Final Fantasy XIII Part 9: Taejin's Tower, Oerba, and isolation

Posted by GrantHeaslip (1611 posts) -

Although I’ve slowed down, don’t worry: I haven’t forgotten about my march through Final Fantasy XIII! I’ve finished Taejin's Tower, and am near the end of Oerba.

I think a part of me was avoiding coming back to the game because I was convinced I was under-leveled and about to hit a tough boss fight at the end of Taejin's Tower (Dahaka). I was warned about it, and since I had left the overworld early and was leaning heavily on Sentinel and Medic-heavy paradigms, I was convinced I was going to hit a brick wall. For whatever reason, and with all due respect to those who had trouble, I beat him (it?) on my first try. The first half of the fight was so uneventful I assumed he had a second form, and I had just a single scare in which he hit my party with a ton of debuffs at once, finally giving me an excuse to use Dispelga. Based on a bit of research, I think I may have just lucked out and not run into his worst attack pattern(s). I could also simply have been playing poorly before my last entry — maybe I wasn’t under-leveled at all.

In case you think I’m getting cocky, don’t worry — I attempted to fight Mithridates and was destroyed.

Luckily, given the waning momentum of my last entry, Oerba has me back on board. After the repetitive bland corridors that dominated the preceding 10 hours or so, it was refreshing to see a hand-crafted, atmospheric area like Oerba. It hit a genuine emotional chord, has some great music, and does some effective environmental storytelling. I loved the little touches, like a fallen Cie'th on an untouched rooftop garden. While I don’t want to appear to be endorsing a fetch quest, running around collecting parts for Bhatki was a welcome change of pace compared to the exclusively “kill this mark” sidequests that the game had delivered up to that point.

I know this is a discussion that was run into the ground three years ago, but I’m a bit disappointed this game doesn’t have a proper town in it (yet?). I don’t think a JRPG needs to have bustling towns, but Final Fantasy XIII feels a bit lonely. Besides Nautilus and the little survivor camp at the beginning, there hasn’t been a single point in the game in which I’ve been around other people. It makes sense from a narrative perspective, but it’s also resulted in a world that feels a lot less lived-in, and it obviously left Square Enix quite limited in the sorts of sidequests they could offer.

This leads into a larger issue/observation I’ve had: this game is dark. It doesn’t necessarily seem that way at any given moment, but when you stop to think about it, this game makes something like Majora’s Mask seem tame. Lightning’s parents are dead, and her sister is in stasis; Hope’s mother is dead, and his father could be too; Snow let a lot of people die on his watch, and his fiancee is in stasis; Sazh’s wife was killed before the game began, and his son was tasked by a demigod to stop him; everyone Vanille and Fang knew has been dead for hundreds of years, and they were indirectly responsible. The party was abruptly jettisoned from the society they grew up in, are now despised by their fellow citizens, and have spent the entire game being chased due to their society’s terrified bloodlust. With the exception of Sazh and Vanille’s brief jaunt through Nautilus (which ended in disaster), the l’cie have been utterly alone throughout the entire game. They’re now trekking their way through the wiped-out ruins of an entire planet(?). The isolation, even to a third person, is suffocating. The game doesn’t always do a great job of communicating this — the tone has shifted wildly a few times — but it’s there nonetheless.

Notwithstanding my plans to return to Archylte Steppe and do some sidequesting, I get the sense I’m pretty close to the end of the game. Last I checked, I was somewhere around 45 hours in, though that number is somewhat inflated by my leaving the game sitting on the menu a few times. If this game turns out to be another 10-15 hours — which is the indication I’ve gotten — I think I might finish it without hitting the “man, I wish this game would end already” point I worry about in this kind of long game.

Music

I’ve leaned more on character and boss themes, but I’ve also really liked the background music. The compositions are, at least to my ears, pretty unique, and are at times surprisingly daring. Here’s a few of my favourites:

  • Lake Bresha - The tone is a little cheery considering the group had just been turned into l’cie, but it fit the icy environment quite well, and evokes the beginning of an adventure.
  • The Sunleth Waterscape - I could do without the vocals in this piece, but I find this game’s willingness to use vocals in background music kind of endearing. I also generally appreciate how active a lot of the music is — it would have been much easier to stick with more passive, atmospheric sounds.
  • The Gapra Whitewood - The vocals are less overpowering here, but it’s still got a similarly energetic, techno-infused sound.
  • The Archylte Steppe - Like the Lake Bresha theme, this evokes the environment beautifully. I don’t want to drop (minor) Xenoblade spoilers in an unrelated article, but there was a location in that game in which the musical style changed, and it was effective for very similar reasons.
  • Dust To Dust [Oerba] - (As mentioned above.)
#1 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1611 posts) -

Although I’ve slowed down, don’t worry: I haven’t forgotten about my march through Final Fantasy XIII! I’ve finished Taejin's Tower, and am near the end of Oerba.

