Part 50: Part IV: Final Fantasy XIII and the Fabula Nova Crystallis~Final Fantasy Extended Universes Part 4: Final Fantasy XIII~
As we've seen in the first three parts of this miniseries, Square did everything they could in the 2000's to create a big shared universe sub-franchise. Sure, they had established the Ivalice Alliance and the Crystal series, but those were small collections of games that hardcore fans were in to. As good as the Final Fantasy Tactics series was, it didn't generate the same kind of buzz and sales as the mainline entries (Tactics sold about 2.5 million after being on the market over a decade, whereas XIII hit that number in basically the first half year).
In 2004, Square got our old friend Kazushige Nojima to start writing up a mythos that they could use to base a shared universe on. He wrote it in about a year as a book while getting some input from various directors and producers of the Final Fantasy series.
In 2006, the Fabula Nova Crystallis: Final Fantasy XIII was announced, although it was later shortened to just Fabula Nova Crystallis for.... reasons. Reasons we will get to shortly.
The idea was that Final Fantasy XIII was to serve as the central title in the series while a bunch of other games were developed using its universe as a base. Square assigned different directors to head up the development of the different games in the collection. Yoshinori Kitase and Motomu Toriyama would be in charge of Final Fantasy XIII. Hajime Tabata would head up the development of Final Fantasy Agito XIII. Finally, Tetsuya Nomura would direct Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
These three game series would form the Fabula Nova Crystallis, which supposedly means "New Tale of the Crystal" in Latin. It was described as such:
"One myth, countless stories. Final Fantasy XIII. The New Tale of the Crystal. Like the light that shines through the Crystal, the universe shines with multicolored content."
Square was going all in on this shit. They were priming for a complete overhaul of the Final Fantasy series, with its own legends and mythos behind it, that they could use to spin games off of for the next decade or more.
So how did it go?
The first title to be released was Final Fantasy XIII in 2009. This was the anchor that was going to hold everything together. As mentioned previously, the game was directed by Motomu Toriyama and starred his precious waifu Claire "Lightning" Farron, who was a character that Tetsuya Nomura apparently doodled on the back of a napkin as a starting point only for Toriyama to look at it and declare it to be perfection.
XIII involved a giant floating sphere where everything was futuristic and the people lived advanced comfortable lives in walled off cities. Cocoon, as it was called, was controlled by various gods called fal'Cie. The world outside of Cocoon had its own fal'Cie, but those gods just tooled around tending to the land and growing plants and shit. Basically, Cocoon=Civilized and Pulse(the outside world)=Savages. The surface dwellers tried to summon a big-ass monster to destroy Cocoon, but only damaged it. Cocoon then kicked Pulse's collective ass and wiped out most of the people living down there. This led to people in Cocoon being real antsy with any fal'Cie from the surface.
Which is where Lightning's sister, Serah, comes in. Serah was hanging around the wrong place at the wrong time, got turned into a l'Cie by a fal'Cie (remember, l'Cie were people branded by a god to do some inane shit for them. Otherwise they get turned into a monster or crystal depending on whether they failed or succeeded), and was made the target of a purge that Cocoon enacted to try and nip any possible problems in the bud.
Lightning and the random nobodies she meets along the way all congregate around Serah and the god that branded her, but Serah gets turned to crystal after telling them to save Cocoon. Lightning flips her shit and attacks the god, the god goes ahead and brands all of them as l'Cie, then shows them a vision of Cocoon being destroyed by ancient big-ass monster.
Because the fal'Cie are idiots, no context is given for this vision. Lightning and company just have to do whatever it is that fal'Cie wants them to do. This leads to the obvious problem of everyone having their own interpretation of what the hell their purpose is. Lightning wants to go kill Cocoon's government and also all the gods, the little whiner kid named Hope goes with her because he's also on a vengeance mission. Designated black guy, Sazh, decides to peace out and just make a run for it. Vanille ends up going with him, because she's secretly one of the people that tried to destroy Cocoon hundreds of years ago and she knows how that shit turned out last time (her friend Fang later joins them). Meanwhile, Snow just decides to stand around and chase people away from Serah's crystal.
