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January 3, 2014

As Black as Lightning (Part 2)

(Cross-Up is still on hiatus, because who needs posts on video games when you can enjoy the holidays?  In the meantime, please enjoy this post on a video game!)

And here we are again. 

If you’re just joining me here for this little miniseries (and here’s part 1 if you missed it), let me give you a primer.  In lieu of current -- and in my eyes overwhelming -- evidence, I’m convinced that Square Enix’s beloved Lightning Farron is more than what she appears to be on the surface.  Whether you’re convinced she’s a strong, cool heroine or a bland marketing tool, I have my own theory in mind.  Simply put, I think this so-called “Lightning Saga” of Final Fantasy XIII games earned its name because the titular lady is actually the villain.  Or if not that, then at least a villain.

It should go without saying, but die-hard fans of Lightning/FFXIII MIGHT want to stay away from this post.  It’ll keep your blood pressure at a stable level.

(Spoilers for FFXIII and XIII-2 incoming…and also Metal Gear Rising, tangentially.  I would run now if I were you, especially if you want to see the games fresh.  Especially MGR.  Because it’s so friggin’ cool.)

So friggin' cool...

For the four of you that are still reading this, I want to make a distinction.  Yes, I think Lightning is the villain of the saga -- because if nothing else, I think my interpretation makes for a much cooler game…and would have been validated if what Squeenix tossed in was intentional.  But the question is, to what extent is she a villain?  It’s not as if she’s out to conquer the world.  Guys like Barthandelus and Caius are doing their best to destroy the world…well, so to speak.  Barthandelus wanted Cocoon to fall, but I don’t think there was ever any demand for everyone in it to die. 

Theoretically, the original six party members could have called for a mass exodus of the verifiable space colony, and could have gotten help from The Cavalry or the other military officials (Rosch was only fighting to protect the people, so he might have lent a hand if he actually knew what was going on).  Big Bad Bart may be the game’s main villain, but I’ve heard suggestions from the wiki and elsewhere that as a fal’Cie, he was just following orders as well.  He went about it like a jerk, but there wasn’t much else he could do…well, there probably is, seeing as how the l’Cie/fal’Cie system is all predicated on nonsense, but work with me here.

Let’s assume that Bart is supposed to be a sympathetic villain, even though his in-game portrayal is anything but.  If we assume that he’s only enacting his plan to fulfill his duty to a goddess, then that means he’s been stripped of his free will, no matter how much posturing he does to the contrary.  The only free reign he’s given is the ability to choose exactly how he accomplishes his mission -- and given that his true form is some kind of wall/face/robot thing, I don’t think it’d be that easy for him to go gallivanting about.  He pretty much has to rely on gofers to do his bidding, so the l’Cie (the party, specifically) are his only hope of getting anything done unless he wants to face the penalty of…uh…stuff.

Whatever the case, Bart’s ultimate end goal may involve the death of millions, but I’m hard-pressed to remember what exactly happens after that.  There’s a mention of the destruction of Cocoon being a catalyst to bring back the fal’Cie’s “mother” or something, one of the lore’s vaguely-explained goddesses, but what happens after that is a mystery to me.  (I really don’t think I need to bring up the games’ over-reliance on the Datalogs at this point; you may not need them to understand most of the plot, but at least some of the information in them needed to be spoken at one point.)  

It makes me wonder if it’s one of those “divine designs”; like the saying goes, God works in mysterious ways.  So who’s to say that the destruction of Cocoon was an inherently bad thing?  It was a cage that turned its people into insulated, paranoid sycophants who weren’t willing to cause trouble even in the face of obvious evidence that the system was bogus.  Maybe Cocoon’s fall was supposed to be the equivalent of the biblical flood.  Maybe the goddess Etro would -- as she did at the end of XIII, according to XIII-2 -- perform a miracle and save the people inside, helping not just the party, but the populace at large.  I guess we’ll never know.  Bart had to die because he was old and wrinkly and dressed like a pope. 

