Note: This post was originally made on my Tumblr, but I figured I’d share it here as well.
I’ve seen this question bounce around a few times since the announcement of Battle For Azeroth. So I figured I’d do my share of clearing up a misconception.
The Horde and Alliance didn’t team up to fight the Burning Legion.
They tried. Namely the Assault on the Broken Shore.
It ended with the Horde retreating after their Warchief was fatally injured and the Alliance losing another King of Stormwind. After that, the joint efforts collapsed since the Alliance blamed the Horde for the death of Varian, and the Horde has pretty much run out of fucks to give about reaching out to an Alliance that constantly blames them for crap going wrong.
Without the Horde and Alliance willing to work together to fight the Burning Legion, the duty fell instead to the Class Orders to rally their ranks and push back the Legion. Hence why the Armies of Legionfall banner has the symbols of each of the class orders represented on it.
In short, the Alliance and Horde failed at teaming up and fell into their old hatreds while the Class Orders stepped up and joined forces under Khadgar and Illidan to stop the Legion’s invasion and ultimately assault Argus. Hence why the only faction leader present on Argus is Velen – who has a vested non-political interest in reclaiming his homeworld.
I might be wrong in this, but while the heroes of Azeroth who are aligned with the Horde or Alliance have often worked side by side I don’t think there are many times that the Alliance and Horde as factions have been politically united on something. In the Burning Cruside, it was much more of an effort driven by the Scryers and Aldor united as the Shattered Sun Offensive. In Wrath of the Lich King, the Horde and Alliance were still duking it out over Icecrown while the Ebon Blade and the Argent Crusade made headway into infiltrating the Citadel. In Catalcysm, Faction animosity actually grew in the wake of the struggle for resources after the near apocalypse which ultimately came to a head in the Mists of Pandaria. In Warlords of Draenor, the conflict and alliances between groups was much more centered on the native factions of Alternate Draenor with the Horde and Alliance not openly in conflict but just kind of helping things along for the locals, which gave way to the potential team up at the Broken Shore – where it hit the fan and set the stage for the faction war coming in Battle for Azeroth.
Update: Since originally posting this on Tumblr, I was able to think of a few occasions that the Horde and Alliance worked together for one reason or another. The first is the Battle of the Wrathgate where both the Alliance and the Horde fought against the Scourge as an attack on the Lich King’s back door. However, it’s debatable whether this constituted a formal action by the Horde since it was really only Saurfang the Younger’s forces that joined the assault and that the forces of Overlord Agmar where more aligned with the radical tactics of Garrosh Hellscream and likely would have no desire to join an Alliance assault, and the Forsaken of Venomspite… well… they had OTHER plans.
The one event I could think of that was a 100% combined Horde-Alliance effort was the Might of Kalimdor, a unified army made up of the Alliance’s legendary 7th Legion and the Horde’s mighty Kor’kron Guard that fought during the ten-hour Ahn’Qiraj War after the Scarab Wall was opened. This along with the War Effort that bolstered the Might of Kalimdor is probably the most clear cut example of the Horde and Alliance joining forces to confront a potentially world-ending threat (The return of the Qiraji after the War of the Shifting Sands nearly 1000 years before the first arrival of the Orcs).
Considering both times were led by a member of the Saurfang family, and even Varian was able to put his old grudges aside to let the elder Saurfang mourn the loss of his son at Icecrown Citadel, the High Overlord might be a good choice for an ambassadorship.
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.)
If you’ve ever rolled a Goblin in the World of Warcraft and played through their starting area where Deathwing descends to erupt Mount Kezan after getting hit with a football (Or at least that is my interpretation of events) you’ll get a cutscene after boarding the ship to get the heck off the island where the goblin ship stumbles upon a fierce naval battle between the Horde and the Alliance. Strangely enough its the Alliance who turns cannons on you first and blows the goblin shipped pack with you in the prison hold below due to being tricked into being sold as a slave. Now of course this is a good reason for the goblins to want to join the Horde right? That the Alliance are a bunch of jerks and the Gobbies were just sooooo innocent. Of course the goblins had no way of knowing that it was the Alliance that shot them from below deck and even more interesting to me is the comment that the Alliance commander makes before they fire on you – No witnesses. They want no witnesses to what they’re doing.
