I’m a big fan of this chapter’s opening. But let’s get some of the other stuff out of the way first – I don’t think the game does a great job of showing where you’ve gone. The new location Lightning and co find themselves in resembles a subway, and I immediately assumed that they were somewhere underneath Eden (the city). It’s quickly established that this seems to be a “piece of Pulse”, but I was still not entirely sure where this place was located.
The Datalog notes that the structure “lies deep below the capital city of Eden”, while the wiki seems to think it’s the building you “crashed” into at the end of the last chapter, which would make it this place:
But that building is not very deep below the city, so I don’t know. I suppose it matches the same structure as the dungeon we’re about to enter, so maybe it is the Ark. Since Barthandelus wants to keep it secret, though, it seems unlikely that he’d have it out on display.
Perhaps this isn’t very important to anyone, but I just felt this section was a little weird. Teleportation is a messy thing to introduce to stories that are focused on long journeys, and the entry to and from the Fifth Ark is always done via teleports, so it’s never fully clear where exactly you are. I suppose it’s because it feels like they wanted to have the Fifth Ark located in Eden while bypassing any of the obvious difficulties involved with visiting it.
Course, I’m guilty of abusing teleports now and then in my own stories, so I can’t complain.
Anyhow! I’m still a fan of this bit. After all the racing about, we get to pause and take stock of the situation, and it has one of my favourite music tracks playing too. You can basically use this theme in any peaceful scene, and I will automatically like it.
The story up until the end of Chapter 8 was about escaping PSICOM, while in Chapter 9 everyone turned around to strike back against their pursuers, believing that they could somehow save Cocoon by exposing the fal’Cie as evil. Barthandelus stopped them short, though; he pointed out that their Focus was not so benevolent as they wanted, and he could not be used as a tool against the fal’Cie.
So here we get some reflection, as the team try to piece together what their Focus really means, and what they can actually do about things.
Snow’s disturbed by the thought that Serah’s Focus could have been to destroy Cocoon, while the others try to figure out what Barthandelus’s motivation could be. They note that he seemed to want them to actually succeed, which makes little sense for the chief fal’Cie in charge of Cocoon.
You can have a chat with your various companions at this stage, or just run ahead and start a conversation with Snow. He apologises to Lightning, believing in Bart’s assertion that Serah’s Focus was to gather the l’Cie together to be branded. Lightning, in a rare moment of understanding, tells him that while he’s been an idiot, his faith in Serah “saved” her as well, so she encourages him to keep believing.
Further down the tracks, the party enters a wide chamber that’s a strange mix of industrial concrete and Pulsian architecture. Their brands start to burn, and then they’re attacked by some Pulse automatons. Defeating these unlocks all combat roles for all characters, but we can talk about that in a moment.
First, though, let’s confirm where we are again. Vanille identifies that the place “must be an Ark”, and Fang goes on to explain that the Pulse fal’Cie created armies to defend themselves, placed them in Arks, and then hid the Arks around the world. Despite the fact that nobody ever found any Arks before, they’re both super-confident that this must be an Ark, and no further debate happens.
Fine, sure, nobody wants to really sit down and watch everyone debate at length about what this location is, but something always rubs me the wrong way when people perfectly guess what an unfamiliar location is and explain it like it’s absolute fact.
They also note that the Arks were allegedly also used to train l’Cie, and go on to accurately guess that Barthandelus sent them here for that exact purpose. Hope is positive about it, figuring that training for what’s coming is still a good idea, which I suppose is a fair point, not that anyone has any particular goal in mind right now. They’re in an unfamiliar place with no idea how to get out, but the decision is made to just go through and fight things. Fortunately, this is the right choice.
Now, let’s get back to that somewhat important thing that just unlocked – access to all roles for all characters. What this means is that we’ve finally got access to all the main features in the game. Note that you get pretty much this level of control from the start of XIII-2, ignoring the fact that you won’t have access to all the possible monsters to fill the third party slot.
In any case, it sounds great – you can finally make whatever team you like. I had wanted to make a team with Lightning, Snow, and Sazh, since they’re my favourite characters, but Lightning’s an awful healer and the other two couldn’t fill in before. However, when this announcement popped up, I realised that I could follow my dreams and make that team.
The reality isn’t quite so rosy, though. While you have access to the roles, thus fulfilling the not-lying part of a public announcement, what it doesn’t make clear is that the secondary roles are extremely expensive, and give very low stats compared to the main roles, so investing in a secondary role right away is a slow and fairly counter-productive process. Now, when I first played FFXIII, this became clear fairly quickly, and lacking experience with the game’s systems, I shelved that idea and returned to Lightning, Fang, and Hope, which had felt pretty well-balanced.
For this playthrough, with a bit more understanding of how the game works, I went ahead and tried out that team of Snow, Sazh, and Lightning. It made for an interesting experiment, at least.
