Overlored – Final Fantasy: Nova Fabula Crystalis

Overlored is a series of light-hearted features that attempt to shine a light on the narratives of some of gaming’s more obscure works. First up is Final Fantasy’s Nova Fabula Crystalis trilogy. So if you jumped into Final Fantasy XIII Lightning Returns and are feeling a little lost, read on and be elucidated…

The Final Fantasy series is known for many things, but easy to understand straight-forward stories aren’t one of them. The fans forgave FFVII’s crazy storyline on the grounds of it being one of the best games ever (yes I went there. It IS better than VIII) but it looks like people no longer have the patience for complicated and frankly bizarre plot twists. I blame Lost. After the frustration we all felt when that series ended we’re not always convinced that bizarre stories will pay off in the end. If you’ve missed out on any of the Nova Fabula Crystalis trilogy, or even if you just simply didn’t understand, here’s a recap of the main storylines.

The symbol for the Fabula Nova Crystallis saga
The symbol for the Fabula Nova Crystallis saga

Final Fantasy XIII

Okay, before we start you’re going to need some definitions, else we’re going to get nowhere fast:

fal’Cie – A variety of sentient beings created by the Maker to perform various tasks and duties. Apparently there’s up to eight million of them on Cocoon, but luckily we only need to know a few. The most powerful fal’Cie can employ humans who are forced to complete a set task. These unlucky few are called l’Cie.

l’Cie – A person gifted with magic in order to complete a task. A l’Cie’s set task is called a focus. Whether you fail or complete your purpose you cannot return to your normal life. If you fail or attempt to ignore your purpose you become Cie’th. If you suceed, however, you will undergo crystal stasis and will be given eternal sleep. All l’Cie carry a mark that reveals their status to those around them.

Cie’th – A human who failed their focus and was transformed into a hideous abomination consumed by rage and spite. Eventually the majority turn into Cie’th stones as they are unable to complete their purpose, but the really stubborn ones turn into Undying.

Cocoon – A world kept floating above Gran Pulse by fal’Cie. It is a hollow sphere with all the settlements on the inside and is home to the majority of characters in the game.

Gran Pulse – A natural world situated below Cocoon. No people live here anymore, although characters Fang & Vanille originate from here.

Our story starts on Cocoon as a Gran Pulse fal’Cie is discovered on the beaches. In flashbacks we see two l’Cie named Fang and Vanille wake after being in crystal stasis. Fang’s brand has been scorched and she has lost all memories of her focus. Vanille pretends she too has forgotten as she wants to leave her past behind. Fang, however, is concerned that unless she remembers they are destined to become Cie’th.

Snow, leader of political rebel group NORA, is delighted to meet his fiancee Serah’s sister Lightning but she doesn’t approve. Little do either of them know that Serah has been hiding a l’Cie mark from them having been branded by the Pulse fal’Cie. Eventually Serah tells Snow, who promises to help her fulfill her focus regardless of what it is, and then tells Lightning.

Afro-endowed single parent Sazh is concerned as his young son, Dajh, has been branded. Through an interrogation by the government, otherwise known as the Sanctum, Dajh learns he has gained the ability to sense people from Gran Pulse on Cocoon, and Sazh becomes convinced he needs to kill them to fulfill his focus. The Sanctum reacts by announcing what they call the Purge – an eviction of the Bodhum population and some fal’Cie to Gran Pulse to avoid “contamination”. Unfortunately that’s just the public story and behind closed doors a genocide is occuring.

NORA rescue a lot of the exiles, and we meet a new face, Hope, whilst also being joined by Vanille. They travel to the fal’Cie that branded Serah and Dajh and arrive just in time to see Serah enter crystal stasis. The fal’Cie then brands all our group as l’Cie. A group vision is had shortly afterwards in which they see a monster named Ragnarok, but its true intention is not really understood. Fang joins the group and explains to them that she and Vanille have been made human again having been in crystal stasis.

Snow's l'cie brand. Well I've seen worse tattoos...
Snow’s l’Cie brand. Well I’ve seen worse tattoos…

The group goes to confront the Sanctum’s leader, Dysley about the Purge, but Dysley surprises them all when he reveals himself to be a fal’Cie named Barthandelus who rules over Cocoon. He informs the group that their Focus is to become Ragnarok and then kill the fal’Cie Orphan, who is responsible for keeping Cocoon afloat. The group learn that Barthandelus believes that destroying Cocoon and all its people will cause a catastrophe so large that it will summon the Maker back to his creation, but fal’Cie can’t hurt Orphan themselves. Humans must decide their own future, so Barthandelus is determined to twist their point of view to his.

