Fighting Final Fantasy XIII - Episode 3: I Guess Square-Enix Forgot How To Write A Good Final Fantasy Story

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here are links to the previous episodes of this series. Sorry for the delay on this episode.

Part 21: I Hate Snow

Chapters seven through ten represent the lowest point of Final Fantasy XIII. Top to bottom, these chapters are dreadful. The gameplay is frustratingly static, and the story becomes inscrutable. That is to say, Final Fantasy XIII turns into a slog. I suspect this might be the reason why some are overly forgiving about Gran Pulse. ANYTHING is better than slopping through the long corridors of the Palamecia.

Somehow Snow manages to get progressively worse as the story continues. Like everything in this game.
Somehow Snow manages to get progressively worse as the story continues. Like everything in this game.

Before chapter six starts, there's a cinematic featuring Snow and Serah. You may recall I once defended Snow, and I stand by that defense. Snow's grandstanding makes sense in the first chapter. He's an emotionally driven character wanting to fulfill a relationship. The problem is he doesn't evolve. Snow continues to treat his companions disrespectfully. Worse, his dialogue consists of one-liners or loud sighs into Serah's crystal. By chapter seven I despised Snow.

Snow's chapter six cutscene is a drag. The cinematic starts with Snow and Serah running away from soldiers. We presume PSICOM found out about Serah, but how is left unanswered. There's an opportunity to include Lightning, but that never happens. Like many of the cutscenes before it, this cinematic exists in a bubble. Finally, the game's use of motion blur is nauseating. When the game adds shaky-cam to contextless cinematics, the results are headache-inducing.

Smashing work Snow! You piloted your flying motorcycle right next to the one thing you were supposed to avoid.
Smashing work Snow! You piloted your flying motorcycle right next to the one thing you were supposed to avoid.

Snow and Serah board a flying motorcycle and try to make a hasty retreat. Both are shot and Snow ends up flying near a Sanctum fal'Cie. The fal'Cie grabs ahold of Serah and Snow falls onto a sandy beach. Why did Snow drive his getaway vehicle next to the fal'Cie? Which fal'Cie kidnapped Serah? How does Snow avoid getting arrested? Where is Lightning? The game does not answer these questions. In fact, just as the scene gets interesting, it juxtaposes to Sazh and Vanille.

You have to read codex entries to comprehend the cutscenes you've watched. There are no quiet transitional scenes where the characters process a change in scenery. Once a cinematic is over the game transitions to a corridor level. The characters never talk, and therein lies my problem with chapter six. We watch this flashback and the scene jump cuts to Sazh and Vanille. We don't juxtapose to Snow and learn about his state of mind. The game provides this flashy looking bullshit and moves onto something different.

I want to just say this entire cutscene makes no fucking sense, and I dare anyone who likes FF13 to defend Snow's actions.
I want to just say this entire cutscene makes no fucking sense, and I dare anyone who likes FF13 to defend Snow's actions.

Part 22: Sazh And Vanille Are Fine. They're FINE!

Don't get me wrong, I don't "hate" Sazh and Vanille's moment in the Sunleth Waterscape. It's a beautiful level with a diverse degree of flora and fauna. The Sunleth Waterscape does a fantastic job of foreshadowing Sazh and Vanille's character arcs. Outside of Nautilus Park, it's one of the few compelling levels in Final Fantasy XIII. Regardless, the next level should have involved Snow. We haven't controlled Snow in HOURS, and the questions raised from the cutscene were worth addressing!

Nevertheless, Vanille and Sazh improve in the two chapters they are together. Vanille's tragic underpinning ensures she isn't stuck on cloud cuckoo land. I would even go so far as to suggest Vanille is one of the few characters with depth. This chapter is also when I fell in love with Sazh. I had my reservations Sazh was another person of color stuck playing the role of "comic relief." Luckily, Square knew better and his evolution is thoroughly fascinating.

Whoever designed the flans in Final Fantasy XIII deserves a raise. All the flans are AMAZING!
Whoever designed the flans in Final Fantasy XIII deserves a raise. All the flans are AMAZING!

On paper, the environment is a repeat of the level design from chapter one. Sazh and Vanille move from one point to next and encounter several trash mobs during their journey. There's one significant difference between this level and the ones preceding it: there is an attempt at gameplay and visual variety. I'm not just talking about the weather changing puzzle, though it is a nice change of pace. The different sections of the Sunleth Waterscape feel distinct from one another. It starts as a wooded tropical-forest and transitions into a desolate mountain range. Enemy encounters also change as you move from one section to the next.

If the Sunleth Waterscape wasn't in service of the characters, then its art design would only do so much. Oddly enough, it is one of the few levels that allows the characters to breathe. Sazh and Vanille interact with one another, and their conversations feel neither forced nor arbitrary. Both characters play off each other and seem honest in their interactions. By the end of the chapter, I felt like I understood Sazh and Vanille. This result is the antithesis of Lightning and Hope's interplay during their adventures in the Gapra Whitewood.

Because this is a Square-Enix joint, the only fully functional family unit has a tragic backstory.
Because this is a Square-Enix joint, the only fully functional family unit has a tragic backstory.

Admittedly, it's a story that relies too heavily on "destiny," but it works nonetheless. After murdering a dozen monsters, Vanille asks Sazh to tell more about himself. Sazh shares he has a son and the game juxtaposes to the fireworks show at Bodhum we have seen countless times. I've given the flashbacks in Final Fantasy XIII a lot of flack, but this time I have no complaints. This scene places a face on the crux of Sazh's character arc. Dajh is not a one-off we'll never see again.

Sazh divulges his son, Dajh, is a Sanctum l'Cie. During a cutscene, we watch a hooded Vanille brand Dajh. Once the scene is over, we learn more about why Sazh boarded the train with Lightning. He originally thought killing a Pulse fal'Cie would fulfill Dajh's focus. As Sazh tells his story, it is clear Vanille is struggling to maintain her composure. At the chapter's conclusion, you emphasize with Vanille. Do I wish the episode didn't culminate in a heavy-handed "crying in the rain to hide one's tears" scene?Sure,but the emotions conveyed are so raw I can forgive the game.

Couldn't you have blamed your tears on an onion or smelly person? At least then you wouldn't have ruined your clothes.
Couldn't you have blamed your tears on an onion or smelly person? At least then you wouldn't have ruined your clothes.

Part 23: Lightning Isn't As Bad As The Internet Says, But She Isn't Great

Let's transition from glowing admiration to scathing criticism. During the first episode, I stated Lightning recovers as a character. Chapter seven is the beginning of that recovery, but HOT DAMN is it rough. The first hour of chapter seven almost turns Lightning into damaged goods. In the chapter's introduction, Lightning acts like an aberration. It's odd to look at Sazh and Vanille and compare them to Lightning. Unlike Vanille, Lightning is a character painted with broad brush strokes and unearned moments of redemption.

The story's unwillingness to allow Lightning to stand independently is a bizarre misstep. Lightning doesn't receive an episode of her own, and that's partly why I never felt invested in her character evolution. Take chapter seven as an example. It starts with an introduction of a named commanding officer in PSICOM. The game does nothing with this character, but the first ten minutes serve as his introduction. Then, Lightning is consistently tied to Hope's slow and painful maturation. Just as she gets room to develop, the game drops an ill-fated Hope and Snow sequence that bludgeons you over the head with its simplicity. Time and time again, Lightning plays second-fiddle to characters that should be beneath her.

