“Thought unseen, that gift – it lies within us all. It is a constant turmoil of light and darkness, strength and frailty, beauty and unsightliness.
That gift is our spirit. It gives us the strength we need to persevere in hardships. But at times, it is nothing but a curse, straying beyond our control… causing us pain and sorrow.
Even so, it is something far too precious to lose. It is what allows me to hold hope for the future. In a world consumed by chaos, in a world where spirits are fading. I ask myself: have I the strength to embrace my gift?”
– Lightning Farron, my shero.
To say that the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy has a special place in my heart would be an understatement. Not gonna lie, it was a struggle to write this article for the big Final Fantasy Crystal Compendium community project. I could go into the technical details of all three games, but I don’t want to. There are a ton of reviews from experts if you want to read that. I could get cranky and babble on about how much everyone seems to hate on these 3 games with passion, for various reasons, but I’m not. Everyone has their opinions, and that’s fine. Love them or hate them, Lightning, Sazh, Snow, Hope, Vanille, Fang, Serah, and Noel all mean the world to me. They were the family and friends I desperately needed during a difficult time when my own selfish misery had left me abandoned and lost in my own darkness.
Video games have always been a way to escape my reality, and you know, just have fun, be inspired, and stuff. I had FUN playing all three Final Fantasy XIII games and I love them. That’s all that matters. All this negativity about everything online irks me beyond words. No game is perfect. If you don’t like it, don’t play it, and please just respect the people who don’t share your views. Is that so much to ask? Apparently, it is. So rage trolls, if you hated Final Fantasy XIII so much, why did you force yourself to play it? Square Enix doesn’t owe you anything. Don’t like their new games? Don’t buy them! I’m sorry the iconic Final Fantasy series took a direction you don’t like. But to me, it’s the best direction ever, and one that probably saved my life.
Whoa, wait… I said I wasn’t gonna get cranky about the haters, didn’t I? Oops! Let’s try this article again, shall we? Ahem. Um, let’s start with a brief logical-like overview of the games, and then go from there, eh? Okay…
Final Fantasy XIII
Former Guardian Corps soldier Lightning Farron and her, um, friends(?) have been branded L’Cie by an “evil” god-like being, that happens to be the enemy of the “good” god-like beings in control of Cocoon society. When you’re a L’Cie you get cool magical powers, but you also have an annoying Focus thing to complete (and of course the god-like being doesn’t clearly explain it to you). If you don’t complete your Focus in time, you get turned into a horrible monster called a Cie’th. If you DO complete it, you get turned into crystal for an eternity of bliss, so they say.
The overall mission? Lightning and her friends need to figure out what they have to do before they all turn into horrible monsters, while running from an entire army out to kill them, and while also trying to find a way to save Lightning’s sister Serah (who gets turned into a crystal near the beginning of the game). Talk about multitasking! The emotional story delivery is excellent. Jumping seamlessly between past and present, while giving all the intriguing characters their screen time, and slowly revealing just how connected these hapless L’Cie are. Yes, there are a lot of cutscenes, but I personally loved watching the pretty cutscenes. To each their own? Sigh. You can skip them if you want…
Focus is key here, people. Big open worlds with multiple branching story paths are fun and all that, but sometimes it’s nice to just be shown an inspiring dystopian story while bashing monsters on the head in stunning environments. I realize this approach isn’t for everyone, but I really enjoy XIII’s straightforward style (To be honest, I was kind of upset when the world opened up near the end). The game eases you into the controls with simple tutorial-style explanations that slowly happen as you go, so you don’t get assaulted with information or ever feel lost.
The combat system keeps you on your toes with a 2-3 party Paradigm Shift mechanic, letting you switch roles on the fly in the heat of battle. You can easily get through the main story bosses by mashing the auto-battle option and using the right Paradigms. If you want more of a challenge, go down the last optional Cie’th Stone boss and tell me how easy that was. My biggest gripe is with the poorly designed weapon upgrade system. Breaking down items and guessing how to use finite components is just tedious and wasteful. My advice is to save, experiment, and reload when you screw up. Or just read a guide online.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
I like to call this game “Lightning is Missing!” The seemingly happy ending to the first game has been erased from time by an unknown force, and now it’s up to Serah Farron (the only one who remembers what really happened) to rescue her big sister for once. Lightning has essentially been wiped from the timeline, drafted by the the Goddess Etro, and left alone with her misery to fight an endless battle at the end of time. While my brave shero selflessly fights to protect a world that has forgotten her, you take control of Serah and the new guy Noel as they jump through time, battle paradoxes, and chase down a big bad named Caius Ballad (Or as I like to call him, purple-haired Sephiroth. He has his own badass Latin choir theme song too). The overall goal is to fix time and reach Lightning, but you’ll discover some neat things about Serah, Noel, and Caius along the way. That’s all I’ll say about this hella complex story.
The gameplay from XIII seems to have been erased from the timeline as well, and Square Enix went in a whole new direction. The core of the Paradigm Shift combat system remains, but it’s now two party plus a monster you capture by looting crystals. I got a cool Behemoth shortly into the game and used him regularly for the whole journey. Each monster fills a different role and it’s kinda fun to collect them. Gone are the straightforward beautiful hallways, and that oddly out of place open world section. XIII-2 plays out in stages that you unlock and travel to via the Historia Crux overworld menu. There are also multiple “fake” (sometimes funny) endings to discover after you’ve beaten the main game. My biggest problem with this game? Lightning isn’t the protagonist. But it was nice to see Serah grow into someone stronger. Serah learns that she is quite capable of defending herself, and that she doesn’t need to hide under her big sister’s wing.