It’s no strange concept to anyone on Azeroth that the Horde and the Alliance have been at each others throats since the Wrathgate broke whatever hope there was for the vulnerable peace that was forged in the wake of the Third War and the Legion’s attack on the World Tree Nordrassil. So what were the Alliance doing that was so suspicious that they didn’t want any witnesses to their actions? Well, we do get a few clues as we continue our quest to find a new home on the Lost Isles. One is that the ship that attacked us was carrying a very important prisoner: Goel the World Shaman, Former Warchief Thrall or Green Jesus depending on how you want to view him. Thrall was on his way to the Maelstrom to help the rest of the Earthen Circle protect the churning hole in the center of the ocean from imploding the planet after Deathwing, that Old God driven mad dragon aspect of being a nuisance, destroyed the World Pillar in the Plane of Earth that held things together. And wow wee does this sound like Chris Metzen’s D&D campaign notes when I write it all out like that. I should steal some of this for my own campaign.
Back on topic, we also learn that the ship is being crewed and overseen by the SI:7, the Alliance’s black ops secret forces. Which would make sense if you wanted someone to go on a secret mission to capture the former warchief of the Horde and the current holder of the title ‘World Shaman’ that was made up just for him. The real question comes in the form of WHY the SI:7 and in turn the Alliance would want to capture Thrall. The Alliance leadership KNOWS he has stepped down from his position with the Horde and left Garrosh Hellscream to lead to rabble. They KNOW that Thrall is on a diplomatic mission to aid the Earthen Circle to help stop the world – that place that they too live – from shaking itself apart. So why try and stop him?
I think the answer strangely enough comes 80 levels or so later on the opposite faction. When doing the quest chain for the Alliance to head into the Twilight Highlands, you find yourself investigate some strange activity around Stormwind with the young Prince Anduin who has begun to take a more active interest in his people’s welfare. Throughout the questline you make something of a disturbing discovery that the current head of SI:7, the man standing to the right hand side of the King himself, is a member of the Twilight’s Hammer – a cult devoted to the Elementals and Old Gods that seeks to bring about the End of the World. You ultimate stop him and prevent an assassination plot on King Wrynn but this plot element may in fact be the missing piece to solving the question of the Goblin starter zone all the way back at the start of the game.
Allow me to speculate. The SI:7, a powerful organization with little oversight that carries out secret missions for the safety of the Alliance and headed by a man who is secretly in a cult that wants to bring about the apocalypse, attacks and kidnaps the former leader of the Orcs who just so happens to be on a mission of peace to help stop the apocalypse. They attack the Horde ships hoping to sink them and chock the whole thing up to inter-faction conflict while they secure their prisoner and inadvertently aid Deathwing in bringing about the Hour of Twilight (ie said apocalypse.) However, a group of goblins accidentally happens on the scene and knowing if the word got out that this was more than just two groups that hated each other attacking each other got out – especially by the hands of goblins who are by nature greedy, not above blackmail, and have had dealings with both factions previously – well, you’d probably want to make sure that your secret activities of abusing your authority to help further the goals of an insane dragon would remain hush hush and thus give a simple order: No witnesses.
I submit for your approval that the leader of the SI:7 ordered those ships to destroy any witnesses because they actively sought out Thrall’s ship and Thrall himself to stop him from ever reaching the Maelstrom. Does my idea seem far fetched? Perhaps, but remember this is the same expansion that required you to play an Undead to level 20 to find out what happened to the rest of the Worgen starting zone story as well. Or the truth behind the Tragedy of Camp Taurajo that required playing both the Alliance and Horde side of the story AND had additional information in the Jaina novel about what happened. The Cataclysm expansion is full of weird intersects in the story. So is it that hard to believe that they planned this? I would argue that no, it’s not. In fact all the pieces fit together a bit too well for this to just be a coincidence in story telling.
Because I will say this: I don’t have a ton of love for the content of the Catalcysm expansion, but damn did it have some great story moments in there.
If there’s one thing we nerds enjoy, it’s canon. Is this canonical? Is that? Is my OTP canonical? How does X fit into the canon? One need not look any further than the reaction to the announcement that the Star Wars Expanded Universe being retired into the Legends label to see how much a concise and clearly stated canon can matter to people. So there gets to be this mindset among fans of just about anything that whatever is stated to be canon is something akin to a holy text that must be viewed as complete and immutable from whatever state a fan finds it in. And that last bit is important because what eventually sets the bar as ‘betraying’, ‘contradicting’ or ‘ignoring’ canon depends a great deal on exactly what state the canon was in when and how you first were exposed to it.
After all, while the Green Lantern Corps was introduced in 1959, the concept of the Emotional Spectrum and the other Lantern Corps like the Red Lanterns, or the Sinestro Corps, didn’t come into being until 2006, despite it beings established that these things were in existence all along but the Green Lanterns may not have been aware of them. If you were a fan before Geoff Johns’ new interpretation of the Green Lantern universe, you might find this idea a bit on the heretical side. After all, how could the Guardians not know/expose this info? How come it took decades of issues before it was revealed that Parralax was a big space bug that was sealed away and they knew about it but kinda didn’t want to bring it up? On the same hand, if you came after that or say first got interested in Green Lantern due to the Green Lantern Animated Series – then the Emotional Spectrum and the other Lanterns are just part of the universe to you. Easy peasy.