Because when I think of
Because when I think of "compelling Final Fantasy characters" Yaag Rosch is the first name that comes to mind.

The game tries to foment interest in Lightning by having her connect the dots to a grand conspiracy. All the same, the game cannot make good on this plot development. After sleuthing past several PSICOM officers, Lightning and Hope stand in front of Carbuncle. Hope states Carbuncle provides food for all humanity, and this information leads to Lightning's epiphany. Lightning realizes fal'Cie use humans as pawns, and she plans to do something about it. This revelation comes from nowhere, and at no point have we seen Lightning conduct an investigation.

What's disappointing is this story arc has potential. In a future scene, an angry mob chases after Snow and Hope. The mob is fully propagandized by Sanctum. They blindly believe Pulse l'Cie are hard and fast societal evils. This scene would have worked better had Lightning been on the receiving end of the mob. We know Lightning regrets her military service. We also know she wants to make amends with her past. Bringing both to the forefront would have been a refreshing continuity break.

This plot twist is a FUCKING NIGHTMARE! I still I may have dreamed the entire thing.
This plot twist is a FUCKING NIGHTMARE! I still I may have dreamed the entire thing.

I want to clarify I'm not someone who should brag about their writing skills. I'm at best, an amateur blogger with eccentric tastes. I try not to back-seat write when playing games, but when so little is accomplished with a character like Lightning, I cannot help it. Everything attempted with Lightning feels "cheap." There's a cinematic where Snow rescues Lightning from an army of soldiers. The next scene shows Lightning assuring Snow she knows how to save Serah. It appears the two now have a workable relationship, but when the fuck did that happen? Character transformations rarely feel warranted, and Lightning is an unfortunate example.

I think Lightning's treatment of Hope is grossly negligent. The chapter begins with Hope enthusiastically leading Lightning through the sewers of his hometown. Hope uses this as an opportunity to reciprocate Lightning's guidance from the previous chapters. When Lightning has her epiphany, her first reaction is to kick Hope to the curb. Then there's the scene where Snow snatches Hope and whisks him away to safety. Lightning knows Hope wants to murder Snow. On top of that, when Lightning has an opportunity to talk to Snow, she only blabs about Serah. She waits until her second phone conversation to warn Snow about Hope. When this is unsuccessful, she tags along with Fang as if there's nothing to worry about.

I just want to say I hated controlling the Eidolons. Performing their moves was never any fun, and they take forever to clear out even the most basic foes.
I just want to say I hated controlling the Eidolons. Performing their moves was never any fun, and they take forever to clear out even the most basic foes.

Part 24: Hope And Snow's Scenes Sucked Away My Lifeforce

It's finally here! We have reached the blow-off between Hope and Snow. God, this story arc is awful. It's so bad. I knew it would be a low mark in the game, but I did not anticipate every line of dialogue being horrible. Hope's hot takes are meant to foreshadow his confrontation with Snow. They instead make him look like a vulture waiting to pounce on a starving animal. Snow is almost as bad as Hope. He wantonly transitions between enthusiastic glee and anguished pain in the same scene.

It's important to note the Eidolons are essentially Transformers. If needed, Eidolons can change into vehicles that can travel massive distances. They also create a major plot hole. As an illustration, Snow rescues Hope using the motorcycle transformation of Shiva. He flies away with Hope in tow, and never uses Shiva for the remainder of the chapter. Additionally, Lightning's Eidolon can become a flying horse. This bellyaching might sound like a minor issue, but half of chapter seven is Snow and Hope getting lost and needing to be rescued! Why do they run around in circles for an hour when Snow has a magical motorcycle at his disposal?

Snow sure does suck a lot during chapter seven.
Snow sure does suck a lot during chapter seven.

Let's talk about Hope and Snow. Snow, being the miserable meatball he is, attempts to make small talk with Hope. Thankfully, Hope rebukes Snow and demands answers on what's happening. Snow explains he's fighting alongside Sanctum's "Calvary." The game then plops you into a battle. That's all the world building you get for a solid three hours. It's worth mentioning chapter seven is a tutorial level for the Sentinel class. When you control Snow and Hope, the game forces you to utilize Snow as a Sentinel. Playing Snow as a tank, and waiting for Hope to kill enemies, isn't fun. It fucking sucks. Every battle takes FOREVER because your only offensive character is forced into a supporting role.

Then there's everything the story attempts with Snow and Hope. Their character dynamic lacks any form of nuance. Each of their interactions copies and pastes the same structure. Snow rambles about Serah and Hope asks Snow how he handles failure. None of these interactions work. You can't sympathize with Snow because he's condescending. Throughout chapter seven, Snow continually views Hope as a liability more than an asset. He acts surprised Hope is alive, and actively ignores Hope's actions in combat.

Hope isn't any better. As you progress through Palumpolum, his dialogue is atrocious. The story desperately wants you to believe Hope is in the right, but it's done none of the legwork to justify his angst. One flashback five chapters ago isn't enough. Moreover, Hope's characterization is brazen. At one point, Hope asks Snow "What happens when your actions end up ruining someone's life?" I refuse to believe a grown adult wrote the dialogue.

The crème de la crème of crap is yet to come.
The crème de la crème of crap is yet to come.

A conveniently timed explosion flings Snow over a ledge. Hope leaves him hanging, and after a bit of interplay, Snow has an epiphany. He realizes who Hope is and announces "you're the one!" Does anyone want to challenge my notion this game's script is an abomination? A second explosion pushes Hope over the ledge, and Snow sacrifices his body to protect Hope. When the game returns to the two, they squash their beef in ONE SCENE! Snow apologizes for the death of Hope's mother, and Hope admits he used Snow as a scapegoat. With that, the two are buddies for the remainder of the game! At one point we even see the two high-five each other before jumping into a war zone.

Good God, what happened to Final Fantasy? Square-Enix knows how to write good characters. It's not a secret recipe that died with some Polish cafeteria lady. They know how to write compelling characters! I don't understand how they could allow Snow and Hope to be this bad. There were two scenes where Snow thought about Hope's Mother. Both of those scenes occur in chapter one. And who writes Hope's lines of dialogue with a straight face? Is he an angsty teenager? Is he a broken trauma victim? Is he a figure of empowerment? WHAT IS THIS GAME TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?

WHY THE FUCK DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT HOPE? TWENTY MINUTES AGO YOU WANTED TO KICK HIM TO THE CURB!
WHY THE FUCK DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT HOPE? TWENTY MINUTES AGO YOU WANTED TO KICK HIM TO THE CURB!

Part 25: Fang Deserves A Better Game!

I cannot emphasize enough, it's chapter seven and the game is teaching new mechanics. Chapter seven exists to teach the Sentinel class. That's why you are stuck using Hope and Snow for hours upon end. To add insult to injury, it's hour fifteen and the gameplay STILL hasn't opened up! We are more than halfway done with the game, and it continues to limit you to two characters. It's fucking ridiculous!

The pairing of Lightning and Fang works exponentially better than Hope and Snow. Lightning and Fang are great compliments in and out of combat. They play off each other in scenes that add much-needed levity. Lightning and Fang are not vessels for a story arc hardly suitable for a daytime soap opera. It helps their gameplay sections don't slow down to a crawl. Mercifully, Fang can hold her own in a fight.

Vanille, that's the best idea you have had so far!
Vanille, that's the best idea you have had so far!

