It’s at this point that once more I need to specify that FF13 does not explain It’s mythology to the viewer, instead expecting them to look it up themselves in the game’s wiki. I personally didn’t explain this because I wanted to recreate that feverish first few hours, but at this point I did read the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom and actually found out what the hell is going on, so i figure I might as well do the same to you.
FF13 takes place on two worlds, the Monstrous uncivilized planet Gran Pulse, and it’s technological utopian moon Cocoon. While Cocoon is civilized and incredibly advanced, Gran Pulse is seemingly occupied solely by monsters and everything from there is seen as poisoned or cursed. Both worlds are populated by strange beings called Fal’Cie.
Now describing the Fal’Cie in any stringent terms is kind of impossible, as the game features a wide variety and doesn’t seem to have any rules to govern what they are or do, so I’ll give you my own definition. The Fal’Cie are god like beings, but are so advanced they’re beyond human comprehension. They can’t communicate clearly as they simply don’t understand human beings. Despite this, the Fal’Cie conscript humans into their plans often. A Fal’Cie will brand a human with their mark, turning them into a L’Cie. A L’Cie is then given a “Focus”, a mission to accomplish for the Fal’Cie. Completing it turns them to crystal, making them immortal. Failing it turns them into Cie’th, monsters forced to roam the world in perpetual hell.
From this premise alone FF13 sounds like some really interesting fiction, I mean there’s a lot to do with this, the moral conundrum of being selected by a god to fight against your home land is a very complex one with a lot of layers to it. Do you have a right to deny god’s will? Does a god have a right to force you into their own war? If the Fal’Cie are so god like, why can’t they make their Focus clear? And then there’s all the world building to do! Are there individual churches for individual Fal’Cie? Do people fight wars over individual Fal’Cie? How do they interpret the Fal’Cie’s words? Does atheism or agnosticism exist in this world? If so, in what form?
In other words, it’s an interesting premise. And it’s a complex one, giving this information to the player outside of a straight exposition dump would be difficult, so I can understand why they opted out of it. But that doesn’t justify it or make it less lazy. And as you might’ve guessed, FF13 doesn’t deliver on any of these concepts.
So as you might’ve guessed the Fal’Cie from Pulse are seen as demonic, which is why PSICOM destroyed the Fal’Cie in the game’s prologue. After the Fal’Cie falls and turns the lake to crystal (No, really) we then take a flashback break to before “The Purge” and see one of Snow and Serah’s last dates. As much as I want to chastise the game for not taking the opportunity to deliver some much needed exposition, the scene is pretty well done and does a good job of making Snow both more relatable and likable. Which brings us to:
1. The Wrong Protagonist
Yeah I know I touched upon this last post, but part of what makes FF13 so incredibly perplexing is it’s ability to repeat problems in radically different ways. Snow makes a far better protagonist then Lightning, and that’s after I spent much of last update bagging on him and will spend part of this doing the same.
While Serah deals with the very complex problem of being a L’Cie, Snow has to deal with seeing the woman he loves being used by indescribable monster. It allows the complicated L’Cie issue to be front in center while keeping the conflict relatable. While few people have had to deal with being forced into a religious war, most of us have had someone we love being forced into a conflict they didn’t want to be a part of and been unable to help.In fact, this conflict directly mirrors the story of FFX, but this one scene already has better characterization and plot then all of FFX.
Either way, the cutscene ends and we catch up with our motley crew of ‘heroes’. The group awaken and try to piece together what happened to then, Sazh in particular completely confused. I should point out that Sazh is easily the best character in the game. He’s the most relatable character, manages to be funny without being sad or annoying, and is typically the closest thing to an audience surrogate. Plot wise there’s no real reason for him to be the protagonist, but he game would be better for it simply because he’s awesome.
The group discover that in it’s death throes the Fal’Cie has branded all of them as L’Cie, and in the process bestowed them with magic to complete their focus. The group also realize they’ve shared a dream. For some reason (Presumably because of how advanced they are) the Fal’Cie can’t just let you your Focus and can only give broad hints about them, the group’s shared dream.
The crew realize their dream was of Ragnarok, a walking apocalypse from Pulse that attacked Cocoon some centuries ago and nearly cracked it in half. Now, each of the protagonists are from radically different backgrounds so it makes sense that they’d all interpret the message differently. Unfortunately the only person who even tries is Snow, who believes that for some reason a Pulse Fal’Cie wants them to save Cocoon. Everyone else just sort of ignores it. To be fair, PSICOM can’t be far behind and now that they’ve been branded Pulse L’Cie they might need to put some distance between them before sitting down and discussing fate. Which they never do.
