Fighting Final Fantasy XIII: Episode 4 - I'm The Only Person Brave Enough To Tell You The Truth: Gran Pulse SUCKS!

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Posted by ZombiePie (7404 posts) -

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

Part 31: You Lied To Me. My Fans Lied to Me. EVERYONE LIED TO ME ABOUT GRAN PULSE!

I have read this sentence eight or nine times, and I still have no fucking idea what it means.
I have read this sentence eight or nine times, and I still have no fucking idea what it means.

Full disclosure, this blog is exclusively about Gran Pulse. For several reasons, the level warrants its own blog. Gran Pulse represents a turning-point in Final Fantasy XIII. Many cite it as the stage where things "open up." On that note, I would be foolish to disagree. Gran Pulse is a vast world unlike any of Final Fantasy XIII's previous levels. Initially, I thought this change of pace was an improvement. The level presents players with their first opportunity to tinker with the mechanics and complete side quests. It should be a proverbial "win-win" situation.

Be that as it may, we need to have an honest dialogue about Gran Pulse. You and me, we need to talk. I want you to answer a question: how is Gran Pulse the "best" at ANYTHING? Gran Pulse is awful. It's awful awful awful, and I legitimately blame Western developers like Ubisoft and Bethesda for its popularity. In a world where half-broken games are the norm, Gran Pulse rises to the top.

I guess I'm really excited to kill the same ten enemy models over and over again.
I guess I'm really excited to kill the same ten enemy models over and over again.

I love my fans. I reiterate this point from time to time, but it's true. I love you all from the bottom of my heart. However, you're wrong about Gran Pulse. Gran Pulse is a repetitious slog. Like everything else in the game, it obfuscates its redeeming qualities behind mountains of busywork. You have to grind for hours before the rewards feel meaningful. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Most of all, it represents the end of Square-Enix as we know it, and I don't feel fine.

Let's be real for a moment. Gran Pulse is an indictment against the current state of Final Fantasy. Square-Enix is going in a direction that ignores what originally defined the series. It's my opinion Square needs to stop using MMORPG gameplay as a design lynchpin for proper numbered entries in the franchise. Such gameplay works wonders for Final Fantasy XIV but has no place in single-player focused games like Final Fantasy XIII. Similarly, Square's attempts at Western-styled open-worlds needs to stop.

It is worth mentioning I didn't complete every side quest. I got half-way into the Titan Trials before giving up and making a beeline to the final level. Speaking of which, the Titan Trials can fuck right off. Nonetheless, if I somehow missed a life-affirming moment, feel free to drop a comment. It is possible collecting wool from sheep is worth my time, but at this point, I wanted this game out of my life. Maybe the unlockable short story salvages the trash fire that is Final Fantasy XIII, but I seriously doubt it.

I wasn't joking about the sheep. Please tell me this results in a riveting storyline that salvages the rest of the game.
I wasn't joking about the sheep. Please tell me this results in a riveting storyline that salvages the rest of the game.

Part 32: Why Are We Going To Gran Pulse?

When we last met, we unceremoniously offed Cid. I mentioned it before, and I'll mention it again, Cid is a wasted character. Nevertheless, our motley crew is stuck inside the Fifth Ark. At this point, the story operates on a red thread of fate. Unexpectedly, the characters locate a functioning spaceship that can whisk them to Gran Pulse. Why are we going to Gran Pulse? Because the characters say it's their "destiny."

Above all, the storytelling on Pulse is far from impressive. What grinds my gears is the characters know Barthandelus is manipulating them. Be that as it may, they happily follow his lead. There's a spaceship that suspiciously goes in one direction, and they jump on that shit without hesitation. Small details like that show how little thought was put into the story. Furthermore, there's a distinct lack of clarity. At no point do we understand how going to Gran Pulse relates to saving Cocoon. I would even hazard to say, nothing of consequence is gained from setting foot on Pulse.

Let me get this straight. We are taking life advice from a crystal? Is that what's happening right now?
Let me get this straight. We are taking life advice from a crystal? Is that what's happening right now?

Herein lies my primary qualm with Pulse. Visiting Pulse doesn't answer any interesting questions. Case in point, one of Pulse's biggest mysteries is the fate of its inhabitants. Throughout your journey, you discover remnants of a once mighty civilization. Tragedically, the main story is not a vessel for learning more about this ancient culture. Instead, Oerba Village is a backdrop for a boss battle and nothing more. If you want resolution, you have to complete the optional side quests.

There's no denying the beauty of Gran Pulse. However, at this point, it's impossible to feel impressed when the story remains under-developed. The game provides one establishing scene where Vanille warns us of the tough road ahead of us. After this exposition dump, the story moments are spread across a twenty-hour continuum. Moreover, Vanille's absent-minded delivery is woefully out of character. Her setting foot on her home planet, for the first time in a thousand years, should be a grandiose moment. Sadly, it is not.

This cutscene is the only redeeming thing about Gran Pulse.
This cutscene is the only redeeming thing about Gran Pulse.

