Enemies of Cocoon: An Analysis of Final Fantasy XIII

Part Twelve: Death Has No Sting

Chapter Seven - Palumpolum

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Last time, Hope had just failed to murder Snow after an untimely interruption by PSICOM. Before we get to see the fallout from that, though, it’s back to Lightning and Fang for some more insight into the Euride Gorge incident. A brief flashback shows Fang and Vanille discussing Dajh and Serah being made l’Cie, and Fang goes on to decide that they need to find a way back to Gran Pulse, far from Cocoon. As PSICOM closes in, Fang sends Vanille off in a lift by herself, promising to find her when she can. In the present, Fang notes that it was not much later that Cid Raines and the Cavalry found her.

Fang apologises for inadvertently getting Serah caught up in things, which earns her a backhand from Lightning, whose admission of guilt in frightening off Serah hasn’t quite toned down her temper yet. They head off together into the city, and shortly after have a discussion comparing the opposed sides of Cocoon and Pulse. It seems that both locations have a long-taught fear and hatred of each other.

As for what she did to end up on Cocoon, Fang can’t quite remember. She supposes that she must have succeeded at whatever Focus she was given, since she was crystallised, but the specific details elude her. She dismisses Cocoon and Pulse, stating instead that her overriding goal is to protect Vanille, and then explains that the l’Cie brands change based on how close to becoming a Cie’th you are.


At this point, Lightning seems to be losing hope. She realises that fighting the Sanctum with no plan is pointless, that being a l’Cie means she’s got no way out, and that without Serah, she has nothing to work towards. Fang talks Lightning out of her sorrow quite quickly here, reminding her that Serah may yet come back from being crystal, and that’s that.

I remarked earlier that I didn’t like Lightning’s freak-out before the Odin battle. This feels like a better conversation to lead into that fight, even if it would mean getting her summon later. Lightning’s concerns, first about having to carry Hope, and then about being pets of the fal’Cie, never really rang true with me. This short bit where she actually understands her hopeless situation came across as much more genuine, and it wasn’t delivered with exploding lights and shouting.

However, it’s explosions that bring their attention to Snow and Hope, and this little section is over. As Fang and Lightning rush to find them, Snow wakes up after his fall and finds the knife Serah gave to Lightning. The Datalog also sees fit to fill us in on some extra plot, describing how Fang and Vanille found Serah. I’m not sure what the best way to do this would have been, but this felt a little weird.


But let’s not dwell on the Datalog, or my hatred towards it. Let’s instead return to Hope’s hatred for Snow, which is finally reaching its end. Snow admits all his faults – how he was running from responsibility, how he didn’t feel he could make up for getting Nora killed, and how he was seeking a way to feel he had the right to say sorry. I like this conversation, because it’s delivered, once again, in a very human manner – no lights, no explosions, just two people talking things out.

The other touch I enjoyed was Snow returning Lightning’s knife to Hope. Snow knows exactly what the knife is, and is able to give Hope some extra insight into the significance of Lightning lending it to him. It’s important to all four of them – Serah gave it to Lightning, it’s a reminder of Serah for Snow, and it’s a sign of trust between Lightning and Hope. Moreover, it was temporarily a symbol of Hope’s hatred for Snow.

And that allows Hope to open up as well. He’s been needing someone to blame for everything, and he's coming to understand how fruitless that is. Just to make sure Hope can complete his personal growth, a boss robot pops in to attack Snow, forcing Hope to protect him. Fortunately, the game doesn’t oversell Hope’s transformation, and he isn’t able to magically trounce the robot on the strength of his conviction, so Lightning and Fang drop by to give him a hand.


And that’s the end of the Operation Nora sideplot. There wasn’t really any need for Lightning to call an end to it a couple of hours ago – it would have been fine just to have it abandoned here. Lightning doesn’t question Hope’s decision, or try to lecture him about what he was trying to do beforehand. I suppose the only thing I can say for the earlier discussion regarding Carbuncle and pets was that it did at least serve to isolate Hope a little, but I think that Hope was alone enough being split from Lightning and left with Snow.

So with the assault on Eden abandoned, and Hope’s murder revenge halted, it’s time for the group to return to being fugitives, and that means finding somewhere to hide out. Unfortunately, as first-time fugitives, they hole themselves up in Hope’s house, rather than finding somewhere less obvious, but it still takes PSICOM a while to figure it out (or maybe they were calling in reinforcements after I slaughtered so many of them getting here).

But yes, for now, things are peaceful, and nobody seems aware that PSICOM might choose to check out Hope’s home at any moment. Previously, Hope expressed disdain for his father, which everyone else dismissed instantly, despite knowing nothing of Hope’s home life or his father. I gave Sazh a free pass on that, given that he was just projecting his own feelings for his son, but I still didn’t like how Vanille handled it. In any case, this scene establishes that Hope’s father Bartholomew really does care, and he’s still protective of his son despite the l’Cie crisis.


Meanwhile, the news wants to remind us that people suck.

Lightning and Snow have a brief make-up session, where Lightning clearly feels bad for how she treated him, and Snow takes it in stride. I suppose he’s glad that she didn’t want to murder him, which is an improvement on the earlier situation with Hope.

They have another conversation with Bartholomew, in which he proves unequivocally that he’s a nice person who loves his son and doesn’t buy into this l’Cie propaganda. I don’t particularly like this one-dimensional portrayal – he’s the protagonists’ first proper conversation with a member of the public about the l’Cie, and he’s magically super-accepting, and it damages Hope’s portrayal as well. He’s spent a lot of the game being resentful about several things, and he’s proven “wrong” in each case. This just makes him look even more needlessly whiny, and I don’t think it was required.