So let’s talk a bit about the Fifth Ark itself. I’ve already grumbled about not knowing exactly where this place was located, and I’m a little bemused by the interior as well. You see, I’m not entirely convinced that the Fifth Ark was supposed to be the Fifth Ark originally. The scenery is very industrial, and the vibe I get is that it was originally supposed to be a trip beneath a city, whether on Cocoon or down on Pulse. While Pulse has mostly displayed alien architecture up until now, there are some more modernised locations when you finally get to visit.
The Fifth Ark has a few different types of room. When you start out, and sporadically through the rest of it, you’ll find yourselves exploring subway tracks, while some of the chambers, if you point the camera up, seem to be in huge concrete car parks. Then you’ve got these wide open areas that look like enormous sci-fi sewers, with canals, drainage pipes, and maintenance walkways, and great big expansive areas that are practically cities.
The places that seem to actually bear any relation to the Ark description are the main shafts, which don’t seem to serve any city-related function, and some of the side corridors, which are more like the Pulse Vestige or some of the buildings down on Gran Pulse.
I don’t know – perhaps the strange architecture was all part of creating an air of mystery to this location, and I guess it succeeded in that respect, but to me it kind of feels like a series of art assets from a cancelled under-city exploration sequence that were refitted into the Ark narrative.
Much as with most of the Cocoon locations, the Ark is a mostly-straight route, with a couple of minor detours for extra treasure chests. However, halfway down, you run into a familiar face.
Is it time for me to complain about weird character behaviour again? I think it might be.
Cid appears, which confuses the party, and Snow quickly tries to set Sazh and Vanille at ease, since they wouldn’t have met him before. Fang, however, is immediately suspicious, and she asks Cid what he’s doing there. Lightning has no interest in information-gathering, and she immediately declares he’s a traitor and tries to kill him. I mean, sure, his presence there is suspicious, but just straight-up going for murder seems like a bit of a jump.
Anyhow, Cid easily disarms her, before announcing that he’s a l’Cie too. Controlled by the fal’Cie since before they met, he’s been helping the Sanctum fal’Cie in their plan to lead the Pulse l’Cie along their path to destroying Cocoon. Sazh asks why a Cocoon fal’Cie would want that, so Cid politely answers.
It seems that the Maker created the fal’Cie and humans long ago, before leaving the world and his creations behind. Cid notes that human and fal’Cie were “orphaned by the same parent”, an unsubtle reference to the fal’Cie Orphan, who is so central to the overall plot. After the Maker departed, humans began to war amongst themselves, while the fal’Cie sought a way to bring the Maker back.
To do so, the fal’Cie require a sacrifice, and so they plan to kill all the people of Cocoon. However, as machine gods, their programming prevents them from doing anything to harm Cocoon. To get around this, they need to use humans. Since Pulse fal’Cie aren’t bound to protect Cocoon, they can still grant the Focus to destroy it, which the Sanctum fal’Cie are content to let happen.
This is one of those loopholes that can easily turn into a plot hole if you look at it too closely. Barthandelus is quite clearly working to help the l’Cie in their counter-Cocoon task, so you’d think it might still count against his programming/nature, but it doesn’t, so let’s just not question it.
There’s also the issue that the fal’Cie keep picking nice characters to carry out their demolition plans. Surely there are at least a couple of angry/violent people who’d gladly take a deal to get ultimate power in return for destroying all of society? Tasking someone skittish and well-meaning like Vanille with murdering an entire mini-planet is practically a foregone failure.
Cid then fills us in a little on his backstory. While he was never intending to overthrow the Sanctum during the events we’ve witnessed, it seems that was his goal before Barthandelus branded him. He’d given himself up to a life of servitude to the Sanctum fal’Cie, but after seeing Lightning’s band fighting, he’s been inspired to fight his own Focus. As such, he’s here for a battle to the death.
I quite like the idea of Cid in this game. It’s one of those situations where I can get behind his plan, regret fighting an ally, but still recognise him as an enemy, and the idea of his lost dreams is quite tragic. But the problem is that he’s so dull as a character. I’m not sure if I can blame it on his voice acting, since I’ve not listened to his Japanese equivalent, but when he’s not speaking in monotones, he’s sounding suspiciously evil, like in the early sequences where he showed up.
There’s very little time dedicated to him, and what time we do get feels a bit wasted. When you first encounter him, he’s acting like a villain, and then when he’s discussing their plans to overthrow the Sanctum, there’s no passion at all – he seems bored. Perhaps it’s all part of his characterisation as a passionless fal’Cie puppet, but it just drains him of any persona.
As for his appearance here, it’s another scene that swiftly reverses someone’s characterisation, and after it ends, that never appears again. I’ll complain more about Cid later, but for now, let’s stick with what happens in this confrontation. There’s no build-up to confronting Cid either. His appearance is in the middle of the chapter, in a location of no real importance, and he’s practically forgotten after that point. Nobody seems very attached to him or his cause – Lightning got angry enough to try killing him based on a suspicion of betrayal, but that’s about the extent of it. Sazh and Vanille have practically no idea who he is, after all.
After you defeat him, he remarks on the irony of losing when all he wanted was to win (?), tells them to trust themselves, and then turns to crystal. Sazh is confused, as this would seem to indicate that Cid completed his Focus, but Snow takes hope from it – perhaps people can change their Focus.
