Last time we were just about to join another of our protagonists on our journey across the Hanging Edge. However, there’s one other character who gets a brief introduction of sorts first.
As the camera swoops across the battlefield, we’re introduced to Galenth Dysley, Primarch of the Sanctum, not that we know it just yet. Though unnamed, it’s him giving the speech over the airwaves, thanking the people for “volunteering” to relocate to Pulse, so that the rest of Cocoon won’t be “exposed to the dangers of the world below”. The broadcast is interrupted by someone stomping the radio flat, stating that it’s an extermination, not relocation.
Dysley makes no reference to the ongoing chaos, and does not plead for people to stop fighting. He instead acts as if nothing’s happening, showing the disconnect between the Sanctum and the people of Bodhum. He starts his speech by claiming that he’s thanking them “on behalf of Cocoon’s citizens”. This theme of “for the people” is one of the major parts of the story, so we can expect a lot more references to what’s best for the majority, and discussions of mass hysteria.
For now, though, Snow takes centre stage, giving a bland speech about being heroes. It’s fairly clear from the start that he’s somewhat naïve about the situation, talking more like a fantasy knight while the government fires on civilians all around. Fortunately, the story won’t let him get away with that, to an extent. Much like with Sazh, I felt that Snow’s character development was a lot more natural than Fang’s, or even Lightning’s, though I can appreciate that his brash persona didn’t sit well with everyone.
Now, there are a lot of incidental NPCs in this area, so perhaps it’s time to socialise. Not quite, though; while some of these NPCs do talk, it’s proximity-based, so it’s more like overhearing conversations than actually interacting with the world. This remains the same for the rest of the game, not that there are many chances to interact with people anyway.
Interaction is a large part of what I feel prevents XIII from working for a lot of people. Sure, having people speak as soon as you move near them does save you a “pointless” button press, but it also takes away the player agency in choosing to interact with them. In a similar fashion, other features of the world come across as unnatural. You can jump in certain areas, denoted by blue glowing circles. Moving into these areas and pushing in the right direction will make the character jump to the next area. Since the designers pretty much do the jump for you, it doesn’t feel like you’re in the world, making the jump yourself.
It’s a small quibble, perhaps, but these little things all added up to disconnect me from what was going on in the game. It’s the same for many features, such as opening doors and operating machinery – you get the same glowing blue circle to show you where you can interact, along with a confirmation noise that is the same across the board. It just silently suggested to me that I was operating the interface, not using a machine in a living world.
In the next area we’re introduced to Snow’s team, none of whom you should get attached to, since they’re essentially the same as Lightning’s gizmo, appearing briefly and then disappearing until the game’s penultimate chapter. Having side characters who appear for a short time but still have notable designs isn’t a bad thing. The problem, I suppose, is that most, if not all, of the side characters share that fate. It’s similar for the Cavalry, but we won’t meet them for a while yet.
They all buy into Snow’s “we’re the heroes” spiel, though it’s not clear who’s to blame for it; perhaps they were the ones who talked Snow into believing that. Either way, they all run in “guns blazing” (or fists, in Snow’s case). Their excitement for battle is somewhat at odds with the corpses of civilians all around, but nobody comments on them, so it’s almost as though they aren’t there.
We also briefly cross paths with Vanille and Hope. Vanille is the narrator from before, and she takes up that role again briefly now. In X, Tidus had the role of narrator, up until they reach Zanarkand. His narration through the game served the function of giving his outsider’s view of the strange world of Spira, as well as bringing a thematic circle to a close when he finishes his recap at the camp outside Zanarkand, which brings us back to the start of the game, when his narration began at that same camp.
Vanille’s commentary is a little more random. It pops in here and there, but it’s sporadic enough that I forget she does it most of the time. I suspect it’s a relic from when Vanille was considered as a possible lead character, before Lightning nudged her out of that spot. The result is that we get a main character who generally doesn’t talk much, while Vanille pops in to narrate things every now and then without it being entirely clear who she’s talking to, or why. On at least one occasion she seems to be speaking to Serah, at least.
In any case, we then go straight back to Snow, who’s leading the offensive against PSICOM, the military force carrying out the Purge. Similar to Lightning and Sazh, Snow has very limited abilities, being restricted to punching enemies or throwing grenades at them. At this point in the game, combat is comprised entirely of attacking enemies or healing with potions, and I’ve often heard complaints about this from friends who liked other FF games, tried this one, and never got through the prologue.
In some ways, I think it’s a little unfair, as most other Final Fantasy games start out with a limited toolset. VII gives you access to a couple of spells, but it’s not that far different, since you’re still basically attacking, using a spell, or healing with potions. However, you do have access to more party members in those games, so you can vary up your strategy slightly more. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t skim through those early areas with just Attack spam for the most part, though.
A lot of the trouble FFXIII has is that people label the first 20-30 hours as an extended tutorial, and that’s true in a lot of ways. Free access to abilities, party members, and paradigms is kept tightly locked until you’ve cleared most of the actual story. Here, it makes a little more sense, with hindsight. The characters you’re playing are all regular humans who have no special powers (cough, with an exception, cough), so it makes sense for them to be less flashy at this point. Once they do obtain powers later on, the battle system begins to open up (emphasis on “begins”).
In this boss fight your AI team mate heals you automatically, so you don’t need to do anything other than hit Attack.
After the boss dies, Snow gets himself into trouble trying to take out an enemy gunship, only to be rescued by Hope’s mother, Nora. Her name just happens to be the same as Snow’s little band of freedom fighters. I suppose the intention was for some symbolism, since their motto is “The army’s no match for NORA”, while the army easily dispatches this Nora, who Snow is unable to save.
