-Jenova taunts and mind-%$&*s Cloud with the half-truth that his memories of what happened in Nibelheim were a lie and he was a false creation with false memories.  Completely mind-screwed, Cloud gives the Black Materia to the real Sephiroth who has been chilling in a mako cocoon.  This allows him to summon Meteor, awaken the WEAPONs (Godzilla sized bio-mechanical creatures born from The Planet as a defense mechanism), and collapsed the area forcing everyone to escape.

The last act of the game is pretty much dealing with the fallout.  Shinra is trying to blow up the WEAPONs and send a rocket into space to blow up Meteor.  Cloud & Tifa are trying to solve Cloud’s existential crisis (Leading to the truth of Cloud being a lowly infantryman and Zack being the elite SOLDIER finally being revealed.) And the entire team trying to discover what Aeris’ plan of running off to get killed was actually supposed to be about – summoning Holy, the ultimate White magic, to counter the ultimate Black magic of Meteor but Sephiroth, deep in the planet’s core via the Lifestream, is preventing Holy from emerging.  The team plunges down toward the core of the planet to fight of Sepiroth, ending with a final confrontation between him and Cloud one-on-one.  Sephiroth is defeated and Holy is released and…  Cut to 500 years later.  Midgar is a vine covered ruin.  Red XIII or one of his descendants along with a couple of cubs look out over the ruins.  The end.

It wasn’t until years later with the release of Advent Children did we find out the outcome of Holy v. Meteor.  Everyone lived. Except Aeris, naturally.

My Opinions

Most people who read this blog know that I don’t have a high opinion of Final Fantasy VII.  That’s not to say it’s a bad game, it really isn’t.  In fact as a strict gameplay factor, I really enjoyed VII. Nor was the story really that bad either.  It had a lot of interesting bits that were admittedly borrowed heavily from other things I like such as The Thing and Chrono Trigger, but it wasn’t bad.  In fact, most of my complaints were how flat the characters ended up being and that’s mostly because of the complete failure of how the story was presented to the player: By people talking about it.  Periodically through the game the story just stops at a random location so all the characters can talk about what is going on in the plot.  They don’t talk about their feelings about it, or their reactions as people, they just would sit and exposit for a while before moving on.  That’s how the story is mostly conveyed in the game – by expository dialogue – to make up for the non-linear what-is-truth-what-is-lie narrative that no one could follow otherwise.  Was Jenova an Ancient? No, but I know plenty of fans who think it was.  And because of this method of plot delivery, the characters are never developed or fleshed out.  This lead to what I called the ‘Backstory City’ effect.  Every non-central character (Cloud & Aeris) have ONE town you will visit that goes into their backstory, once that is done they are officially stand-in’s for the rest of the game to fill the roster sheet.  So I found the characters to pretty fairly flat. Probably why Aeris’ death didn’t phase me much.

It almost might not have helped that I didn’t play VII tills years after the game was released.  Completely missing the “hype” time that the game had early on.  I was a Nintendo kid.  I didn’t own a Playstation until FFVIII came out a couple years later, and even then I didn’t go back and play VII.  For a long time I held it in resentment simply for existing on a different console than all the Final Fantasy’s before, because I’ll be honest.  I was there for the Nintendo/Sega Console Wars.  Those days got dark.  Like not calling people Xbots on a forum dark, but like fist fights in the school yard for brand loyalty…    Yea, we were kind of dumb like that.  So when I finally played VII I was probably way less forgiving of its flaws, and less awed by the technical aspects than someone who experienced it fresh and I’ll admit that.

The seventh installment is also where Square started to go in a different direction with the franchise.  Where they began to experiment with new technology and opportunities that the earlier 16-bit systems couldn’t offer.  It also seems to be where Square decided they needed to formally part ways with the Western European Fantasy/D&D knock off style that they had been using up until this point.  Granted VI was already a departure from that aesthetic in a number of ways, but it kind of felt like the Eberron campaign setting for D&D as in “Steampunk doesn’t make it any less D&D.” From this point forward it seems that Square wanted to push further and further from the “old school” games and establish a strong new identity for the Final Fantasy games, however for many a old-school Final Fantasy fan, it marked a long road of bitter pills to swallow.  I’m in the middle.  I think the strong identity that they had in the early days: Four elemental crystals, vehicles, the Archfiends, the ‘Warriors of Light’ and even the early iterations of the Job system were all fairly strong identifiers that you were playing a Final Fantasy game. As they series went on, we saw less crystals, less vehicles, no Archfiends or ties to the four elements, and each game trying to do something completely different in terms of mechanics, setting, characters, etc.  While trying something different is surely worth applauding, it almost felt like that Square was ashamed of how the series started.