2. The Gameplay
If you’re wondering why I haven’t brought up the gameplay yet it’s for two reasons. 1. the first part was long enough. 2. It doesn’t really open up until you hit this point in the game, and I want to tackle it all at once. Spoilers: I hate it. FF13 was designed to modernize Final Fantasy. It was meant to keep the essence of turn based combat while making it faster and more action packed to entice new players. Instead, it become an overly complicated mess of bullshit.
Combat in FF13 is still technically turn based but follows the principle of games like Chrono Trigger, where in taking too long can lead to the enemy getting in an early hit, encouraging quick thinking and more tense combat. Chrono Trigger simply allowed enemies to get in an extra hit, but it wasn’t a massive lose as you could take the punishment and if you were taking so long chances are your strategy would come out on top.
In FF13 you are made of chalk, at least by RPG standards. In most RPGs you can take quite a bit of punishment before you need to heal unless you’re fighting something drastically out of your league. In FF13 I think there’s maybe a 1:2 ratio of turns I didn’t heal to turns I did, so when an enemy gets in an extra hit and can completely fuck up the battle.
FF13 does move at a faster pace but it’s completely to it’s detriment. Usually an action in an RPG is definitive, it’s important and when it doesn’t pan out it’s disappointing. Taking the time to use Fira instead of Magnet should be a gamble, and if it turns out Fira doesn’t pan out when Magnet does, it feels like a failure. On top of this, having to heal or use an item to recover can often feel like a wasted turn. It’s a delicate dance and making the wrong move can be devastating, it’s what makes turn based combat so good.
FF13 lacks this sensation as by the time your attacks have taken effect you need to prepare the next round. There’s no room for breathing and cycling through menus to find the proper moves can mean death. Attacks are volleyed at the foes with no real grace or meaning, and the impacts are lost in the fray of animations. It’s nearly impossible to tell if Fira did more damage then Freeze because it’s impossible to see through the cloud of numbers and dust. Every move in FF13 feels like a mistake, and even when playing correctly I felt like I was playing wrong.
This issue is amplified with the stagger meter, a game mechanic that is the very bane of my existence. The meter requires a certain type of damage to fill up. Once it is filled the enemy staggers and takes more damage. It’s a simple enough mechanic that encourages more aggressive tactics, but in practice it bogs down the combat because many enemies are impossible to beat without staggering them.
Staggering is a time consuming process taking up to ten minutes per stagger, and even then enemies don’t take an astronomical amount of damage. Sometimes I found normal enemies that took longer to kill than bosses simply because of the immense amount of damage they can soak up. This isn’t even bringing up that the stagger meter drains over time or how you need to routinely heal.
So with all these mechanics working off of each other you don’t really have time to go digging through menus to find the right move since time is of the essence. Don’t worry! FF13 has that covered with the new Auto Battle option! Once upon a time auto battle was used to speed up combat for you to brute force through lesser enemies, but now FF13 has made Auto Battle a way of life. Why bother with strategy? Auto Battle selects the most appropriate attack for the given situation. You can’t possibly be as efficient as Auto battle is. Auto Battle is FF13. Auto battle is life. AUTO BATTLE SIMPLY IS.
So now that we know the gameplay is time consuming and plays itself, what exactly are you suppose to do during it? Well you’re in luck, because you get to take hold of the paradigm system! The Paradigm System is kind of hard to explain, it’s sort of the role each character is given during combat. Okay it’s not hard at all.
In most RPGs you have 3 main roles that you assign yourself: The jack of all trades character who can cast a wide range of moves to find what works best, the mage who specializes in offensive magic, and the medic who deals in healing. Depending on the game you might swap the roles around or have more contextual roles, but that’s usually how it goes. FF13 takes these basic roles, splits them up into multiple roles each, and then forces you to swap between them a dozen times every fight.
There’s the Ravager role specializing in normal damage, the Commando role focusing on stagger damage (grr), the synergist who specializes in status buffs, the antithetical saboteur working with status ailments, the Sentinel who takes damage, and the medic. Why. I cannot even begin to understand why these roles were split up or needed. In most RPGs the player would assign these roles based solely on the individual moves and their effects, they would be ROLE PLAYING. But we can’t have that in FF13! No, in FF13 we need to spoon feed every gameplay mechanic across 80 fucking hours.
Once again I am nothing short of amazed by this insane fuck up. Each of these systems is individually fine, but they way they’ve been mixed together makes them barely function. How? How can you so completely fuck up something so easy? I’ll never understand.