You may be wondering why I’d think so hard on what seems like such a trivial matter (in which case I have to ask if you’re familiar with anything I’ve ever written).  I have two reasons for that.  The first is because I’m convinced that if we consider Bart to be a villain, then we must also consider Lightning -- and by association the rest of her party -- as a villain.  These characters all have a Focus, a mission that they have to carry out, no matter what. 

The thing is, while they have an end objective, it’s never fully made clear how they have to go about it.  That’s the clincher.  In the game’s early hours, the gang reasons that in order to bring down Cocoon and possibly fulfill their Focus, they have to become Ragnarok and cause a catastrophe.  But Lightning also reasons that if she brings down the Sanctum, Cocoon will be kaput.  She’s given the freedom to decide how exactly to go about her mission, just as long as the mission gets done.  And what she chooses is to rack up a body count that the main villain of the story doesn’t even begin to reach.

It’s not just a matter of gameplay and story segregation.  Remember, this is a character that we’re introduced to in the midst of a train assault, trying to save a sister that’s only in danger because “our hero” told her to shove off.  (Bonus points for said sister not even being on the train, and unless it was done off-camera Lightning didn’t even bother to look at any of the passengers…but Sazh did).  It seems as if Lightning will default to the most violent path, even if it’s completely unnecessary, or especially if it’s stupid; you could say that it’s just a result of Squeenix trying to make her look cool, but that only contributes to the nature of the character. 

As a soldier I’d expect Lightning to think of fighting as an option; as a member of a band of peacekeepers, I’d expect Lightning to show a bit of restraint.  Reason.  Reluctance to use force unless absolutely necessary, and rationality to understand who her sword is hurtling towards.  Then again, that would require Lightning to have something beyond a black-and-white view of the world hardwired into her brain, to the point where someone we’d expect to be smart leads the charge against the final boss…the final boss the group had explicitly decided NOT to kill unless they wanted Cocoon to fall.

But hey, maybe I’m being too harsh.  Maybe my bias is seeping into my reason.  Maybe I’m just going out of my way to ensure that anyone who reads this walks away thinking, “Wow, maybe Lightning isn’t as cool as I thought.”  Maybe.  Maybe. 

I could be wrong.  But I could be right.  And you want to know why I think that?  Easy.  Remember how I said I had two reasons for dwelling on such a trivial matter? 

This is the second.

Let’s start off with a quick primer for the story.  Three years have passed since the events of vanilla XIII, but things didn’t end quite as well as one would have hoped.  For one thing, Lightning’s reunion with her younger sister Serah apparently never happened; according to everyone but Serah, the soldier sacrificed herself along with Fang and Vanille to keep Cocoon up in the air, held in place by a crystal casing (which probably wouldn’t have happened if they had not decided to kill Orphan, but whatever). 

The game proper starts with a raid on Serah’s beachside hamlet of New Bodhum, with monsters from across the ages leaping out for a chance to cause some chaos.  Thankfully, newcomer Noel appears and gives Serah a weapon, and shortly thereafter gives her a message: Lightning is alive -- and empowered into, according to the manual, something like a goddess -- and fighting off the villainous Caius in another time and place.  The thing is, Lightning tells Noel to bring Serah to her, presumably because she has some kind of power that’ll turn the tide of the fight.  And so begins Serah and Noel’s excellent adventure to reunite the Farron sisters. 


…In my humble opinion, of course. 

I could write a novel about all the things XIII-2 gets wrong, but for now let’s focus more on Lightning.  The original game showed us what Lightning would do if she was pushed into a corner, figuratively speaking, and showed how she’d handle a mission if all she had to go on was an end goal.  She was trapped, but at the same time she had some semblance of free reign.  With that in mind, consider XIII-2.  Consider that in this game, Lightning’s free reign -- outside of the beckoning of the goddess -- is boundless.  She’s a goddess in her own right now, and while she’s apparently something of a bodyguard to Etro, she’s been given enough trust and leeway to do what she thinks is right (possibly because Etro is MIA at best, but the point still stands).  What does she do with her newfound power?  Well, the game starts with a twenty-minute long sequence where Lightning fights Caius, but seeing as how that reminds me too much of Advent Children, let’s set that aside.