Next time I’ll be back with what was my first actual foray into 3D Final Fantasy’s and one of the stranger iterations that takes the term ‘experimenting’ with setting and tone to a whole new level – Final Fantasy VIII.

May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy VI

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Ah, there is nothing sweeter than nostalgia.  While Final Fantasy IV was indeed my first introduction to the Final Fantasy series, it is here in the sixth installment that my heart truly lies.  I’ve written about it before and how the message of this game was really there for me when I was growing up, but there’s also just something magical about it in my eyes.  Something that no other Final Fantasy got right before or since.  That special je ne sais quois that VI had.  Hmmmm. Warm fuzzies.  Anyway, let’s get into it shall we?

The Plot

The tale begins on the outskirts of the mining town of Narshe where two Imperial Magitek soldiers – Biggs & Wedge – alongside our currently mind slaved and soon to be protagonist 18 year old Terra. They are assaulting the town to find a magical being called an Esper that was said to be frozen in ice somewhere in the minds.  However, when they locate it, Terra reacts to it and the Esper kills Biggs & Wedge and triggers an explosion in the mine.  Terra awakens sometime later with little to no memory but with soldiers hot on her tail.  Her escape is assisted by the Treasure Hunter – Locke – and the King of the nearby Kingdom of Figaro – Edgar – who want to take Terra, who somehow possess the power of magic (not seen in 1000 years) to meet the Returners, a group of rebels that fight against the ever forcefully expanded Gesthalian Empire.

The tale then gets split three ways as Terra, Edgar and Bannon (The leader of the returners) try to return to Narshe, Sabin (Edgar’s wandering martial artist brother) gets swept by a river south to meet the wild child Gau and Cyan the only survivor of the Imperial poisoned kingdom of Doma, and Locke heads back into Figaro to find it under Imperial occupation and joining forces with the disgraced former Imperial general Celes.  All three groups meet up to face often against a massive battle with the Empire to defend the frozen Esper. After claiming victory, Terra tries under Bannon’s urging to try to communicate with the Esper only for Terra to turn into a screaming pink demon monster and fly away.

This begins the next story arc where you have to find Terra and discover her true nature as a half-human, half-esper explaining her magical powers.  This involves things like the famous Opera scene that you use to steal an airship and break into the Imperial MagiTek Factory where you discover the Empire’s secret technique to making unstoppable magitek weaponry: Draining captured espers dry.  With Terra realizing who she is, the group meets back up together and decides that the Returners will use the machines of Figaro and the resources of Narshe to fight back the Empire. But they still need to manpower, so Terra as a hybrid goes to the Sealed Gate to the Esper World and beseeches them for aid.  Instead, the Espers use the opening to raze the Imperial Capital and run amok across the world in a fit of anger.  Returning to the Imperial Capitol, Emperor Gesthal wants to hold a truce meeting with the Returners to reach some sort of agreement to help stop the Espers from destroying the whole world.

With the truce in hand, the heroes travel to the town of Thamasa where they discover lots of people who can use magic.  Indeed, the town is actually the descendents of the original Magi Warriors that fought 1000 years ago but now just want peace. They help to make contact with the Espers who explain that their strong anger got the better of them and they apologize for the damage they did.  Returning to Thamasa to announce the peace between humans and espers however is interrupted by the Imperial Court Sorcerer, the insane clown Kefka who poisoned Doma and burned Figaro earlier.  Kefka uses the opportunity – on orders from the Emperor no less – to kill all the Espers he can and trap their essence in crystal. The Sealed Gate bursts open again as others come to avenge their comrades only to be slaughtered by Kefka.  The heroes flee on the airship to discover that the Empire had set the whole thing up.  Meanwhile, Kefka and the Emperor entered the sealed gate and use the turned-to-statue magic gods of the Warring Triad to raise the floating continent above the world.

