It’s almost time for my favourite cutscene! But first, let’s stop in with Cid Raines, the new Primarch of the Sanctum.
Cid delivers a speech to the people of Cocoon at the start of a grand racing event, in which he speaks of the end of the twilight, and the new dawn that is now to follow. This appears to be aimed at announcing an end to the l’Cie crisis, and stinks of the Sanctum’s hubris.
Given that Cid is following Barthandelus’s instructions, I would imagine that he’s well aware that the l’Cie are soon to return, so I suppose that he’s not mistakenly arrogant as it appears, since he’s just pretending. It’s a bit of a shame; I would have liked to return triumphantly to prove a Sanctum official wrong at this stage, whereas we’re instead just playing into Barthandelus’s hands.
As for Cid, I’m not particularly convinced that they really knew what they wanted to do with him. It’s like they had a limit to the number of characters they could create, so they bundled a few different ideas onto Cid, despite the fact that we have underused characters like Jihl, Rosch, and Rygdea, who wouldn’t necessarily fit all these specific purposes, but still could have done with a bit more fleshing-out.
When I say Cid seems to be a collection of differing ideas, let’s look again at what he does during the game. Firstly, he steps in as a fake enemy who turns out to be an ally. Then he pops up mid-dungeon to reveal that he’s actually been working for the villains, but now he’s defying them and going to kill the l’Cie team instead. After being killed/crystallised, he gets unkilled/uncrystallised in order to play villain puppet again, gets some screen time looking evil (grand speeches on huge screens are a great way to sell a bad guy, if you ask me), and then gets killed off by a secondary character for good.
I could perhaps get behind this new take on his character if it impacted the player in any way, but the party doesn’t encounter Cid in this chapter, and the Cavalry’s importance gets wiped out at the start of Chapter 13 too, so it mostly comes across as an excuse. Rather than confront Cid or the Cavalry, as a decent way to bring an end to this subplot, you end up facing off with Rosch, whose plot importance disappeared way back in Chapter 7.
Now, I stated that this is one of my favourite cutscenes, and that still holds true. It’s fast-paced, and captures all the different personalities of our protagonists really neatly. As Cid signals for the race to begin after his speech, one of those plot gates opens up and spits out the l’Cie, who leap into action. Lightning gets some one-liners and cool moves in, Snow makes a stupid mistake while playing the hero, and Vanille finds herself in an awkward spot that she manages to resolve with some hefty violence.
But let’s stop there, because did I just say that they rush into action during a race?
Yes, this scene is amusing to watch, but it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
With no preparation time available, and no particular reason to start attacking anything, the l’Cie burst through the plot gate and start dishing out destruction during a perfectly innocent race. When Snow saves a racer who was endangered by their reckless attack, he acts like he’s a hero, which makes sense for his character, but just highlights the absurdity of everything going on here.
The Sanctum, of course, reacts with military force, and regardless of their previous crimes, I think they’re justified in identifying the l’Cie as threats here. Throughout the chapter the l’Cie all lament how nobody trusts them to do the right thing, but what on earth did they expect people to think after this baffling assault on a sports event?
It’s only after they trash the place that Barthandelus sets his plan in motion. The sole part that was active when the l’Cie arrived was the Cavalry’s infiltration of Eden, and attacking this race track wouldn’t achieve the party’s goal of stopping them from destroying Orphan.
Once the l’Cie team has successfully destabilised the city, Barthandelus plays his next card, and unleashes Pulse monsters from the Fifth Ark, sending them to slaughter the populace. This sets up the major conflict for Chapter 12 – a four-way battle between the creatures of Pulse, the l’Cie, the Cavalry, and the Sanctum.
First, though, we see the end of Cid’s story, as Rygdea drops by to kill him. Cid is clearly still somewhat aware of his true self, and allows Rygdea to finish him off. Rygdea then promptly disappears from the storyline and we never see him again. While you might presume that he dies with the rest of the Cavalry at the beginning of Chapter 13, Final Fantasy XIII-2 claims he survived to become a major political figure. However, given that I don’t really regard XIII-2 onwards as canon, I suppose that doesn’t matter to me.
Back with the main party, they talk about how Barthandelus’s prediction of chaos is coming true. Guys, you just launched a terrorist attack on a race track, what did you think was going to happen? I suppose this is the problem with Lightning and Hope’s “just do it” mantra.
Much as the entire premise seems nonsensical to me, I like this chapter. Visually, it’s a treat, and it has a similar focused vibe to Chapter 9. Yes, it’s all just a load more fights, but the pacing feels good and it remains energetic throughout (unless you pick the wrong fights in a couple of areas). The idea of the four-way battle is good, it’s just I found some of the execution a bit lacking.
We also finally see the reappearance of Lightning’s weird gizmo from Chapter 1 that allows her to land gracefully when jumping from huge heights. I feel like I’m just being a grumpy old man at moments like these, and I understand that these guys are mostly supposed to be confident heroes, but is it possible that they could pause and plan at least a couple of the things they do? Nobody explains how it works to Vanille, and they all just jump over without appearing to have much of a clear idea of where they’re going. It’s basically a metaphor for the main storyline.
Not to mention they had enough for all six of them, without any clear sign that they’d be needing them. And why would they not explain them to Vanille if they did buy them in advance? Oh, forget it, I’ve moaned enough about that, it’s really not that important.