Likewise, the thrills at Gran Pulse feel cheap. Square has a narrative "formula" that comes at the cost of plausibility, and that's the case in Final Fantasy XIII. Hope experiences his third moment of doubt; Barthandelus masquerades as Serah; Sazh says humorous quips; Lightning and Snow resolve their baggage; Fang broods about Cocoon. These scenes happen, and they cannot unhappen. Everything the level provides repeats the same rigmarole we have seen countless times already. The game wants us to have a better understanding of Vanille and Fang. Unfortunately, we never view the world through their eyes.

Part 33: Why Isn't Vanille The Protagonist?

Seriously, why isn't Vanille the main character? No one seems to be able to answer this question. The plot revolves around her and Fang becoming Ragnarok. Doesn't it make sense to start the game with Vanille? Lightning is a fine character, but she's not the story's focal point. For instance, we do not have to worry about Lightning unleashing the Apocalypse.

Vanille's opening narration on Pulse is atrociously written. It's so bad it hurts.
Vanille's opening narration on Pulse is atrociously written. It's so bad it hurts.

Speaking of Vanille, let's address an earlier point I made in this series. Final Fantasy XIII needs a fish out of water character. Tidus, for all of his faults, creates character interactions that make Final Fantasy X's world feel wholesome. Vanille could assume this role, but the game commits to her acting dumb FOR THIRTY HOURS! In the meantime, it expects you to flip through a codex to answer basic questions about the world. The levels do not mean anything because the characters don't talk about where they are outside of short introductory quips.

As an illustration, let's look at how chapter eleven uses Vanille. We know about her relationship with Ragnarok, but the game cannot use this revelation to its advantage. As Vanille edges closer to her destiny, she continues to treat her time on Pulse as a fun adventure. What's worse, Vanille doesn't react to her surroundings. She'll remark about piles of detritus from time to time, but these moments are too few and far between. Additionally, Vanille doesn't spin a coherent tale when encountering remnants of her past. At most, she pouts for a bit and moves on to the next scene.

Pulse sounds like a perfect vacation destination for Libertarians.
Pulse sounds like a perfect vacation destination for Libertarians.

Vanille's interpersonal relationships are even worse. Vanille's story arc is a patchy network of good and bad ideas. At some point, we watch a flashback between Serah and Vanille. It's a touching moment, but it's woefully superficial. We don't understand the extent of Vanille's relationship with Serah, nor do we understand how they met. We don't even understand when this scene occurred! The scene happens, and it's never mentioned again.

The most frustrating part of Vanille's storyline is her relationship to Fang. This character dynamic ends up becoming an unfortunate Achilles' heel. The two have an interconnected destiny, but you wouldn't know that from the main story. Final Fantasy XIII demands you treat the two as equally important keystones. When you contrast how much speaking time each gets, Fang feels irrelevant. While I enjoy Fang's swagger, not enough time is spent developing her as a character. It doesn't help the game blames her lack of characterization on her amnesia.

Part 34: Most Of The Characters Are STILL Terrible!

Sad to see the game WASTE a perfectly fine character like Sazh by having him revert to comic relief duties.
Sad to see the game WASTE a perfectly fine character like Sazh by having him revert to comic relief duties.

I want to address my least favorite change to Final Fantasy XIII's gameplay. Previously, your characters could only use three job classes. This pre-assigned suite of jobs lent to the characters having unique abilities and strengths. Moreover, this limitation maintains your investment in each character. Players need to tinker around with different party compositions when encountering tough bosses. By chapter eleven, the game throws this mechanic out of the window and allows any character to learn whatever class the player wants.

To say Square "threw the baby out with the bathwater" is an understatement. I enjoy having to prioritize my party members. Finding groupings that fit with my preferred playstyle felt rewarding. What's more, the job system was the only consistent aspect of the gameplay that differentiated the characters. That said, Final Fantasy XIII's job system sucks. Each job is a vessel for a static assortment of abilities. Consequently, the characters don't gain unique passives or equipment. Teaching Sazh to be a medic doesn't change how he plays in the game. It's mind-boggling this game came from the same design team that developed Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid and Final Fantasy XII's License Board.

Speaking of our party, half the cast becomes dead weight. After Sazh's character arc, he's stuck playing the role of comic relief. Lightning spews motivational quotes, and then there's Hope. Everyone's favorite trash boy continues to be dreadful. During the opening moments of Gran Pulse, Hope experiences his third moment of doubt. After passing out in a field, Hope views himself as a liability to the party... again. HOW MANY MORE TIMES IS HOPE GOING TO BAWL HISFUCKING EYES OUT ABOUT BEING WEAK? HE'S BEEN COMPLAINING ABOUT THIS SHIT SINCE CHAPTER ONE!

I'M SICK OF IT! GOD PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP!
I'M SICK OF IT! GOD PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP!

Once the game provides Hope his Eidolon, it pushes him to the periphery. Hope doesn't use his newfound power to help the party in a bind. As we explore Pulse, Hope becomes an expert in anything important to the story. When no one knows where to go, Hope tells them to find Oerba Village. When we encounter Taejin's Tower, he promptly recites the tower's mythology. I guess Hope's done giving a fuck about his father?