In one last ditch attempt to save the world, the heroes assault the Floating Island, battling the fierce Ultima Weapon and confront the Emperor.  However, what they find then is that Kefka betrays and kills the Emperor and then disturbs the careful balance of the three statues of the Warring Triad, sending small sparks of magic flying off…  that explode in massive Ultima blasts that rip apart the world below.  Kefka cackles in delight as the world is destroyed. The heroes flee in failure.  And that’s how the first half of the game goes.

I’m not going to do a synopsis of the second half because… it’s a lot of small plots building towards a big one and it would take forever.  Essentially each character of the 11 or so total get their own subplot in the second half that all culminates with them marching up Kefka’s tower to confront the Mad Clown God.

My Opinions

This game is probably my ideal “perfect” Final Fantasy.  The plot is never confusing, but it is incredibly epic. The characters are relatable, likable, and each have a fairly cohesive character arc through the course of the game and with such a large cast that’s a feat on its own.   The game mechanics are solid but have a lot of depth and each character brings their own unique talents that are useful yet are only necessary when the game ensures that they’ll be in your party.  Most importantly, it scales well. It starts off simple in both gameplay and narrative and slowly thickens things.  This is just a really well made game.

In terms of a narrative, the fact that at the half way point the heroes fail and the entire set up is turned on its head was a brilliantly orchestrated twist.  The Floating Continent FELT like a final dungeon.  It felt like everything was coming to a head.  This was going to be the big final showdown with the evil emperor!  Then you don’t even get to fight Gesthal.  At all.  Then Kefka becomes a god.  The world gets blown to smithereens and the rest of the game is pretty much spent helping each character find a reason to keep on going in a dead world.  A reason to stand back up and fight again.  For some, it’s easy and for others it’s very hard.

I know people constantly suggest VII or X as “great places to start” but that’s only if you want to get wow’ed by the pretty pretty (and oh they are) but for my money, if you want a solid story, beautiful music, fun and non-frustrating gameplay, wonderful characters you’ll learn to love, and just an overall better polished experience – play Final Fantasy VI as your first Final Fantasy.  You’ll be glad you did.  Unless you absolutely can’t stand to play a 2D sprite based game.  Then you might have some problems.  And for those who haven’t played it yet? DO IT. It’s on Steam, Android, and iOS. I’m not kidding. GO PLAY IT NOW. It’s a masterpiece!

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy IV & Mystic Quest

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Final Fantasy IV

The Plot

The tale of Final Fantasy IV is probably one of the longest and most winding tales in the whole SNES library  of games with political backstabbing, character deaths, side quests, diplomacy, three completely separate societies on the surface of the world, beneath it and on the moon – so pardon my extreme abbreviations of the events that occur here.

Cecil, a Dark Knight of the illustrious Red Wings airship squadron that serve the Kingdom of Baron has become disillusioned with his mission of attacking defenses villages and towns to lay claim to the Crystals of Light that his King demands.  His punishment for voicing his concerns is to be stripped of his rank and sent on a mission with his dragoon friend Kain.  The mission – thought to be an envoy of good will to a village of summoners – is actually a hidden attack that unleashes bombs across the village and kills everyone.   Thus Cecil begins his quest to bring his former lord to justice for his actions.

Through his adventures he encounters and re-encounters characters like the summoner child Rydia, his beloved Rosa the White Mage, Tellah the Sorcerer, Edge the Ninja, and the meme worthy Edgar the Spoony Bard to name a few. Cecil also learns of his replacement in the Red Wings: Golbez, who has also taken mental control of Cecil’s friend Kain.  Through their adventures they uncover a sinister plot orchestrated by Golbez to steal the four Crystals of Light and the four Crystals of Darkness that reside in the Dwarven lands of the Underground to open a gateway to the moon.  To accomplish this, Golbez commands the four elemental Archfiends – one of which murdered and replaced the King of Baron.  Golbez, through much manipulations and mind controlling and backstabbing, manages to gather all the crystals and flee to the Red Moon.  Cecil and company chase after by summoning the massive spaceship ‘Lunar Whale’ to take them there.