After a series of fights on the iconic Expressway that serves as one of the FFXIII stages in Dissidia, we come face to face with Rosch once more.
Remember that they opened with an all-out attack on a race track.
Now, Rosch has apparently undergone some personal development since we last encountered him. When we first saw him, he was a staunch supporter of the Sanctum, seeking to keep Cocoon safe from the l’Cie whatever the cost. He recognised that the Purge was a drastic measure, but maintained its necessity. After that, he was shot by the Cavalry, only to resurface during the escape from the Palamecia, attempting to gun the party down.
However, somehow, he’s now aware that the fal’Cie are chessmasters who care little for their pawns, and is a staunch supporter of a humanity-first ideology. I’m not certain exactly what’s set him against the fal’Cie, not that he’s making any attempt to defy their orders.
After defeating him, Vanille laments the fact that nobody is working with them, and they talk about how people are blinded by fear. I’m not going to let go of the fact that they opened this chapter with that assault – they never plan anything in this game, and this is the result!
Anyhow, the battle through the city continues, and you get to cross several highways and the city park. There are a few peaceful areas where you can stop and have a look at the scenery, and even run into a few random civilians, who mostly just complain like they’ve been mildly inconvenienced by this disaster if you go near them.
At the end of the park, the way is blocked off by an impassable door, but they’re saved by an unlikely source:
Not bothered by Snow’s transformation into a l’Cie, they offer him support, and declare that they’ll take care of the civilians. It’s nice to have a reminder of the opening, even if I feel a bit like this underlines how little we got to actually socialise in this game. But don’t worry, you’ll get to meet them again in the sequel.
Further into the city, the air begins to fill with crystal dust, and Etro’s Gate starts to open in the sky. This goes relatively unexplained in FFXIII, but there’s a gate to the afterlife that opens when beings die, and the more die at once, the wider the gate opens, or so the theory goes. As the slaughter in Eden continues, Etro’s Gate appears overhead, and you can see it in a few cutscenes or from the right angle while playing.
That’s not to say that it goes completely unmentioned, of course, because it’s referenced in that accursed Datalog! But I suppose that all regular players need to know about that plot point is that it’s a human sacrifice, right?
I don’t know. It’s obviously not mandatory information, but I think it adds some flavour to the story, and gives important context to why that weird thing is glowing up in the sky. Explaining every little thing isn’t needed, and it’s fun to piece things together sometimes, but I’d really have preferred it if they spent more time on their mythology in the main story.
Further down the road, Barthandelus pops in to mock the l’Cie. I’m not sure if this giant glowing face is visible to anyone (as you can see above, only Sazh seems to have noticed it), but I got distracted by wondering if any of the random citizens of Eden saw their former Primarch acting so weirdly. Maybe only the l’Cie can see this. Maybe nobody can, and it’s for some kind of weird artsy reason for only the player to see.
Either way, Barthandelus is obviously not satisfied with the party doing exactly what he wanted, so he reiterates his plan for them, just to make sure they get it. There’s not really any extra information to be gleaned from this exchange, it’s simply over-explaining what we already know. This might have been a good opportunity for him to gesture at Etro’s Gate and explain what’s going on, but that chance flew past.
Once Lightning’s reaffirmed her intention to kill Barthandelus, the party heads on into Edenhall. As they come close to a group of Sanctum soldiers, a wave of energy washes over the troops and turns them all into Cie’th instantly. This is one of those dangerous plot-hole-y abilities that you need to be careful about including. If it’s that easy for fal’Cie to turn people into Cie’th, why don’t they just do that during their boss fights?
The counter-argument, of course, is that the Sanctum fal’Cie want you to succeed and destroy Orphan, but if that’s the case, why fight back at all? If they’re programmed to fight regardless of their intentions, then surely this ability should be on their list as well? Or do they somehow hold enough willpower to nerf their own movesets?
Speaking of fights, the end-of-chapter battle looms. It’s a rematch with Rosch, in a slightly-more-powerful Proud Clad war machine. Once you beat him, he emerges from the machine, and speaks of how he’s “orchestrated mass murder” at the behest of the fal’Cie. He briefly tries to justify his actions because it was what the people wanted, though now he’s come to question the motivations of the fal’Cie. I’m still not quite sure what event changed his mind about them, since he never really had a very detailed conversation with the party about Barthandelus’s plan.
In any case, he takes out his communicator and orders PSICOM and the Guardian Corp to cease all l’Cie operations and focus on evacuating the civilians. This is another one of those sequences that seemed fine when I first watched it, but when I sat down and thought about it, I noticed that he doesn’t actually specify where the civilians are to be evacuated. Perhaps they already discussed that Cocoon was in danger of being destroyed, and had agreed to relocate to Gran Pulse if the worst happened. He does seem somewhat aware of what the fal’Cie are up to, so I suppose that could be reasonable to assume.
He sends the party on into Edenhall, but is promptly set upon by two behemoths. Taking out a grenade, he kills them both, at the cost of his own life. The party, now inside Edenhall, understands what he has done, but they don’t allow it to hamper their resolve (unless, of course, the player chooses otherwise). With no further discussions to be had, they head on into Orphan’s Cradle, for Chapter 13, and the end of the game.