Fang's spontaneity is a breath of fresh air. Unlike Lightning, Fang is emotionally transparent. She shares everything she knows about her past and leaves no stone unturned. Fang's brief monologue does a good job connecting recent events to the overall narrative. We discover Vanille and Fang were the force that rocked the Euride Gorge facility. As Fang divulges this information, she chides Lightning for not reacting. When things boil over and Lightning punches Fang, Fang goads Lightning into continuing. I enjoyed this moment because it establishes each character's perspective.

The game makes a nuanced point in pairing Fang and Lightning. Lightning is running away from her past, and Fang is the opposite. I found their interplay fascinating, but baffling. The story doesn't commit to either character, and much of their ethos is left undeveloped. For instance, when Lightning finds out Fang is partially responsible for Serah's branding, she punches her. Fang uses this as an opportunity to call Lightning a hypocrite. Unfortunately, the game never revisits these points. The game doesn't treat us to a Fang redemption arc, nor do we learn more about Lightning's service in the military. These compelling character interactions end up feeling like an anachronism.

I'll say it again, Fang deserves a better game. Why isn't she or Vanille the main player characters?
I'll say it again, Fang deserves a better game. Why isn't she or Vanille the main player characters?

Just as Fang and Lightning get interesting, the game transitions to a plot beat about Hope's relationship with his father. This game spends an entire level on Hope talking to his dad. Luckily for Lightning, she has more scenes where she develops as a character. Fang, on the other hand, gets the short end of the stick. Unlike the other cast members, Fang doesn't have a carefully crafted level outside of her Eidolon battle. While Gran Pulse adds context to her past, that level is all about Vanille.

Before we move on, I want to briefly talk about Lightning's moment with Snow in the apartment. Moments like those are why I do not understand the vitriol directed at Lightning. She realizes her "go it alone" mentality is unsustainable sooner than most Final Fantasy protagonists. She doesn't wait until the end of the game to change her worldview like Cloud or Squall. Do you want to know what else I appreciate about Lightning? When she realizes she's acted foolishly, she apologizes to everyone who has suffered as a result of her actions. She even permanently changes her behavior. When the party reconvenes, she acts as the group's unbiased moral compass. What more can you ask of a modern Square-Enix protagonist?

I honestly don't get why people hate Lightning. She spends less time in a state of emotional isolation than Cloud, Squall, Zidane, or any modern Square protagonist.
I honestly don't get why people hate Lightning. She spends less time in a state of emotional isolation than Cloud, Squall, Zidane, or any modern Square protagonist.

Part 26: Now We're Faffing About In An Apartment

I want to make something clear before we continue. Outside of Nautilus Park, Final Fantasy XIII takes a turn for the worse and never recovers. Every level is the same. Characters cease to evolve until the game's final act. The story becomes an incoherent nightmare. The game becomes a shitshow from this point forward. When I stop and think about it, the nicest thing I can say is the gameplay slowly opens up, but that's faint praise.

It's worth noting the story has plenty of dragons to slay. Will it revisit Lightning's relationship with her sister? Will we learn more about Fang's past? Will Snow delineate why he fell in love with Serah? The game answers each of these questions with a loud raspberry. I'm going to be brutally honest, I don't give a FUCK about Hope and his father! It's a relationship that starts and ends in chapter seven. It does not shed new light on our understanding of the world, nor does it help further Hope as a character. Hope tell his father he loves him, and his father reciprocates his feelings.

Aw man, this is the good shit I signed up for when I started this game!
Aw man, this is the good shit I signed up for when I started this game!

Can one of you tell me why Hope gets more scenes than any other character besides Vanille? Why are there more levels devoted to Hope than Lightning or Fang? Why is this moment all about Hope? We have seen these characters go through some shit. They all deserve an opportunity to breathe. Where's the opportunity for Lightning to level with Snow? Where's Fang's chance to learn about life on Cocoon?

Nothing is genuinely accomplished in the scenes involving Hope's father. Hope's father affirms his trust in his son and provides advice on what the characters should do next. That second point sounds more consequential than it is in execution. He warns the party cannot bring down Sanctum without consequences and cautions about the public's tendency to riot. Both are points we already know. After a confusing shootout, the game tosses in a bullshit boss battle.

And when I say
And when I say "confusing shootout," I mean Final Fantasy 13 has ANOTHER cutscene that makes no sense.

The Havoc Skytank is another reminder of the game's limited artificial intelligence. Your inability to control your supporting characters slows this battle to a crawl. Worse, we're dealing with a gimmick boss battle. The Havoc Skytank has several parts, each with a different elemental immunity. It's highly recommended you focus on the components first. Otherwise, you'll take heavy damage and inflict negligible blows.

The Havoc Skytank highlights several issues I have with Final Fantasy XIII's gameplay. First, the computer doesn't know how to diversify its attacks. When you zero in on an enemy, the supporting characters only attack the same target. The second issue is something I have ranted about before. The game poorly manages your medics. On several occasions, I had two characters at low health. Computer-controlled medics would heal one to max health and allow the other to die.

I am so done with this game's combat system. IT'S BARELY A
I am so done with this game's combat system. IT'S BARELY A "GAME!"

I'm dancing around a more fundamental problem with the gameplay. Final Fantasy XIII feels like a Football Manager game. You stare at health bars and status icons more than the action on the screen. It feels less like a game, and more like a simulation. I reapplied buffs when I saw their icons blinking. I used healing spells when a character's health meter glowed. I switched my paradigms when an enemy's stagger meter decreased. The game repeats the same routine from chapter one with little variance. You rarely watch battles as they evolve and feel like a catalyst for a flowchart.

Part 27: Nautilus Park Is The Best Part Of The Game

Our time at Nautilus Park represents the game's high-water mark. The scene isn't without its share of issues. Exploring your surroundings is an unfulfilling affair. The NPCs pantomime like soulless zombies. Unlike the Golden Saucer from Final Fantasy VII, Nautilus Park feels empty. Say what you will about the minigames at the Golden Saucer, but they lent life to the world. For better or worse, Nautilus Park is a series of disconnected vignettes.

Be that as it may, they are beautiful vignettes, and I loved every minute of Nautilus Park
Be that as it may, they are beautiful vignettes, and I loved every minute of Nautilus Park

In the end, Nautilus Park doesn't feel like a waste of your time. There's some grounding in the world, and it's a beautiful level. Sazh and Vanille continue to play off each other, and their interactions feel natural. Furthermore, when the story takes its predictable turn to melodrama, you want to see what's going to happen next. There's even a sense of tension. Full disclosure, I thought Sazh was dead. The scene made me believe he was a goner, and that's a testament to how convincing the storytelling is during the chapter.

The level starts innocently enough. When Sazh and Vanille realize they have an opportunity to relax, they take it. If there's one quibble I have, it's the lack of a clear end-goal. We eventually discover Sazh plans to turn himself into the authorities. Until that point, we don't know why the characters want to be at Nautilus Park. I would also object to Sazh and Vanille "needing a break." Sazh and Vanille fought through one forest, but nothing felt especially troubling.

Whoever did Vanille's facial animations did a stellar job. She's one of the few characters whose poignant scenes don't descend into the
Whoever did Vanille's facial animations did a stellar job. She's one of the few characters whose poignant scenes don't descend into the "Uncanny Valley."

Eventually, the characters witness a fireworks display. The display showcases several holograms of Cocoon's thousand-year-old war against Pulse. That's the kind of world-building I have begged Final Fantasy XIII to use during its transitional scenes. We learn more about Cocoon's history in this scene than any of the previous chapters! Sazh makes the case displays like these are a regular occurrence. Hence, why the general public is in line with its government.