On the Moon, Cecil meets with Fu So Ya, a Lunarian charged with watching over the rest of his people while they sleep.  Fu So Ya explains that ages ago the Lunarians sought to conquer and colonize the Blue World, but decided to stay on the Moon and leave in peace with humans. One Lunarian named Zemus was against this.  Zemus made contact with Golbez – who was half lunarian – and drove Golbez to complete Zemus’ desire of destroying the world with the Giant of Babil and sent the Archfiends to assist in the process.

Cecil and the party return to the Blue World to enter and destroy the Giant of Babil and save their world, but then must return to the moon and descend into the Lunar Core to bare witness to Fu So Ya and Golbez destroying Zemus only to unleash a being comprised of Zemus’ hatred and desire to destroy known as Zeromus.  The party defeats Zeromus and thus peace is returned to the three worlds.

I think.  I mean, there’s a sequel called the After Years, that I never played so what do I know.

My Opinion

If the first Final Fantasy was analogous to the simple adventure story of the Hobbit, then Final Fantasy IV would have to be Lord of the Rings.  The game is just massive.  That entire plot synopsis was about as parsed down as I could make to cover all the major bases and even then it’s like 600 words.  I skipped over major swathes of the political struggle between Baron and the neighboring kingdoms, Cecil and Kain’s extensive repemption arcs.  The fact that Rydia goes from a 8 year old kid to a 18 year old woman in the course of a few days thanks to be thrown into another plane of reality, or Tellah’s quest for revenge against Golbez.  That’s just some of the stuff in this game.  It is really that huge.  And yet, when people ask me “which one was IV?” all I can really respond with is “Oh, it’s the one with the spaceship.”

I mean, it does.  It has a spaceship.  You go to the moon. You meet Moon People.  Can you name another Final Fantasy like that? It kind of stands out.  Even so, this game is amazing and I’m happy to say it was my introduction to the series back when I was like 8 years old I think?  I would go over to my pal Patrick’s place and we would play it all night on his SNES.  Final Fantasy IV DEFINED old school RPGs to me.  From the many vehicles, spell casting system, different colored chocobos, the eidolons, and the various classes – my very fundamental view of the Fantasy genre was shaped by this game.  Not Tolkien. Not Lewis. Final. Fantasy. IV.

You can imagine my disappointment when I picked up the next ‘installment’:

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Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

The Plot

There are four kingdoms. They each have a crystal. Go save their crystal. Then fight the Dark King to find the Fifth Crystal. The end.  It really is that simplistic of a cliched plot.  The only point where it gets interesting is that near the end it’s revealed that the Prophecy that set you on the path to restore balance was actually a rumor created by the Dark King ages ago.  Why did the Dark King start a rumor that a hero would appear to save the world? I don’t know! He was bored perhaps?

My Opinion

Mystic Quest is a game that I barely even remembered from the salad days of my gaming youth.  A weird experiment in creating a ‘beginner RPG’ for western audiences to get eased into the genre and it at least got the beginner thing right.  The game is easy, removes a majority of player choice from who is in your party to what equipment you use, and the only real problem you’d run into nowadays is probably either frustration or the completely arbitrary subversion of Final Fantasy convention (Air based monsters are weak to Wind and earth based monsters are weak to Earth… somehow.)

The only thing that this game is apparently remembered for is the music and I can’t even say that it made that much of an impression on me.  I mean, yeah, I was young, but I remember a ton of music from Final Fantasy IV and I played that at the same age.

So should you play it?  Eh. I’d just skip it. You can’t even justify it as being part of another tangentially related series like the game boy ones (Adventure series was actually part of the Mana series and the Legend games were originally part of the SaGa series).  If you find it at a garage sale for like a buck, go ahead and give it a whirl. But seriously, don’t pay collector prices to experience it.

