An Obituary of the Fabula Nova Crystallis – Why the Lightning Saga Sucked
Confusing. Boring. A disgrace to the Legacy.
Just three of the more mild claims that have been put upon the Fabula Nova Crytallis, a set of games more commonly known as the Final Fantasy XIII Trilogy or Lightning Saga. These three games; the original FF13 and its two sequels, 13-2 and Lightning Returns, are a set of games so poor that they have caused some long-time fans of Final Fantasy to disavow the franchise entirely and have made me cast doubts on Square Enix and its ability to even release a worthwhile JRPG called Final Fantasy in the modern era.
Let me share with you a personal anecdote, I was born in 1990, I never had a chance to experience The original Star Wars trilogy upon their releases — In fact my first Star Wars film was the Phantom Menace – so when I witnessed the sheer amount of vitriol and hate fans of the original 3 Lucas films had for the newer releases, I naturally wondered what the fuss was all about, I mean sure the new films weren’t great, but I had seen worse, what was causing these people to react so strongly? They’re just movies after all.
With the latest release of Final Fantasy Lightning Returns; a final tepid fart that well and truly puts the smelly cherry on the poop cake that is the Final Fantasy XIII story, I think I finally understand how those Star Wars fans felt all those years ago.
Final Fantasy 6, 7 and 8 were genre defining moments for me, The out-of-nowhere heart-rending death of Aeris, the wide-eyed flower girl, was an absolute shocker to me, at the time I didn’t think it possible for a game to make me feel such strong emotions for a character, but it did, and it was all the better for it
The sheer insanity of the clown Prince Kefka as he burns cities, kills his own allies, and uses you to unwittingly help him become a god showed me that the bad guy can in-fact win, something unheard of in the realm of games and something you don’t see very often even now.
The coming-of-age story of squall, a young, introverted man who must fight back his own self-doubts and lead an entire faction of mercenaries in a war against an unknowable time travelling Sorceress. As a mopey teenager myself at the time, I felt a great connection to squall, all the pressures of an impending adulthood seemed like a child’s play in comparison to what he was facing, this in turn, gave me a perspective on life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
All these moments (and many, many more) helped build what is my personal opinion of what a JRPG story should be; it should be larger than life but also have very personal moments, it should build you up, but also at times, knock you down, so that you can understand how tiny you are in the grand scheme of things.
Final Fantasy XIII and it’s sequels somehow manage to include zero of these moments. As I sit here writing this, I cannot think of a single stand out moment in the 100+ hours of game time I have spent with the trilogy, bar maybe the beginning and the end of each game. Like the Star Wars prequels in respect to their predecessors, the Fabula series has many of the elements you know and love from the Final Fantasies of old; the Chocobos, the Moogles, the stupid hairstyles and the big bad enemy. However, like the disconnect of seeing a CGI Yoda do back-flips while wielding a lightsaber, the addition of these recognizable elements only serve to remind me of how good the older games were and how their addition in this awful trilogy cheapens them as a whole.
At their heart, the Fabula Nova games lack something fundamental: a coherent, logical story. The stories of each game contradict themselves, they go out of their way to accommodate complex plot points just for the sake of it, plot points that could have been resolved much more simply, and generally don’t adhere to any sort of common sense when placed under the most cursory scrutiny. While I don’t agree with all of his points on the Final Fantasy games, Noah Antwiler in his show The Spoony Experiment picks apart FF13 perfectly, he breaks it down step by step and demonstrates why the game was so bad much better than I could in this format.
One of the points he hammers home through the videos sums up the ludicrous nature of the plot perfectly.
All they have to do to foil the villain’s ultimate plan is NOTHING, and they know this, as he tells them as much. Yet they continue on anyway.
If you have a few hours to spare I highly recommend you check out his videos.
Now, you may be asking “But Chris, if you despised 13 so much, why did you play both it’s sequels?”
Good question! and my answer is a word I’m sure Star Wars fans know all too well: Hope. (and I definitely don’t mean the annoying little sod with the boomerang)
I played each follow-up game under the misguided hope that they would get better, a hope that the previous games were just a misstep, and that Square Enix would surely do better THIS time. After spending only a few hours with Lightning Returns before completely giving up on it, my withering hope was completely extinguished. The game is a seriously dire experience and another sad reminder of what could have been.
Currently Lightning Returns is sitting at a metacritic score of 67/100, I take little solace in knowing I’m not alone in my judgement.
Speaking of Lightning Returns, let’s talk about the Lighting character. She is perhaps one of the best, or should I say worst examples of the Mary Sue trope I have seen within a video game released in the past decade, and that’s saying a lot. At the start of the series she’s already a highly trained, well-equipped soldier fighting as a rebel. This design choice is a rather lazy one and is reflected in the design discussions between Director Motomu Toryama and Lightning’s Character Designer Tetsuya Nomura where Toryama’s guideline to Nomura was to make her “strong and beautiful”, “someone like a female version of Cloud from [Final Fantasy VII]“.
By Lightning Returns, the third title in the trilogy; her character has evolved into, and I kid you not: An angel on a mission from god to save souls. If there were ever a time to use the term “jumping the shark” it would be here.
You might think I’m being hyperbolic here, but I’m not kidding; I can’t stress enough how unlikable she is to me as a character, whether it be when she’s spouting a corny catchphrase at the summary of a battle, or delivering a depressing, overwrought monologue in her bland monotonous voice. She’s an overbearing frump and I find it incredibly unbelievable that her creator/lover expects the audience to empathize with her.
Now you may think me harsh calling Motomu Toriyama, director of the series her lover, but the man has reportedly said, jokingly or not, that he wants to Marry Her.
Take from that what you will, but I think it goes a long way in explaining her evolving role throughout the series.
Now that the XIII trilogy is finally wrapped up, and people can start caring about the series again, what does this mean for the future of Final Fantasy? is the franchise forever scarred,
condemned to never again reach the heights it attained in the 90’s? Some would say yes, and with the recent release of Bravely Default, a game that was once penned as sequel to
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light; it seems that Square Enix itself is getting away from slapping the Final Fantasy name on any new JRPG it releases, something it was
more-than-happy to do in its heyday, with infamously renaming a game within the Secret of Mana series; Gemma Knights, to Final Fantasy Adventure in the US.
For my final thoughts, I once again look to the Star Wars comparison; With its recent sale to Disney and the announcement of three new movies to be released in the coming years,
I can only hope the few remaining fans of the galactic saga get what they want, and perhaps along the way, Disney will win back some of the people who had written the series off.
With Final Fantasy XV, a game 8 YEARS in the making; a game that was once slated to be a part of the Fabula Series, before being renamed as Final Fantasy XV at E3 2013 by Director and Creator of the Kingdom Hearts series: Tetsuya Nomura, I can only once again Hope, and prey, for a similar outcome.
Hey! at least the trailers look good.