Then there's Snow. The game teases Snow losing his conviction after fighting Barthandelus. This five-minute character arc culminates in a quiet moment between Snow and Lightning. The two poignantly talk and Lightning comes around to Snow's marriage to Serah. This moment is great, but it doesn't result in anything substantial. In the next scene, Snow is back to shouting boisterously about being a "hero." This is one example of the structure of Gran Pulse doing more harm than good. It is a solid three hours until Snow talks about his problems again.

Which inevitably leads me to Vanille's Eidolon battle. It's just as shitty as the other Eidolon battles.
Which inevitably leads me to Vanille's Eidolon battle. It's just as shitty as the other Eidolon battles.

Without question, Gran Pulse stretches its character moments to a breaking point. Let's use Vanille's Eidolon battle as another case study. Like every Eidolon battle before it, Vanille confronts her pathos in a matter of minutes. Once the fight is over, Vanille reconciles with Fang. That's the extent of their characterization until the end of the chapter. There isn't an additional scene where the two talk about their childhood. Understanding their life during the "War of Transgression" is found in a bloodless text article. The reasoning behind Gran Pulse's lack of narrative coherence is obvious. Square prioritized gameplay when making Gran Pulse and left the story in the trash bin. Speaking of which, this leads me to my next point:

Part 35: Gran Pulse Doesn't Make The Game Better.

Final Fantasy XIII's defenders champion Gran Pulse. These supporters applaud Gran Pulse's sense of balance. Many also assert the late game abilities transform Final Fantasy XIII into a rhythm game. While I cannot deny the hypnotic nature of the staggering system, it still has its share of problems. Finally, there's an elephant in the room. Yes, Gran Pulse is an open-world, but I question if that's to the game's benefit.

These battles still play EXACTLY as they did in chapter one. I'm not crazy for saying that. It's a fact.
These battles still play EXACTLY as they did in chapter one. I'm not crazy for saying that. It's a fact.

When you stop and think about it, Gran Pulse is the antithesis of the ideals of Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy games usually showcase grandiose worlds that feel livable. That is not the case with Gran Pulse. Nothing you accomplish has an impact on the story. On top of that, you would be hard-pressed to recite specific scenes on Gran Pulse outside of its flashy introduction and conclusion. This problem is due in large part to the level's vast nature. The structure of Gran Pulse does not lend itself to Square's storytelling structure. To put it bluntly, it causes the game to slow to a crawl.

Gran Pulse is a mystifying folly. It's both a novel experiment and an example of a studio out of its element. Open world RPGs have their place. They allow for bottom-up role-playing by allowing players to live vicariously in imagined worlds. The appeal of Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, or Stalker isn't their extensive stories. Their allure descends from players assuming any role they see fit. Time and time again, Square-Enix fails to understand this critical aspect of Western role-playing games. I don't assume a "role" in Gran Pulse. All I do is kill monsters for the sake of grinding. As a result, Gran Pulse feels like Square trying to graft the gameplay structure of their MMORPGs to a single-player campaign.

For pity's sake, the Cie'th Stones reek of Final Fantasy XI.
For pity's sake, the Cie'th Stones reek of Final Fantasy XI.

Additionally, Gran Pulse is cruel. Every environment has random bullshit that can end your game in one turn. Worse, there's no rhyme or reason to Gran Pulse's sadism. When I first saw the "Ceratosaurs," I thought they were no different from earlier monsters. After fighting them, I found their sliding attack to be broken. Which reminds me, the game starts employing mechanics it never properly tutorials, and that's a load of crap.

Enemies in Gran Pulse love to reset your ATB meter. It wasn't until after I consulted GameFAQs I knew "Vigilance" would protect me from this problem. The move and its attributes were nowhere to be found in the codex. Nonetheless, there are enemies which necessitate its use. This problem leads me to another point I would like to make. The game continually fails to explain how to solve Gran Pulse's worst impediments.

At least you get to ride some Chocobos.
At least you get to ride some Chocobos.

Ultimately, you can put a hunk of shit in a pretty box, but it's still a hunk of shit. Final Fantasy XIII's gameplay is messy, and nothing changes this fact. It progresses at a breakneck speed and penalizes you when you aren't on your toes. Your characters do nothing every second you fail to act. Too much of the game devolves into observing meters and hoping your companions cooperate. The game plays like a simulation rather than a role-playing experience. Equipable items are irrelevant and the appearance of your characters is static. Gran Pulse does not change any of these problems. If anything, it places them under a spotlight.

Part 36: The Character and Worldbuilding Is Bullshit

Gran Pulse utilizes a chaotic and irreconcilable narrative structure. Previous chapters maintain a clear, albeit linear, sense of progression. Environments evolve and clue us into upcoming cutscenes or character transitions. In Gran Pulse, environmental changes occur at the drop of a hat, and the character moments are unevenly spread out. Gran Pulse's introduction features a fifteen-minute cutscene and two dramatic Eidolon battles. The game reinforces these epic moments with TWENTY HOURS of mindless grinding!

This is one of TWO scenes where Fang talks about her past!
This is one of TWO scenes where Fang talks about her past!