May the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

Final Fantasy Month: Final Fantasy the First

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Welcome to Final Fantasy Month! Leading up to the release of Final Fantasy XV after it’s somewhat long-ish development, I’ve decided that while I don’t have the time to replay 12+ games, I can recall all the good times I had with the ones I HAVE played. Of course that sadly means entries like 2, 3, 9, 12, and a bunch of the spin offs (Adventure, Legend, Mystic Quest *shiver*) won’t be here because I haven’t had a chance to ever finish them.  Not that I’m not planning on it, so please don’t bombard me with “WHAT? YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED Y?” because trust me, given the time and energy I will eventually play every Final Fantasy game. Every. One.  In fact, I actually OWN every numbered entry in the series and some of the spin offs. So it literally is just a matter of hours in the day and energy in this weak fleshy hyur – I mean human – body of mine.

Really I just plan to go over what each game was about and my own personal recollections of them. Just a fun little trip down memory road before the newest game comes out and I don’t stop playing it until I collapse.  So let’s kick things off with Final Fantasy I!

The Plot

Four “Warriors of Light” appear in the Castle town of Coneria (later Cornelia) with dimmed orbs representing the elemental crystals.  The heroes are nameless and can be of any class (Fighter, Thief, Monk, Black Mage, White Mage, Red Mage) and begin a journey to help restore the light to the four crystals and save the world from the ‘Four Fiends’.

The game is broken into essentially 3 chapters: First the local area quests where you help save Princess Sarah from the Dark Knight Garland and help out the local kingdoms to get a ship and access the sea.  The second chapter is when you delve into the ruins of the Shrines and fight the Fiends to restore the crystals.  Once you’ve saved the crystals and brought balance to the world, you get sucked back 2000 years into the past to find the demon Chaos, the monster who sent the Fiends to the future to steal the Crystals’ power. In a surprise twist, Chaos is actually the Dark Knight Garland!

You see in order to live forever, Garland created a time paradox.  The Fiends send him into the past, where he can send the fiends into the future, so the fiends can send him into the past…  and oh no I’ve gone cross eyed.  The only way to stop the time loop for good is to kill the four fiends again and stop Chaos before he can send anyone into the future.  The end!

My Thoughts

Ah the classic first iteration of the legendary game series.  From the get go, it was clear that the game took a TON of inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons.  From the Job Classes, to the monster names and appearances (some of which are direct copies from D&D)  there’s a lot of love of old school table top gaming to be found here.  Heck, I’d argue that you COULD run this game as a D&D campaign today and still have a lot of fun with it.  But how does it stack up as a video game after all these years?

Well, it’s definitely from that old school NES era of RPGs that took a lot of inspiration from the hands off exploring that Legend of Zelda was doing, but for the first ‘chapter’ before you hire the dwarves to blow a hole in the mountains so your ‘borrowed’ pirate ship can get through to the sea, it actually does a really good job of indicating what task you should strive to complete next.  Not this “Where’s the first dungeon? Also where do I get a sword?” that Zelda had.  You are given directions and objectives: Save the princess, claim a ship, help the Elf prince, bring the dwarves some explosives.

After that however?  Well, I got to the Earth Shrine and beat the Lich okay. But beyond that I could definitely see why this one of the first games to get the Nintendo Power Strategy Guide treatment.  Find my way to the other three shrines and getting things like getting a Rat’s Tail to give to Bahamut to get your job upgrades (I’ll never get tired of the joke that you literally give a rat’s ass to get your new jobs) and digging up the airship in the middle of the desert using a gravity stone – yeah, I needed a FAQ to find my way through this game.

Still, in the end it’s a great classic RPG experience.  If you’re lucky enough to have grabbed the Dawn of Souls version that’s way out of print now or the mobile version, there’s some extra dungeons and stuff to have fun with.

Sadly, my next entry in this series will be Final Fantasy IV. I never did get a chance to play through II or III yet, which is a shame because as I understand III was where a lot of the Final Fantasy staples came into place (Chocobos, Moogles, the Job system, etc).  It’s one that’s definitely kind of high on my list to visit one day.  However, as far as I understand it from talking to other fans of the series, II seems kind of skippable.  So it’s definitely lower on my list.

See you next time! And may the light of the Crystals guide your way!

Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!

