My wife wanted to see me beat Final Fantasy XIII — it turns out she’s never actually seen me beat a Final Fantasy game. But that meant waiting until the weekend, since our workday evenings are usually pretty busy.
I actually started playing Final Fantasy XIII shortly after it was released in 2010. I was chugging right along and was around 90% through it in July 2010. I was actually playing it when I got a call informing me that a friend had killed himself.
I might have attempted to play it once or twice in the weeks and months after that, but I don’t think I did. At any rate, I don’t recall playing it then. I next picked it up in early 2012.
The problem with such a long gap in play time for a game like this is that you forget the context for your characters’ current status. You may have been involved in the main quest, or you may be on a side quest. The ability or magic system may not make sense after such a long time. You may quite simply not know what to do.
Sometimes, though, you can figure it out. Final Fantasy XIII has a neat little feature where when it’s loading a saved game it gives you a recap of recent events. It doesn’t give you all the details, but often it’s enough to jog your memory.
When I did pick it back up, my characters were on the planet Gran Pulse. There are two main settings in the game: Cocoon, where the game begins, which is a satellite of the planet Gran Pulse. The inhabitants of Cocoon have lived there for a long time. Cocoon is, I believe, an artificial construction. It’s run by a group called the Sanctum, who if I remember correctly, are an oligarchy of sorts which is or resembles a theocratic institution.
Cocoon is sustained by beings called fal’Cie. They’re usually large and powerful. The fal’Cie are manipulative — they can effectively enslave humans. The human becomes magically marked with a tattoo of sorts and becomes a “l’Cie”. Each l’Cie has a goal, called a “Focus”, unique to it. They don’t necessarily know what that goal is. If they fulfill their Focus, they’re rewarded by being turned into crystal (some reward). If they fail, they undergo another transformation into a being called a Cie’th, which are creatures or monsters with the mental life of a zombie.
Over the course of the game, the main characters become l’Cie. They are eventually told that their Focus is to destroy Cocoon. One of them will turn into a monster called Ragnarok and destroy the fal’Cie Orphan. This will result in the destruction of Cocoon.
The playable characters are:
- Lightning — an experienced former soldier. You start the game with her and Sazh. She’s trying to find and rescue her sister, Serah.
- Sazh — a pilot who is trying to reunite with his son, Dajh, who has been taken by the Sanctum.
- Snow — Serah’s fiancee. Leader of a group that’s opposed to the Sanctum.
- Hope — a kid whose mother dies early in the game and blames Snow.
- Vanille — the narrator of the story. She’s a l’Cie from a village on Gran Pulse called Oerba.
- Fang — also a l’Cie from Oerba, she became Ragnarok in the past to kill Orphan, but initially has no memory of it.
Ultra-brief story summary: Serah and Dajh come in contact with a fal’Cie and become l’Cie. While trying to find Serah, Lightning, Sazh, Snow and Hope become l’Cie (unbeknownst to them, I think, Vanille is already a l’Cie — so is Fang, but she’s not in the group yet). Serah accomplishes her Foci quickly and turns to crystal. Lightning and Snow are understandably not okay with this. They resolve to restore her. I think that Dajh is (or was) at some point turned to crystal as well. They run all over Cocoon, solving most of their problems the same way characters in all Final Fantasy games usually solve their problems, with a great deal of violence. They discover that the Sanctum leader is actually a disguised fal’Cie named Barthandelus. They find out that their Focus is to destroy Cocoon, and then something neat will happen. I don’t recall what. Probably some pretty apocalyptic stuff. Eventually they go down to Gran Pulse. There are some seriously huge creatures there. I made it most of the way through Gran Pulse. I was about to go back to Cocoon when I got the bad news about my friend and stopped playing.
When I started playing again a year and a half later, I made it back to Cocoon to a place called Orphan’s Cradle. It was a surreal place — it was like the inside of psychedelic wind tunnel. I made it most of the way through it before getting distracted from the game.
After beating Final Fantasy, I thought I’d have a go at finally finishing the 13th installment. I took a look at an online walkthrough to get my bearings and realized that I was very, very close to the end. On the last day of the long Memorial Day weekend, I started playing again. And was almost immediately astonished by how hard the fights were. After a moderately difficult fight with a Bandersnatch and a Jabberwocky, I was teleported to another section. There I fought a large beast, called an Immortal, that was similar to other less powerful creatures I had fought before. But it wiped the floor with me. I then tried fighting some of the smaller enemies in the area and had a similar outcome.