From here, it’s just more descending the Ark, with very little in the way of distractions, until you reach what appears to be the end of the road, on a platform overlooking a flooded chamber with a mix of industrial architecture and Pulse ruins. Unsure where they can go next, the group pauses to take stock of the situation, and they comment that the stories indicated that the Ark is a maze. It’s like the bit earlier where Lightning tells Hope how to navigate the Gapra Whitewood, when there’s only one route you can take – maybe it’s best not to draw attention to how linear the locations actually are.
Anyhow, it’s time for someone to have a random outburst, and you might be fooled into thinking that it’ll be Sazh, who is frustrated at being lost in this place. However, Snow steps in, declaring that he’s made up his mind to follow his own path, inspired by Serah and Cid. Most of the group is ready to join him on his new direction, but Fang suddenly decides to stand against them.
It seems that she’s happy to destroy Cocoon, since the populace hates her and the other l’Cie anyway. Afraid of Vanille becoming Cie’th, she’s ready to get stronger, become Ragnarok, and bring down Cocoon as her Focus demands.
This brings the Eidolon Bahamut out, and Fang explains that the Eidolons appear when l’Cie can’t decide what to do next, specifically to put them out of their misery. The others step in to protect her, reassuring her that they’re in this together, and then it’s time for another Eidolon boss fight.
But let me just stop there to explain why I don’t like this scene. It seems a bit pointless for me to do so by this stage, as it’s the same complaint I’ve had with all the other similar scenes we’ve watched so far, like Lightning’s Odin sequence. Fang’s been pretty tough and cool-headed up to this point, and her main internal conflicts have been that she wants to protect Vanille, and that she can’t remember what happened before she turned to crystal.
While this scene ties in to her concerns about Vanille, there’s not really sufficient build-up to it. All through the chapter, she’s shown no worries whatsoever about what’s been going on. She wasn’t shaken by Barthandelus’s revelations, and she’s been something of a guide to the concept of Arks, unconcerned about their predicament while the others try to work out where to go next.
Fang’s concerns make a reasonable amount of sense, but this emotional moment seems to have been summoned purely to justify the acquisition of her Eidolon. If she’d been more conflicted in the chapter leading up to it, then perhaps it wouldn’t have bothered me so much, but this sequence just didn’t sell it to me at all. And sure, people bottle things up all the time in real life, but it’s happened enough in FFXIII so far that I don’t fully trust the writers. Because of that, I’m less inclined to believe they’re portraying an outburst resulting from suppressed feelings, and more suspicious that they just wanted an excuse for another summon to be introduced.
As for this chapter, we’re nearly done. Once Bahamut’s out of the way, a mysterious magical path opens up, leading the party down to an abandoned Pulse airship. They also spy a “gate to Gran Pulse”, something that is never particularly explained in any depth. A few of these gates appear at plot-significant moments, but they’re quickly skimmed over, leading me to suspect they only exist to help move the story along. This is why I complained about the teleportation issue earlier – these little shortcuts all come together to make me skeptical about the world-building.
The party meanwhile discusses whether to use the airship, concerned that it may be a trap laid by Barthandelus. Sazh is confident that he can fly a Gran Pulse ship since he’s a pilot by trade, and he turns out to be right about that (notice a pattern?). Snow, meanwhile, hopes to find a way to get rid of their brands down on Gran Pulse.
After my snark about patterns, this one’s the combo breaker. For once, the party is wrong about something, but that’s a whole other subject to cover. We’ll get to that in Chapter 11.
First, I’ve got another opportunity to complain. With Fang’s little spat out of the way, we’ve only got two summons left to obtain, and Hope’s going to be up next, very soon. When the subject of removing brands comes up, he chips in, saying that he thinks it’s worth taking a look. Lightning asks about his father, to which Hope confidently responds that he promised his father that he’d keep going and do what is needed. He talks about believing in themselves, and how he’s rejecting the fal’Cie lies, deciding that he’ll make his own decisions from now on.
His speech is met largely with approval, as the others all recognise how far he’s come since his days of fear and anger. This is treated as a significant moment, marking the end of the opening ten chapters, as we finally leave Cocoon behind and get started on the open world segment of the game.
Don’t expect it to last. We’ll be talking more about Hope very soon, but for now, just remember his brave moment where he declares that he’ll think, and act.
Next up, we have a reflective moment with Vanille, as she thinks over the night in Bodhum where everyone was there to watch the fireworks. She muses about how they may have seen hope that they could change their fate, while also noting that the moment has already come and gone. We’re not quite done with flashbacks to the Thirteen Days yet, but this still acts as a neat little wrap-up for the story so far.
Finally, to close out the chapter, we have a brief action sequence in which the airship gets destroyed by a Pulse monster. The scene sets the tone for Gran Pulse as a dangerous land, and dashes any hopes that we might get to fly an airship in this game. Fang saves the day with Bahamut, catching everyone falling from the airship, and then we get to see the wild beauty of Pulse as the camera sweeps across some glorious vistas. It’s time to get exploring!