I also think it would have been more interesting to see the l’Cie actually try to work out their issues with a brain-washed member of the public. Everyone else acts like zombie villagers as I mentioned before, and it’s a little dull to have Hope’s father just accept the situation without question. Hey, even Lightning disagreed with Serah when she brought the subject up!

One thing that I suppose is good about Bartholomew is that he challenges the l’Cie on their future plans. Fighting the Sanctum and fal’Cie is a terrible idea, which will only bring more chaos and death. Unfortunately, before he can help them strategise further, PSICOM interrupt. I can only assume that when the l’Cie try to plan to deal with the Sanctum later, they only remember Bartholomew saying “rampant violence” and not any of the context around it.


I said earlier that I like this chapter, but I’m going to complain a lot about this sequence as well. Sorry! PSICOM attack the apartment, which is fine, but then Snow starts trying to be smart, and it doesn’t work out. Except it does, in defiance of logic.

He holds his coat out, which PSICOM peppers with bullets, somehow managing not to hit his arm or hand at the same time. Apparently encouraged by this display of bloodthirst, Snow seems to feel comfortable moving out into the open, giving PSICOM as many clear shots as they’d like, but for whatever reason, they don’t fire again. He gives an impassioned speech in defence of how he’s just a regular person protecting Cocoon, and the soldiers become conflicted.

At this point, Yaag Rosch steps in to clear up this moral debate. While expressing some mild understanding, he reminds Snow that the presence of Pulse elements on Cocoon will spread chaos, and as such, he has to order their execution. Snow isn’t sold, since PSICOM kills even the non-l’Cie populace.

So, remember that I was waiting for a main figurehead for the party to oppose throughout the story so far? Well, Rosch isn’t going to be filling that role. Now that we’ve had three short scenes to establish his personality, and show some hints of conflict, he’s going to disappear until right near the end of the game (except for one brief, unexplained cameo).

I’ve watched this scene a few times now that I’m on my fourth or fifth playthrough, and I still don’t really understand quite what they were going for. Someone tosses a smoke grenade in, and people start shooting. Then there’s a strange sequence where a soldier walks up to Rosch and fires at him point-blank, followed by a slow-motion shot of Rosch falling.


So at that point I was just like “well, guess that’s it for him, then”, and it doesn’t look like I was alone in thinking that. But Rosch doesn’t die here, and he reappears a bit later with no sign that he’s been inconvenienced at all. I can’t see what purpose that any of this served. We’re on our way towards the fake ending, so perhaps the writers wanted to get rid of any inconvenient side villains so that players might believe that the battle on Palamecia would be the final boss.

Barring the fact that the false death serves no narrative purpose, they could also just have had Rosch piloting the next boss. He does so in the Eden chapter, so why not here? Instead, he just gets killed off by a nameless grunt, and then we have to fight a nameless warship. I’m all for not overselling the player’s importance, but at the end of the day, we’re the lead characters, so I’d prefer to also be the one fighting the villains.

It’s a bit like Metal Gear Solid 4, where it indulged in such a long fight during one of the latter cutscenes that I genuinely believed that the developers weren’t going to let me participate in the end battle. Of course, some fight scenes are great, and it’s lovely that they were able to put such effort in, but the cutscenes are supposed to be providing a framework for the gameplay. Don’t put all the gameplay into the cutscenes!

So Chapter 7 introduced Rosch, gave him a couple of appearances, and then wrote him out with fanfare, only to pop him back a couple of chapters later. He’s not going to be making my villain hall of fame any time soon.

Meanwhile, Hope’s father encourages him with a few bland bits of philosophy. It essentially can be summed up as “you’ll know what to do”. It’s all very empty, and further cements my inability to regard Bartholomew as an actual character. There’s no real nuance or depth to him, he just feels like someone’s idealistic view of a supportive father.

It’s at this point that we get the boss fight with the Havoc Skytank, after which another Skytank pops in, only to be destroyed by yet another one.  We discover that the smoke grenade and shooting were done by our beloved allies, the Cavalry. Rygdea, who always threatens to be a relevant character but never quite makes it, invites them aboard, and the l’Cie duly hop on.

(I think he might be related to Xu from FFVIII, come to think of it…)

In any case, that brings Chapter 7 to a close. I said before that I liked this chapter, and that’s true – it’s got a bunch of decent set pieces, and some plot developments that were interesting enough. However, it was dragged down a bit by being yet more endless fighting, with very little variation in what you’re doing, and some of the story moments were just baffling to me.

Part of this analysis involves looking at how I reacted on my first playthrough, so it’s probably important to note at this stage that the beginning of this chapter was actually where I stopped playing for a year. I believe I went on night shift back then, and despite having many lonely hours of no company, I ended up moving on to other games entirely. I had paused for a month in the Vile Peaks, but it was a year after entering Palumpolum that I finished Chapter 7 and visited Nautilus and beyond.

This isn’t necessarily unusual – I abandon a lot of games, after all. But Final Fantasy games were always major events for me. While I struggled with certain end bosses in my rather hopeless youth, I did at least stick with them through the majority of the story up until that point. And I was super-hyped for FFXIII – I can remember that buzz when I got started back in March 2010, imagining thousands of other players around the world getting their first taste of the game that evening as well.

But the unfortunate conclusion I’d reached by May was that it was dull. I wasn’t into the story, the stages were just straight routes with endless fights, and there were no clever quirks to elevate it above pretty much any other game I’d played. So I set it aside and forgot about it.

I’m not sure what convinced me to pick it up again in July 2011, but here’s where my opinion began to change. I was finally about to get my long-awaited non-battleground, and several plot points would come together as well. But all was not to be so rosy as I’d hoped…

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