The group cannot bear the thought of being responsible for a whole planet of death and decide they must find another way. They travel down to Gran Pulse in the hope of finding a clue to removing their l’Cie brands but have no luck. A further confrontation with Barthandelus occurs and he tells them that new head of the Sanctum, Cid, is controlled by him and he has been made to force the troops to attack Orphan. The group return to Cocoon in the hope of saving Orphan. They just can’t let all those people die. On the way to Orphan they discover all the troops have become Cie’th. Barthandelus only recruited them to make the group react and get them close to their target. The group still refuse to carry out their Focus but they are unaware that if one of them despairs enough then they will be consumed by their anger and become Ragnarok automatically. Barthandelus appears and in the ruckus that follows Orphan wakes up and merges with him. The group have no choice but to slay Orphan, regardless of the consequences. An epic battle ensues and our group reigns victorious but their joy is short lived as Cocoon begins to fall from the sky. All of our group from Cocoon have succeeded in their Focus and enter crystal stasis.

Now here’s a huh moment if ever there was one: Fang and Vanille join their inner power together in a last ditch effort to save everyone. They merge together briefly becoming Ragnarok and then becoming part of a massive crystal pillar that props up Cocoon and connects to Gran Pulse. The world is saved and through their sacrifice Serah, Dajh, Lightning, Snow, Hope and Sazh are released from their crystal stasis and awaken to find their l’Cie brands gone.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

Valhalla – realm of the goddess Etro.

Void Beyond – Limbo outside of time.

AF – A date indicator meaning “after the fall” (of Cocoon). FFXIII-2 begins in 3AF.

If FFXIII didn’t seem confusing enough for you, have no fear; you won’t be disappointed by its timeline jumping sequel. The game begins a mere three years after the events of FFXIII. During the game you play as Lightning, but friendly faces pop up in the most unexpected places. Thanks to the adventures had in the first game the people on Cocoon decided it was much safer on the ground and have, in the main, relocated to Gran Pulse where new colonies and a new government have sprung up. Whilst exploring their new surroundings many have now embraced magic.

The game opens with Serah’s new home being attacked by monsters (because this girl has the worst luck ever, right?). Having learnt nothing from the first game she looks like she’s in trouble until a stranger appears to save the day. The stranger introduces himself as Noel Kreiss. He’s just popped in from the year 700AF. Lightning is nowhere to be seen and it is explained that she vanished without a trace after the events of the first game. People seem to have forgotten ever seeing her on Pulse. Everyone believes she too must have sacrificed herself with Vanille and Fang, but Serah knows better. She remembers. Noel handily has some news. He informs Serah that he may have come from the future, but he took a detour to Valhalla en route to her and has seen Lightning, guarding the throne of Etro as the goddess is weak and she had intervened to restore the group to human form. Tampering with people’s memories of Lightning has had dire consequences throughout time and has created paradoxes that must be undone by removing that which does not belong. Serah agrees to join Noel to help iron out these paradoxes and hopefully find her sister along the way. Noel hopes that changing the timeline will improve the bleak and depressing future he travelled from. And thus begins our timeline hopping adventure.

Cocoon post the crystal pillar is so pretty!
Cocoon post the crystal pillar is so pretty!

The journey begins with a small jump to 5AF, in which Noel and Serah meet a young girl called Alyssa who survived the infamous Purge of the first game and is now a member of the new government, the Academy. Next up, an archaeological dig in 10AF, in which our dynamic duo meet Hope, being aided by his assistant, Alyssa. Hope has gone on to big things and is now the leader of the Academy. Whilst there, a prophecy recording is discovered that was made by a seeress of Paddra. The seeress’ are believed to have been dead for several centuries but when they watch the prophecy we see Lightning fighting in Valhalla. The paradox in this time is clear to see; an eclipse has cast a shadow over Paddra, but from Noel’s future knowledge that shouldn’t happen for several hundred years. Whilst our heroes set out to right the paradox they meet Caius Ballad, a man Noel knows in his own time, along with a young girl called Yeul, who looks the spitting image to a Yeul Noel knew who has died. Caius makes his intentions very clear and falls into the multiple boss fight category for this game. Once the paradox has been removed a new timeline appears, in which there never was an eclipse. Like all good time-travellers Noel and Serah jump straight in. The prophecy from the repaired timeline shows Lightning battling Caius in Valhalla whilst the pillar constructed by Vanille and Fang starts to collapse. From Noel’s knowledge this is supposed to happen around 400AF and most of the human population is destroyed by the chain of events to the extent that Noel claims to be the last human alive.