The characters rarely converse during their time on Gran Pulse. The fact Vanille and Fang treat your time on Pulse as "no big deal" is especially heinous. The two should have plenty to say during their trip down memory lane, but they only talk during cutscenes. At most, the dynamic duo flippantly passes judgment on their surroundings and decides on the party's direction. There's one scene where Vanille and Fang talk about the good old times, but it's pennies compared to what the game should be doing. The characters already lack strong personalities, and Gran Pulse suffers as a result.

To add insult to injury, Pulse doesn't refocus the story. With the narrative already a Byzantine nightmare, you'd hope the game would address some of its burning questions. It's shocking what the game fails to do in the span of twenty hours. Hope doesn't prove he's confident of his newfound abilities. Snow and Lightning don't tease each other about becoming in-laws. Fang and Vanille never chat about their past. Sazh doesn't mention his son. THE CHARACTERS ARE EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE WHEN WE STARTED THE GAME!

Can I cry with you? This game is tearing me apart.
Can I cry with you? This game is tearing me apart.

To be blunt, I hate Gran Pulse. Each environment on Gran Pulse feels disposable. Take, for example, the Sulyya Springs. After a farcical cutscene between Snow and Lightning, we enter the springs and encounter a fish-like fal'Cie. After a brief greeting, the monster sinks back into the abyss. What was the purpose of this confrontation? My confusion doesn't stop there. I spent hours in an abandoned excavation site, but I'd struggle to annotate what happened there.

Part 37: The Ci'eth Missions Are Bullshit

The Ci'eth Stones suck. They are another example of Square-Enix grafting their MMORPG bullshit into Final Fantasy XIII. Throughout Gran Pulse are hundreds of pulsating stones of wayward l'Cie who failed their foci. These objects provide side quests for players to complete. These quests ask you to hunt down specific monsters throughout Pulse. Luckily for all involved, these monsters exist as they did a thousand years ago.

Seriously, it's the same shit for seventy missions. I dare anyone to disagree with that fundamental point.
Seriously, it's the same shit for seventy missions. I dare anyone to disagree with that fundamental point.

The Ci'eth Stones employ an abominable mission structure. To begin with, you can only accept one mission at a time. Often, you'll pass by active Cie'th Stones while completing a mission. The result is an unnecessary amount of backtracking. Worse, some of the Ci'eth Stones ask you to travel long distances on foot. As a reminder, thirty minutes ago, we saw Lightning summoning her Eidolon to save Hope from falling to his death. Why the FUCK am I walking to every location?

As a quick case study, let's examine Mission #30. You find this Ci'eth Stone at the Archylte Steppe. The Archylte Steppe functions as Pulse's main hub. Unfortunately, your target is at the mining facility in the Mah'habara Subterra. This location is two load screens away from the mission pickup. To make matters worse, the Mah'habara Subterra is a labyrinthine network of tunnels. For some fucking reason, the game doesn't let you set your own waypoints. You are at the mercy of the game's ambiguous and unhelpful iconography. This mission is an extreme case, but it's not alone. Several missions ask you to retread miles to locate your targets.

Oh, cool, the target is at the bottom of the map. That's not inconvenient in any way, shape, or form.
Oh, cool, the target is at the bottom of the map. That's not inconvenient in any way, shape, or form.

Knowing where to go to complete missions is a colossal pain in the ass. It does not help the world map is incoherent. I spent hours trying to figure out how to go from one sub-environment to the next, and don't get me started about the location names. A Ci'eth Stone at the Archylte Steppe asks you to kill a lion at the "Font of Namva," and I spent hours trying to find that location. Herein lies another problem with Gran Pulse. None of the environments leave a lasting impression. Case in point, I know I explored the "Eastern Tors," but I wouldn't be able to point on a map where to find it.

My nitpicking is dancing around my fundamental issue with the Ci'eth Stones: every mission is the same thing. You pick up a mission and kill a monster. That's it. Now, before any of you claim Final Fantasy has used this mission structure in previous entries, I want to express my counter-argument. In Final Fantasy XII, the hunts are fine because there are other side quests. In Final Fantasy XIII, the Ci'eth Stones are all you get. Equally important, Gran Pulse is a beautiful world, and all you can do is kill its wildlife. I'm sorry, but that seems like a waste.

Then there's the fast-travel system. A select few Ci'eth Stones allow you to teleport instantly to different parts of Gran Pulse. These teleporting stones are too few and far between. Additionally, several of the fast-travel locations are inconveniently placed. Besides, I want to remind you the characters have transforming deities that can zip across a football field in two seconds.

And the Cie'th boss battles are NEGATIVE FUN!
And the Cie'th boss battles are NEGATIVE FUN!

Part 38: The Optional Content Is Bullshit

I can hear some of you typing "the side quests scaffold Pulse's mythology." I object to this claim on two counts. First, the game locks away this lore until you complete every Ci'eth mission. Second, these quests are impossible to complete until after beating the game. Indeed, the last five levels of the Crystarium are not available until you unlock "New Game Plus."

