You know what I realized? I never really explained why all my FF13-2 posts were titled “Good Morning, Kupo!”
There’s a cutscene early on in the game where leading lady -- sure, let’s call her that -- Serah strikes out on her adventure in earnest. But before she can get too far, she meets up with one of her friends and offers her greeting. Or rather, the player does; it’s one of the instances where you can choose from a handful of dialogue options. One of them, as you can guess, is “Good morning, kupo!” And the NPC says it right back. It makes (just barely enough) sense contextually, because Serah’s weapon is actually a Mog that ends pretty much every sentence with kupo. And yes, it’s precisely as grating as you’d expect.
For one reason or another, I can’t help but think of “Good morning, kupo” as a tribute to “Good morning, Crono” from Chrono Trigger. And really, isn’t that just dandy? It’s perfect for a game about time travel! It makes for a multi-layered thematic implementation for a blog post title! It’s a grim reminder of a line that lets a company half-built on nostalgia substitute effort and quality with pandering references that provoke shallow, guttural reactions from audiences hungry for new experiences instead of reminders of games long since bested!
Don’t worry, though. That’s not as big of a problem with Type-0. But it does have a major one.
Part 1: Days of Old
(Or: Screams Internally: The Game)
So they brought back the fal’Cie system from FF13.
I can’t escape it. None of us can. They just won’t let it go. And, okay, I knew that going into Type-0. I read about it beforehand, so I had time to brace myself. And even if I didn’t, you cannot even start a new file without the Fabula Nova Crystallis logo fading in. Remember, this game started out as part of a packaged deal -- a trio of games that, unlike FFs before it, would share core concepts, ideas, and lore. But the assumption was that the lore they built would actually be good. And be explained. And matter in the main story. And make sense.
I’ll be frank. Like I said, I knew going in that the fal’Cie and the l’Cie were back. But even though I knew, when the line that confirmed their presence finally appeared in the story proper, I cringed. I cringed so hard, I actually hurt the right side of my face. Thankfully it hasn’t happened since, but not for lack of trying. I’m not far enough in the game to say anything substantial, but as far as I can tell, the fal’Cie system isn’t just a one-off thing. It’s a plot point. There are characters called out as l’Cie. The l’Cie emblem has shown up several times already. People have spouted off about their Focus. And all I can do is sit there and pray it all pans out in the end.
So. I can’t believe I’m doing this, but…let’s go over the fal’Cie system one more time.
Here’s how it works. In FF13, there are these biomechanical beings called fal’Cie. These robo-gods handle the creation of resources and relief for the people of Cocoon (space colony, more or less) and Pulse (Earf); the tradeoff is that these gods can forcibly turn a person into their personal gofer. That’s a l’Cie -- and while they gain access to magic, they’re forced to do the bidding of the fal’Cie via a magical order called a Focus. If they complete the Focus, they gain eternal life as an immobile crystal. If they fail the Focus (or outright refuse to do it), then after enough time they turn into a zombie rock monster.
I’m making it sound a lot more interesting than it is. Setting aside the fact that there’s no benefit for a l’Cie either way, it’s still an incredibly asinine system for any number of reasons. Take your pick from A) the “Focus” is just a hazy image, meaning that the l’Cie technically has only the vaguest idea of what to do, B) the fal’Cie are effectively gods and should be able to handle their own damn business, or if you’re feeling saucy, C) this system only exists to create contrived drama and extend the plot ten times further than it needs to go. I’d list all my other complaints, but I’ve done that elsewhere and I don’t want to relive bad memories.
I’ll be fair, though. Type-0’s l’Cie and fal’Cie work differently from before. Whereas the l’Cie of 13 are lucky to throw around different-colored fireballs, 0’s l’Cie are treated like immortal WMDs. Additionally, there’s an implication that the fal’Cie in 0 are crystals -- or offshoots of the world’s/different countries’ main crystals -- that enlist would-be soldiers to protect them. That’s my theory, at least, and while I could be wrong -- and nasty stuff could happen in the plot between now and the endgame -- it’s…well, I don’t want to say good just yet, but at least it’s better. Plus the main characters -- the playable cadets of Class Zero featured so prominently in the past -- aren’t the l’Cie this time around, so there’s no constant whining on that front.