Making Sense of Final Fantasy Type-0’s Ending

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So I finally dove back into the deep deep upscaled waters that is Type-0 HD and decided to actually try finishing the game and in a tradition dating back to Garland’s time-travel dance turning him into Chaos in the very first Final Fantasy, the plot only becomes apparent when the game is 95% done.  In the case of Type-0 this takes the form of Chapter 8: Tempus Finis, or ‘The point where the developers remembered that this is a Fabula Nova Crystallis game’ – No, seriously.  They completely forgot this was supposed to be part of the shared mythology until the game was almost completed.  Hence why things like the l’Cie and fal’Cie are only briefly involved in the plot for the majority of it.  Heck, the name ‘Etro’ is not brought up until after the final boss I believe, and if Pulse and Lindzei are ever named its only in the Big Book of Exposition that sits in the library.  So yea, the first seven chapters of Final Fantasy Type-0 are pretty straight forward.  It’s a war.  You want to win it.  Your a super special awesome team of space explorers magic users that gets used and scapegoated and thrown under the bus to help win and take control of the four crystals.  Once you do that however, is when plot happens.  Tempus Finis.  The End Times.  Heralded in with a fade to black and some enigmatic words that leave you scratching your head going “Waaaah?”  That’s the ACTUAL plot arriving, and I will do my best to try and make some of this make sense.  Fair warning, from this point out there will be big time spoilers.

First, a little mythology.  Type-0 and the world of Orience were built on the shared Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology that is also used in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, and theoretically in Final Fantasy XV (Though recent interviews say that while the general concepts may remain, most of the names and plot elements have been changed up to make XV more of a standalone game).  The Mythology speaks of the God Bhunivelze who seeks to break through from the Seen Realm (Land of the Living) into the Unseen Realm (Land of the Dead).  The reasons for which can vary and are usually very complicated & ‘Greek Mythology’-y.  To accomplish this, Bhunivelze creates two fal’Cie – Lindzei and Pulse – and tasks them with the goal of breaking into the Unseen Realm.  In Type-0, this takes the form of breaking the seal on The Gate of Etro (Etro being a fal’Cie or sometimes called goddess of death).  To accomplish this, Lindzei and Pulse create their own fal’Cie with their own agendas for accomplishing this.  Lindzei creates Arecia and Pulse creates Gala.  Arecia and Gala are the primary figures that more or less set the plot of the game in motion via ‘The Spiral’.

Essentially, The Spiral is a cycle of 999 years when one of the four nations controls all four Crystals, a period known as Tempus Finis begins.  Tempus Finis is heralded by two things:  The appearance of Pandæmonium where a Judge awaits to see if any in this cycle are worthy to become “Agito” or the chosen ones powerful enough to open The Gate of Etro.  If no one proves worthy enough to be Agito, the second thing takes place – an army of unkillable neverending soldiers sweep across the world of slaughter every living thing with the goal of hopefully bombarding the Gate of Etro with enough souls that it breaks.  If neither of these events are successful, Arecia and Gala restart The Spiral back to Year 0 and the whole thing starts over for another thousand years.  Each iteration of the Spiral has the various nations start to discover their Crystals after about 157 years (Hence why the 999th year is marked as 842 RG on the calender. 842 years after the discovery of the first crystal.)  During which the Crystals will compete by creating l’Cie – superhuman warriors that are bound to the will of their crystal.  Only a l’Cie can enter Pandæmonium.  That is until the 600,104,971st cycle aka the events of the game.

In Chapter 8 of Type-0, Class Zero – Arecia’s pet project of prime candidates for Agito – manage to reach Pandæmonium and complete most of Gala’s – who has possessed a human host to act as Judge – trials and only failing because Gala becomes bored with giving a bunch of mortals a fighting chance at becoming Agito.  Class Zero actually has a chance to become l’Cie halfway through the dungeon but doing so only leads to the bad ending where they are pulled away from Pandæmonium and back to their home town to defend the Crystal they are bound to and eventually die prompting Arecia to restart the Spiral.   Instead, if you stay mortal, two friends of Class Zero who do become l’Cie give the rest of Class Zero the strength to battle the Judge and ultimately defeat him by ripping out his ‘phantoma’ (soul) – a talent that only members of Class Zero can do.