The group later join together and find out that the gods have just been punking them the entire time for... reasons? It's honestly kind of moronic. The fal'Cie want Cocoon to become a soul farm so that they can summon a super god called the Maker. Now that the group knows this, they all go to kill Orphan, who is the fal'Cie that is powering all the other fal'Cie in Cocoon. Orphan basically tells them that yes, the plan is to use Cocoon as summon fuel. The group doesn't like this for obvious reasons, so everyone just declares that their Focus is now to kill all the gods and save Cocoon, which is something they can just do now, I guess. Too bad all the other people that got turned into monsters and crystals didn't just think of shouting "Nope, my focus is now to get a sandwich. Suck it, fal'Cie!"
Anyway, the group kills all the gods, Vanille and Fang sacrifice themselves to summon big-ass Cocoon destroying monster in order to create a crystal pillar to stop Cocoon from crashing into the ground. Serah comes back to life, Lightning partially pulls the stick out of her ass, and everyone goes off to plan a happy wedding for Serah and Snow.
So, that was the grand first entry in the Fabula Nova Crystallis. Why have you never heard of any other games in the series? I think you know the answer to that.
That's right, Square fucking up and causing a massive financial failure. In September 2010, Square shat out Final Fantasy XIV: Online. It was the follow-up to Final Fantasy XI, the MMORPG that was getting a little long in the tooth by this point in time.
To say that it received backlash would be an understatement. Final Fantasy XIV 1.0's negative reception is legendary, not just in Final Fantasy, but in gaming in general. The game was such a gigantic disappointment that Square started issuing apologies and replacing the entire development team in an effort to salvage something, anything, from this catastrophic release.
I worked at EBGames (Canadian Gamestop) at the time this game hit shelves. Within a few months, Collector's Editions were going for about $20. People still didn't buy them. It was downright sad to see a Final Fantasy game fail so spectacularly.
In a last ditch effort to turn things around, Square tip-toed over to the Dragon Quest offices while everyone was on lunch and kidnapped Naoki Yoshida. They proceeded to lock him in the room with XIV and a post-it note that read "For the love of god, FIX IT!" Appointed as the Producer and Director, Yoshida pulled off an absolute miracle and managed to relaunch XIV by literally nuking the old XIV world and starting fresh, turning the game into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. ARR is one of the best Final Fantasy games in the franchise, although unfortunately you have to put up with other people in order to actually enjoy the adventure.
Anyway, we aren't here to talk about Yoshida pulling out the Phoenix summon and reviving XIV from its death state. I only bring this up because XIV's original failure really messed with Square's plans for the rest of the franchise.
Even before XIV, Final Fantasy Versus XIII had been having a rough go of development. It was in pre-production for ages, the game engine that was created for the Fabula Nova Crystallis games was deemed incapable of handling Versus XIII, and the PS4 and XB1 would get shown off in 2011 which meant that Versus XIII was on track to be released for an "outdated" system (Versus XIII was going to be PS3-exclusive).
XIV's total collapse didn't help matters. Square had a lot of projects in the works and the latest game in their premiere franchise was burning so much that the smoke was filling the entire building. The decision was eventually made to scrap Versus XIII and turn it into XV instead.
The Fabula Nova Crystallis was quickly on its way to being dead in the water.
Final Fantasy Agito XIII wasn't faring any better while Versus was collapsing. It had drifted so far from XIII that it was instead renamed Type-0. It shifted away from its intended Mobile Phone release to instead release on Playstation Portable.