This scenario is untenable. For instance, let's look at the Titan Trials. Beating the Titan Trials requires characters at max level, and the game warns you of this. It goes without saying Gran Pulse is a brutal environment. Death inexplicably happens, and parts of it are designed deliberately for dedicated fans. I'm fine with Final Fantasy games having content meant for crazy people. For one thing, I LOVE Final Fantasy X and haven't acquired a single Celestial Weapon. Be that as it may, I don't look down on those who go out of their way to get those items. What's more, I don't think either camp experiences an objectively better or worse game. I view the situation as a gaming example of "non-overlapping magisteria."

No.
No.

Where I start to push back is when Final Fantasy XIII uses the Ci'eth Stones for world building. A series of short stories share what precipitates Pulse's downfall. These short stories tell the tale of Vanille and Fang during a cataclysmic war. It is blasphemous the main story never surfaces any of this information. Did you know Vanille and Fang were orphans? All of this wonderful storytelling is only available if you are willing to commit to an extra forty hours worth of grinding.

Speaking of which, the game wastes Vanille and Fang. Learning the two were orphans during a devastating war is admittedly fascinating. Why neither character mentions these anecdotes is beyond my comprehension. Should one be interested in knowing more about Pulse, they have to settle for static text entries. Even when we walk through the charred remains of Oerba Village, their childhood city, both characters appear unfazed.

Maybe you'll find... hope.
Maybe you'll find... hope.

Finally, what do you gain from completing the Ci'eth missions? The equipment you earn is "nice," but is it essential? Beyond the trinkets, the attempts at storytelling repeat the same rigamarole. Anything of value is read in stale codex entries, and the game fails to build upon any of this material. In the end, the Ci'eth Stones feel like grinding for the sake of grinding. Imagine Monster Hunter, but without the memorable characters.

Part 39: Everything About Oerba Village Is Bullshit

Taejin's Tower and Oerba Village repeat the same problems found throughout Final Fantasy XIII. While the levels are indisputably beautiful, the game does little to contextualize them. In this case, Taejin's Tower is an awe-inspiring set piece with an equally impressive boss. It's thoroughly lamentable the game does nothing with the location. At no point do we learn more about the mythology surrounding the tower. Furthermore, Vanille and Fang never clue us into what we can expect inside the building.

As much as I loved this boss battle, navigating the tower and figuring out how to use the elevators is a gigantic pain in the ass.
As much as I loved this boss battle, navigating the tower and figuring out how to use the elevators is a gigantic pain in the ass.

We now transition to Oerba Village, or what I call the game's greatest wasted opportunity. Oerba should provide Vanille and Fang a moment of self-actualization. It instead devolves into more bullshit with Barthandelus. The ruins are the former home of Vanille, but you wouldn't know it from playing the game. Everyone Vanille knew is dead. Nonetheless, she treks through the town with no noticeable signs of trauma or distress. She doesn't even shed a tear.

Oerba Village is infuriating. It should be an emotional capstone to a long and exhausting journey. At Taejin's Tower, there's a scene where Vanille poignantly declares she needs to see Oerba for herself. For some reason, she becomes mute upon arriving. It's what the story fails to do that drives me up a wall. There's no mystery to solve at the village. The source of the town's misfortune is never revealed. Regrettably, Oerba is another location littered with trash mobs, and nothing more.

Okay... so you're going to talk more about what you need to see and why, right?
Okay... so you're going to talk more about what you need to see and why, right?

When our plucky crew of misfits first set foot on Gran Pulse, there's a sense of hopelessness. Fang and Snow worry they are chasing after shadows, and Hope questions if they have enough rations to last a week. Entering Oerba should be a climax. That's how storytelling works. After hours of build-up, there's a culminating event that brings everything together. Instead, NOTHING HAPPENS! The characters waltz through this environment no different than previous ones. What's more, the game has the audacity to task you with a fetch quest.

You would think repairing Vanille's robot companion would enlighten us about Gran Pulse's history. Maybe Bhakti has recordings of a famous Pulsian warrior saying farewell to his long lost love. Or how about an audio log detailing a wave of Ci'eth overwhelming Oerba? Lamentably, the reward for repairing Bhakti is a fifteen point achievement. That's all that happens. The little fucker doesn't tell you a story. He exists to give you Cheevos.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK THIS GAME!
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK THIS GAME!

Your interactions with the environment are equally trashy. In several parts of the town, you can walk up to objects and read text blurbs. To illustrate, upon entering a school, your characters surmise the facilities appear abandoned. These lines are among the most disappointing writing in the game. Your characters say two sentences and move on with their lives. None of the objects give us a better understanding of Oerba's fate. We can safely assume they had cars based on its shredded highways, but anything else is pure speculation. It's another case of the game pantomiming emotions at a low taxonomy level.

I cannot preface enough how Oerba Village is a technical masterpiece. Walking through upended highways is one of the most spectacular visuals in the game. The music is equally stunning. It swoons and crescendos in an awe-inspiring fashion. It's a shame everything falls apart after you scratch the surface. The fact Gran Pulse culminates in another cheap boss battle leads me to believe Square had no idea what they were doing.

THAT'S IT?! THIS IS ALL I CAN DO IN OERBA? VANILLE DOESN'T COME TO TERMS WITH EVERYONE SHE KNOWS BEING DEAD?!
THAT'S IT?! THIS IS ALL I CAN DO IN OERBA? VANILLE DOESN'T COME TO TERMS WITH EVERYONE SHE KNOWS BEING DEAD?!