No one can talk about XIII-2 without making the “Lightning is only in the game for ten minutes” observation, so I guess I have to bring it up too…BUT I have to make a distinction.  Lightning probably appears for forty minutes in the game tops -- outside of the DLC, and outside of flashbacks -- in what’s probably a twenty-five to thirty-hour game.  That’s not particularly substantial, I know.  But the devs compensated for that.  Over-compensated, in fact.  Even in a game where Lightning is a physical presence for a thirtieth of the time (making sure to sound as if she’s just woken up from a particularly heavy nap to sleep off a sore throat), she is still the main character.  It’s a feat that can only be accomplished by making her the subject of every other conversation, making her the sole focus of Serah’s life and character, and doing a little bit of revisionist history to ensure that Lightning is seen as nothing but the perfect sister.  You know, in spite of this being a thing that happened. 

An afro-head never forgets.

Serah is never allowed to be the character she could have been because of Lightning.  Her entire world revolves around her older sister, to the point where it’s almost…scratch that, IS kind of creepy.  The first words we hear from Serah in the entire game are “Lightning, where are you?”  Said words follow immediately after she has a dream about Lightning.  When the New Bodhum raid starts, Serah ends up cowering in fear and shouting “Lightning, help me!”  She practically turns hyperkinetic whenever someone mentions something even tangentially connected to Lightning.  One of the first key items Serah has to track down is Lightning’s knife. 

Nearly every major story event (and more often than not, the cutscenes in between) concludes with Serah sending the mental equivalent of a pen pal letter to Lightning.  I could make a pretty strong argument that Serah’s life ends up hollowed out -- if not shut down completely -- because Lightning isn’t in her life.  Even her character development -- such as it is -- basically boils down to “be more like Lightning”, which is something Noel praises her for when she spazzes out in a subplot so grating it makes my brain cells something something somethgckhgrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr sauerkraut.

So much time is devoted to making sure Lightning is a presence in the game, and it’s not just from Serah.  One of the (only named) NPCs from the original game shouts “Lightning can’t protect you anymore!” even though Lightning protecting or even being kind to Serah is never seen onscreen, save for the very last cutscene of the original game where they hug.  Snow ditches Serah -- his fiancée -- to go on a quest to find Lightning as a gesture of love for his girl, but inadvertently enables her dependency.  Hope has nothing but kind words for Lightning even though she pushed him into the murder-is-the-best-option “Operation Nora.”  Noel’s spent about ten minutes with Lightning, but he’s in absolute awe of her from then on.  Even Caius is willing to sing praises.

Again, it’s easy to say Squeenix Task Force X did a…problematic job with the game’s story. And that’s likely the case.  But I prefer to treat the creator’s sins and the creation’s sins as entirely different entities.  The story can tell us more about the story than the devs ever could.  Given that, I have a theory in mind.  A question, to be more specific.  The game retcons the ending of vanilla XIII to erase its happy ending, and set the events of XIII-2 into motion.  But what if there were more things changed than just the ending of that game?  What if someone went out of her way to change the world to suit her needs?

What if Lightning altered everyone’s memories?

That sounds like a leap in logic, but hear me out...with some mood-setting music, naturally.  

We’re never given a full-on explanation of the extent of Lightning’s powers, either through a physical demonstration or (less preferably) a lengthy info dump.  What we know for sure is that she can summon swords in a flush of feathers, can summon Eidolons by the hundreds to act on her behalf, can fire off high-end magic at will, can protect and heal herself if she gets so much as a scratch, can leap incredible distances to the point where she’s effectively flying, and can create…a Moogle that can turn into a bow, because of course she can.  That aside, it’s explained -- in the manual, IIRC -- that Lightning has the power to see all of time and all of history, meaning that she has a full-on view of Serah’s activity at any given moment, even if she can’t directly communicate with her.  (Let’s set aside the creepiness factor, because it’s the only way I’ll sleep tonight.)  And of course, the implication here is that Lightning is effectively immortal, both gameplay-wise and story-wise. 