But Square still harboured dreams of a sub-franchise, so they trademarked Type-1, Type-2, and Type-3 as well. Nothing ever came of these. Type-0 itself only barely managed to avoid being scrapped. Square had pulled Tabata away from the project to focus on The 3rd Birthday: Parasite Eve. This almost killed Type-0 because he was trying to direct two games at once. Type-0's development was put on life-support for a while and it eventually did get finished, although it caused Tabata to swear off ever working on multiple large projects at the same time.
Final Fantasy XIII was therefore left alone. Type-0 is still considered part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis and a cell phone sequel to Type-0 called Final Fantasy Agito was eventually released, but Agito's Playstation Vita release died and the service for phones ended in 2015 (it also never saw an English release). As for Type-0, that game wouldn't see an English release until 2015 after fans practically begged Square to localise it. Square may label it as part of the same franchise, but it's so far removed from XIII that it's hard to see any connection.
The Fabula Nova Crystallis was not the grand shared universe of games that Square had envisioned. The Final Fantasy series had struck pot-hole number 2 and everything was going to hell. XIV would make a comeback, but that didn't start to materialise until 2013. Versus XIII was on its way back to school for a career change and wouldn't be seen again late 2016 when it returned as XV. Type-0 and Agito released to the fanfare of about slightly over a million copies (that includes the HD versions that were eventually released in the West), so barely anyone outside of die hard FF fans knew of its existence.
The whole FNC thing was a mess almost from the start. When XIV immediately tanked, Square was no doubt desperate for ideas to buy time in the hopes that the other projects would turn around. A Lightning hug pillow sitting in the boardroom next to Toriyama voiced the prospect of making a sequel to XIII. "Lightning hug-pillow that definitely wasn't puppeted by Toriyama" brought up the last time that Square had suffered a devastating financial failure. When Spirits Within bombed, they recycled some assets and popped out X-2. People loved it, right? So all they had to do was take the shitload of cut content from XIII and piece together a XIII-2. Boom! Done.
So in late 2011, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was released. Toriyama stated that he wanted to make a story where Lightning "ends up happy in the end." Which I guess she wasn't in XIII? No sure why, Serah was back and happy. Fang and Vanille were turned into a crystal pillar, but Lightning had known them for what, a few months? She was just going to go look for a way to free them.
Anyway, Nomura ended up fuelling this by sending an autographed postcard to Square-Enix members in Japan that read "She must not be forgotten." They brought on tri-Ace (developers of Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile) to help them develop the game and it was announced in January 2011.
As I briefly mentioned in Lightning's character summary, XIII-2 involves Lightning getting randomly sucked into a time vortex that leads her to
While Lightning is busy fighting off a different Knight that Etro made immortal for some reason, Etro pulls in a kid named Noel and makes him a time traveler in order to assist Lightning. Lightning sends him off to find her sister Serah, who is basically the only one that remembers Lightning was alive due to Lightning being spliced out of the world, or time travel, or paradoxes, or some nonsense horseshit.
So Serah and Noel play time cops and travel through history solving paradoxes and trying to prevent the dystopian future that Noel comes from where Cocoon falls and somehow destroys the world. Also Serah gets the power to see the future but it's slowly killing her as they fix the paradoxes that Caius is causing in order to collapse time.
Serah and Noel succeed in killing Caius and saving the future, except they don't because it was Caius' plan all along and those two finishing him off kills Etro (Etro had given him her "heart", which made him immortal). Also, Caius is still alive. So he just flat out wins. Serah's future vision kills her, Hope manages to save the people in Cocoon, Noel pisses off somewhere feeling bad about having done the exact thing Caius wanted, and Lightning goes to crystal sleep because Serah assured her they would meet again someday and I guess Lightning just plans to sit around and wait for that to happen.