Part 40: The Second Boss Battle Against Barthandelus Is Bullshit

Eventually, our party makes its way to the outskirts of Oerba Village. Once there, they discover Serah alive and well. Serah shockingly asks everyone to bring death and destruction to Cocoon. Knowing the "true" Serah wouldn't espouse such hatred, the doppelganger is outed as none other than Barthandelus. I feel stupider having written this nonsense down.

This battle is an enormous pain in the ass.
This battle is an enormous pain in the ass.

The second fight against Barthandelus is the first of several cheap late-game bosses. Out of nowhere, bosses start to invert gameplay mechanics to their advantage. It's not uncommon for enemies to reverse a whole suite of status effects in a single move. To the same extent, they can instantly bestow themselves with a bevy of positive buffs. That's what I call a "raw deal."

At some point, the game does not play by its own rules. For instance, Sentinels perform a simple job: they tank. That's what they do. However, someone on Final Fantasy XIII's design team thought it would be "interesting" to program bosses that ignore a Sentinel's aggro drawing abilities. When Barthandelus wants to attack your back line, he can do so with reckless abandon. Worse, if a Sentinel is controlled by the computer it will break away from its tanking abilities when you least expect it.

This attack is pure bullshit!
This attack is pure bullshit!

The battle plays out differently than your first encounter against Barthandelus. This version relies heavily on area-of-effect spells. His laser attack, while not in and of itself powerful, has a short cooldown. Near the end of the battle, this laser will inflict Pain and Fog. When paired with Barthandelus' bevy of AOE attacks, I never felt like I had control of the battle. That's especially the case when, just like the previous encounter, he casts "Doom."

It doesn't help your damage output is worthless until staggering Barthandelus. Pigeon-holing players into windows of opportunity can be frustrating. It's possible you pass on these opportunities to heal your party. This is when the micromanaging nature of Final Fantasy XIII becomes incorrigible. I cannot describe Barthandelus' transformations because I spent most of the battle looking at health bars and status icons. There are few opportunities to observe the battle as it unfolds.

Honestly, I cannot get over Barthandelus' ability to wipe away up to ten minutes worth of work in a single move. The battle goes on for ages because you spend HOURS making up for lost time. Furthermore, and I hate to harp about it for the seven-hundredth time, but the computer A.I. is FUCKING HORRIBLE! It is so fucking bad! It consistently makes inefficient choices that elongate boss battles to a crawl. Case and point, when ailments afflict characters, the computer wastes its time with curative spells before alleviating negative buffs.

Maybe you should just see a neurologist about your pain Dysley.
Maybe you should just see a neurologist about your pain Dysley.

I HAVEN'T EVEN DISCUSSED THE STUPIDITY OF BARTHANDELUS' MASTER PLAN! After he reverts to his Space Pope form, he ruminates about the apocalyptic destiny of the characters. For those confused, and I don't blame you if you are, Barthandelus is Galenth Dysley. Barthandelus wants to kill every human on Cocoon as a blood sacrifice to the creator of the universe. He believes doing so will inspire the creator of the universe to divine a newer and better universe. In order to make this possible, he curses six seemingly random people into becoming Ragnarok and killing him. That's his plan.

I get there's more than one way to skin a cat, but you have to suspend your disbelief to accept Dysley's grand conspiracy. You have to accept that Dysley needs to task these six specific characters with becoming Ragnarok. Personally, I'm willing to give the game that concession as I've stomached through worse. What I refuse to concede, is going to Pulse allows these characters to understand their destiny. After they beat Barthandelus, everyone espouses a better understanding of what they need to do next. Did I miss something?

Seriously, what is their destiny? Am I crazy for not knowing the answer to this question? We enter Gran Pulse not understanding how to stop the end of the world. That's still the case when we leave Gran Pulse! For fuck's sake, what are they going to do on Cocoon? Everyone on Cocoon hates them!WHY ARE WE GOING BACK?! Why are the characters confident in their ability to stop Barthandelus? Likewise, isn't that EXACTLY WHAT BARTHANDELUS WANTS? Didn't he explain killing him will result in the "Creator" destroying the universe?

FINISH WHAT?! WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT? SOMEONE, PLEASE HELP ME UNDERSTAND!
FINISH WHAT?! WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT? SOMEONE, PLEASE HELP ME UNDERSTAND!
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#1 Posted by ArrantPrac (4 posts) -

The one thing I will always remember about this game is standing right outside the last boss's door and shouting WHY THE HELL ARE WE EVEN HERE?!

The entire second half of the game just devolves into

Bart: Go kill the last boss!

Party: RUN AWAY!

Bart: Mwahaha you're doing exactly what I wanted! Now seriously, go kill the last boss.

over and over and over. And then you kill the last boss. WHY?

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#2 Edited by sparky_buzzsaw (8864 posts) -

This is a beautiful blog. I wish I'd finished that boss fight right before Gran Pulse so I could talk to you about this.

Wait. No, no I do not. This game was horseshit.

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#3 Posted by Mento (4247 posts) -

Well, the important thing is that you're having fun.