3. Repetitive story beats
Switching gears from the ludicrously complex to the overly simplistic, our motley crew is attacked by PSICOM officers. Get ready to hear that a lot, because it keeps happening and happening and happening. No matter what any time it seems like the characters might have a moment to develop or bond, PSICOM will show up and ruin it. It seems that one of the major complaints from more casual players was the overabundance of cutscenes, so Square took steps to remedy this by spacing them out with combat encounters.
Here we find something that plagues the greater games industry. Publishers have continually casualized their games in an attempt to cast a wider net and try to get some more periphery sales. But in the process they alienate their core audience and find that the casual audience really doesn’t give a shit because they don’t pay attention in the first place. So you have a worse product, a pissed off audience, and no more sells then you would before.
This problem feels much more apparent in FF13 because as I’ve highlighted already, the personal conflicts are the more interesting aspect of the story. In the immense desert of Final Fantasy 13 Square occasionally brings you a canteen only for the cruel hand of PSICOM to pour it out on the ground. If you want to have the most authentic FF13 experience, copy the “And then our Motley Crew are attacked by PSICOM” like and paste it in the space between paragraphs.
And then our Motley Crew are attacked by PSICOM
4. Dissonant Linearity
Afterwards the group continue through the crystalline landscape to...to continue the story. I mean that’s as good a reason as any. So if you’ve kept your ear to the ground you might have heard that FF13 is a tad linear in it’s environments. You can’t even imagine the truth of this statement, FF13 is tubes spaced out by occasional circles that attach to more tubes. Samus Aran doesn’t have to deal with these many tubes.
And then our Motley Crew are attacked by PSICOM
Now I’m not one for parroting the opinions of others (hence the multi-part saga about how dumb FF13 is) so I won’t spend too much time on this aspect of the game but I do want to bring up how strange this linearity is in the context of the story. FF13 almost never gives you a long term goal and it makes the games story disjointed and almost schizophrenic in it’s presentation.
However, despite never giving you a goal, FF13 never lets you be lost. the game’s insane linearity is in complete juxtaposition to it’s broken wandering tone. Compare this to a game like Dark Souls where the game has a similarly lost tone, but is open ended in it’s gameplay as well, turning it into an atmospheric element rather than a detriment. So it’s not an inherent issue with this kind of story, but rather how it doesn’t communicate with the gameplay.
So we have a lost story tonally, an overly linear one gameplay wise, and a retardedly complex one mechanically. And then our Motley Crew are attacked by PSICOM.
After this our ‘heroes’ come across Serah’s crystalline body which for some reason was a mile away from them despite being in the exact same location before. As you might assume Snow freaks out and spends ten minutes trying to dig her out of the landscape so he can take her with him, presumably because he doesn’t have the attention span to remember her and wants to jerk off at some point.
5. Underused Character Moments
Now here you could probably take the opportunity to grow some bonds between the group as it’s a surprisingly human moment. For all his faults Snow’s connection and relationship with Serah makes him at least a little relatable, and from it you could even make him likable. With Lightning going through the same personal issues as Snow you could use this to show her softer side and try to convince Snow to leave Serah behind so he can complete his Focus like he promised. Hell, as we continue with the story we find out Sazh has a wife and family of his own, so it would make sense that he would relate to him and try to help.
Instead, Lightning hits him. Like, hard. And a lot. It’s kind of uncomfortable to watch but she just smacks Snow around for a bit. Which brings us to perhaps the most controversial of my issues with the game:
I hate Lightning. As the game unfolds I’m given only more reasons to do so as she continually makes herself out to be brutish and violent. Despite being the ‘hero’ and being in the same boat as Snow, she’s outright abusive to Snow and won’t even listen to his point of view. She also never shows any real remorse for these actions and continually shows a lack of empathy to the plight of other characters. Couple this with the fact that in the grander scheme of things she does nothing all that important to the plot aside from existing.
Lightning is almost a deal with the devil when it comes to feminist characters as in all honesty, she might be the best example of a female protagonist in video games despite being so terrible. She’s strong, independent, not really sexualized in the game itself and no one really questions or draws attention to it. It’s entirely honest, it wasn’t done to prove a point it was done because someone wanted to have a girl as the protagonist.
And yet, it might be the most anti-feminist feminist character ever. In Lightning’s characterization as a strong soldier she loses all her femininity, any sense of affection or gentleness is lost. Lightning becomes some androgynous entity that looks like girl minus everything that makes girls the fairer sex. it’s bizarre. In a weird way, it’s the only true protagonist FF13 could have, something that finds failure even in success.
