Monday, March 10, 2014

Lightning’s Babel

   Critics have not known what to make of the Final Fantasy XIII sub-series. From the beginning, the story has been convoluted, poorly thought out, and at times, just plain nuts. We’ve been willing to overlook it though, because there was something magical about the world of Gran Pulse, and its sister world of Cocoon, where all the people live, and are taken care of by artificial gods called Fal’Cie. The Fal’Cie curse your team is cursed by them, given a mission that if you fail, you will be turned into crystal monsters called Cieth. Needless to say, instead of completing the mission, you turn on the Fal’Cie and destroy them. Yay.

   Part two has you playing as the lead character’s younger sister. You travel from timeline to timeline trying to repair time in order to prevent the end of the world. Needless to say, you die at the end, necessitating a third to wrap up loose ends. Enter Lightning returns.

   I’d like to say that Lightning Returns picks up after Final Fantasy XIII-2. But it skips ahead 500 years. Everyone has been rendered immortal, but the world is about to end. “God,” (Bhunivelze) has enlisted you to save souls so that they can be ushered into the new world he is creating. Sounds reasonable enough. Except, shortly after the first mission is complete you get the first hint there’s a problem. Lightning (the titular lead character) expresses to Hope, (one of her colleagues) that she was angry that God made her savior and offered to bring her sister back from the dead as a reward. Wait, she’s mad about this? Yes. She is furious. She interprets this as God holding her sister hostage…  Except her sister is dead. God is offering to bring her back in exchange for services rendered. Seems like a good deal to me! If God said to me, hey go save some souls and I will resurrect your dog Chooi (pronounced chewy, but it’s Chinese for fist), I’d be leaping for joy. But Lightning is nothing if not ungrateful.

   She then begins to suspect God is up to shenanigans. She accuses him of stealing her ability to emote, but the funny thing about that is that, at least in the first two games, she never really had the ability to emote. She was always stoic, and boring without the other characters to prop her up. At any rate, turns out that she’s right to suspect God. You know, ‘cause she went to college and all, and got told by her all-knowing professor that God’s just a dangerous myth anyway… Bhunivelze cannot see into the chaos of the human heart, so he wants to destroy the soul, then remake man without one, so he can keep up with their shenanigans. So, after spouting some really hateful rhetoric, “The world doesn’t need God,” “the new world belongs to humanity, not God,” and “It’s time to die, God,” she kills God… in outer space… with no space suit. (Facepalm). This game is more a digital tower of Babel than a decent ending to its two predecessors. The entire Final Fantasy XIII franchise, and its accompanying Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology, had such promise, but in the end, Square Enix failed to deliver anything of consequence or value. Just another atheistic tirade that probably has more to do with the Bible saying “no sex before marriage,” than anything harmful actually ever being done to the story’s creators at the hands of those oh so evil Christians.

   You might say, “but her God is Bhunivelze, not Jehovah, so why do you care?” Because the game developers told Game Informer Magazine that they were using this story to explore Christianity. That means Bhunivelze is an allegory to a God they clearly do not understand, and one the developers hate with a venom I haven’t seen since… well… my college professor.

   It’s not the first time Final Fantasy has gone anti-religious, Final Fantasy X is a clear indictment of the Catholic Church. You end up battling sin itself, which, ironically, has the Church of Yevon’ s founder at its rotten core.  But you didn’t kill God. I’m okay with atheistic themes and ideas being present in our media. I’m all about the market of ideas. However, there is a fine line between teaching atheism, and just hating on Christianity for the sake of hating Christians. Given the context by that earlier Game Informer interview, this game crosses the line early, and often.