Already we can see that time and method can dictate the view of what is considered to be canon and what isn’t. Will new Star Wars fans a decade from now when the JJ Abrams Trilogy comes to a close even think that the Legends novels were anything more than interesting What-If stories? That the Yuuzhan Vong are nothing more than glorified fanfiction characters? Perhaps. But aside from fan-interpretation and viewpoints of canon, what about when canon is changed by the ones who created it?
If you want a good example of fans getting upset at a ‘violation’ of canon by the ones who write the story themselves, look no further than our good friends at Blizzard Entertainment. Almost every expansion is met with cries of ‘That’s not what this character would do’, ‘Blizzard doesn’t care about their own canon’ or ‘This violates their own lore’, etc. I’ve played World of Warcraft since 2006 off and on, and I’ve seen these complaints so many times I’ve lost count. But it always comes back to this idea that what WAS should be preserved in a little box, and left to the point where it is never changed or influenced. Heck, I remember people complaining about the difference in characterization between Warcraft III and Vanilla WoW, almost like there was some sort of inexplicable 5 year jump mentioned in first few seconds of the opening cut scene. These characters change, the situation changes, and the world moves forward. The Forsaken were pretty much born out of Sylvanas’ quest for revenge against the Lich King. You can’t very well expect them to stay the same after their sworn mortal enemy is dead.
There’s also the issue of the fact that since WE are aware of all the details of the story and lore, we often will forget that the characters don’t. A character may not know the truth of all the details, or even heard the news if its something that happened on the completely other side of the planet and thus will act according to what they know and not what WE know. The concept of ‘metagaming’ can extend to fiction too, ya know. So while things sometimes look like a violation of canon, it can honestly sometimes just be a matter of ‘the characters wouldn’t know that’. Back to World of Warcraft for example, it’s stated in some places that the Eredar corrupted the Titan Sargeras into turning evil, it’s later revealed upon meeting the Draenei – an exiled faction of the Eredar – that it was actually the reverse. Sargeras had corrupted the Eredar. Is this a retcon? Yes, but does it break canon? No. No one who originally told the tales of Sargeras & the Eredar would have been in the position to know the facts of the tale. They are legends and fables, passed down for generations. Now when they meet the Draenei? Well, heck, Velen was THERE. He knows. Now he’s explaining it. Now you have the myth, and the fact. That’s developing canon, not violating it.
Wanting a canon to stay rigid, to have nothing new enter or depart the scene and for characters to stay the same as when we first fell in love with them just is flat out bad for storytelling. Is BioWare futzing with their own lore with TOR? Yes. Yes they are. The story is moving forward, a new enemy is appearing from beyond the borders of the galaxy and using a vastly different technique of force wielding to pursue a mission of galactic conquest. Honestly, from a personal standpoint, it’s not nearly as conflicting as say KOTOR to KOTOR2 when in the space of 5 years the entire Jedi Order was completely wiped out leaving only a few stragglers like the Exile around. No wonder they decided to set SWTOR 295 years later. Yeesh.
Now I’m not saying there aren’t ways you can mess up canon. Even Blizzard has admitted to messing up with mixing up established facts and they have employees devoted to entire task of keeping this stuff straight. But there’s a difference between ‘This never before explained thing has appeared and is attacking’ or ‘This ancient prophecy we just uncovered is coming true!’ and things like ‘Superman was never from Krypton, he’s from Snorglack-VII and always has been. Ignore what we said earlier.’ (And heck there are even acceptable ways to do that with continuity reboots, and elaborate explanations, that might reek of B.S. aren’t technically violating canon.) There are times when you just screw up and forget that you’ve already established some detail, and there are times you introduce retcons that will devastatingly run in contrast to how a character is viewed (Did you Batman ALWAYS hated rock music because his Dad told him it was bad the night they died?) but there is also just the idea that you are expanding the story and the universe.
As fans we sometimes have the tendency to get a bit zealous with our devotion to what we know. We like the permanence of the whole thing. It feels good. But that’s not necessarily what’s best for the story. For a story to grow, canon must be altered and expanded. Maybe there were 9 planets, but due to later revelations there are now 8 (or like 25). Canon must always be somewhat flexible in order for things to move forward. And I think we as fans need to be flexible with it.
Thanks for reading.
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:
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.