Vanille's relationship with Sazh is executed perfectly. There's depth to their relationship because it's not founded upon romance. Vanille desperately wants to tell Sazh the truth, and as the story unfolds, you watch her anxiety consume her. Yes, the Chocobo hide-and-go-seek minigame sucks, but that's irrelevant. Every scene between Sazh and Vanille frames the end of the chapter as a tragedy. Sazh feels comfortable sharing his story with Vanille, and that gets me every time. He tells her everything, and she rewards him with lies.

I get Sazh's character arc employs every cheap trick from the storytelling playbook! I get it, but I love Sazh regardless!
I get Sazh's character arc employs every cheap trick from the storytelling playbook! I get it, but I love Sazh regardless!

The look of betrayal on Sazh's face is a heartbreaking technical achievement. I enjoy how the story doesn't force a black and white sense of morality down your throat. Sazh's anger feels warranted, but Vanille isn't a villain. It's a rare example of Final Fantasy XIII's melodrama creating a human experience. It even leads to one of the few warranted Eidolon battles! It's one of the few times when Final Fantasy XIII manages to meld its gameplay and story. Finally, nothing in the story reaches the emotional heights of watching Vanille weep as Sazh points a gun to his head.

Nothing.
Nothing.

Part 28: The Palamecia Level Is DOGSHIT!

You would expect a Final Fantasy game to continue the gravitas of a prior scene, but we're talking about Final Fantasy XIII. Sazh and Vanille are carted away, and the game jump cuts to Lightning on the Lindblum. After learning of Sazh and Vanille's pending executions, the team drops all pretense and plans a direct invasion of Sanctum's capital ship. The game tries to make characters out of Cid Raines and Rygdea, but it fails spectacularly. Most notably, Lightning's planning session ends with a collective declaration about the power of teamwork. I wish I were kidding.

Fuck off. Get fucked. Go fuck yourself.
Fuck off. Get fucked. Go fuck yourself.

Never before have I seen a game accomplish so little out of a level. Yes, this is when Galenth Dysley reveals his master plan. Yes, there's a touching moment between Vanille and Sazh. Yes, the characters come together in a neat package. Be that as it may, navigating the Palamecia is a fucking nightmare. It's a monotonous slog that lasts far longer than it should. More than half the level involves snaking around scaffolding and fighting trash mobs. The distance covered is short but every corner is crammed to the brim with enemy encounters. Worse, we battle the same goddamned robots and foot soldiers we have seen countless times already.

The level has a massive tone problem. In-between Lightning affirming her role as a leader, and Vanille detailing her past, there are odd interjections of comedy. This is the chapter where I felt the game could not make up its mind on Sazh. After letting the man pour his heart out, the story reverts him to comic relief duties. There's another gag where Jihl Nabaat struggles to manage the Palamecia's "security level," but this happens AFTER Vanille pleads with Sazh that she didn't mean to hurt his son. Finally, with Hope and Snow "done" as characters, their lines of dialogue are 90% witty one-liners, and it's the worst.

GIVE BACK COCOON TO WHO? HOW? WHY? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING?!
GIVE BACK COCOON TO WHO? HOW? WHY? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING?!

The story doesn't get better. "Generic" is the best word to describe Final Fantasy XIII's story. It's an exercise of rote storytelling dressed up in tailor-made clothes. Vanille needing to lie to Fang about her focus is interesting. The problem is the game doesn't build upon this premise until the penultimate chapter. Instead, we listen to Space Pope screech about how he's been manipulating the characters.

PSICOM spends too much of the game lacking a figurehead. Yaag Rosch speaks two sentences and isn't seen for hours. However, the game demands you care about generic soldiers and generals. When the game offs Jihl Nabaat, it expects a horrified reaction from the audience. The same sentiment applies to Galenth Dysley. Before chapter nine, Dysley is seen in two cinematics. Nothing in the story feels in service of framing Dysley as the ultimate villain. Instead, he unceremoniously spills the beans about wanting to bring the apocalypse.

R.I.P. Jihl Nabaat. Everyone's favorite Final Fantasy 13 antagonist.
R.I.P. Jihl Nabaat. Everyone's favorite Final Fantasy 13 antagonist.

It took me twenty-five hours to get to the first Barthandelus battle. Around this point, I had an epiphany. I don't understand why we need to fight Barthandelus. I don't understand why we need to go to Gran Pulse. I don't understand how fighting Dysley fulfills our focus. I don't understand basic concepts guiding these characters from one point to the next. Think back to your favorite Final Fantasy game. By this point, Kefka was already a factor. Cloud came to terms with his past. Edea wasn't the main villain. Zidane and Kuja were debating their humanity. What the fuck is happening in this game? Did I forget to play a Nokia flip phone companion app? Was there an anime adaptation I forgot to watch?

Part 29: I Give Up! FUCK THIS GAME!

Dysley reveals his master plan after a bit of hemming and hawing. From what I understand, and correct me if I am wrong, a god conceived Gran Pulse and Cocoon. This god created humans and fal'Cie, and is referred to as "the Maker." The fal'Cie can use humans as a blood sacrifice to summon this god of creation. Dysley brands our heroes in hopes of summoning Ragnarok. Ragnarok can perform a ritual that extinguishes all of humanity. This ritual will summon the Maker who will create a new world that Dysley believes will be better than Cocoon and Pulse. This story is stupid, and it is stupidly told.

Remember when Final Fantasy plot twists were at least interesting?
Remember when Final Fantasy plot twists were at least interesting?

The Final Fantasy franchise has a long and storied history of relying on "destiny" as a storytelling stop-gap, but this is a bridge too far. Dysley explains in excruciating detail how he's manipulated the characters. "Contrived" is the best word to describe this plot twist. Dysley has an army of loyal lackeys, but he picks six seemingly random humans to service his master plan. He knew a fal'Cie vestige contained Fang and Vanille but didn't send his elite soldiers to awaken them. Furthermore, why does Dysley spill the beans about his scheme? Wouldn't it have been better to keep it a secret until the end?

Final Fantasy XIII's story boils down to the characters needing to stop the Apocalypse. Yes, the characters are guided by destiny, and woe is them, but why does this game take THIRTY HOURS to tell a story about an old man wanting to see the world burn? How does any of that relate to the character experiences from the previous chapters? How does Barthandelus help Hope confront his grief? How does Ragnarok build upon Snow's survivor's guilt?

And it turns out Dysley is a fal'Cie that can turn into a people.
And it turns out Dysley is a fal'Cie that can turn into a people.

The first battle against Barthandelus is the worst thing Square-Enix has made in the past decade. It's cheap, ugly, and no fucking fun to play. I do not want to hear any of you say he's easier if you max out your Crystarium. Grinding sucks and there's no place to efficiently grind until Gran Pulse. Not to mention, I shouldn't have to grind to beat a boss placed halfway in the story. Finally, Barthandelus uses "Doom" on Lightning. That's fucked up when the game is over if the player character dies.

Barthandelus inverts several gameplay mechanics. Final Fantasy XIII's bosses usually value careful planning. This boss casts Doom by the twentieth minute and demands you enact high-risk maneuvers. Moreover, when two-thirds of the battle involves killing off adornments, adding a timed mechanic is bullshit. Then there's Barthandelus' "Destrudo" ability. Whoever thought it would be interesting to design an attack that ignores the player's tanks shouldn't be allowed to make video games.

Everything about this boss sucks. It sucks so much.
Everything about this boss sucks. It sucks so much.