   But because it’s clear that Lightning hates God from the get go, it creates several logical fal’cies (pun intended) that pretty much destroy the story. 1) Why can’t God see into the human soul? God is the creator of the universe. God, in Christianity, is the literal father of the human soul. Of course he can see into the human heart, he created it. 2) Bhunivelze’s motive was to create a world without suffering. And we are supposed to hate him for that? I’m confused. 3) Why would God (Bhunivelze) hire a character who destroyed his Fal’Cie? Why would he hire someone openly hostile toward him? 4) How does a human being, even one given power by God, have the power to destroy God… In outer space… with no oxygen, and no space suit? We’re talking about a human being here, destroying the divine. The point of being a God is that you do not have our mortal failings, at all. Deity cannot be killed. Even Kratos was smart enough to become a God himself before driving the Greek Pantheon to extinction! Why? Well, we are creatures who can get big and muscly with exercise, but if we fall down wrong we can die from it. No joke. I’ve seen it happen. A creature who cannot sustain a blow to the back of the head and walk away from it cannot kill a God. Let alone in space, with no air, and no space suit. 5) After the world is destroyed, and Bhunivelze is dead, the planet Earth is created, and all the souls of the planet Gran Pulse go there, because Lightning declares herself the Goddess of death and rebirth and leads them there… in space… with no oxygen, and no space suit… but wait… she just killed God, so who created Earth?

   The game concludes with Lightning getting off a train in modern day France, explaining that the age of myths, and Gods and Magic is over, and that it’s now all just a legend that ended long before I was born… Wait, all that stuff is what has made past Final Fantasies fun. This ending takes all the fun out of it. I play video games to escape the very reality that she glorifies in the ending.

   I’m sure the game’s writers intended there to be an intelligent story. It’s just the game is chock full of hateful, ant-religious rhetoric straight out of Dockins, or Hitchens. It subscribes to the idea that to promote atheism, they have to be jerks about it. It portrays religious people in the game as fanatics, God as an entity, not only not to be trusted, but worth of death, and promotes the absurd notion that humans have the ability to physically create their own planet. In space… with no oxygen… well you get the point. Maybe some atheists have good arguments. I haven’t heard any that have convinced me yet, but there are atheist out there I like, a lot (S.E. Cupp, Pen Jillete) because they have learned to make their case without being jerks about it. The writers behind Lightning Returns have not. The game is fun to play, but the story is stupidly anti-religious, to the point where it detracts from an otherwise enjoyable experience.

   The graphics also disappoint. The last two games moved the series forward, visually, this game splits the world into four very basic and generic settings. Forrest, desert, and two cities. None of which are very interesting. The lead characters look great, while the rest of the characters in the game look like they were ripped from PlayStation 2's Final Fantasy X, which looked good ten years ago, but not today. By and large, the world of Gran Pulse, which was once vibrant and colorful, is now dull, boring, and so last gen.

   The audio is also ho-hum. Sad, as FFX-2 had a fantastic and very diverse score. What original tunes exist are as lifeless as the graphics.
   The gameplay is fun, but the schemata system is sorely lacking in diversity. Because there are stiff penalties as well as gains with each new piece of equipment, it almost never becomes worth it to switch to new equipment, I mean ever. With some minor tweaks, I pretty much ended the game with the same set up I began it with. There is a fun element of driving critters to extinction that I enjoyed. If a monster got under my skin, I would hunt it mercilessly until I triggered it ’s Omega form. Once that died, I never had to see that monster again. That was awesome, and I do hope more RPGs include that feature going forward. 

   The fact that you have only 13 in game days (14 if certain criteria is met) is supposed to make the player feel stressed for time, but the truth is, there’s only a little over 50 quests here, and they can all be done well before the 12th day with liberal use of Chronostasis, which freezes time. The trade-off is, that if you do this, do not use the escape feature to flee a battle. You lose an entire in game hour for doing so. Luckily, the game is not that hard, and times where you will feel urged to flee are few and far between. Still, there should have been more to do here, because with critters going extinct, leveling up tied to tasks rather than to the usual RPG grind, and the short amount of quests available, you could end up like me with day 11, 12, and 13 spent in the Inn snoozing away because everything is already done. Except that bonus day, but with everything extinct that was pretty short too, except I had to flee at the end because that boss battle is next to impossible. Don’t bother with it, I say.

   All in all, it’s still a fun game. Tragically, the fun gameplay is subdued by an awful and hateful story that feels like it was written by a twelve year old cos-playing atheist, shouting anti-religious hate as she marches up and down the halls of her school hacking fellow students apart with a prop sword. If you can stomach that sort of sorry storytelling and pointless hate, you may yet enjoy Lightning Returns. If you’re like me, and can only stomach so much… Pass. Were this any other game series, my copy would have ended up in the garbage. But because I love the series so much, it will collect dust next to its dusted off and well-loved predecessors.

A 6 out of 10 (Mediocre)

No comments:

Post a Comment