Here we are at long last. Just one dungeon to go, and we can shut down the game and this endless series of articles.
When I first played this part of the game (most of Chapter 12 included), I went straight from Eden through the Cradle in an evening and then, rather unwisely, overnight. It was quite late when I reached the start of Chapter 13 anyway, but I thought that it would surely not take that long. I was wrong.
I was hyped enough from finishing that I went straight into XIII-2 afterwards. Since I would be waking up for work in three hours anyway (yes, not my smartest choice to keep going), I just pulled an all-nighter. Much as I suffered over that shift, I’m kind of glad I did it, because that memory has stuck with me.
Back in the game itself, it’s time to wave good bye to the Cavalry. Lightning and the other enter this strange room you can see above, only for the scenery to suddenly transform, opening out into a strange otherworldly magic tunnel of sorts that will be our final dungeon. Along with this, they encounter several Cie’th, who they realise (somehow) are all that remains of the Cavalry. As I mentioned before, Rygdea is supposed to have survived this, but I’m not too sure how. Did he get injured somewhere else in the city and miss the final assault on the Cradle? Who knows?
The party makes one further declaration to kill Barthandelus, and then it’s time for some non-stop fighting. As with pretty much the entire game, your journey from here is basically to run along the scenery fighting most of the things in your path. There’s a couple of weird deviations here and there, but it’s mostly pretty straightforward. It looks more complicated than it actually is.
Some weird statues follow you around and act as silent guides of a sort. Nobody ever questions what they are, and it’s never explained in-game. They’re apparently statues of Lindzei, but Lindzei isn’t explained in this game either, so there you go. You just can’t be trusted with any of this information, I suppose.
Near the start of the dungeon, you also get access to two portals. One will take you back to Eden, while the other will drop you down on Gran Pulse. Got things you still want to do first? Need to do some grinding before this dungeon? Well, there’s your chance. Sadly, this benevolence does not extend to granting access to anywhere from Chapters 1-10.
I complained a lot about them never showing that Fang’s feeling conflicted ahead of one of her random outbursts, but hey – they actually do that in this dungeon. Vanille notices something’s up, but Fang carefully sidesteps the subject.
There’s a lot of fighting, and the weird sahagin creatures are basically the most annoying enemy in the game when you don’t have any good healers on the team, but it’s not insurmountable. And you’d better make the most of your time there, because once you’ve made your way past everything, the dungeon reconfigures itself and you can no longer explore most of it. I have no idea why it’s designed this way. The developers just really don’t want you to revisit most of their content.
If you can get past the rest of the dungeon, then you end up in this weird little corridor before the final boss fight. I don’t know how much of this dungeon is pure illusion, and how much might actually take place in the real world, but it’s quite an unnerving and clinical area, like something out of a dream sequence in a sci-fi TV series.
The architect should probably be fired, though – who builds a throne room that requires visitors to jump down a huge drop to enter?
Barthandelus appears on the throne as the l’Cie drop in, accompanied by the crystals of Serah and Dajh (Dajh is still floating in his crystal, while Serah herself is the crystal). Eager to wind up our heroes, Barthandelus shatters both crystals, but Lightning and Sazh aren’t fooled, immediately declaring it as an illusion. I’m not sure where they get their certainty from; Barthandelus is clearly not above murdering people, and he has no reason to keep either Dajh or Serah alive.
One more time, Barthandelus entreats with the l’Cie to slay Orphan, as an act of mercy. Lightning and company are having none of it, though, and a fight breaks out. Barthandelus assumes his fal’Cie form for a third face-off, in probably the easiest of his three encounters. Once you kill him, he sinks into a weird pool beneath the throne, celebrating his “release”. The party has a slightly muted celebration, and we can assume that the game is done!
Well, obviously nobody really does. Barthandelus’s familiar, Menrva, flies in, and a new fal’Cie emerges from the pool. A weird combination of a mother, father, and a child, this is Orphan’s first form, and our next boss fight. For reasons I don’t fully understand, Orphan doesn’t quite have a proper form until Barthandelus dies in the pool, and Menrva somehow catalyses his “birth”, or some such. I think this is one of those symbolic things that will always confuse me when I try to reason it out.
I suppose I should briefly touch on how this boss fight plays out. While I can’t fully recall whether I beat him first time or not, I don’t remember having too much trouble with him. However, when I did this playthrough with my Lightning/Sazh/Snow party, I really suffered quite a bit. My healing with just Lightning and Sazh was too slow, and I hadn’t invested in Saboteur yet (so expensive!), which meant that I encountered abilities and problems I’d never realised were a thing.
Orphan can cast instant death on a random party member, though it’s apparently also influenced by role to an extent. If it hits the party leader, the fight’s over, so the fewer chances he gets to cast this ability, the better. With a party that’s slow to heal up after heavy damage, and not very quick at killing things, this ability becomes a real pain in the posterior.