Part 30: Chapter Ten Is A Waste

Chapter ten repeats all of Final Fantasy XIII's worst habits. It copy-pastes the same corridors to no benefit to the characters. The story moments are spread hours apart, and what we learn isn't compelling. The chapter culminates with Cid attempting to kill the cast. Maybe I would give a fuck if Cid felt like a character with ambitions. Ultimately, he's an impediment you read more about in the codex.

My brain cannot even computer how stupid Final Fantasy 13 gets.
My brain cannot even computer how stupid Final Fantasy 13 gets.

Cid reveals himself to be a l'Cie. He announces to our party he plans to stop Barthandelus by killing us. When he fails, he disappears into the ether. What I do not understand is why these characters do not talk out their problems. Cid and Lightning's goals are mutual. Why can't they work together? Moreover, it's hard to get choked up about Cid's defeat when he barely feels like a character.

I would be lying if I didn't admit the chapter starts decently. After Space Pope floats in the air and spews some villainous bullshit, Lightning's party ends up in a spacecraft. The airship pilots itself through a wormhole that leads to a training ground. Nevertheless, chapter ten wastes this perfectly good environment. The Fifth Ark is a beautiful robotic underworld, and the game does nothing with it. Outside of Barthandelus' loathsome speeches, the game doesn't feel especially invested in his scheme. Barthandelus doesn't chide Lightning as she progresses through the level. The chapter instead devolves into a vapid series of battles against trash mobs.

I guess everything in this game operates on a red thread of fate. That's always a sign of quality writing.
I guess everything in this game operates on a red thread of fate. That's always a sign of quality writing.

Fang's has the most unnatural Eidolon battle. After making some progress in the Fifth Ark, Fang decides enough is enough and she's going to leave the party. Why would she think such a thing? She's sick and tired of treating Cocoon as something worth saving. Again, there's an interesting premise here, but the game doesn't tap into it. The prospect of one of our party members not being fully invested in our mission has potential. Unfortunately, the issue isn't allowed to grow after her Eidolon battle.

I want to compliment the game's attempt to put Snow in doubt. However, Lightning shakes Snow from his lack of faith after one inspirational speech, and we never discover what caused Snow to doubt himself. The scene was arbitrarily constructed for the sake of it existing, but that applies to everything involving Snow. All this game is willing to do is expose surface level emotions and masquerade them as higher orders of thinking. Showing a character in a depressed state doesn't make a scene melancholic!

SERIOUSLY, WHO WRITES THIS SHIT?!
SERIOUSLY, WHO WRITES THIS SHIT?!

What causes this level to kludge up more than the previous ones is the lack of character interactions. The characters are not afforded a chance to absorb their surroundings. There are so many corridors that exist to pad out the game's length, and their monotony doesn't just cripple the level design. When I saw my first tyrant I was impressed by its artful construction. I was less impressed when the game repeated the same encounter twice. Eventually, the characters find a spaceship. None of the characters are able to make a convincing argument why they should go to Pulse, but they end up going regardless. I am told this news is a positive development. I don't believe it. This game is a brutal lie.

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#1 Posted by NietzscheCookie (118 posts) -

This series is great. The only fond memory I have of XIII's story is that moment where the Pope guy reveals he's actually your god disguised as the Pope. For better or worse, its a very final fantasy moment and made me nostalgic for other bad plot twists from the series history that I had enjoyed.

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#2 Posted by ArbitraryWater (15525 posts) -

It's kind of astounding how much I've forgotten about the actual twists and turns of this game's plot despite the part where I only played it like 4-ish years ago, like your podcasts and blogs were surfacing repressed memories, or something. I played Metal Gear Solid 4 almost immediately afterward that summer, and for as angry as that game made me and as convoluted and stupid as MGS4's plot is, I still feel pretty damn confident in my ability to recount it with an acceptable degree of accuracy. Hell, I feel more confident about recounting the plot of almost any other game I completed in 2014 than I can about the individual strokes of Final Fantasy XIII, including the "Because Time Travel" nonsense of Final Fantasy XIII-2.

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#3 Posted by soimadeanaccount (587 posts) -

At last, the "meat" of the story. I am surprise you actually thought 5th ark isn't terrible, to me the game pretty much nose dive after fighting Bart, and 5th ark is the first of its downfalls, then again I find the earlier simpler gameplay way more enjoyable than its attempt at complexity and mixing things up.

The area Lightning and Hope ended up in once again serve as continuation of letting the player know the extend of fal'Cie's involvement in humanity's every day lives. It is also when Lightning realizes the fact that they are being treated as pets since everything is provided for them. If you have been following the codex however it should already be known to you. Again for them this is life as usual, so it is kind of interesting for the character to addresses that in world, but the dialog could be way better. Lightning's dismissive attitude towards Hope even when he later join up with Snow isn't too bad I think it suits her.

Snow cut scene story telling with Sarah is all you really need because Snow is a generic hero type. You already know his story. His pairing with Hope I find to be strangely good given Hope and Snow are pretty much the "worst" characters, yet putting them together and finally have them face off turns out better than expected. The scene with the civilian being fearful of them is powerful and I think drives the point of the game home, you can also see Hope's reaction to that. The whole instilled xenophobia, Hope is able to empathize with them because he was like them once, and perhaps part of him wants go back and be like that again, yet now living as the fugitive from the other side he also sees things differently. The event meshes well with Snow's continuing heroic tendency, the people are fearful and hate the l'Cie, yet Snow still plays the hero for them, not even Hope can fault him for that. When Snow realizes who Hope is there is nothing Show could do, he knows his past actions were causing pain where he couldn't see and there's absolutely nothing he can do about it, it is a direct challenge to the hero stereotype, and the game have him drag himself through the mud with it with only mercy and forgiveness from others as his salvation. Later on he tries his heroic antics again with him confronting the soldiers to try to "talk things out", a very generic heroic thing to do, yet just to get shut down by the cold logic of Yaag. The scene also features Lightning and Fang pretty much rolls their eyes at Snow and shun him for his naive idealism. The game is basically mocking the hero archetype and the generic hero's journey story, and showing what will really happen in an overly pampered world filled with weak-willed ignorant people...and as a terrible cynical person myself I can only watch with glee.

Lightning and Fang paring is interesting because for Lightning she doesn't really care about Cocoon or her own military career, everything was for the sake of Sarah even though she is harsh about it. For Fang her focus matters little for her, everything was for the sake of Vanille. Lightning was out for vengeance against the fal'Cie when Sarah was branded, yet when she found out it was also due to Fang and Vanille she only game Fang a punch. Lightning never was/is/will be a truly likeable character, but I think that's what interesting about her, and these details do show development of her character in subtle ways.