The pair continue their journey and find themselves in 300AF on Cocoon in a luscious jungle. One catch, it’s filled with monsters. Luckily they happen to stumble across Snow. N.B. Clearly time travel has become the only way to travel so don’t be surprised as we see more and more people conveniently in the same time and place as us. It’s kind of like Assassin’s Creed with less historical pretense and more moogles. The paradox here is a giant boss monster that is damaging the crystal pillar. Fixing this paradox delays the destruction of Cocoon to 500AF. Obviously Snow would be a handy ally, and is Serah’s fiance, so he buggers off to continue his own time travel adventure without us. So much for that idea!

The next stop is in the city of Academia on Pulse in 400AF. Not surprisingly this is a city constructed by the Academy, and when our duo arrive they are attacked by a GLADOS-like AI who claims they must be imposters as they were registered dead in 200AF. There’s only one thing for it; they travel to 200AF to undo whatever killed them. A man-made fal’Cie, constructed to levitate Cocoon again has turned on its creators and has taken over. Fixing that paradox, an alternative Academia 400AF appears on the timeline and hoping for the best the pair jump in. Hope and Alyssa are there, having put themselves into cryo-sleep, and are organising a new plan to float Cocoon again. Explaining the plan will come to fruition in 100 years the pair travel forward to meet them in 500AF. Alyssa turns out to be evil and tries to sabotage our good work. Apparently she is actually a paradox herself and if the timelines continue to be fixed then she will disappear forever. She traps our heroes in a dreamworld with Caius’ help, but in her dreamworld Serah meets Yeul. Yeul explains that she is the Paddra seeress, the only one, and that she is reincarnated again and again in the same form to die over and over. Caius is her guardian and is conveniently immortal after Etro gave him her heart. Caius does truly care for Yeul and is tormented by watching her pain and death over and over. Every time the timeline is changed or she has a vision her life is cut short. Caius can’t do it again and is aiming to release what is known as the chaos that is held within Valhalla to destroy the world’s existence. So Yeul is the only being that has ever been the seeress, but apparently Serah has the same ability and she too may die every time they resolve a paradox. Serah eventually breaks free and sets off to rescue Noel.

In Noel’s dreamworld, he is the last human having watched his beloved Yeul pass away and Caius has left to go to Valhalla. He reunites with Lightning and the pair of them try to take down Caius in both 500AF and Valhalla and eventually succeed. As he dies he gives the usual bad guy speech and claims to have killed Lightning before throwing himself on Noel’s sword, destroying the goddess’ heart and killing her in her weakened state. With Etro accidentally dead the Chaos pours into the world, ending time itself.

Eventually united, Serah and Noel return to Academia 500AF to discover Fang and Vanille have been rescued and Cocoon has been reborn as Bhunivelze. Serah has had one timeline change too many and collapses in front of an anxious Noel and Hope. A black cloud ominously appears in the sky as the chaos breaks free. Lightning voluntarily enters crystal stasis on the throne of Etro that she had been guarding in order to keep Serah alive in her memories. What a wonderfully happy ending *rolls eyes*.

It doesn't look comfy enough for 500 years sleep...
It doesn’t look comfy enough for 500 years sleep…

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

It’s time to get all Majora’s Mask and we now get the chance to play as Lightning at the end of the world (for realsy’s this time). It’s now 500 years after the end of FFXIII-2, and Lightning awakens from her crystal stasis to discover the world is ending in a week. Oops. Whilst she’s been having a nice long nap the chaos has run amok destroying almost all of the world, with only a small set of islands known as Nova Chrysalia (made up of some sand dunes, some wildlands and two cities, one religious and one a mecca for hedonists) remaining. Two new religions have appeared too; the Order of Salvation which worships the god Bhunivelze (yes, as in the new name for Cocoon. Confusing but he is a person now as well and Cocoon is his secret base), and the Children of Etro who worship the deceased goddess Etro. Cocoon/Bhunivelze has now become the Ark, a place where time does not pass, that is the headquarters for our heroine. Since the chaos leaked people are unable to be born and to balance it no longer die a natural death. Everyone who is currently alive has lived for at least 500 years and hasn’t aged a day. Right, got all that? No? Tough.