So, in summary, this boss isn’t too hard, but he can really punish you if you have any holes in your team.
Defeating Barthandelus just before this boss was quite nice, as he actually showed that we’d beaten him in the following cutscene. Orphan displays no such politeness, and promptly trounces the party after your victory. He then discusses how fal’Cie are bound by their purpose, while humans have limitless potential, before tormenting Vanille.
This causes Fang to agree to become Ragnarok once more. However, she then turns her weapon on Vanille, forcing the rest of the party to step in. A fight breaks out, which Fang manages to win easily, even though I hadn’t used her Crystarium Points for a couple of chapters. The rest of the party members, aside from Vanille, are seemingly transformed into Cie’th, and Fang loses hope. She allows the Cie’th to attack her, but before she can be killed, she finally assumes the form of Ragnarok, and attempts to destroy Orphan.
It’s not the most successful of attempts, even though Orphan, for once, sits back and lets her go all-out. Meanwhile, Vanille thinks over the adventures they all had together, musing on what drove them all the way, and concluding that it wasn’t anger that did so.
Fang returns to her normal form, her attempt to destroy Orphan over. Orphan tries to force her back into the shape of Ragnarok, alternately healing and torturing her. Vanille watches on, before finally gathering the strength to step up to Orphan and shout her defiance. Just as she does so, a magical assault blasts Orphan, and Lightning, Sazh, Snow, and Hope reappear from somewhere.
It’s another sequence that is brushed over. When Vanille and Fang express their surprise at the party’s survival, it’s just put down to “fal’Cie smoke and mirrors”, with the group of them sent to some strange dark and cold place where they all had glimpses of the future. They feel that they have a new Focus now, and join together to defy Orphan.
Apparently they all have figured out that Orphan won’t go down just yet, despite the fact that the fal’Cie has been quite noisily dying for the past couple of minutes. I think their bold, defiant declarations might have carried more weight if the target of their righteous fury wasn’t wailing and probably not even listening.
It’s one of those sequences where I’m not quite sure how to react. It’s nice to see them standing up against the enemy (awkward dying notwithstanding), but it’s also bound to make a lot of people roll their eyes. Compare it with the confrontation at the end of Final Fantasy VI back in 1994, where the heroes all deliver similar proclamations, before the villain dismisses them all as lines from a self-help booklet in a much more self-aware sequence.
Orphan’s next form emerges from the ooze, and Lightning delivers a hefty speech about how they’ll stop him. The whole thing feels very weird to me, and I’m not sure quite how to sum up my feelings about it.
You see, up until Orphan actually appears, he’s treated as a sleeping being and something to protect. However, when he does appear, he’s just another one-dimensional jerk character who wants to torment the main party because he’s desperate to be murdered. The party reacts to him as the ultimate evil, even though he’s had practically no involvement in any of the plots that led to this point.
And I think there’s something somewhat tragic in the whole fal’Cie situation. There’s never really an exploration of their self-destructive desire to be reunited with their Maker, and moreover, the reason they’re looking for a loophole is exactly the same as the thing the party fights for the entire game – the fal’Cie are restricted by the Focus, essentially, that their Makers gave them, and they have no way out.
Lightning’s speech about Orphan wanting to die also touches on a subject that is probably a bit too heavy for the story that’s being portrayed, and certainly not a subject that gets the level of detail or coverage that it would need. Orphan himself just comes across as malevolent and deranged, so the story obviously doesn’t want you to feel conflicted about this fight, but it’s just… eh. I find it very difficult to hate something that’s so clearly broken.
As for the final boss fight, it’s basically a last test of your ability to Stagger opponents, and not too tricky. Especially not if you over-levelled your characters like I did in the screenshot above. I went on a Crystarium Point farming spree so I could get some Saboteurs, and got a lot more than I was expecting.
So, er, Orphan dies, and, erm, this is where the whole lack-of-planning should probably unravel. If we wind back to the last conversation on Oerba, the party was rallying to stop Barthandelus and prevent the Cavalry from destroying Orphan. The only discussions since then were pretty much restricted to “let’s get Dysley!” and nothing really to do with Orphan. Lightning stood before Orphan and declared her defiance, deciding to kill him to thwart his desire that she should, ah, kill him.
And now, here we stand, with Orphan dead, which means that Cocoon will collapse. Nobody’s said anything about any back-up plans, so I guess that should mean it’s Game Over for Cocoon. There’s not even any easy way to get out of Barthandelus’s throne room, after all.
The lights begin switching out all across Cocoon, and everyone starts floating through the air over Eden. How, exactly, they got there is deemed unimportant and is never covered. They start grabbing hold of each other’s hands, but Fang and Vanille remain apart. It seems that they’ve come to some sort of agreement that was never discussed on-screen, and now they’re ready to carry out their plan.