I think a part of me was avoiding coming back to the game because I was convinced I was under-leveled and about to hit a tough boss fight at the end of Taejin's Tower (Dahaka). I was warned about it, and since I had left the overworld early and was leaning heavily on Sentinel and Medic-heavy paradigms, I was convinced I was going to hit a brick wall. For whatever reason, and with all due respect to those who had trouble, I beat him (it?) on my first try. The first half of the fight was so uneventful I assumed he had a second form, and I had just a single scare in which he hit my party with a ton of debuffs at once, finally giving me an excuse to use Dispelga. Based on a bit of research, I think I may have just lucked out and not run into his worst attack pattern(s). I could also simply have been playing poorly before my last entry — maybe I wasn’t under-leveled at all.

In case you think I’m getting cocky, don’t worry — I attempted to fight Mithridates and was destroyed.

Luckily, given the waning momentum of my last entry, Oerba has me back on board. After the repetitive bland corridors that dominated the preceding 10 hours or so, it was refreshing to see a hand-crafted, atmospheric area like Oerba. It hit a genuine emotional chord, has some great music, and does some effective environmental storytelling. I loved the little touches, like a fallen Cie'th on an untouched rooftop garden. While I don’t want to appear to be endorsing a fetch quest, running around collecting parts for Bhatki was a welcome change of pace compared to the exclusively “kill this mark” sidequests that the game had delivered up to that point.

I know this is a discussion that was run into the ground three years ago, but I’m a bit disappointed this game doesn’t have a proper town in it (yet?). I don’t think a JRPG needs to have bustling towns, but Final Fantasy XIII feels a bit lonely. Besides Nautilus and the little survivor camp at the beginning, there hasn’t been a single point in the game in which I’ve been around other people. It makes sense from a narrative perspective, but it’s also resulted in a world that feels a lot less lived-in, and it obviously left Square Enix quite limited in the sorts of sidequests they could offer.

This leads into a larger issue/observation I’ve had: this game is dark. It doesn’t necessarily seem that way at any given moment, but when you stop to think about it, this game makes something like Majora’s Mask seem tame. Lightning’s parents are dead, and her sister is in stasis; Hope’s mother is dead, and his father could be too; Snow let a lot of people die on his watch, and his fiancee is in stasis; Sazh’s wife was killed before the game began, and his son was tasked by a demigod to stop him; everyone Vanille and Fang knew has been dead for hundreds of years, and they were indirectly responsible. The party was abruptly jettisoned from the society they grew up in, are now despised by their fellow citizens, and have spent the entire game being chased due to their society’s terrified bloodlust. With the exception of Sazh and Vanille’s brief jaunt through Nautilus (which ended in disaster), the l’cie have been utterly alone throughout the entire game. They’re now trekking their way through the wiped-out ruins of an entire planet(?). The isolation, even to a third person, is suffocating. The game doesn’t always do a great job of communicating this — the tone has shifted wildly a few times — but it’s there nonetheless.

Notwithstanding my plans to return to Archylte Steppe and do some sidequesting, I get the sense I’m pretty close to the end of the game. Last I checked, I was somewhere around 45 hours in, though that number is somewhat inflated by my leaving the game sitting on the menu a few times. If this game turns out to be another 10-15 hours — which is the indication I’ve gotten — I think I might finish it without hitting the “man, I wish this game would end already” point I worry about in this kind of long game.