Sazh and Vanille is without a doubt the highlight. Sunleth Waterscape is when the game actually starts to turn positive for me. It isn't just the pretty visual, but what it represents and its presentation. This is the first visually appealing area showcasing Cocoon in a positive light rather than an ugly dystopia and it is also a continuation of the environmental story telling of the world showcasing of the power of creation and weather/wildlife manipulation that was shown and hinted in the earlier parts of the game. Even the music is cheerful, upbeat, yet highly digitize. Adding these together you end up with a beautiful yet artificial landscape. Cocoon can actually be a pleasant place, its aim is to be a beautiful place, it gave reasons to why the people who live there are attach to it. It explains why the people worship the fal'Cie, why they are fearful of the l'Cie, why they buy into the lies. They believe that as long as they don't rock the boat, they can continue to live is this artificial paradise. It sold its world and their ridiculous names to me. Nautilus is the pinnacle of the paradise, even entertainment is provided for. When you meet the civilians there, they are all excited and happy. Yet underneath all that the player knows things isn't all it seems. As for Sazh and Vanille, in hindsight, they were pretty much going on a suicide march almost checking objectives down a bucket list to visit the prettiest and happiest place before turning himself in for Sazh and giving up her focus for Vanille. I thought Sazh not really dead was pretty apparent from a gameplay perspective, since they gave him his Eidolon and of course he has to play the "cool spinning in a race car animation" before going back to the serious story. I mean, the game can't give you an Eidolon and not let you use it! A lot could be said just about that alone, was it a wise decision for them to do it that way? It serves its function as letting the player know he is probably ok, but for the sake of the story let's play along. Or should they have kept the mystique, but just to show "nah, he is alright after all" a little later. Would that have been cheap? While Sazh is still alive his character sadly have nothing left to contribute to the rest of the story...and in XIII-2...and in Lightning's Return. Also I think the series does explore the non-romance relationship quite a lot, Lightning and Snow probably have a hint of that. The relationship between the main characters of XIII-2 might be one of its very few saving grace.

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#4 Edited by Onemanarmyy (3935 posts) -

I enjoy the frustration and anger in these words. I think it's pretty hard to defend this game's story, but i'm looking forward to the attempts made. Honestly, i had to look up most of these antagonist's names and i think i played through the game almost twice. I remember Cid Raines for being the guy that gets the iconic Cid name.

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#5 Posted by Quarters (2657 posts) -

Just to give you a small sense of hope...the main characters are much more likable in Final Fantasy XV. Actually, with all of the updates (and the ones still to come), that game is pretty dang fascinating. But yeah, with FFXIII, I've got nothing.

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#6 Posted by ZombiePie (7302 posts) -

This series is great. The only fond memory I have of XIII's story is that moment where the Pope guy reveals he's actually your god disguised as the Pope. For better or worse, its a very final fantasy moment and made me nostalgic for other bad plot twists from the series history that I had enjoyed.

It's not even that great of a plot twist! You know there's some sort of grand conspiracy the game is leading to, and it reveals the Pope is actually a god. It's a dumb plot twist, but it's not stupid enough to be so bad it's good. Like, if you're going to go crazy, aim for Final Fantasy VIII-levels of stupid.

It doesn't help everything leading up to this moment feels entirely superficial. All of Dysley's underlings feel half-baked, and our interactions with them are exactly extensive. Yaag Rosch has like two scenes before he gets shot up at Hope's apartment! Nabaat has only a handful of line before she's offed for good!

It's kind of astounding how much I've forgotten about the actual twists and turns of this game's plot despite the part where I only played it like 4-ish years ago, like your podcasts and blogs were surfacing repressed memories, or something. I played Metal Gear Solid 4 almost immediately afterward that summer, and for as angry as that game made me and as convoluted and stupid as MGS4's plot is, I still feel pretty damn confident in my ability to recount it with an acceptable degree of accuracy. Hell, I feel more confident about recounting the plot of almost any other game I completed in 2014 than I can about the individual strokes of Final Fantasy XIII, including the "Because Time Travel" nonsense of Final Fantasy XIII-2.

That's the damning thing. Nothing in this game feels especially memorable, and that's in large part because of Final Fantasy XIII's design. There aren't any named merchants or NPCs you can interact with and the game only allows you to interact with the world at a superficial level. And this sentiment applies to virtually every part of Final Fantasy XIII. You could present me with my own screencaps of the bosses in Final Fantasy XIII, and I would be hard-pressed to name any of them, even the storyline bosses. Top to bottom, the game feels like a series of vignettes designed in isolation from one another.

I enjoy the frustration and anger in these words. I think it's pretty hard to defend this game's story, but i'm looking forward to the attempts made. Honestly, i had to look up most of these antagonist's names and i think i played through the game almost twice. I remember Cid Raines for being the guy that gets the iconic Cid name.

HE'S THE WORST CID RAINES! I get a ton of people dislike the Cid in FF12 because he's evil, but at least that Cid is still allowed to be a character. The Cid in FF13 has three or four scenes before the culmination of their character arc. But what's really weird is how little of FF13's iconography feels like a Final Fantasy game. Even the enemy designs have been retooled to the point where you have to squint to recognize what they are, It honestly feels more like something Tri-Ace would have outputted.

@quarters said:

Just to give you a small sense of hope...the main characters are much more likable in Final Fantasy XV. Actually, with all of the updates (and the ones still to come), that game is pretty dang fascinating. But yeah, with FFXIII, I've got nothing.

Two episodes ago, I would have doubted your words. Now, I will take a bunch of dudes chilling in a car over Final Fantasy XIII any day. ANY DAY!

But on a more serious point, I do continue to have doubts about whether I would enjoy Final Fantasy XV. A lot of it has to due to my valuing narrative excellence over mechanical excellence in a RPG, and given Square's current direction of the Final Fantasy franchise, this will probably never be the case. I'll give the game a chance, but there's something "off" about a Final Fantasy game standing on the laurels of its gameplay, over its story, that just does not bode well for me.

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#8 Posted by Teddie (2081 posts) -

Seeing a theme of FFXIII being "unmemorable" in the comments and I'll add my voice in agreement. I forgot about half of the characters in this blog post alone (not to mention the fact that the Pope had a name besides Big Bad Barty), and reading your epiphany of having no idea why you or the antagonists were doing anything in the story is, funnily enough, the most memorable experience I can recount from playing the game myself.

I don't recall if FF13 itself went through the development hell a lot of Square's more recent endeavors have/are in, but I wonder if the change from the much shorter development times prior to FF12 is impacting the focus, and in turn the quality, of these games. Say what you will about the earlier entries in the franchise, they didn't come close to being as aimless and disjointed as 13 and 15 did in my mind. I'm not a huge fan of FF10 by any stretch, but I can still get a clear sense of the director's intentions of exploring meaningful concepts of death through some inspired characters and worldbuilding. I couldn't tell you a single thing about what FF13 wanted to say to its audience (granted that could be my own failing), and it's certainly one of the major reasons why the game will never resonate with me--something FF10 managed despite everything else I felt about it.

Side note, I don't know if this was an intentional gag from the localization team or what, but giving Fang and Vanille Aussie accents and making them natives of the world located physically "Down Under" Cocoon is pretty inspired.

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#9 Posted by Marokai (3698 posts) -

I think the reason I (and a lot of other people, I guess) don't like Lightning very much is because I feel her pushed so hard in such a completely undeserving way. Lightning literally feels like Toriyama's waifu and we all have to agree with him that Lightning is the most amazing character ever or else he'll make fifty more games about her despite almost no natural groundswell for her. If FFXIII was just left as one game that Square moved on from and never really went back to, I think a lot of people would remember Lightning as "she had a cool design, she wasn't that bad" but instead we get three games with her and all sorts of bizarre real-world promotions involving her where it feels like everyone involved has legitimately concerning levels of attachment to the character.

Personally, what offends me most about Lightning is related to the way Toriyama talks about her. It's hard for me to remember the links this far out, because it was so long ago now, but Toriyama has on multiple occasions talked about how he loves Lightning because finally, Final Fantasy has a "strong heroine." Which kind of throws under the bus, to me, who I think is just objectively the most interesting and strongest female character in the series - fucking Yuna from FFX. Like, to think of what "strong" means for a heroine and have that literally boil down to nothing but "well she's got more muscles and she looks big and tough with a sword so she's a tough girl" is such a shockingly simplistic imagination. Like, there's nothing in Toriyama's mind about how characters can project emotional strength, or that their characters can show their resolve with anything but a big strong blade. Which explains why Lightning is nearly void of emotions, and Yuna is anything but, yet Toriyama doesn't recognize any strength or power from Yuna, through any of her actions, at all.

