Oh hey, it’s time for one of my favourite chapters. In fact, I think that the game mostly takes a positive direction from this point onwards. While I like the first half of the game, despite various issues I’ve gone into, it really got a bit too samey and dismal around the Vile Peaks/Gapra Whitewood section, which is why I took such a long break at the start of Chapter 7.
Chapter 9 is where the opening storyline comes to a close, and stuff starts to properly kick off. It’s the end of the endless flight from PSICOM, and where we meet our true enemies. So let’s get started!
The chapter opens with Lightning, Snow, Hope, and Fang in the company of Cid Raines, leader of the Cavalry. Sazh and Vanille have been taken aboard the airship Palamecia, and the other l’Cie mean to rescue them. Remember how Sazh and Vanille happily left the others to PSICOM? No such hesitation here.
They also sit up and take notice because Primarch Galenth Dysley himself is on board. Cid believes that Dysley can be taken captive and made to speak of the fal’Cie’s deceptions, so the plan is to free Sazh and Vanille, and then kidnap the Primarch.
You can explore the Cavalry’s airship, the Lindblum, but aside from some nice background details with ships moving around, it’s a fairly bland and boring location. Not helping FFXIII’s stigma as a corridor game, it’s just one small, thin platform. You can speak to a few people here, at least, but you have nowhere else to go and it’s over quickly.
Our team of l’Cie have a brief exchange to show how they’ve bonded since their experiences in Palumpolum, but Rygdea is jealous that they’re all main characters and interrupts, eager to send them out on their mission.
While the main party flies over to the Palamecia, we see a brief introduction to Galenth Dysley himself, as Jihl Nabaat comments on his unexpected attendance. He’s come up a couple of times before, of course – once when he’s heard thanking the victims of the Purge during the opening over loudspeakers, and also on the news during the flight from Lake Bresha. However, this is our first proper look at him as an active character in the story.
His brief conversation presents him as a jerk. The original Datalog entry for him explains that he was once seen to have the interests of the people at heart, but became oppressive after the discovery of the Pulse fal’Cie in Bodhum. We only really see the latter part in this conversation – he’s apparently looking forward to the execution, and comes across as very pompous.
Still, we’ll have plenty of time to enjoy his company later. We rejoin Lightning’s band as they get past security and are allowed to dock on the Palamecia in a sequence reminiscent of Return of the Jedi. However, “Code Red” is immediately declared, and they’re attacked by a group of soldiers.
I earlier commented that this is one of my favourite chapters, and it’s ironically for the same reason that I wasn’t such a fan of earlier chapters. This is a classic Storm-the-Castle scenario, where you fight your way through endless enemies on your way to the throne room (or equivalent), so the direct structure feels appropriate. The final area of the chapter can drag a bit, but generally speaking I found the pace to be fairly spot-on.
It’s not all action, though. Partway into the infiltration, the perspective switches over to Sazh and Vanille in a prison cell, and we get filled in on what happened when Sazh was about to shoot himself. It seems that Sazh couldn’t go through with it, and while he was struggling with that, Jihl had her troops take the two l’Cie captive. Not one to miss an opportunity to be annoying, she told Sazh that they’d make a memorial to Dajh for his service, sounding not in the least bit sincere.
Back in the present, Sazh asks Vanille about what happened with her Focus, since he’s now taking hope from the fact that she reawakened from being a crystal. As Dajh also turned to crystal, Sazh supposes that this means Dajh will come back some day as well. Vanille explains that she was tasked with fighting Cocoon, finished her Focus (along with Fang), and then went into a crystal sleep.
She clarifies some details about what happened when she and Fang woke up on Cocoon. This sequence mostly confirms or summarises what we already know – that Fang lost her memory, while Vanille lied, afraid of causing more harm.
Meanwhile, Lightning and company are still trading threats and blows with the Sanctum. We have another reminder that the soldiers are all brainwashed by the fal’Cie, while the alert status is upgraded from Code Red to Code Green. There’s not much to say about this section, really – it’s another series of fights, and we’ve already seen the discussions about how indoctrinated everyone is a few times. The l’Cie seem to have practically forgotten by this point that, as far as they know, their task is to destroy Cocoon, as they never note that the soldiers might be right to want to stop them.
After this section, we rejoin Sazh and Vanille, who are about to be moved elsewhere in the airship. Sazh and the chocobo chick manage to successfully take out the guards, while Vanille grabs a rifle and blasts the weird robotic bee accompanying them. Sadly she then abandons this weapon in favour of her weird slingshot staff thing, and the two of them head out to find the others, as the alert status is upgraded to Code Purple.
Back at the bridge, Jihl is becoming flustered as her attempts to capture the l’Cie continue to be unsuccessful, and she tries to work out which alert status is most appropriate, muttering about it like it’s some sort of algebraic formula. I don’t really have much time for this weird running joke about Codes – it feels a bit laboured and out-of-place, but then not everyone has to share my sense of humour, I suppose. I just don’t really see the point of it. It’s more like a mild bit of office humour – was it snarking at over-complex procedures at the Square-Enix offices? Or is it just showing that the Sanctum is bloated with systems that render it inefficient?
I don’t really know the answer, but what I do know is how it affected my take on the situation. It makes Jihl look incompetent, and when they try to use it to give Dysley some authoritative weight, as he announces Code White with gravity, it just conflicts with the fact that we’ve already seen that their systems are ineffective.