I’m still not convinced that the dumbass system won’t ruin everything. See, Class Zero is special compared to others because in the game’s opening mission, they’re shown to be able to use magic when other soldiers have effectively been Silenced. The in-game explanation so far is that they’re of a different breed -- effectively super-soldiers bred or trained by a woman they obediently call “Mother” -- but if the system now works like the system back then, it’s not too much of a stretch to guess that Class Zero is a bunch of low-level or man-made l’Cie. That, of course, would imply that they’ve all got a Focus -- which brings me to my next point.
We don’t need any magic systems.
I know that 0 came out for the PSP back in 2011 (Japan-only), so it’s not as if the devs could backpedal with 13 having long since been on store shelves. They had a commitment to the Fabula Nova Crystallis, shortsighted as it might have been…though apparently one of the main guys working on the game had to be reminded that 0 was a part of it. Draw from that what you will.
The point I’m trying to make is this: why did we even need this linked universe? Even if 13’s execution was flawless, why bind yourself to such rigid demands? And since we know that 13 is NOT FLAWLESS AT ALL -- which the devs must have inferred from its stalled, troubled development -- then why create these rules for a game that doesn’t really need it? Sure, keep the magic and the crystals and the chocobos and all of that, but you don’t have to over-explain every detail. If you want a guy who’s a living WMD, fine. You can have that. Just show us that he’s the baddest mofo around -- like he’s got tons of talent, or experience, or he trained himself to the peak of perfection. That’s it. There’s no reason to crowbar in elements that clash with either a creative vision or the needs of the story.
But I guess that’s just the type of game 0 is. Because they brought back Mog.
I mean…all right. 13-2 came out in Japan in 2011. Same as 0 -- although apparently, 0 actually predates 13-2 by a couple of months. Again, it’s not as if they could backpedal, and the reactions of some fans (be they in the east or west) don’t equal the reaction of every fan. But even if that’s true, come on. This is a game that starts with a war-torn city under siege, and mostly on fire. You play as a squadron of super-soldiers forced to come to terms with death. So, devs, you’re telling me that you’re perfectly all right with giving the task of monitoring and maintaining -- if not outright teaching -- these cadets…to a Moogle?
I don’t understand. Even if they’re boxed in by the limits of canon, they’re still free to tell the best story possible -- something worthy of the increasingly-dirty Final Fantasy name. Sure, there are conventions in the franchise that can (and will) reoccur, but the expectation is that it’ll make sense. Phoenix Downs? Okay. Magic? No problem. Moogles? I can deal. Moogles in a seat of power over the only hope a country on the ropes has of reclaiming stolen lands? That’s where I draw the line.
So here’s the question I have now: is Final Fantasy stale?
Okay, that’s pretty obvious by now. But it’s worth noting that I came into this series way late; my first experience with it was FF7, and that was years after its initial release. I haven’t touched a single game prior to that beyond getting glimpses of the past in Dissidia. I couldn’t bring myself to play 12 for more than a few hours. I’m trying to pretend that The Lightning Saga doesn’t count. Shit, I’ve played more games in the Tales series than anything.
In that sense, everything this franchise has to offer should feel relatively new to me. Each game is a chance to start fresh with new characters, new worlds, and new ideas; that’s part of the fun of diving into each new installment, issues of quality aside. But this time around? I’ll admit that 0 is the bloodiest game in the franchise to date -- and trust me, I’ll come back to that another day -- but even then, I have a big issue.
How is it that this game just came out, but it feels like I already played it?
Your enemy this time around is -- drumroll please -- an “evil” empire. You’re part of a bigger organization, taking orders without complaint from Class Zero’s “mother” and other officials -- which makes me suspect that the “twist” is going to be that they’re actually bad guys too, because anyone with even a modicum of authority in fiction has a 50/50 chance of being a traitor, a villain, a shitlord, or all three. And there’s a war going on, which isn’t so bad in its own right, but so far I haven’t found a reason to really care about what’s going on -- so that makes it really similar to plenty of other stuff.