This is the little twist that is kept unstated right until it happens, because mentioning it in any way would basically just make it obvious how the l’Cie team can get out of their dark Focus. Rather than use Ragnarok to destroy Cocoon, Fang and Vanille wield its power to instead prevent Cocoon’s collapse, and they create a crystal pillar to keep Cocoon in the sky. This presumably buys time for the citizens of Cocoon to be evacuated, as we shortly after see ships landing on Gran Pulse with refugees.
Etro’s Gate, meanwhile, disappears.
At this point, we rejoin Lightning, Sazh, Snow, and Hope, who have all been turned to crystal, and safely delivered to the surface of Gran Pulse, somehow. They suddenly awaken, and all seems well with the world. Everyone’s super-happy and their brands have all gone too. Then Serah and Dajh appear, also freed from being crystals, and Snow quickly gets started on planning the wedding. Lightning finally gives her consent, and then the camera swoops over to Cocoon.
We get one last shot of Vanille and Fang as crystals, and Vanille briefly narrates how they were able to hold onto hope and achieve the impossible, and with that, the story’s done, and it’s time to roll the credits!
So, er, what to make of all that, then?
Endings are a difficult thing to pull off. Every aspect of a story is, if you get deep into the nitty-gritty, but I think that really satisfying endings are few and far between. Final Fantasy XIII’s main story is about a group of women and men who get manipulated by warring gods who all want the same thing – the slaughter of millions. The structure of the game supports this, restricting itself to narrow paths and controlling how much you can step off those tracks. Any attempts to find a way out meet in abject failure, as symbolised by the broken bridge leading out of Oerba.
Even when they try to take the fight back to Barthandelus, they don’t appear to have a solution for the big question of how to deal with Orphan. They have defiance, but no direction in which to go with it. There’s a definite air of futility and hopelessness.
So this ending seems to be aimed at showing that if we believe, and stick firmly to our goals, we can do whatever we want. Even when the entire world has turned against us, we can still remain true to ourselves, and those close to us. It’s an admirable intention, but quite clumsy in execution.
The problem, I feel, comes down to the areas the writers neglected over the course of the story. Etro’s Gate is a great example of that – it’s an important feature of what the fal’Cie are trying to achieve, by forcing open the gate to the afterlife, but it’s never even named in the main story.
We’re repeatedly told that turning to crystal is the end, an endless sleep that might as well be death. But the events of the story don’t particularly back this up very often – Cid turns to crystal but is conveniently popped back into his human form so he can be deployed as a puppet again. Meanwhile, Fang and Vanille show that they were able to return hundreds of years later, but the main party gets to come back practically immediately.
As for Fang and Vanille themselves, they get stuck in another sleep with no apparent end. We’re left to assume that it’s something to do with Ragnarok, or them being a part of the crystal pillar holding up Cocoon, or whatever other theories we might come up with, but at the end of the day, it’s just something we have to accept happened as part of the story, and that’s it.
Now, before people who have played the sequels get cross with me, yes, Etro is supposed to have stepped in and returned the others to life. But that doesn’t come across in the story here. What if there had been no sequel? It’s a pretty major part of the ending, and without that context, it just comes across as a bit of convenience for the sake of a mostly-happy finale. There was that Analect that referred to the Goddess meddling, but it’s a bit tenuous to try linking the two bits of information.
And for Serah and Dajh to be right there was even more convenience dropped on top of everything else we’re trying to balance. I mean, sure, it’s nice that we get to see an ending of sorts to Lightning’s issues with Snow’s marriage to Serah, but I struggle to process the likelihood of them all meeting up in the same place. And who put them on the surface anyway? More Etro interventions?
There’s no resolution to any of the major social issues raised over the course of the story. I suppose Rosch’s decision to suspend l’Cie operations is the closest we get to resolving the people’s “mindless” hatred of things they fear. The main party never get to visibly prove the Sanctum’s evils – the closest they get is launching a terrorist assault on that race (fine, I’ll stop bringing it up). It’s instead left to Fang and Vanille, the outsiders from Pulse, to give up their fears of Cocoon and be the reasonable ones.
I think, at the end of the day, the main conflict just wanted to focus on how a bunch of fugitives fought an evil god and won, and the rest of it is fairly ankle-deep in terms of treatment. I do feel that the main characters get better coverage than in a lot of similar RPGs, and the way it’s structured gives you more time to play as them, instead of just attaching new characters to the group and having them make a quip every now and then.
Saying all this, I actually was fine with the ending when I first watched it (but bear in mind that it was 3:30am). It’s only after the fact that I sat down and pondered all my unanswered questions, or started picking at the little details. The ending is probably a good summary for my reaction to most of the game, to be honest – I was generally fine with it, but I thought it could have been done better.
So! That’s all thirteen chapters complete. But I’m not done talking about FFXIII yet – there’s a couple of other things to go through before I can consider this truly finished.