Lightning is something at or very near all-powerful in XIII-2.  It’s hard to know for sure what exactly her limits are, given that the DLC shows her crystallizing herself in a moment of “crisis”.  She’s certainly not very good at applying her powers effectively, considering that the entire journey of the game could have started and ended in half an hour (or less) thanks to any number of moves on her part…but then again, my theory suggests that Lightning’s just a good-looking brute, so if nothing else it’s consistent.  But when she does decide to use her powers well, she makes waves. 

According to Lightning -- which we have to believe, otherwise there would be no game -- she needs Serah to come to Valhalla to do something important, because “she no longer can”.  Presumably, she needs Serah to save the timeline.  Why she would ask for Serah and ONLY Serah when she has at least three other well-trained party members to call upon is a mystery…that is, unless you consider her intention deeply.  For all intents and purposes, in this new timeline Lightning is effectively dead.  She’s gone.  The only thing people have left of her is their memories -- and I’d wager that most of those aren’t exactly peachy-keen.  But the way everyone talks about her in-game, it’s as if Lightning was nothing short of a saint.  Serah, especially.  For obvious reasons.

So let’s see if I can construct a good scenario.  After the true events of the end of XIII, Etro -- in accordance with XIII-2’s canon -- pulls Lightning to Valhalla and imbues her with the power of a goddess to fight on her behalf.  This change in the timeline leads to everyone except Serah thinking that, instead of Lightning reuniting with her sister and giving her a hug in the midst of a well-earned sunrise, she sacrificed herself to support the crystal pillar holding up Cocoon.  Martyrdom, in every sense of the word. 

Etro pulled Lightning into Valhalla, but other than giving her a loosely-defined mission of protecting her (or standing watch over her throne, or something) Lightning had free reign to do whatever she wanted -- and as a full-on goddess, Etro had no reason to concern herself with the emotional distress of mere mortals.  So to compensate, Lightning filled in the blanks.  She created a new history -- or to be more precise, the perception of a new history in the minds of those “dearest” to her. 

However, there was a secret consequence to her actions.  Lightning’s interference (and likely Etro’s as well) created distortions in the current timeline.  Her rewriting of the memories of others created clashes in the chronological flow -- errors, of a sort.  Paradoxes -- the conflicts in history that could only be resolved by attending to and/or removing objects that didn’t belong in that era.  Indeed, a number of the game’s paradoxes seem to involve or end up drawing the attention of The Lightning Saga’s cast.  Sazh gets randomly pulled into another dimension.  Snow gets warped into a lush jungle to fight a gooey beast.  Hope may or may not have created one of his own as a result of his organization’s research, which is a focal point of enemy attacks in itself.  It seems as if wherever Serah goes, paradoxes are sure to follow -- almost as if they’re tracking her.  Or rather, her presence and travels ensure that more paradoxes are going to be created.

I can hazard a guess as to why.  Lightning’s interference turned Serah into a paradox -- or more specifically, a catalyst for paradoxes.  The paradox is supposed to be an impossibility in the timeline, an element or event that shouldn’t exist in a specific era.  By that logic, Serah’s enchantment -- heavier than anyone else in the cast, without a doubt --practically made her radioactive, so much so that she became an ill-fitting element in any era she went to.  The only place she belonged to from then on was by Lightning’s side, in accordance with the newly-minted goddess’ command.  Exactly as planned.

You would think that Lightning would have called Serah to Valhalla (in the most circuitous path possible) for a reason.  You know, the untrained, unconfident little sister whose biggest contribution to the fight against the fal’Cie was being encased in crystal.  But that’s not the case.  It looks like Serah will be useful, given that she has the power to summon monsters and has some kind of MacGuffin vision.  All things considered, though, Serah isn’t worth very much besides being the player character.  Everything she can do, Lightning can do better.  Serah can call out one monster at a time; Lightning can build an army of a good thousand Eidolons.  Serah can kinda-sorta see through time; Lightning can perfectly see all of history.  Serah learns how to use a Moogle that turns into a bow that turns into a sword; Lightning is an immortal engine of destruction.