After this point, it’s mostly combat sequences for a while, as Sazh and Vanille fight through the engine room, while Lightning and co cross the airship exterior. Partway along, they come under attack from a couple of Kalavinka Strikers, and the team is finally reunited. Fang checks on Vanille’s brand status, and then the two of them capture another flying beastie, which they use to break into the bridge access area.
Now that the team’s back together, we also, finally, get to change the Battle Team! It only took just over eight chapters to reach that point. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that the game won’t still change up your party for certain sections of the game, which wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that it resets all your Paradigms and, unless you feverishly spend your Crystarium for every character, that you may sometimes find yourself losing a fight (or needing to instantly Retry it) because your characters have terrible stats.
This is the final area of the chapter that I mentioned earlier, incidentally. It’s a large chamber comprised of various platforms linked by bridges that need to be manually activated. After all the linearity, you can finally choose to check out various different platforms rather than just push for the finale, but given that everywhere is basically identical, it’s not the most interesting series of sidetracks.
Still, that’s only a minor quibble from me. And it’s worth taking the time to get some last Crystarium Points, because it’s time for a major boss fight!
It’s time for the old classic villain switcheroo. Everything’s set up for a good showdown with Jihl, after her incessant taunting of Sazh up until now, not to mention that she’s in charge of PSICOM, and as such responsible for most of the problems we’ve faced up until this point. She hops down from the throne and adopts the boss-fight stance, but Dysley isn’t interested in that. Coldly advising her to take her leave, he then callously kills her and the bridge staff with a somewhat overpowered spell that he’ll never use again.
I’m of two minds with this scene, as I am with so many parts of FFXIII. Jihl was never the most interesting antagonist I’ve faced in video gaming history, but in a game bereft of memorable opponents, she did at least stand out a little (one of the chapter bosses was a weird plant monster, after all).
However, I can also argue in favour of the decision. It’s clear that they’re using Jihl to “sell” Dysley as the antagonist in this scene. PSICOM is built up as the overpowering military force that the l’Cie have to fight for half the game, but then their leader is discarded so callously by her boss that we’re intended to sit up and take notice of him. Whether you feel that works or not is another matter entirely.
As for not putting in a fight with her in this sequence, I can understand that too. The momentum of this scene is firmly on building up Dysley, so dividing up the focus between two villains would detract from this. And for most first-time players, myself included, I suspect the impending boss fight requires a few retries and character tweaks.
Anyhow, it’s time for the big reveal. Lightning suggests that Dysley is a l’Cie, after his magical display, but he swiftly corrects her, transforms, and announces his true identity as the fal’Cie Barthandelus. It seems that Eden was never the one in charge, and he lays out quite clearly that he doesn’t think much of people at all. Declaring that he’ll show the l’Cie their place, he starts off the climactic battle of this chapter.
I like all of this sequence, despite my conflicted thoughts about Jihl’s sudden departure from the story. As I mentioned before when summarising the style of this chapter, it’s a traditional showdown, but I think it’s a good example of one. The setting’s great, Dysley’s delivery is convincing, and the fight’s a good one. I’m sure some people breeze through it (I certainly do, these days), but I do remember it giving me some trouble on my first visit, and there are quite a few threads bobbing around the internet that indicate I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.
The battle with Barthandelus is a decent indicator for whether you’ve really grasped the game’s combat systems. After my year out, I’d forgotten exactly how Ravagers and Commandos worked, and only got away with it before because the game gives you automatic Paradigms with a mix of both. I’m not the biggest fan of one-shot mechanics, but there is at least a tangible way to stop the one in this encounter (smack him in the face a lot, very technical).
As much as I enjoyed this boss encounter, and the set-up surrounding it, we unfortunately have to put up with the tedious trope where you beat a boss, only for it to then carry on with a conversation looking none the worse for wear right afterwards. Dysley/Barthandelus shrugs away his survival, claiming that the l’Cie weren’t fighting to win. He then states that the way to properly kill off a fal’Cie is by becoming Ragnarok, and he confirms the truth of their Focus.
They are intended to destroy Cocoon by killing the fal’Cie that keeps it afloat, Orphan. Dysley doesn’t seem particularly bothered by that suggestion, and instead encourages them to pursue that aim. When Snow tries to claim that Serah’s Focus was to help them save Cocoon, Bart dismisses the suggestion, explaining that her sole purpose was to assemble them so that they could be Cocoon’s destroyers. He provides them with a ship, and, as the Palamecia appears to be falling apart, they duly take him up on the offer and fly away.
So this escape scene is where some more wonkiness arises. If you remember, Rosch was shot down back in Chapter 7, and I whined about him reappearing out of nowhere. Well, this is that moment. As the ship pilots itself on an escape route from the Palamecia to the city of Eden, Rosch appears in a war machine and tries to shoot them down, unsuccessfully. A pursuit scene isn’t really the time to be pausing to discuss what happened to Rosch, but I would’ve liked some more explanation at some point.
Well, there’s no point dwelling on that. Rosch pops in and out of the story in a flash, as the ship manages to bypass Eden’s shields, while he is unable to do so himself. The ship flies through the city proper, before setting itself on a crash course with one of the buildings. Just as it reaches it, the ship seems to teleport, and that’s the end of the chapter.