Lightning has been awoken by Bhunivelze who needs a favour. He gives her powers and makes her the Savior and gives her a very important task. With the end of the world imminent he is going to create a new world once it is done and wishes for people to be reborn. In order to do this Lightning must rescue their souls and in order to do that Lightning must unburden their hearts by performing tasks, some major, some as simple as returning a trinket. Lightning has to return to the Ark every day at 6am (the poor girl doesn’t get a wink of sleep all game) and if she’s saved enough souls she can gain back more time till the end of the world. Bhunivelse is going to create the new world in 13 days so the aim is to save enough souls to keep the world alive until then. Obviously Lightning’s not going to undertake a task this big without a good reason to do so, so Bhunivelze promises to return Serah to her if she succeeds. To help her out Hope is brought back by the god but bizarrely is returned in 14 year old form. To avoid any unnecessary complications both Hope and Lightning’s emotions are removed so they can concentrate on the task at hand.

The game isn’t actually linear with the whole thing being free-roam so ignore the order but here’s what happens next. As Lightning accomplishes her tasks she is tormented by a young girl called Lumina who looks suspiciously like a slightly goth Serah and seems to alternate between helping and being a pain in the butt.

Luxerion is a holy city and Lightning arrives just in time to see a girl with the same colour hair found dead. Apparently this is not the first death and many girls with a resemblance to the savior have been killed (I don’t know how they know what the savior looks like but whatever). Lightning attempts to investigate the murders and discovers that many believe it’s the Children of Etro up to no good as they believe the Hunter will come and kill the savior to save them all. After tailing the Children back to the graveyard, Lightning interrupts another murder but is interrupted by the appearance of Noel from XIII-2. Apparently he is the Hunter but has no plans to work with the Children. The pair quickly dispatch the Children but Noel explains that he has seen a prophecy that shows Yeul and him together if he stops her. A battle ensues but eventually Noel destroys the prophecy out of anger and sides with Lightning. Yeul wouldn’t have wanted him to follow through with it. His heart is unburdened, and his soul saved.

Before she leaves Luxerion, Lightning is informed that Vanille is now held up as a saint since awakening and lives in the Cathedral. A visit confirms this and Vanille is preparing for a ritual that will take place on the final day. Since awakening she can hear the cries of the dead – the souls of those unable to be reborn so are merely trapped in the chaos for eternity. The ritual will purify all the souls apparently but will also kill Vanille. She’s fine with this as she sees it as atonement for her past. It is however, highly suspicious that bosom buddy Fang is nowhere to be seen.

Vanille became a saint just to get this funky hat
Vanille became a saint just to get this funky hat

Lightning travels to the Wildlands and a voice in her head tells to her about the coming of the Angel of Valhalla. After asking around, she discovers this is a local legend about a wild chocobo that will appear just before the apocalypse. The legend appears to be true as Lightning soon comes across a white chocobo that has been attacked by a fearsome monster. She feels a strange connection to the creature and despite everyone thinking she’s nuts she’s convinced she has fought side by side with it. With some help, Lightning nurses it back to health and eventually it reveals itself to be Odin, an Eidolon that aided her in XIII. Journeying on her newly fixed chocobo Lightning finds another old friend, Sazh. Dajh has fallen into a coma and Sazh is following Lumina’s advice by trying to reclaim soul fragments to fix Dajh. He is in a pit of depression and is not himself at all. Once Lightning obtains all the soul fragments she presents them to Sazh, but Dajh still won’t wake up. Sazh is outraged until Lumina appears and tells him that Dajh is scared because he’s not being himself. Sazh tries to play with a chocobo chick like he did with Dajh and eventually Dajh awakens, fully cured. This is one of the few times Lumina is decidedly useful although you are yet to know why.