The plot seems to push the idea that Serah can do something Lightning can’t -- if not in terms of raw ability, then just by being a substitute -- but it just doesn’t come to pass.  If anything, Serah and Noel’s excellent adventure ends up creating the exact circumstances Caius needs to win.  And by association, that means that Lightning created the exact circumstances Caius needs to win; you’d think she would have known better, given the whole “I can see all of history” angle, but here we are.

It’s the sort of thing that enrages me to this day, knowing that the entire plot was built around a story that was ultimately pointless (in more ways than one, but there’s not enough space to explain here), but in hindsight I can think of two possible reasons why it played out the way it did, and both of them are centered on Lightning.  The first possibility is that Lightning wanted to create “the best possible future”, knowing full well that no matter what Caius did, he’d win.  Said possible future apparently entails the very concept of time crumbling to bits, Serah dead and gone, and chaos unleashed upon reality itself to cause untold amounts of death and destruction.  Because that’s what I’d call a win.

The second -- and in my opinion, more likely -- possibility is that this was an outcome Lightning wanted.  That is, she saw the possibilities, knew what would lead to destruction, and pushed for it anyway.  She wanted Serah beside her at all costs, and was willing to jeopardize (if not sacrifice) everything and everyone just to suit her whims.

Watch out, guys.  We’ve got ourselves a true hero over here.  Or...not.

In the original game, we saw what happened when Lightning was made into a slave of the gods.  And now we have a full view of what happens when Lightning becomes a god.  When she gains all the power she could ever need, with the freedom to wield it on a whim, we see what she does with it.  Even if there’s no evidence to support her tampering with the memories of others, she still willingly brings Serah into the danger zone, knowing full well that she’s not ready to face anything beyond the walls of her house.  And why?  So Serah can act as her proxy, doing things that Lightning can’t? 

No.  if Lightning needed something done, she could have just sent an Eidolon into a different era to do what needed to be done; if she can summon an army, she should be able to use that army as needed -- not just to make a cutscene look cool.  I’m not even wholly convinced that Lightning had to stay in Valhalla for any reason, given that A) if Caius wanted to kill Etro, he could have just turned into a dragon and blown up her throne from afar, and B) the only reason Lightning is unable to go on an adventure, as far as I can tell, is because she ends up getting sad and imprisons herself in crystal.  (I’ll have to come back to this next time, so look forward to some of those shenanigans.)  Also, would anyone like to explain why going into the past is such a big no-no in this game?  Chrono Trigger didn’t have any problems.

It really says a lot about a character when I have trouble seeing how they’re any better than the villain.  I honestly can’t decide who’s worse in this game -- Caius, a warrior made immortal by a goddess who wants to destroy the world so he can kinda-sorta save his precious little girl friend (note the tactical spacing there), or Lightning, a warrior made immortal by the goddess who wants to destroy the world so she can…ummmm…what IS Lightning’s plan here, exactly?  Preferably one that doesn’t need an additional game to provide a resolution?

Oh wait.  I know.  This is exactly what Lightning wanted all along.  As I said before, Lightning is a person that deals with concepts and simple-minded duality -- black and white -- instead of seeing the multifaceted nature of her world or ours.  She wants the concept of Serah by her side, not Serah herself (doubly so considering that her actions lead to Serah dying).  Meanwhile, she wants the concept of Lightning, the perfect soldier, to take root in the minds of all that would know her name. 

She wants them to consider her as the embodiment of justice and courage -- the purest form of white that their world could ever know.  But in spite of all her fighting prowess, whether it’s before she became a goddess or afterward, she can’t win the one battle that matters most.  If for any reason her worldview -- her desire -- is challenged, she’ll lash out at it.  She won’t strive to prove her case, and offer up a viable answer.  She’ll either lock it out, or campaign to destroy it -- because in the end, that’s all she really knows how to do.  Be in the white, and destroy the black.