500 timeless years have passed since the catastrophic ending to XIII-2. Lightning has been awoken from her crystal stasis by the almighty god Bhunivelze. This world where time no longer flows and people don’t age is beyond salvation, about to end, and the hopeless populace is crying out for the legendary Savior of Souls. Indifferent Lightning is forced to fill that role and she becomes god’s puppet when he uses Serah’s soul as the strings. Guided by young Hope in god’s HQ, Lightning’s mission is to save as many souls as possible so they can move on to the new world. You save souls by helping many depressed people in the form of 66 optional side quests, in addition to the main objectives. The more people you help, the better the outcome (I won’t ruin the surprise). For the main quests, let’s just say that while Lightning slept soundly, her friends have not been having an easy 500 years. At the end of the game, Lightning discovers her true destiny, and she fights her final fate in one last epic battle that wraps up her entire story beautifully… sniffs. Uh, sorry.
But yeah, let’s radically change the whole gameplay model, again! Here’s a big open world to explore, you can do things in any order you want, BUT there’s a 13 day time limit so you can’t really enjoy it. I felt rushed (I don’t like feeling rushed), especially since some bosses get stronger after a certain day, but it certainly added to the tension of the dying world. If you fail, you start over with all Lightning’s stats intact so it’s not really the end of the world, I guess. If I could remove that mechanic I totally would, but this is still my all-time favourite Final Fantasy game.
The mostly solo combat system is still all shifty, but instead of Paradigms it’s outfits for Lightning called Garbs. Each Garb has unique abilities and are all customizable. Yes, I have to complain about the aesthetic designs for some of them. Sorry, but putting Lightning in “sexy” costumes is so against her character I want to punch something. Whatever though! I also found the combat system had a steep learning curve (I of all people almost rage-quit the game at first), but it was very rewarding once I got the hang of it. You can also make all the random monsters extinct if you kill enough of them. That’s a cool mechanic I’ve never seen in a RPG before. I should also mention the soundtrack is one of the most culturally diverse OSTs I’ve ever heard in a game. You’ll hear everything from bagpipes to tribal drum beats. AMAZING!
O Lightning Farron
It’s all about the feelz with these games. Logically, these are great games despite their flaws (as I said, no game is perfect), and I get why many people don’t like them. It’s safe to assume my connection to Lightning is clouding (pun unintended) my judgment of the games too. Does it matter? No! Again, if we all just played what we liked and respected counter opinions the world would be a much happier place. Alas, reality isn’t like that. No matter what other people say about her, Lightning Farron will always be my savior.
Yep. Lightning is far from the perfect shero. I’ll be the first to say she is seriously flawed, and that’s why I love her so much; I have the same flaws. It was a true blessing to discover someone struggling with the same issues as me (even if that someone is a writing team at Square Enix). Lightning’s greatest enemy isn’t lesser Fal’Cie gods, Caius Ballad, or demented deities, it’s herself. Pushing the people you care about away, and hiding your pain behind a bitchy mask leaves you hollow, broken, and alone. Trust me. I know that trip all too well. I can see the big vulnerable heart that Lightning is trying so hard to hide from the world. It honestly broke my own heart to see how she acted during that infamous “worst birthday ever” scene in the first game. It’s also why I almost cried during the last scenes in Lightning Returns.
During a time when my own thoughts were my greatest frailty, I found the inspiring pink-haired protagonist fighting her way of the fate train in the first FFXIII game. That cranky 21-year-old ex-soldier grew into a powerful 527ish-year-old (give or take a time paradox) demigoddess over the course of 3 games. By the time the credits in Lightning Returns rolled, it really felt like I grew with her character, giving me the big sister this only child always wanted. Lightning’s story taught me about myself, the person I know the least about, and that’s a precious gift I never thought a series of video games could give me.
Since I first played the trilogy, Lightning has become my symbol of strength in this crazy world of ours. Lightning always sparks a hope that eradicates my dark despair whenever it reappears. The truth is that no matter what I do with my life, I’m going to die someday. The future is an uncertain path that leads to death, and nothing can ever change that. It’s not a terrible fate, it’s the natural fact of existence. I can let that fact drag me into the depths of despair, blissfully choose to ignore it, or draw upon an incredible strength from accepting it. The terrible fate is giving up the fight along the journey of life, not what awaits me when the journey is ended.
In a way, Lightning punched the miserable monster I was in the face, and dragged her over to life’s Continue screen when the game seemed like it was over for me. Lightning taught me that fate, any fate, can always be challenged. NEVER give up, and don’t ever let that fight defeat you. You are more than worth every battle, no matter how hopeless things seem. Lightning is someone I still cling too whenever my miserable thoughts return, and she is at least someone (not real but someone) who understands how I feel. No matter what happens to me in this lifetime, Lightning’s fierce spirit will never leave me.
In conclusion, I say that anyone on the fence about trying these games should just go for it, and ignore all the opinions floating around out there (even mine). You might be surprised to find something special hiding in the center of all this controversy, or be incredibly disappointed. Either way, that’s your opinion, it’s valid, and it matters the most to you alone. By all means, share it with the world if you want to, but don’t try to force your views on anyone else. To all the trolls who insist on telling me how wrong I am about these “awful” games, I’m not listening so please don’t waste your precious time on this earth. I recommend you go play a game you do enjoy instead. Thanks! 🙂