Back in the day I would do two runs through a Final Fantasy game. I’d do one run through just to get the main plot and beat the game, and a second run to fully explore every facet of the game. I don’t do that anymore, since the amount of time required is prohibitive, and my interest in the game can’t be sustained across many short sessions if the gameplay required for all the extras is both tedious and complicated. But, even these days, if I come up against a part of the game that’s too hard, I have no problem setting aside some time to developing the characters enough to be able to handle the challenges.
But this game is different. I never really fully grasped what was required to advance characters. The system to develop abilities is called the Chrystarium, and I understood that. But most of my weapons and accessories were fairly weak. I had, back in 2010, managed to upgrade a bunch of them, but it’s a weird process and I don’t remember exactly how it works. And the in-game help was surprisingly vague, unless I somehow missed or skimmed a thorough explanation (that’s very possible).
So I was faced with this dilemma — do I go back and invest a lot of time developing the characters? That might be okay, but I’m doing this in conjunction with this blog, and I since I was already starting very late in the game, I didn’t think that would provide anything resembling interesting material for posts.
Instead, I tried messing with what the game refers to as “Paradigms”. The characters can adopt different roles, or jobs, in older Final Fantasy games’ parlance, in combat. In some early Final Fantasy games, you could change your jobs outside of combat. In others, especially more recent entries, you can change mid-battle. In this game, you don’t specifically change a character’s job mid-battle, you change the group configuration of jobs. So you may start a battle in the “Relentless Assault” paradigm, which consists of 1 Commando and 2 Ravagers. A Commando is a typical fighter. A Ravager is an offensive magic user. If one or more of your characters start to take damage, you may want to heal them. To do so, you might switch to the “Diversity” paradigm, which consists of 1 Commando, 1 Ravager and 1 Medic. The Medic casts spells that benefit the party members, including healing spells.
There are many possible paradigms — I think 16. However, you can only have about half that number available to at any given time. You configure them outside combat. If it turns out that you didn’t configure “Diversity” and you’re in a fight, you can’t use it until you are outside of combat and enable it.
Good use of paradigms are the only way to advance in Final Fantasy XIII. You can button-mash through weak enemies, but bosses and mini-bosses are considerably more formidable. Before I understood this, I was often very surprised at how quickly the game seemed to ramp up the difficulty. It wasn’t really — it just required good strategies. And it’s not just the use of a particular paradigm — you can (and usually have to) switch paradigms many times over the course of a battle.
So that’s what I did. I don’t remember offhand what paradigms I configured, but I managed to barely survive some of these battles.
I made my way deeper into Orphan’s Cradle until I got to the last save of the game. That’s where I stopped until this weekend, so my wife could watch.
I expected the first fight: it was with the fal’Cie Barthandalus. I beat him on the first try, but it was a little difficult.
The characters thought they were finished, but then Orphan shows up.
Orphan mopped the floor with me. In true Final Fantasy tradition, it has a mega-attack that reduces everyone to a very small amount of hit points. If my party leader (in this case Lightening) gets killed, it’s game over. I couldn’t heal her fast enough, and a followup attack killed her. So I rejiggered my paradigms and tried again. After beating Barthandalus again, I took another shot. I did better this time, though I really did squeak by.
Also in Final Fantasy tradition, it wasn’t quite over yet. Another incarnation of Orphan (or something) shows up. This one wasn’t so hard, though there was a time limit on the fight.
I’m skipping some stuff, with Fang turning into Ragnarok, everyone else except Vanille supposedly turning into Cie’th, etc. Honestly, given the long gaps in my play of this game, I’m a little confused.
Anyway, everyone escapes, except for Fang and Vanille. Those two become Ragnarok and stop Cocoon from crashing into Gran Pulse by turning into a giant crystal that keeps Cocoon aloft.
Everyone else, now down on Gran Pulse, turns to crystal.
I half-expected it to end there. Boom, everyone’s crystal now, the end. But they somehow un-crystalized. Serah and Dajh show up and everyone is happy. Except for Vanille and Fang, who are still crystal.
I think I will replay this game at some point. The very long break I took diminished my enjoyment of the gameplay and plot. The game did allow me to save the game after winning, so I don’t have to start a new game to explore some parts more carefully.
I had a lot of fun playing it, though — so much that I decided to just start playing Final Fantasy XIII-2 next.