Caius barely even registers as a threat in his game of origin.  It’s the same deal as with Kingdom Hearts II; ostensibly, that game is supposed to be about Sora versus Organization XIII, but outside of the first three hours, the last three hours, and a few cutscenes/boss fights in between, they’ve got very little to do with the actual plot.  Most of them aren’t even set up properly; of the seven members that appear in the game, about half of them aren’t properly set up, and the last level crams in boss fights against four of them.  (I don’t even think some of them are properly named in the game.)

I would say that Caius fares a little better, but like Organization XIII he’s criminally underused.  His past is never fully expounded upon in the game -- and by “game” I mean audiovisual medium where it’d be a perfect chance to see him in action -- meaning that most of what we know about him is hearsay…and maybe not even that, considering that I probably know stuff about him because I checked the wiki.  What I know for sure about Caius is that he’s immortal, he’s got lots of powers, he’s a friend of Yeul’s and Noel’s, and he wants to destroy time to save Yeul, which is certain to be beneficial to her and be something she wants because…uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…

It is a strange day indeed when the villain of a 2012, dead-serious, multi-million dollar production has a plan that’s dumber than something from Invader Zim -- a show that was SUPPOSED to have dumb plans.

If you know how Caius’ plan was supposed to work -- or how Yeul was any more than a walking plot device tailor-made to fish for player sympathy -- then by all means, enlighten me.  Until then, I’m content with treating Caius as little more than what he really is: a concept.  He’s the idea of being a powerful, unstoppable villain without really being much of a villain.  He’s inactive for huge swaths of time; his major battles are at the start of the game against Lightning (which doesn’t count, seeing as how they’re both immortal and thus lacking in stakes and tension), somewhere in the first third of the game against Serah and Noel, and the endgame.  An entire subplot sees our heroes chasing after a digital copy of Caius instead of the real deal, wasting hours upon hours of play time instead of advancing the plot.  There’s nothing for a player to sink his/her teeth into besides a sample of what could have been.  And that really is a shame, because -- like the Saga in general -- Caius could have been so much more.  As-is, he’s just a half-formed idea…and that’s exactly how Lightning wants it.

I’m not so presumptuous as to suggest that Lightning created Caius and his circumstances of immortality, because (apparently) that was more of a result of the goddess Etro’s boneheaded decision-making.  But the existence of this man puts Lightning in just the place she wants to be.  “This man wants to destroy the world, and so I must stop him.”  A viable thought process, but I don’t think it’s quite what Lightning has in mind.  I’d wager it’s something like “This man is as strong as me, so I can fight him.”  And she does fight him -- for how long, it’s hard to say.  A conservative estimate would put it at three years, minimum.  But then again, isn’t a three-year period of fighting a fight with no gains or losses, condemned to a life of immortality alone in a nigh-colorless wasteland the very worst sort of torture?  It would be for any normal person. 

But not Lightning.

If not for Caius living on in the game’s secret ending and his appearance in Lightning Returns, I would say that Caius wants nothing more than to die. And whether she wants it or not, he wants Yeul to die.  Death will release them from their suffering, as the final and most thorough option -- even if it kills everyone else in the process.  (It doesn’t, but LR is going to have to explain the full effects.)   Caius is a villain, almost undeniably, but his entire goal revolves around suicide.  He’s looking for death, while Lightning -- as you’d expect of a “hero” -- is fighting for life.  Her life.  She would gladly deny Caius -- a famed soldier and veteran recognized by the goddess herself for his service -- the death he wants, just so they can whack each other for centuries.

