Chapter 11 opens with a series of shots of Gran Pulse, while Vanille speaks of the dangers of this untamed world, before giving a brief summary of the fal’Cie plan to bring back the Maker. She wonders what that would mean for the world, and also touches on what their legacy will be, as l’Cie.
But I’m going to go off on a sidetrack again. Let’s talk about this:
I’m relatively confident that this is the first time we see Cocoon for what it actually is in the main game. The only other times are in the FMV when you boot up the game, the manual, or the Datalog, which, as I’ve said a few times, should complement the world-building rather than acting as its main source. This never actually bothered me when I played it the first time, since I did watch and read all of those things, but I’m not convinced that’s the best way to do things.
As for our protagonists, a quick scene establishes that they’ve been exploring for days and found no sign of civilisation. Before they can go into any detail, though, they notice that Hope hasn’t returned, and the chocobo chick flies in to tell Vanille that something’s wrong. It seems that Vanille is somehow able to understand the chocobo chick, but this is quickly passed over as the group decides Hope’s safety is more important than my quibbles about plot-related abilities.
Your first experience of Gran Pulse is, unfortunately, not much different to Cocoon, as you’re restricted to this one straight path in Vallis Media. At the end of it, the party finds Hope passed out next to a spring, and they take him back to base camp.
While Hope rests, the other group members discuss their situation again, emphasising their long, fruitless search so far. Vanille suggests that there’s one place they haven’t checked (if we ignore all of the locations we visit on our way there) – Oerba, the village she and Fang came from, and also the place where Anima was sleeping before he was taken to Bodhum.
Hope wakes up during this conversation, and this is where he suddenly has a personality shift to accommodate his incoming Eidolon battle. The end of the previous chapter gave him a grand speech to show how much he’d changed and become stronger, but now he throws all that away and gives up again.
I know, people do this sort of thing all the time. I’ve made plenty of grand declarations about how I’ll strive towards a particular goal, only to change my mind on it a couple of weeks later when I’ve had a chance to properly judge it. However, it’s a problem with patterns in FFXIII – in almost every case where an Eidolon pops up, the associated party member has an abrupt shift in personality.
While it’s stated that some time has passed since Chapter 10, giving plenty of time for Hope to fall to despair, that gets passed over swiftly in the actual game, so this change feels very sudden and rushed. From declaring that he’ll think, and act, Hope just decides that he’s a burden and tries to send everyone away, unable to bear the thought of everyone being responsible for him any longer.
In any case, this sequence is where the group figures out the true purpose of Eidolons. Rather than being there to kill l’Cie who are giving up, the Eidolons instead come to encourage the l’Cie not to give up. Do they ever appear for any l’Cie other than the main six, though? I doubt that Serah or Cid ever got visits from these beings, and the general fate for l’Cie is accepted to be transformation into Cie’th, not getting pounded into the earth by angry summons.
The appearance of the Eidolon Alexander serves its purpose, though; the l’Cie rally together to head for Oerba, hoping to find a way to get rid of their brands and defy their Focus. And with that, it’s finally time for the open world!
I remember a lot being made of FFXIII’s open world before its release, and after people realised just how linear the game actually was, several others chipped in to explain that while the opening is indeed guilty of that, later in the game you get some proper exploration. So how does it hold up?
The central location of Gran Pulse is the Archylte Steppe, a wide open zone unlike any of the others in the game so far. Monsters wander the plains, most notably the towering adamantoises, and all sorts of things are hidden and waiting to be found. But it’s a very basic form of open world. You see, your toolset remains exactly the same as before – you run into monsters to initiate fights, or you find and open chests. There’s very little else to do.
But what about Cie’th Stone missions? Well yes, those do add some variation to the game, but all they do is give you another specific monster to fight. Some of those monsters are unique to the missions, while others are just standard enemies. It also feels good to complete missions that unlock teleports, and occasionally there are parts of the world that are blocked off until you clear their associated mission. Not only that, but you can only unlock chocobos by doing Cie’th Stone missions.
While you can pick up some little excerpts of history for your Datalog from completing certain missions, Gran Pulse remains a wilderness where civilisation has been wiped out, so you don’t really get to uncover many side stories like in other open world games. There are some cutscenes and character moments that you’ll only get by exploring, though, and I’m pretty sure you can clear the entire game without ever stepping foot in the Yaschas Massif.
I think it’s always customary to start a fight with one of these chaps when you first reach the Archylte Steppe. Let’s see how that goes.
So let’s go through those cutscenes you can get from visiting the Yaschas Massif, or unlocking the chocobos. The first one I ran into was a brief exchange between Hope and Vanille. Hope comments on how he never would have seen any of this alien landscape if not for the tragic circumstances he’s been through. Before he can really explore this idea, Vanille derails him by lying that he’d promised they’d see Gran Pulse together, before instantly backtracking and admitting how many lies she tells.
Hope talks about how some lies are necessary, and that some things everyone believes in are actually lies. He then discusses that the important thing is what you do after the lie, and suggests that lies can be made true if people work hard enough at it. Before things can get too serious, though, he teases Vanille, and they both charge off together.