This marks the first time in 600,104,971 cycles that Class Zero refused the mantle of l’Cie.

However, despite defeating the Judge, Class Zero can’t open the Gate of Etro.  Instead they return and with their ‘Mother’ that keeps them resurrected when they fall in battle missing they must face the real possibility of death after supposedly saving the world.  This breaks them and they start to panic, cry, etc. but they come together in the end and choose to face death together.  Their memories, along with everyone else who died, is passed on in a book to Arecia by Tiz and Joker – two characters that popped up from time to time but are actually supposed to be ‘Ten’ and Joker or the missing two “cards” from Class Zero.  Arecia observes the memories and sees how her ‘children’ – Class Zero – didn’t want to die in vain and didn’t want to be reborn or be forgotten.  Touched by these words and the confessions of the two friends turned l’Cie about all the journeys they had been on, Arecia decides to abandon the Spiral Project and to deactivate the Crystals.  She sends the two friends out into the world, freed from the l’Cie curse, to live and to thrive in a world where the dead are not forgotten.

So yea, that’s basically – as I understand it – what all happens at the end of the game.  Again, much like Final Fantasy XIII there’s a lot that isn’t explicitly stated but to its credit you could at least follow the basic plot thread all the way to the end without any additional reading.  You might be confused by things like… Why Dr. Arecia can stop The Spiral or why the heck the General from the White Tiger army is suddenly a god-like jerk.  Or even “Why is sky raining blood and everyone is dying?”  Valid questions.  The game does take an ungodly sharp left turn at the conclusion of Chapter 7 which pretty much just ends with the defeat of the White Tiger army cut to black and then uh-oh-apocalyps-o.  That’s why I figured I’d try to piece together everything I could to explain that ending so that other people wouldn’t get lost with the jarring shift in tone.

Also because sometimes knowing the ending can inspire you to try something out just to see it all.  That’s actually why I decided to play through Type-0, and why I read Stephen King’s Dark Tower…  which both are eerily similar in certain ways. Hmm.

I hope you enjoyed this little summarized lore dump on probably one of the most depressing Final Fantasy games I’ve ever played.  Seriously, Square Enix, way too many dead kids in this one.  Seriously.  (If you chose to play it, do keep in mind that it’s the only Final Fantasy rated ‘M’ for a reason.)

HOLY EIDOLON EMOJIS, NOCTIS! | Final Fantasy XV: Platinum Demo

Vry takes a whirl in the new Platinum Demo of Final Fantasy XV and plays around with the prettiest coma he’s had the pleasure of playing through.

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:

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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.

Announcing FFXIV: A Realm Reborn Story Summary

While I continue to work on my SWTOR class reviews proper, the summaries for all of the various class stories are pretty much done. I decided to tackle yet another project. With the launch of Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, I realized how many people were probably coming back to the game and that with as much space as there is between patches, some folks may not recall exactly what happened in the story leading up the expansion. Especially since Final Fantasy XIV significantly expanded the main scenario storyline with each patch. So I thought, how about a summary for that too?

Announcing the Realm Reborn Story Summary!

Unlike the SWTOR story summaries, this one is chock full of SPOILERS, so be warned before reading down the page. After all, the SWTOR page was mostly designed as a spoiler free way of seeing if the storyline would interest you before sinking 50 levels into the narrative but Final Fantasy it’s more of a catch up/reminder tool.  It’s heavily summarized so don’t expect too much in the way of a point-by-point quest-by-quest breakdown.  It also assumes you have some familiarity with names and places in the world of Final Fantasy XIV.  Though some reoccuring elements such as Hydaelyn and the Primals are explained somewhat.

Anyway, I hope you Final Fantasy XIV fans get a kick out of it.  It’s broken down by patch, so you can go and read just the parts you want.  I plan to expand it into including stuff like the story for the raid content that is now kind of outdated with the expansion, so I don’t know if as many people will get a chance to see the AWESOME tribute raid to Final Fantasy III: The Crystal Tower or the lore filled bits of the Coils content.

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!

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