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#4 Posted by Farkas (206 posts) -

The only upside to the XIII arc is that it's been ignored and derided for being the most incomprehensible trash.

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#5 Posted by ZombiePie (7404 posts) -
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#6 Posted by xanadu (2040 posts) -

@zombiepie: I mean...its better? Things happen??

Youre right. We lied.

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#7 Posted by kid_gloves (498 posts) -

Gran Pulse was fun for a short while since its open and lets you fully tinker with all the moving parts of the battle system, then I got tired of the battle system and never picked the game up again.

Basically I fell for the same trap you did @zombiepie, people saying it gets better at this point and me pushing myself to get there. But the story keeps falling apart in new and worse ways, why is anything happening? Letting me tinker with the battle system just burned me out on the one thing I kinda liked about the game..... IT WAS A TRAP!

I never continued playing past this point, I asked my brother a week after I got there "does the story ever make any good on any of my numerous questions" and he basically said no so I quit.

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#8 Posted by TwoLines (3654 posts) -
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#9 Posted by Efesell (4479 posts) -

Yeah Gran Pulse is actual trash, and I still think FF13 is a very good game. But I liked all the other parts so its always funny to see people trying to sell the game as hitting its stride in the worst part for me.

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#10 Edited by MerxWorx01 (841 posts) -

After playing this game at launch I was annoyed that I quickly burned through Star Ocean just to play through Squares take on a corridor RPG. But what was unfathomable was when people tried to convince others to play it because "it opens up half way through". That was just pure madness. Grand Pulse is pure filler. Condensing the idea of the search for super weapons from FF7 in the most blandest way and tossed off way. It's probably the only game I ever sold back to a store.

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#11 Edited by soimadeanaccount (612 posts) -

No way! I am probably the only FF13 defender that dislike Gran Pulse! And criticize the late game battle system while everyone raves about it. I am in the camp that enjoys the linear Cocoon portion of the game.

I am with you with your criticisms of Gran Pulse. Here is a few extra thoughts, Pulse chaotic nature stands in opposite of Cocoon's total control orderly structure. The classic order vs chaos set up. The take away is that they both cause downfall to civilization. Pulse too was searching for the Maker and employs a chaotic, strength focus, unforgiving path for the search.

The main cast travels to Gran Pulse initially to search for a way out of their focus, out of their La'cie curse, and a way out of destroying Cocoon. In the end however they find nothing, and have to fulfill their callings. (More about the ups and downs of the ending when the time comes)

The cynic in me want to say that the open world is shitty to prove that open world game is a terrible fit for story telling, and it is a (perhaps strawman) response for those who criticize the earlier hyper linear half of the game.

From a video game production history aspect and knowing the development hell this game went through I am going with the game just isn't finish.

I think for storytelling Vanille's eidolon fight would be a decent set piece if it takes place in oerba, but from a gameplay sense it would be way too late.

As for character and character class, I mention in the past that Sazh sadly just got toss to the side after his key moment. Even though all 6 classes are unlock for everyone you are mostly unlocking them for the passive Stat boost than for actually using the "secondary" classes. E.g. you are not really going to set Com or Sen for Hope and Vanille. Typically the secondary classes really worthwhile are Fang as Syn/Rav, Lightning as Sen, and everyone as emergency Med. Sazh unfortunately is pretty useless in battle late game.

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#12 Posted by fatalbanana (1106 posts) -

If I didn't instantly forget everything about FF 13 upon finishing it I might have something to say here.

That one guy has a baby Chocobo in his afro. That's fun.

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#13 Posted by yyninja (105 posts) -

Nailed it. Gran Pulse is a painful grind with terrible optional quests.

Fortunately it gets better, but in the sequel...

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#14 Edited by Onemanarmyy (4321 posts) -

I question what it says about me that i was able to be entertained by filling up a shiny gold bar for several dozen hours :D

You have opened my eyes regarding to how bad everything surrounding it actually is. I guess in my heart i already knew it was pretty bad, given that i never felt compelled to look into XIII-2 & XIII-3. To see the storybeats on paper really seals the deal. It's hard to imagine the people behind this story ever learning the craft of creating a story and then applying that knowledge to this game.

I still think that the idea of building a bar throughout a fight into relentlessly dishing out damage once it's filled is a fun system. But i have to agree, some of these bossbattles made building the bar a way too lengthy task. And if you need to heal as the bar pops, you feel horrible. It's too much of a timesink. All i want is for RPG's to celebrate being able to swing enemies in the air and keep them up there. That's my nr 1 fond memory of this game. Having to cut ATB bars short as the enemies fall down just so a teammate can keep the enemy in the air is this hypnotizing thing that i got all my enjoyment from. Sadly, everything surrounding that system should've been way better. Apart from the cinematics to be fair. Square always makes beautiful CGI stuff.

As for Pulse being the good part, i don't know if i ever felt that way. But i do remember feeling very restricted on Coccoon ending up at the level cap constantly and having to progress further to up the crystarium levels. At Pulse, suddenly you get to progress that stuff quite a bit and that makes it feel like you're finally done with Nanny Square's Trainride.