Square had already been planning for a XIII-3 at the time of XIII-2's release. Toriyama said that even though XIII-2 didn't give the happy ending for Lightning that he promised, he was looking forward to delivering on that promise by making more games in the Fabula Nova Crystallis. Even though Square had been cagey on development of a sequel in the lead up to XIII-2, development on the next game started almost immediately after XIII-2 released. The fact was Square needed to keep buying time for XV and Toriyama was more than eager to keep pimping Lightning, so there was no real doubt that a sequel would be on the way.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was the result. It released in 2013 for the PS3 and 360 in Japan, and early in 2014 for the west. I already recounted what happens in this game during Lightning's introduction. Lightning wakes up five hundred years after XIII-2 to find that time has essentially stopped and everyone is immortal due to Caius destroying time. Super God picks Lightning to be the saviour of mankind's souls and gather them up in order to lead them to the new world, because this one is all kinds of fucked and Super God is just going to destroy it and start over. Super God promises to bring Lightning's sister back if she does him a solid. Lightning teams up with Hope to go about saving souls. At the end of each day, Lightning heads back to the Ark where Hope is and every soul she saved gives tree food for Yggdrasil which extends the life of the world to a maximum of 13 days.
Lightning tracks down Snow, who is depressed because Serah died again. Noel, who is depressed because he killed Caius which killed Serah and Etro and also fucked the world. Sazh, who is depressed because his son is in a coma. Vanille, who is now a saint that can hear the voices of the dead and Fang who is trying to save Vanille because she thinks she is being used. She also meets up with Caius, who is just kind of chilling since he won. Not-Serah also appears from time to time and has mind conversations with Lightning in order to try and mess with her mind because Super God is obviously evil.
At the end of it all, Lightning finds out that Super God is evil, because of course he is. He was planning on purging humanity of their emotions and free will for the new world which I personally can't stand as a motivation for evil god/antagonist with god ambitions. Super God also admits that he can't see human souls so he sure as hell doesn't know where real Serah's is.
Lightning then uses the powers that Super God gave her to defeat him (somehow) with the help of all her spirit friends. They all then go to the new world where humanity can be free of the dastardly machinations of gods. Except the new world they go to is implied to be our world (the real world) so instead of puppeteer gods controlling humanity they now get to live in a world with wars, genocide, and nuclear weapons, while having their strings pulled by the richest 1% of the world's population. I call that a win.
That's not the end of the Lightning Express though. Oh lord, no. In addition to two sequels, XIII received numerous novellas and CD dramas to fill in the gaps between entries. None of them are as disgustingly bad as X's added material, they are mostly just boring filler or sequel bait/explanation.
Final Fantasy XIII: Episode Zero: Promise was a series of web novellas that followed the 13 days leading up to the events of XIII. It explains what the main cast were up to just before the events of the game. If you've played XIII, then none of this should be new information. Lightning meets Snow and doesn't like that Serah is engaged to him, and she also gets turned into a l'Cie. Sazh's son becomes a l'Cie and is taken into custody, so Sazh tries to save him. Fang and Vanille wake up from crystal sleep and try to adjust to the future world. Hope is having fun and happy times with his mother who certainly isn't going to die anytime soon and lead to Hope's vengeance boner.
The next is Final Fantasy XIII Gaiden Shosetsu: Yumemiru Mayu, Akatsuki ni Otsu, which fans just call Final Fantasy XIII Side Story: A Dreaming Cocoon Falls into the Dawn (which is almost as long and cumbersome as the Japanese title).
Side Story was included in the XIII Ultimania Omega and is just a series of stories about random assholes that runs parallel to Lightning and company. One of the characters here, Aoede, would later become the main character of another piece of EU content. We'll get to that in a bit.
Then comes Final Fantasy XIII -Episode i-, which is an epilogue novel to XIII which shows what everyone is up to after the events of XIII. Namely, their goal of building a settlement on Pulse. It also attempts to set up XIII-2 by having Lightning get pulled into the time vortex.