Lightning continues to explore the Wildlands and comes across the ruins of Valhalla. As she explores she comes across many Yeuls that have been born at different times and eventually comes face to face with Caius Ballad (FFXIII-2). After an epic battle (did you really expect anything else?) Lightning learns that it is Yeul’s rebirth over and over that caused the chaos to enter the world in the first place, and it is this that triggered the distortions in FFXIII-2. Caius can not be saved as he is tied to life by some of the Yeuls. Some of them want him to find peace whilst others can not bear to be without him. Dejected, Lightning leaves them to it, unable to save any of them.

In the Dead Dunes, a vast desert, Lightning comes across a bandit settlement. After passing various trials to prove her mettle she is introduced to the boss who is none other than our missing Fang. Fang is after a relic called the Holy Clavis and Lightning agrees to help her find it. Once they approach it Fang mentions that it is the key ingredient for Vanille’s ritual as it can draw in the souls of the dead. As she doesn’t want Vanille to die, she intends to destroy it and prevent the ritual from taking place. Unfortunately the Order swoop in at the last minute and steal the Clavis.

In hedonistic capital Yusnaan, Snow (FFXIII) is in charge. Snow is the only remaining l’Cie as his brand has not vanished and as such is still very powerful. He discovers a chaos influx in his palace and enters it, determined to hold it at bay for as long as possible, even if he ends up becoming Cie’th. He knows Lightning will kill him if this happens and welcomes it as 500 years later he is still desperately mourning his lost love, Serah. Although the siblings-in-law do fight, Lightning manages to restore some hope in Snow and reverse his transformation after explaining that Serah is coming back one way or the other.

On the eleventh day the souls of the dead contact Lightning through the form of the long dead Cid Raines (FFXIII) and he explains that the Order are no-good liars and actually the ritual will destroy all the souls that enter the Clavis. Once the souls are destroyed all the living will forget they ever existed and so be free of grief and pure of heart when they are reborn in the new world. Lightning is outraged, as one of these souls must be Serah, meaning Bhunivelze lied to her. She becomes determined to stop the ritual even if that means taking on a god.

On the final day Hope appears to Lightning through the chaos and explains that the Hope on the ark may have looked like him but he was merely a puppet being used by Bhunivelze to spy on Lightning. With this god having lied to her, stolen her emotions and messed with her friends, Lightning’s pretty pissed and with the new world already created she goes to the cathedral to sort things out. Fang, Noel and Snow all turn up to help fight the Order. They tell Vanille the truth and she quickly realises her mistake. Bhunivelze turns up, using Hope’s body as his own and enprisons all of them bar Lightning, who is randomly transported to another plane to meet god in person. Bhunivelze explains that Lightning is actually more than the savior and is in fact being trained to be Etro’s replacement. She will act as Etro did on the new world, helping to keep the cycle of life. Lightning takes on Bhunivelze and with her extraordinary amount of goddess powers and stubborness she takes him down. Whilst preparing to take on her new goddess role Serah appears, explaining that Lumina looked like her for a reason – she is the physical manifestation of Lightning’s memories and weaknesses (of course she is!) therefore is actually a young Lightning herself.

Lightning, Serah and their friends are reunited and they finish Bhunivelze off for good by using the power of love. Caius and the Yeuls agree to stay in the Unseen Realm to fulfill Etro’s job if the most recent Yeul is allowed to have a new life with Lightning and her cohorts. All souls, our friends included, travel to a new world, where gods are a thing of the past. After the credits we see Lightning in normal clothes (I didn’t know she owned any!) arriving in a normal town to meet her friends.

One of the fifty million outfits in Lightning's wardrobe
One of the fifty million outfits in Lightning’s wardrobe

My Opinion

The FFXIII trilogy is pretty damn odd but there is definitely some charm there. The stories don’t really hold up to the ludicrously high standards of other Final Fantasy games but if they were any other series no one would complain that much and would just say it was a little bit too Japanese. The radically different way each game plays does make it feel like three distinct entries rather than a Mass Effect style trilogy but the overall story arc does tie together well, even if there are plenty of WTF moments. When I volunteered to write this piece I felt I had a grip on the storylines having played all three of them to death, but in actuality I realised I had fooled myself. Whilst I did enjoy the series the stories are seriously confusing and I hope the next installment in this saga (FFXV) will at least be a bit easier to follow.


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