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#15 Edited by wchigo (900 posts) -

@zombiepie said:

First, where are the HELL are @soimadeanaccount, @xanadu, @dixavd, @twolines, @wchigo, and @onemanarmyy? Y'all told me Gran Pulse was when the game got "good."

I feel betrayed. You lied to me.

Did I? I have a terrible memory so it's not outside the realm of possibility, but I honestly don't remember saying that? Or at least that specifically.

With reading through your blogs, I've come to understand how non-sensical and bullshit the story is. However, I still did really enjoy the combat, and I do remember saying it's a shame that it doesn't completely open up until later on because you're stuck with just 2 people in your party for the majority of the game. I actually don't remember doing a whole lot of the side stuff in Gran Pulse.

Oh, yeah, and the whole thing with Hope and Fang's doubts cropping in again to heavy handedly shove in Eidolon fights there was dumb, I agree with you wholeheartedly there. I remember thinking that even as I was playing the game the first time through back when it first came out.

Edit: And yeah, and that Bart boss fight is total bullshit! I remember dying there so many times, and I think at some point I may have put it down and came back hours later/the next day because I was so angry I couldn't think straight.

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#16 Posted by Sinusoidal (3608 posts) -

It's not just Gran Pulse, it's this whole bloody game. XIII and its sequels are abominations one and all.

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#17 Posted by jeffrud (717 posts) -

I love this series with my whole heart. You are correct and good.

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#18 Posted by ZombiePie (7404 posts) -

The one thing I will always remember about this game is standing right outside the last boss's door and shouting WHY THE HELL ARE WE EVEN HERE?!

over and over and over. And then you kill the last boss. WHY?

I had a similar existential crisis when I reached the final boss. Like you, I couldn't answer the question. I was almost fifty hours deep, and I could not answer why I was about to kill the final boss.

And that final boss is such a fever dream. It may well be the worst final boss battle I have ever experienced in terms of story and art design.

This is a beautiful blog. I wish I'd finished that boss fight right before Gran Pulse so I could talk to you about this.

Wait. No, no I do not. This game was horseshit.

Buddy, I dare you to play Final Fantasy XIII and write a blog about it. I'm not asking you to finish the game. In fact, I want to know when you would call a quits. To be perfectly honest, @thatpinguino and I have mentioned on several occasions we wouldn't have finished this game had it not been for the podcast.

@mento said:

Well, the important thing is that you're having fun.

I have to ask, you've mentioned before having an S-rank for Final Fantasy XIII. What part of the post-game content is the hardest to accomplish: a) completing the Cie'th Stone missions with five stars, or b) getting all of the items. Just thought I would ask.

@farkas said:

The only upside to the XIII arc is that it's been ignored and derided for being the most incomprehensible trash.

Well, I guess it's good to know that Square-Enix loved this incomprehensible trash so much, they made three to four games as sequels or companions pieces to it. That's the part that gets me every time. Square was absolutely convinced this game was going to land them on the pay dirt.

@xanadu said:

@zombiepie: I mean...its better? Things happen??

Youre right. We lied.

IT'S SAME MISSION SEVENTY TIMES IN A ROW! AT LEAST MONSTER HUNTER HAS MEMORABLE CHARACTERS!!!

HOW IS THAT FUN!?!?!?!?

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#19 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8864 posts) -

@zombiepie: If I didn't have such an embarassingly big back catalog (says the man replaying Skyrim for something like the fourth time), I'd take you up on it. I think about XIII a lot, and wonder if it really was as bad as I remember and if it had any redeeming qualities. But I've got a half dozen RPGs I haven't played through yet in my list that frankly deserve my attention much more than any modern Final Fantasy (with the exception of XIV, which genuinely loks great, but which I can't play due to small fonts in the UI).

That said, if/when they announce a new one, we'll b.s. some. It'd be fun to do a blog series simultaneously.

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#20 Posted by Mento (4247 posts) -

@zombiepie: Nope, no S-Rank for me. I dunno if I told you that or what, but if I did I might've gotten confused with XIII-2 (which I did indeed S-Rank).

What I did do is complete all the Cie'th Stone missions. Just apparently not to the extent of getting 5-stars for all of them. I'm also missing both the 100% achievements (Crystarium and equipment) and the one where you hunt an adamantoise (though I did kill the one in FFXV, albeit through trickery).

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#21 Posted by Narx (221 posts) -

FF13 is the only game I cannot understand how I ever managed to get all achievements in it. All I have is bad memories of this game, how did I ever do all of this?

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#22 Edited by deactivated-5c295850623f7 (497 posts) -

I can confidently say 13 and Gran Pulse were what ended my childhood. My version of the Phantom Menace and Jar Jar. Before this, I was in the prime of my youth, still in the afterglow of 12, the Square Enix merger seemed to be working out. The buildup and trailers for 13 were SO good, the lore and premise seemed so interesting. I was 100% onboard for this.

Then I played it. I convinced myself for 30 hours that what I was playing was enjoyable. That SE hadn't lied to us. I landed in Gran Pulse and was conflicted: were the reviews right and I was missing something and this area was actually great, or had I had grown up and could no longer tolerate beautiful garbage?

I'd love to go back to this game eventually to see how future me thinks of it.

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