I have an extremely hard time believing that she’s fighting for anyone’s sake but her own.  The game revolves almost single-mindedly around (poorly-explained) time travel, and yet the mere thought of sending herself or an Eidolon back to the past to stop Caius and Yeul from becoming immortal in the first place never occurs to her in spite of being able to see all of time.  Or rather, it DID occur to her, but she willingly decided against it.  She knew that if history progressed as intended, she’d get to have the bishonen equivalent of a sandbag to wail on to her heart’s content, with the justification to do so under the pretense that “it’ll save the world.”  And indeed, she probably would have had her plans go just as she hoped if not for Caius deciding to bail and enact his own plans.  Or…have a past version of himself enact a plan.  Or…I don’t know, thinking about it makes my head hurt.  Long story short, Caius wins.  But not for the right reasons.

The only thing that can stop Lightning at this point (besides terrible writing) is Lightning herself.  And that’s precisely why becoming a goddess and lording over an empty world -- either before Caius’ victory, or afterward -- is so ideal to her.  Before her loss, she’s free to fight every day and every night to her heart’s content, swinging around powers beyond human comprehension against a foe that is quite literally in the black…and a foe that is just as powerful, and just as immortal as she is.  She’s content with fighting a fight that never ends, making no gains and no losses, because it’s in her self-ordained programming.

 And when it’s time for her to lose, she’s all right with it; in fact, she willingly gives up just so she can become an idealized form of herself, and during her slumber can keep an idealized version of Serah alive for all eternity, rather than a REAL Serah with her own aspirations and opinions.  She doesn’t want to save the world.  She wants to preserve her own -- to live in a created space where she’s free to embrace her desires without a single thought to challenge her.

Lightning only wants one thing: her final fantasy.  And she gets it.

…You know what?  I think I was wrong.  Yeah.  I’m totally wrong here.  Sorry, but I guess this entire miniseries has been invalidated -- proven wrong by my own hand.  It’s shameful, I know, but I guess I should admit to it sooner rather than later.  Lightning, sorry about all this.  You’re no villain.

You're batshit insane!  (And possibly high on nanomachines.)

And so ends part two.  Hope you check back next time -- because even with Lightning Returns still a ways off, I think there’s enough evidence to prove myself once and for all, and come to the ultimate conclusion.

Tune in next Friday.  I’m gonna bring this fight to an end.


  1. I guess "audio log" is two words, not one.

  2. Now how in the hell did I miss this? Man, I really need to pay more attention...

    You know, it kind of strikes me as weird that Levine would say "gamers don't care about story". Okay, that's probably true on some level -- I'm pretty much one of the only people in the world who even CONSIDERS that the Dead or Alive franchise even has a story -- but I'd like to think that in recent years, that's started to change. People have started calling out the standard triple-A action game for its faults. Games with good stories are named fairly regularly. All the outcries that "games need more female protagonists!" or "games need more diversity!" must stand for something. It's a rosy view, sure, but it has to be a sign that things are changing. If games, by way of becoming advanced/powerful enough to support more narrative heft, are dead-set on giving us stories and context for the action (from the Tomb Raider reboot all the way to Halo Whatever), then it seems only natural that people start asking for more than just bang-bang-shoot-em-up action.

    Do gamers care about story? Hard to say conclusively. But in this day and age, I'd like to think that it's up to the developers -- to the game itself -- to MAKE them care.

    And on that note, BioShock Infinite does its job remarkably well. I care about Booker. I care about Elizabeth. I care about Columbia. I care about what I'm doing, and what happens to the virtual world around me. It's true that plot holes can get in the way of being able to care (though that can vary from person to person, obviously), but you have a point. Not all plot holes are massive vortexes of anti-joy, and they can be overlooked. And I'll gladly overlook Infinite's -- however large, or however small -- because I had a hell of a time with it.

    Also, bringing up Super Meat Boy makes any argument 400% more legitimate. I get that the Luteces are bringing in a different Booker every time, but now that I think about it...man, those two must get bored having to deal with this one guy over and over again. Or...are they just dealing with the one guy, I wonder? And are they getting bored? Who knows? I've never met any hyper-chronological beings before, and I doubt I ever will. More importantly, I suppose that if there's a death in at least one of the universes, then there's life in at least one other. What would Columbia have been if not for Booker's presence? Gotta admit, I'm itching to know. Maybe we'll find out via DLC or something.