Music

I’ve leaned more on character and boss themes, but I’ve also really liked the background music. The compositions are, at least to my ears, pretty unique, and are at times surprisingly daring. Here’s a few of my favourites:

  • Lake Bresha - The tone is a little cheery considering the group had just been turned into l’cie, but it fit the icy environment quite well, and evokes the beginning of an adventure.
  • The Sunleth Waterscape - I could do without the vocals in this piece, but I find this game’s willingness to use vocals in background music kind of endearing. I also generally appreciate how active a lot of the music is — it would have been much easier to stick with more passive, atmospheric sounds.
  • The Gapra Whitewood - The vocals are less overpowering here, but it’s still got a similarly energetic, techno-infused sound.
  • The Archylte Steppe - Like the Lake Bresha theme, this evokes the environment beautifully. I don’t want to drop (minor) Xenoblade spoilers in an unrelated article, but there was a location in that game in which the musical style changed, and it was effective for very similar reasons.
  • Dust To Dust [Oerba] - (As mentioned above.)
#2 Posted by Slag (4903 posts) -

Hey man fun blog as always

fwiw I just finished s-ranking 13-2 last night. It's odd how different that game is. The gameplay is a lot better than 13, but the story is so so much worse. I've rarely ever been so conflicted about a game. Being a diehard fan I enjoyed it (obviously enough to S-rank) and would have likely even if it was outright bad, but yeah I dunno about that game.

Ha I assume that person that was wrong was me?

I suspect your SYN made that fight a lot easier, or maybe you are just better than I am. Anyway glad that fight went well for you and sorry if my warning stalled your desire to progress.

I know this is a discussion that was run into the ground three years ago, but I’m a bit disappointed this game doesn’t have a proper town in it (yet?)

I guess you don't count PalumPolum as a town then. But I get what you mean, I actually think this was a fairly good change for the series (making most NPCs autoplay talk when you are in earshot) and despite the odd feeling laid the groundwork for better faster gameplay. Fwiw this is improved further in 13-2 since you have more freedom to explore and thus can converse more at your own liberty if you choose.

NPCs in town were originally there as wayposts in Final Fantasy to tell you where to go next (and what to do). In FF1 you literally had not idea where to go without talking to what felt like every NPC in the town you were in.

But over time, this mechanic started to show its' age as they tried to mix in local color atmospheric conversation and sidequest stuff. You could spend 45 minutes or so talking to every inhabitant in some towns and while mildly interesting wasn't what I'd call a lot of fun in retrospect. By having the autoplay eavesdropping it does a much better job at adding local color and I imagine allows for larger groups of NPCs to inhabit an area. Not to mention it feels more believable, most people are not going to drop weird bits of wisdom to strangers almost unsolicited or even be willing tot talk to them much.

this game is dark.

That's not unusual for this series and a big part of what I and probably other fans like about it. After all the series most well known moment is killing a lead playable character midway through one of the games (Vii). Really since FF II the series has trended this way.

Final Fantasy is at its' best when it reveals its' gravitas. Unlike Persona these games take themselves fairly seriously and are unafraid to put their leads through some pretty tough situations.

FF has some silliness of course, but it generally does heavy stuff better than the light and generally suffers when it tries to be goofy.

Notwithstanding my plans to return to Archylte Steppe and do some sidequesting,

I know you have good reason to not listen to me given what didn't happen, but I wouldn't do this right now unless you really want to or feel you need to. Don't really want to say anymore unless you want me to.

#4 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1611 posts) -

@Slag said:

Ha I assume that person that was wrong was me?

I suspect your SYN made that fight a lot easier, or maybe you are just better than I am. Anyway glad that fight went well for you and sorry if my warning stalled your desire to progress.

No, it wasn’t just you :) — I’ve seen it a few other places, and a friend brought it up when I mentioned Taejin’s Tower. I really don’t think it’s that I’m amazing at the game — it sounds like there was some sort of brutal fire attack that the boss just never chose to use.

I guess you don't count PalumPolum as a town then. But I get what you mean, I actually think this was a fairly good change for the series (making most NPCs autoplay talk when you are in earshot) and despite the odd feeling laid the groundwork for better faster gameplay. Fwiw this is improved further in 13-2 since you have more freedom to explore and thus can converse more at your own liberty if you choose.

NPCs in town were originally there as wayposts in Final Fantasy to tell you where to go next (and what to do). In FF1 you literally had not idea where to go without talking to what felt like every NPC in the town you were in.

But over time, this mechanic started to show its' age as they tried to mix in local color atmospheric conversation and sidequest stuff. You could spend 45 minutes or so talking to every inhabitant in some towns and while mildly interesting wasn't what I'd call a lot of fun in retrospect. By having the autoplay eavesdropping it does a much better job at adding local color and I imagine allows for larger groups of NPCs to inhabit an area. Not to mention it feels more believable, most people are not going to drop weird bits of wisdom to strangers almost unsolicited or even be willing tot talk to them much.

