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.
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.)