    (Side note: I'd just like to take a minute to point out that Elizabeth not even getting nominated for the VGX Awards' Character of the Year is complete bullshit that flings whatever legitimacy they might have had off a cliff. But you didn't hear that from me.)

    RE: audio logs, that's certainly an interesting way of looking at them. I admit that I prefer having two characters talk to each other instead of just picking up on an excised piece of the story, but for what it's worth it provides some context instead of none. That said, I wonder what the next step (gimmick?) will be if/when that's played out. Maybe checking out their selfies scattered across the net?

    In any case, another dazzling post as usual. Still can't believe I missed it the first time around, but I'm glad I fixed that.

  3. Mr. Levine said that gamers didn't care about story when he was working on Bioshock. After generally upset reactions about the denouement of that game, he changed his mind. After this, he may change it back again.

    I think that the Luteces explicitly WEREN'T bored with Booker. Above all else, they're scientists, and that means reproducing an experiment as many times as it takes and looking for anomalies. Eventually Elizabeth becomes a god and makes a "meta-death" to end a nightmare the Luteces devised. That's what the lighthouses are -- a tip-off that things are going "metanarrative mode." It's a bit of a "get out of jail free" card as narrative goes, but it was earned because the angel statue was a colossal Chekov's Gun reserved for the final act -- the fun was figuring out how or for what reason it would be set off. The narrative framework takes the "machina" out of deus ex machina and turns it into a . . . deus ex fabula (god out of the story), I guess you'd call it. Fits the religion vs. reason themes and makes a beautiful parallel between Calvinism (pre-destination) and quantum mechanics (uncertainty until observed). Hella experimental and cracks a lot of Writer 101 taboos with good reason.

    That's kinda the problem, though. It's not that gamers don't want good storytelling, it's just that their palate isn't very . . . sophisticated. There was a critic who nailed Infinite for making Booker "dumber" than the player (the player would guess that Booker wouldn't be able to move the gun equipment before he got there) when dramatic irony is, you know, a thing. Booker is reckless, headstrong, and doesn't think ahead (it's how he ended up as a mass murderer, after all), so when he gets to the weapons, his characterization shines through. Audience knowledge/anticipation doesn't have to run parallel to player knowledge/participation. Oedipus Rex proved this over 2000 years ago when everybody entered the show knowing that Oedipus slept with his mother and the guy didn't know it. This quibble's thus part of the second person deal in that *contrast* creates *character* and people'd rather have a cipher or blank Master Spleef so they don't have to cope with a personality.

    In other words, critics and most gamers want chocolate (Last of Us) because they can't navigate around advanced narratology right now. They want a simple story told well rather than an imaginitive or advanced story told well because they don't know some of the musical beats or the way a story can be told versus the way it's usually told. This might be fallout from focusing on ludic elements over narratological elements for so many years. I don't know.

    All I know for sure is that if you spray ketchup on all your food, then you're going to hate gourmet and lean on a meat and potatoes diet -- foods which are equal to gourmet in their own ways and accompany ketchup better. You might be able to develop an appreciation for gourmet one day, but you're going to have to stopper that ketchup bottle first.

  4. I forgot to mention an interesting way to frame the Bioshock series:

    They're actually closer to musicals and theater than film. \For example, the audiologs and voxophones are essentially character monologues and soliloquies. By extension, those audiologs and voxophones carry the same stigma that monologues/musical numbers do: those who can tolerate them will, and those who cannot will complain about them at every opportunity. I'm hearing a lot of complaints about audiologs, yet if you were to replace the word "audiolog" with "monologue," the complaints begin to sound familiar.

    While I think the device is wonderfully clever, crude, and effective, I don't think that its detractors will ever be convinced of its necessity much like theater's opponents will never fall in love with the monologue. An alternative has to coalesce soon.