I should say that by town, I mean somewhere you can run around at will, accept sidequests, go to stores, etc. I don’t know for sure if that’s something previous FF games had a lot of. Thanks for the context as always. I can’t see myself playing XIII-2 anytime soon, but I think I will eventually, if just to see this story through. It’s good to hear they’ve addressed a lot of my issues and made a game that’s not just more of the same.

I know you have good reason to not listen to me given what didn't happen, but I wouldn't do this right now unless you really want to or feel you need to. Don't really want to say anymore unless you want me to.

If you’re talking about the ability to warp back to Archylte Steppe, I know about it!

P.S. You’re a madman for S-ranking this kind of game! If XIII-2 is anything like XIII, there’s a few trophies (like collecting every piece of equipment and fully developing every character) that I decided right off the bat I wouldn’t even attempt.

#5 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1611 posts) -

@PollySMPS said:

I kinda admired FFXIII's streamlined "cut a bit of the fat off...woops, we maybe cut a bit of the muscle too...errrrrr..." attitude. For the most part, it's a story about a group of people on the run and the people on their heels hound them mercilessly. It just made sense to me that there wasn't a lot of time to stop and smell the roses (even if the roses were likely missing due to space limitations and asset generation costs.)

Yeah, I respect it from a storytelling perspective — it would be kind of dumb if they stopped and did townspeople’s errands or had goofy side adventures — but it’s a bit of a bummer from a gameplay and thematic variety perspective.

#6 Posted by Slag (4903 posts) -

@GrantHeaslip said:

Well in any event, glad you're back on board!

I should say that by town, I mean somewhere you can run around at will, accept sidequests, go to stores, etc. I don’t know for sure if that’s something previous FF games had a lot of.

We're on the same page about towns, that is what every other FF game has had.

Yeah 13-2 has a closer version to those, it's a nice hybrid of the new (ambient conversations) and the old (quest givers and such). There is also a one stop shop shopkeep but she tends to spawn often around levels.

If you’re talking about the ability to warp back to Archylte Steppe, I know about it!

oh cool.

Thanks for the context as always. I can’t see myself playing XIII-2 anytime soon, but I think I will eventually, if just to see this story through. It’s good to hear they’ve addressed a lot of my issues and made a game that’s not just more of the same.

I am doubtful you'll like it if you do. Most of the stuff I've seen you've mentioned as your favorite parts (the character interactions and music) definitely suffer serious degradation.

The music was real hit or miss, a lot more vocals than 13. And while I liked the Charice atmospheric stuff, there was some really cheezy metal songs that I found jarring (the wild chocobo song e.g.). I don't mind metal, but this was bad metal and felt really out of place with the rest of the game.

The story is just....mailed in. Some interesting premises there, but felt super lazy and unfleshed out. The voice acting is pretty good, especially Serah, but they often aren't given much interesting things to say given the thinness of the plot.

The game play is a whole better though. The pacing of story to gameplay is better, a whole lot less linear. You can revisit areas very easily and actually replay storyline bits with ease. The weapon mechanic is simpler but more usable. The mog clock encounter is a neat innovation, the monster sidekicks are fun (if a little obtuse), There's a decent minigame in Chocobo racing and the best parts of the battle system are maintained.

Unfortunately most of the environments are recycled from 13 though. They do a much better job of masking/remaking them than they did in X-2, but yeah most of your "old favorites" are back.

So it's a mixed bag as you can see.

P.S. You’re a madman for S-ranking this kind of game! If XIII-2 is anything like XIII, there’s a few trophies (like collecting every piece of equipment and fully developing every character) that I decided right off the bat I wouldn’t even attempt.

Thanks man, but I'm really not. I S-ranked 13-2 in just about the same gameplay time I cleared the main story in 13. I bet if you looked at the data a whole lot more people s-ranked 13-2 than 13.

The main game is very short for a FF game, maybe 30 hours. A consequence of a very poor story imo. To their credit though the post game - gameplay is pretty great. I actually enjoyed the game more when it was was over than when it was going on.

Yeah 13's trophies are a lot more daunting, I'm half tempted to go back and do those (Since FF games I usually have s-ranked since the beginning of the series.) but another 30 hours of grinding versus switching back to Dark Souls doesn't sound that appealing.

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