It took me twenty-five hours to get to the first Barthandelus battle. Around this point, I had an epiphany. I don't understand why we need to fight Barthandelus. I don't understand why we need to go to Gran Pulse. I don't understand how fighting Dysley fulfills our focus. I don't understand basic concepts guiding these characters from one point to the next.

This is my favorite part of FFXIII - the characters seem as confused as to what's going on or where they're going next as the player does. There's really just nothing that strings the big scenes of FFXIII together from one to the next. Most of the story of the game revolves around the characters not knowing what their focus (aka the story) means or how to achieve it, so that's how you get a bunch of random scenes of these two going over there, and those two going over there, etc. FFXIII is more unwritten than it is poorly written.

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#10 Posted by beforet (3468 posts) -

Did anything get the sense that Yaag Rosch was supposed to be the Sephiroth to Lightning's Cloud? His design hits a lot of similar beats, and he exists in a similar organizational relation to Lightning (senior member of the military). It's just that they then do nothing with him, at all, and I barely remember what happens to him.

It's crazy how they went out of their way to make "female cloud" and then proceeded to do nothing with her. It's like they pulled all of the aesthetics of Final Fantasy 7, but didn't know what made people actually fall in love with that game. And not just FF7, proper nouns all over the place (the Lindblum, Palamecia, Palomporom) makes it feel like they are trying to invoke these old games, without actually pulling in the spirit of those old games. It just feels lifeless and uncreative.

But SAZH is GOOD!

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#11 Posted by TheRealTurk (340 posts) -

Having now played FFX-2 and FFXIII, two of the worst games of the franchise, it's time to play "Which Would You Rather?"

Would you rather:

1. Listen to a dramatic reading of the entire FFXIII script

or;

2. Listen to FFX-2's "Real Emotion" track on repeat for an entire 8-hour work day

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#12 Posted by ZombiePie (7302 posts) -

@soimadeanaccount: I will agree the 5th Ark, like much of the game goes on far longer than it should. But the art design of the level was interesting, and it reminded me in parts of NieR:Automata. That said, the game does absolutely nothing with the environment, and instead, pits us against waves after waves of robot underlings. It felt like a wasted opportunity to shed more light on Dysley's master plan. Would it havee killed them to clue us into how long he's been scheming the end of the world?

The problem with Lightning's "epiphany" is it comes out of nowhere, and her first reaction is to kick Hope to the curb. Like, almost immediately after coming to her realization, she tells Hope to find his way to his home. They are in the middle of a sewer populated by armed police officers and soldiers. Lightning's revelation would have felt more impactful had we been in the process of uncovering a grand conspiracy. Instead, the game spews all of its answers in a single cutscene.

And I think we agree about Vanille. However, what I cannot fathom is why Vanille is not the protagonist of the story. I get this would have led to a ton of comparisons between 13 and 10, but she adds so much more to the story than Lightning or Hope. I would have preferred if Lightning was the proverbial grizzled war veteran who has to confront their past. But Vanille is the story's keystone, and I cannot help but wonder had the story leaned into her origins, if it would have lent more to the world. If your main character posits about their surroundings, that has to lead to conversations that build a foundation for the world.

@teddie said:

Seeing a theme of FFXIII being "unmemorable" in the comments and I'll add my voice in agreement. I forgot about half of the characters in this blog post alone (not to mention the fact that the Pope had a name besides Big Bad Barty), and reading your epiphany of having no idea why you or the antagonists were doing anything in the story is, funnily enough, the most memorable experience I can recount from playing the game myself.

I don't recall if FF13 itself went through the development hell a lot of Square's more recent endeavors have/are in, but I wonder if the change from the much shorter development times prior to FF12 is impacting the focus, and in turn the quality, of these games. Say what you will about the earlier entries in the franchise, they didn't come close to being as aimless and disjointed as 13 and 15 did in my mind. I'm not a huge fan of FF10 by any stretch, but I can still get a clear sense of the director's intentions of exploring meaningful concepts of death through some inspired characters and worldbuilding. I couldn't tell you a single thing about what FF13 wanted to say to its audience (granted that could be my own failing), and it's certainly one of the major reasons why the game will never resonate with me--something FF10 managed despite everything else I felt about it.

Side note, I don't know if this was an intentional gag from the localization team or what, but giving Fang and Vanille Aussie accents and making them natives of the world located physically "Down Under" Cocoon is pretty inspired.

I dare anyone who enjoys this game to name five non-player characters. They can be protagonists or antagonists. By they time they cheat and use Google, I could list as many named merchants from Final Fantasy IX through XII. The merchants in Final Fantasy XII have more character than the antagonist in Final Fantasy XIII. Speaking of 12, and I know this is going to rile a bunch of feathers, but I need to say this:

Final Fantasy XII did more damage than good.

It set Square on its path of thinking they could make role-playing games where they entirely prioritized the gameplay over the story and characters. From 12 forward, these games stopped caring about narratives that took risks, and started standing on the laurels of their gameplay. Sometimes this works, as is the case with 12, but other times they miss the mark and you end up with a game like 13. And whatever story they decide on, it has to be stupid and filled to the brim with melodrama. Say what you will about X-2, but that game has a story, remains committed to it, and has dozens of characters that each have their own mannerisms and verbal flourishes. Now, we are stuck with these Final Fantasy games where you need to buy into whatever no idea crossed their head during a board meeting on how to justify lazy loot grinds that they borrowed from their MMORPG division.

@marokai said:

I think the reason I (and a lot of other people, I guess) don't like Lightning very much is because I feel her pushed so hard in such a completely undeserving way. Lightning literally feels like Toriyama's waifu and we all have to agree with him that Lightning is the most amazing character ever or else he'll make fifty more games about her despite almost no natural groundswell for her. If FFXIII was just left as one game that Square moved on from and never really went back to, I think a lot of people would remember Lightning as "she had a cool design, she wasn't that bad" but instead we get three games with her and all sorts of bizarre real-world promotions involving her where it feels like everyone involved has legitimately concerning levels of attachment to the character..

So, and if you will allow me to make a comparison to professional wrestling, Lighting is the Roman Reigns of Final Fantasy protagonists. I'm going to have to ask @sparky_buzzsaw to confirm or deny if this suspicion is correct. There's not a ton of overlap between liking Final Fantasy and watching WWE. Well... except for Kenny Omega or Xavier Woods.

But what I would like to address are a few of your earlier points. I agree Yuna is a better example of a strong female protagonist. Shit, Terra Branford is a better example of a strong female protagonist in the Final Fantasy franchise. Full disclosure, I looked that last one up because I have yet to play Final Fantasy VI. HOWEVER, Lightning compares better when placed next to Square's earlier protagonist failings. I don't hate Cloud, but he's a tonal anachronism much like the game he exists in. Squall is a nightmare person who changes attitudes in the final playable scene of Final Fantasy VIII. Zidane spends half of Final Fantasy IX sexually harassing and assaulting females.

Lightning is not perfect and in many ways is indicative of the shortcomings of modern Square's writing aptitude. That said, within FFXIII she is cipher for the player and shows honest and transparent character transformations as the story progresses. I will say, however, that Lightning in Lightning Returns is indefensible.