Speaking of that, we don’t have to wait long, as after she repeats her catchphrase “Moms are tough”, the bridge is blown up behind her and Snow temporarily saves them both by grabbing onto the bridge with one hand, and her hand with the other. She then asks Snow to look after her son. I’m not sure quite how she was expecting Snow to protect her son, since it looks pretty likely that Snow will die too, but after requesting that, she either gives up or passes out, and slips out of his grasp. Shortly afterwards, Snow himself falls from the ruined bridge, his fate unknown.
This is witnessed from a distance by Nora’s son Hope, who is dragged away by Vanille shortly afterwards. What he saw and how he interpreted it forms the backbone of his character arc for half of the game, as well as influencing Snow’s own eventual personal growth. I’m not entirely sure how much he saw, since from what we see at this time, Snow fell to his apparent death as well. We don’t have too much time to dwell on that, though, as we’re whisked back to Lightning and Sazh.
When we left them, Lightning had just revealed that her “angle” was the Pulse fal’Cie. Sazh remarks that people won’t live long enough to even reach Pulse, and Lightning reveals that this was the intention – that the Sanctum would just move the people away to this quiet spot and then execute them. At this point, I suspect that the writers are trying to make political commentary, as Sazh says the following:
There’s only one government on Cocoon, which is presumably the only one their society has known and will likely ever know, so I would have expected this line to say “the government”, instead of referring to governments in general. I can’t help but suspect that this was a snipe at government misbehaviours in the real world instead. Of course, this is a translation, so it could be just the translator’s agenda, or I’m reading something into the phrasing that was never intended. The repeated references to mass hysteria and “for the people” throughout the story lead me to suspect that the writers, whether the original or translation team, wanted to discuss the topics of how society can be led and misled through the invention of enemies that aren’t really there.
I do like the theme of government conspiracies, but I’m not sure this one really got off the ground in the most effective way. Since the main characters are fugitives for almost the entire game, they never really get the chance to challenge people on their views, or even just to hear any opposing voices. In terms of pay-off, the human element of the government isn’t even behind the Purge, and there’s not really any development in how the people of Cocoon regard their would-be saviours, so the message at the start of the game pretty much remains true up until the end: people are easily led to support atrocities. It’s fair enough if that was the message they wanted to convey, but the happy/optimistic finale doesn’t really support it.
Meanwhile, we also discover that Pulse fal’Cie and “their l’Cie” are enemies of the state, and it’s made clear that there are Sanctum and Pulse fal’Cie. As to what precisely they are, it’s not abundantly clear. Lightning and Sazh see the grand entrance of the Pulse fal’Cie itself moments later, though it looks more like a spaceship crossed with a statue. We’ll later learn that the fal’Cie is actually inside the statue-ship, not the ship itself.
Datalog readers will be pleased to find the answer waiting for them already. You can jump right ahead in the story at this stage by taking a look there:
The Datalog also goes into more detail about what the object being transported over the Hanging Edge is, and how it was discovered with a Pulse fal’Cie inside on the outskirts of Bodhum, prompting the Purge. Again, having the information here isn’t a problem, as this does become more clear in-game as the story progresses, but the differences between where the story is explained in-game and in the Datalog are so huge at this point that it feels particularly problematic.
After Lightning and Sazh lay their eyes on the Pulse Vestige, we rejoin Snow, who managed to survive the long fall to his death by landing on a pile of rubble. Gadot, one of his NORA fellows, has also survived, but sadly it seems that all the unnamed characters around them didn’t make it. Snow tries to work out who Nora meant when she asked him to make sure “he” gets home. However, Gadot has a point he wants to make first.
He pulls a gun on Snow for no apparent reason, before cocking it on his shoulder and prompting Snow to go pick his bride-to-be up, while the camera turns to show the Pulse Vestige in the background. I’m not entirely certain of what the purpose of the gun-pointing was – if anything, it seems to be setting Gadot up to be unstable, but he disappears from most of the game and doesn’t have any major plot points when he does return. By itself, it’s not much, but a lot of characters have these wonky conflicting moments where they suddenly do something weird and then stop moments later.
Snow decides at this point that since he doesn’t know who Nora wanted him to protect, he’ll make sure to protect everyone instead. He delegates this duty to his NORA associates instantly, though, as he intends to go save his bride-to-be at the Pulse Vestige. In this scene, Snow’s a little more reflective than before Nora’s death, taking a serious tone while the other members of NORA continue to maintain their comic relief status. I do wonder if he’s more a victim of their influence than vice-versa.
Hope has decided that he wants to speak to Snow, and has apparently expressed this much to Vanille, who encourages him, but they’re too slow. Snow flies off on his new space bike, leaving Hope to look ominously angry. Vanille checks over the spare space bike, and then asks Hope if he knows to fly it. I don’t know what her goal is here; sad as Hope seems, I’m not sure that taking him to the Pulse Vestige in pursuit of Snow is the wisest course of action, especially given that he’s only shown fear of combat and weapons up to this point.
All the same, Vanille eagerly convinces him to pilot them up to the Pulse Vestige. I guess she just needed someone who could fly to take her? But why would she want to go there anyway? Even when she does go there, she doesn’t do anything but stand back when they meet Anima. In any case, Hope reminds Vanille that the Pulse fal’Cie could make them l’Cie, something that Vanille should have full knowledge about, but that doesn’t faze her. They flee from Gadot on the space bike and crash land in the Pulse Vestige, which brings Chapter One to a close.