If you drop by the Paddraean Archaeopolis, you get a scene where Fang and Vanille talk about how they grew up hating Cocoon, and never dreamed they’d go exploring with some of its citizens. This cutscene has perhaps my favourite understatement, when Vanille talks about becoming Ragnarok, the embodiment of destruction, and tearing open a hole in the very shell of Cocoon itself:
Fang reiterates her loss of memory, while Vanille blames herself for so many people dying. When you leave the Archaeopolis after that, you get to see the fal’Cie Dahaka fly past, and they decide to follow it back to its home, which was apparently not far from Oerba.
Since I’m not one to stay particularly focused, though, I continued to clear out some Cie’th Stone Missions on this playthrough, just so I could get the chocobo sequences. However, when I first played the game, I actually never unlocked the chocobos until after I’d cleared the main story.
In fact, I stopped playing the game for nearly another year around this point the first time around. The opening to Gran Pulse can be a little unforgiving, and if you’re still bad at the game’s intended mechanics like I was, some of the encounters can really drag on. I got sidetracked in the Yaschas Massif, burned out on fighting so many lengthy battles going in either direction, and finally set the game down for eleven months. It was actually the Final Fantasy music spin-off game, Theatrhythm, that nudged me into trying the game again.
Getting back on track, the chocobos are an opportunity for Sazh to get some more screentime. The cutscene where you first meet the chocobos gets my seal of approval. It neatly shows Sazh’s love of the birds, his connection with the chocobo chick (which attacks him when he suggests leaving it with the other chocobos), and also gives him a chance to resolve some issues with Fang.
After all, he had quite the set-to with Vanille over the Euride Gorge Incident, but hasn’t discussed it with Fang before now. He’s come to terms with it, for the most part, and accepts that it wasn’t her fault, even blaming himself for losing track of Dajh. It’s also nice to see Fang being understanding and encouraging, rather than her usual flippant self.
The chocobos allow you to do probably the closest thing to a minigame in FFXIII – hunting down hidden treasure. It occasionally has some good rewards, but is one of those things I start ignoring the more I play the game.
Unlocking the chocobos also allows you to access a few areas that were previously out of reach, most notable of which is the Haerii Archaeopolis, which eventually allows you to enter the Faultwarrens, an optional dungeon that pits you against some of the tougher monsters in the game. The fal’Cie overseeing the Faultwarrens is Titan, a giant who can sometimes be seen from the Archylte Steppe. Apparently he was originally planned to be an opponent, but owing to his size, that plan was abandoned for FFXIII.
I didn’t go through the Faultwarrens in this playthrough (“save it for later”), and I think that’s enough of the side stuff. It’s time to visit the Mah’habara Subterra, or the Vile Peaks Mark 2.
Now, I was quite hard on the Vile Peaks before, but I don’t have such a negative reaction to Mah’habara. This is one of those cases where expectations and context are so important. With the Vile Peaks, I was suffering from too much of the same content, and eager to see more of the actual world, not just constant dungeons. When it comes to visiting the Subterra, you’ve had the opportunity to explore some of Gran Pulse, and it’s already fairly clear what the game’s going to be providing in terms of content, so there wasn’t that same strain.
To be clear, Mah’habara uses the same theme as the Vile Peaks, has many similar types of enemy, and is also a dark, rocky location filled with discarded Pulse junk. This makes sense, given that the Vile Peaks were used as a place to dump Pulse waste. There’s also another sequence where Hope has a run-in with a Dreadnought, which probably would have made more sense to me the first time I played if I hadn’t mostly forgotten that event two years later.
It’s unfortunately also time for another random Eidolon sequence. Fang has apparently begun to suspect that Vanille is lying about which of the two became Ragnarok, so she tricks Vanille into confessing. Vanille panics and practically instantly falls to despair, which summons Brynhildr for a fight.
After winning, we then get a fairly uncomfortable scene where Fang gets so angry that it seems she’s about to hit Vanille, only to change her mind, take pity on Vanille, and draw her in for a hug. Not only is it completely different to how protective of Vanille Fang has been in the past, but it also casts her as unpredictable and actually a little frightening. Perhaps I’m overreacting to this brief moment, but I don’t think it does Fang any favours at all.
I suppose one of the main problems I have is that this behaviour is never questioned, and it’s forgotten just as quickly as it appears. It’s not like the bit where Lightning struck Snow, which feels less unpleasant since Snow can take it easily enough, though I suppose that comes bundled with its own set of problems. Ignoring the fact that Vanille is a capable fighter in combat, she’s one of the more vulnerable party members, along with Hope, so seeing Fang threaten her feels that much worse.
From here, it’s a straight path to Hope’s meeting with the Dreadnoughts that I mentioned earlier. They come to his defence when the fal’Cie Atomos, a faceless ball that spends its time digging holes, is about to flatten him. Once Atomos has been brought to a halt, it becomes a handy chauffeur that can take the party on to their next destination, the Sulyya Springs.