7. No exposition in exposition
As the gang continues forward you get shorter scenes of the crew standing around talking, admiring the scenery and doing something suspiciously similar to world building. I say suspiciously similar because there’s no real world building going on, nor bonding. They just sort of state facts with no real reason. “OH BOY LOOK AT ALL THIS CRYSTAL. OH BOY LOOK AT ALL THIS SANCTUM. OH BOY LOOK AT ALL THIS FOCUS.”
Compare this to Pulp Fiction, a movie built almost entirely about inane nonsense. About 60% of Pulp Fiction is characters talking about things that aren’t really relevant to the current situation, but these scenes are actually quite important. These scenes gives us some insight to the characters and make them more likable. Sure they’re talking about nothing all that important, but it’s a humanizing aspect and gives us some insight to their thought process. On top of these, the things they talk about are usually so strange you’re enticed by them regardless of their relevance. In FF13 characters just talk exposition at each other, usually while not expositing anything at all, and it just comes off as awkward.
Keep in mind, my biggest gripe with the game last update was that they didn’t exposite ENOUGH. Once more, even in success FF13 finds failure! And then our Motley Crew are attacked by PSICOM. As they continue through the crystal sea they come across some ruins that were not turned to crystal and whose purpose we will never understand. More importantly, they find a crashed plane that’s mostly functional, but most first deal with a member of PSICOM’s Mothra division to use it.
Something that comes up in FF13 is how PSICOM modifies local wildlife into cybernetic ground troops, using them like tanks or armored vehicles. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of parallels to draw between the way Cocoon views Gran Pulse and it’s treatment of local wildlife. Despite believing Pulse to be a world of monsters, but here they are turning their own animals into walking tron monsters to fight against this very threat. It’s a complicated satire of how far our governments go to avoid the militaristic fascism of third world countries and become such monstrous societies themselves. It’s a very complicated look at the world that is never highlighted or properly used because fuck you it’s Final Fantasy.
The group board the ship and manage to take off, with Sazh’s past as a civilian pilot being revealed. In the Codex. Either way the group take off and come close to Sanctum headquarters, where they see the Sanctum Fal’Cie, personified as a giant glowing light. Presumably, this Fal’Cie works as a sun for Cocoon, allowing warmth and growth on the moon that otherwise might not exist. With PSICOM on their tails (because of fucking course they are) the group fly directly into it and while they manage to get away, they’re struck by one of the Fal’Cie’s tentacles (?) and crash. Once again, I did not skip anything there, that is the exact order of events.
Following this we get the introduction of one of the game’s worst, most pointless additions.
8. Eidolon Fights
As we move back to see Snow still digging he’s attacked by (and you’ll never expect this!) PSICOM, specifically the Guardian Corps. I don’t actually know the proper distinction between the two, but as far as I can tell PSICOM are evil Pulse trained soldiers while the Guardian Corps are closer to Police. Which of course, begs the question what they’re doing here.
Snow fights them off for as long as he can but ultimately can’t keep moving. in his moment of weakness, a duo of monsters appear to save him from the attackers. The duo turn out to be Shiva, a recurring summon in the series. However Shiva turns her (their?) sights on Snow, and a boss battle begins.
Now the Eidolon fights aren’t your normal boss fights. Instead, the game decides to throw a curveball with a puzzle boss. Shiva (as well as all Eidolons) has a “Gestalt” meter, which is bullshit for how close you are to taming them. Once it’s full you press a button and gain a summon. Noticeably, attacking Shiva doesn’t do much to the meter. Instead, taking the defensive stance will fill up faster. As the boss is timed, this is vital. In general the Gestalt Gauge raises by doing the opposite of what is expected of the character. So the violent abrasive Snow can raise his Gestalt meter by taking attacks. In theory this encourages more versatile strategy and to get the player into different play styles.
In practice it (and you’ll never guess this) doesn’t work at all. This is still fairly early in the game so the player isn’t familiar enough with the combat mechanics to start working outside of it. on top of this, this is the VERY FIRST time the Sentinel role is even available, so the player will probably die once or twice without even knowing they have it. On top of this, basic attacks fill the gestalt gauge as well, and there’s no hint that you need to switch tactics. perhaps if the combat moved slower it would be more apparent that you need to change tactics as you’d see that you’re strategy wasn’t quite cutting it.
The Eidolons are pretty much worthless in combat proper but after this fight Snow passes out and we don’t get to use the Eidolon quite yet,s o we’ll talk more about that next update. With that in mind, we’ve reached the end of this update and the end of the chapter. Next time we’ll switch gears back to the under developed personal conflicts and how FF13 manages to craft one of the most layered relationships in modern video games, and how (surprisingly) the game doesn’t capitalize on it in anyway. Thanks for reading.