@beforet said:

Did anything get the sense that Yaag Rosch was supposed to be the Sephiroth to Lightning's Cloud? His design hits a lot of similar beats, and he exists in a similar organizational relation to Lightning (senior member of the military). It's just that they then do nothing with him, at all, and I barely remember what happens to him.

It's crazy how they went out of their way to make "female cloud" and then proceeded to do nothing with her. It's like they pulled all of the aesthetics of Final Fantasy 7, but didn't know what made people actually fall in love with that game. And not just FF7, proper nouns all over the place (the Lindblum, Palamecia, Palomporom) makes it feel like they are trying to invoke these old games, without actually pulling in the spirit of those old games. It just feels lifeless and uncreative.

But SAZH is GOOD!

Let's not forget one of the soundbites Square repeated during the lead up to FF13 was "her name is Lightning because she came from the clouds." I mentioned this briefly during the first blog, but everything related to the promotion of FF13 made it seem like Square thought their shit doesn't stink. They debuted the game as a marquee part of the PS 3 debut, and then they closed Microsoft's E3 press conference two years later. I am confident in saying the evidence points to Square honestly thinking they were making the next FF7 but for a new generation. Stop and think about this for a moment. There's probably a poor sap who wasn't a part of the Sony ecosystem either by choice or age, and this was their first Final Fantasy game.

But the connections between FF13 and FF7 are more literal. The soldiers look exactly like the Deepground soldiers from Dirge of Cerebus.

Oh, and one more thing. I mentioned it a while ago, but FF12 is going to be the next series after I'm done with the FF13 blog series. I have good news to my old fans. The Steam version of FF12 will bring the return of me ranting about keyboard controls, because I have no fucking clue what I am looking at right now:

I refuse to believe Square knows how to use a computer.
I refuse to believe Square knows how to use a computer.

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#13 Posted by Sessh (3283 posts) -

Lightning gets way worse in the next two games, especially in XIII-3, which just might be the worst FF game ever.

So I'm already looking forward to you getting into that mess.

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#14 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8625 posts) -

@zombiepie: Lightning is more like the Dean Ambrose of Final Fantasy, meaning he’s much better than the dreck he’s usually saddled with. I don’t know if I’d qualify any FF main protagonist as great, but I think she’s better than most. It’s just that I can’t separate her garbage world, garbage pals, garbage gameplay, and garbage plot with what is essentially the makings for a mediocre-to-blandly-good protagonist.

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#15 Posted by soimadeanaccount (587 posts) -

5th ark was their attempt at a training montage section of the game down to the in world description of the place in preparation for Pulse. It was sensible, but a bit too on the nose for me, I also don't particularly enjoy grinding. The environment is interesting enough, but lost the somewhat connective world building charm of the previous areas despite all of them being mostly linear corridor. As you said it could have been use to shed a little light on the master plan or maybe even a historic look on Cocoon. Supposedly a 7th ark was cut from the game, but the asset still exists on disk.

I don't think Lightning's epiphany is actually related to the conspiracy, but rather recognizing their place in the world as pets (humans) and as enlighten/burdened (l'Cie). Speaking of Lightning and main character, while I like Vanille more than most characters, and it would make sense for her to play as the player's conduit into the strange world I think they still wanted to keep a layer of mystery to her despite spilling the beans somewhat early on; Vanille's character also doesn't really change a lot, her role and her goal doesn't change much, but understandable. Plus FFXIII is taking a page from FFVI in a sense that the game doesn't really have a single central main character so to speak. Lightning is the logical closest, but in the first FFXIII game the other characters also get their fair share of screen time. I like this kind of story telling with a more even approach to all the characters as oppose to the "here's a story about this one main character and his/her involvement with each friend." That's also one of the reason why I enjoy the gameplay moments with different pairings of characters in 13.

Lightning Return is so divisive for me, there are aspects of it that I find impressive, but its lows are oh so terrible.

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#17 Posted by ZombiePie (7302 posts) -

@nietzschecookie@jeffrud@fezrock@pistolpackinpoet: @turambar@tobbrobb@onemanarmyy: @quarters: @teddie: @marokai: @beforet: @therealturk: @sessh: @soimadeanaccount: @xanadu

So, it's been a while since I last did a Final Fantasy all-call, but extreme times call for extreme measures. I'm calling anyone who has up to this point expressed a knowledge of Final Fantasy XIII greater than mine. If this desperate call for help inconvenienced you in any way, I am truly sorry and will refrain from doing so again.

I have defeat Orphan. More about that another time. HOWEVER, I have been playing around with Final Fantasy XIII's "New Game Plus," and had to ask if this is indeed the amount of time I am sinking into it. I have successfully completed about half of the Titan Trial, but have reached a boss that can basically kill my entire party in one shot. I was wondering if any of this is actually worth my time.

The Cieth Stones are the same mission... repeated a hundred times. What am I doing this for? Does the story continue after I kill some horrible monster? And why the fuck are the last five levels of the Crystarium only unlocked AFTER you beat the boss? Are any of these late-game abilities for the time and effort?

help

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#18 Posted by Teddie (2081 posts) -

When I started doing the post-game stuff, I sunk like 10 extra hours into grinding and doing the Cieth stones, and then my PS3 died and I lost the save data before I finished mopping up all the achievements. I'm going to call it an act of God's mercy.

As far as I remember there was no point to any of it outside of the usual "push your knowledge of the combat system (and grinding) to the limits to beat all the superbosses". There were a few fights against old favourites from the franchise in there somewhere too, but I remember them being more frustrating than fun.

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#19 Edited by soimadeanaccount (587 posts) -

Don't bother. If you go through the entire Trial/Stone side quest you get maybe 2 or 3 very minor action focus scene and some (maybe only one, don't remember exactly) codex entry.

Go youtube it if you want. I am surprise you are still sticking with the game. I would say you should youtube the entirety of FFXIII-2 also, but...

At this point of the game what you are meant to do is fight the turtles to grind until you max all crystarium, a good number of the weapons, and accessories, which takes way too long, after that you can start to knock out the harder fights.

"Fun" fact I used cheat engine to basically get unlimited exp/money and proceed to max out the characters to level 9 Crystarium since I did everything before beating the game, but it still took me way longer than I like. It was in easy mode too. Just fumbling with the weapon/gear upgrades took hours.

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#20 Posted by TobbRobb (6509 posts) -

@zombiepie: It's the thing that almost always breaks post-game content in Final Fantasy games, they have a pretty spotty track record with this. But basically, no. If you don't want to just do combat and see the numbers go higher, you are not missing out on anything by tapping out now. They always make the post-game stuff incredibly grindy for the people that just wanna keep developing their characters stats and beat new bosses. That's all there is to it.

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#21 Posted by beforet (3468 posts) -

@zombiepie: do not turn to me, zombie. I got all of the trophies in this cursed game. I spent hours and hours and hours killing those adamantoise. I completed every ceith stone and yes, they are all the same. I crafted all of the weapons. None of it was worth it. I don't even remember any memorable mega bosses. No Ultimate or Omega Weapons. Just turtles, all the way down.

This is it. This is all there is. Turn away. Just turn away, for only dispair lies beyond this point.

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#22 Posted by mikachops (480 posts) -

Yep, Gran Pulse is the worst part of the game. I remember reviews at the time talking it up, saying how much the game opens at this point. Although technically true in the sense that it's a more "open" environment, Gran Pulse is still just as shallow as the rest of the game and less artfully constructed / interesting to boot! Can't wait to read the next post.

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