Jesus Christ it just doesn't stop. Final Fantasy XIII-2 Fragments Before and Fragments After were released in December 2011 and June 2012 respectively. Fragments Before sets up the timeline after the events of XIII and also fills in some detail about the world post-fal'Cie. Regular people can use magic now. The people of Cocoon discover that people were already living on Pulse despite supposedly being wiped out hundreds of years ago. Serah discovers that she's a master archer, in an effort to explain why she's so good with a bow in XIII-2. It's a lot of world building fluff about life after the events of XIII.
Other than that, it also details how Noel wound up in XIII-2, which is to say that he lived in the dystopian future where everyone else died, and just before he died Etro decided to save him because he really really wanted to change the future.
Fragments After attempts to tie up loose ends from XIII-2, such as... I actually don't know. It mostly gives background detail on Lightning's meeting with Etro and how Etro/Valhalla work, detail on Caius and Yeul, stuff like that. I'll be honest, I do not know enough about the XIII trilogy's lore to tell you what "loose ends" this novella answers. XIII is already a clusterfuck of terms and names and proper nouns as it is. That gets worse when various dates spanning hundreds of years into the past and future get tossed into the mix.
Following that, we have the prequel novel to Lightning Returns. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Chronicle of Chaotic Era. This one was planned to have stories about characters like Snow, Noel, and Hope that details the five hundred years between XIII-2 and LR. It was supposed to be released along with LR, but was pushed back to the December following the game's launch. After that it was straight up cancelled when the author came down with an illness. The author was Benny Matsuyama, who writes various video game tie-in novels for different companies (such as Resident Evil for Capcom).
Some of the material from this novel would be incorporated into the final XIII side piece.
Final Fantasy XIII: Reminiscence -tracer of memories- takes place after the events of LR. It was released in batches throughout 2014 and covers the time between everyone arriving in the "new world" and the post-credits stinger of LR. We briefly talked about that during my rant on Toriyama's unsettling love for Lightning. It's the scene where Lightning gets off a train and looks directly into the camera before promising that she'll see someone soon.
The novella follows Aoede, the character from A Dreaming Cocoon Falls into the Dawn. She's a journalist who is following a lead on people having strange memories of "another world". Aoede interviews all the main characters as she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, but gets the run around whenever she tries to get a chance to meet with Lightning.
Aoede eventually decides not to publish her findings because that would bring attention to the XIII cast and she doesn't want them hounded. Aoede then has a chance run-in with Lightning on the train, but Lightning dodges an interview because she's getting off the train. Aoede decides not to push her for the interview, but she does thank Lightning for saving the world and all of humanity and being the greatest thing to ever exist in the universe and being the best Final Fantasy character ever created, man or woman.
That last part was presumably cut when the author, Daisuke Watanabe, returned from his coffee break and found Toriyama furiously trying to squeeze in a few lines before Watanabe got back.
Fucking hell. I thought there was a lot of shit in the Compilation. As I said though, none of it was as bad as the Compilation stuff or X's hilarious decent into complete madness. It was just a lot of filler material.
Overall, XIII's Extended Universe isn't as insane or sickening as the others we've talked about. I personally think it's total dogshit of course, because it's all over the place in terms of tone and genre (going from "screw gods, we decide our fate" to "I have to defend the god while my sister travels through time and corrects paradoxes" to "I'm going to do what this god tells me to because he seems cool, but wait, now I'm going to kill him because he's suddenly evil for no apparent reason." It's a standard fantasy adventure one minute, then it's time travel and Norse symbolism the next, then it's Valkyrie Profile.
It's also an entire trilogy built to proclaim one man's love of Lightning and how she's the best ever despite being boring as sin. Keep in mind that I hate the entire XIII series, so go ahead and ignore everything I just said if you are a fan of it since you no doubt disagree. I'm not going to change my mind and you won't change yours, so don't go posting comments about how I'm just a moron that can't look below the surface to see the true depth and genius of the series.
I'm talking to you, Toriyama.
Now let's get this damn game finished. We've got super bosses to fight and a special secret ending to be no doubt disappointed by.