And these characters haven’t exactly leapt off the page, either. It’s a consequence of the way the game works, but you have to try to get their characterization. I know, I know, it’s the start of the game, and there are some good moments already, but cripes. Nothing would make me happier than being able to hang out with local mech-puncher Eight, but I can’t do that, and I can’t see just what kind of person he is unless I stumble ass-backwards into it. And you have fourteen characters -- not just within the first hour, but over the course of a game to develop. Thus far, I’ve barely gotten any of that development. I’ve just seen a bunch of archetypes and attributes. The best way to differentiate these people is by their hairstyles.
And you know what that means, right? Yep -- we’re being forced to see these people as stereotypical FF (or just anime) characters instead of fleshed-out heroes. That might be the biggest sin the franchise could commit, especially at this stage.
Hell, 0 gets hit even harder, because it’s more than happy to give us hairstyles we’ve already seen in other FF games. Just look at Cater…and look at Shelke.
Trey looks like Snow, who in turn looks like Ace.
Seven is almost literally a palette-swapped Lightning.
Eight looks like the guy from 14's original cover.
Nine is, according to the Best Friends Zaibatsu, “older Cloud”.
And even if Class Zero members don’t necessarily have hairstyles that line up with previous characters, there’s still the threat of them having broad-strokes anime archetypes. The Zaibatsu called out Queen as “unfeeling” within seconds of her appearance onscreen; very little in the game has proven otherwise. Cinque takes the ditzy trait up a few dozen notches, to the point where I’m concerned she has no idea where she is at any given moment…plus they gave her Yuna’s run from 10-2. You know. The dopey one. I am EXTREMELY concerned about Rem, because minute one of her introduction has her stumbling from some sort of sickness, and combined with her general personality suggests that she’s the game’s waifish heroine. I’d say more about Machina, but that would imply that there’s something to say.
I just don’t get it. I mean, yes, the core of the game is from 2011. That’s inescapable; in a lot of ways, the HD release was outdated the moment it got announced. But even if that’s the case, why do I get the feeling that a lot of these conventions would be out of date in 2011? I know that there’s time for these characters and this world to develop -- to pull me in and never let go -- but first impressions are important, damn it. Give me ironclad proof that things have changed. Show me that the franchise is moving forward in more than just its number of games.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Of course things have changed, Voltech! Haven’t you heard? Haven’t you seen the game’s intro? This is the darkest, bloodiest Final Fantasy yet! That’s all the proof you need!” And to that I say: No it fucking isn’t.
I absolutely cannot do anything else in terms of discussing this game before I address 0’s beginning. Because you know what? I actually wouldn’t mind a genuinely-darker FF installment. Granted I wouldn’t mind a lighter FF installment as a means to bat away the angsty/emo stigma with a sufficiently-large stick, but a game that can say, do, or be something meaningful is plenty appreciable. And I’m hoping with all my heart that 0 delivers.
Here’s the thing, though. There are two major issues that, if left untended to, could completely RUIN the game. The first and most obvious is one I’ve talked about before: the darkness and grittiness has to matter in a well-made, contextual manner. It’s not enough to have violence and blood and then scream “THERE, IT’S BETTER NOW!” There has to be more to it. It’s too early to cast judgments on that front, but the game’s long since run into the second issue -- and if it keeps it up, it may break 0 beyond repair. Do you know what it is? I’ve already alluded to it several times in this post, but I’ll say it directly.
This game has a problem with a consistent tone.
I’ll cut this post short for now and get to it next time, because I have no clue how many words I’ll have to spend on that. In the meantime, though, I’ll say this: if it sounds like I hate this game, then I don’t mean to. I’m trying to stay as neutral as I can and make final judgments later, but for now I don’t have any problems admitting that I actually enjoy it. I’m having fun. I’m intrigued. I want to see more. It’s passed a preliminary test that a lot of modern games have long since failed. Take that as you will.
I think my issues and mixed feelings with the game come from a simple source: even if the game is good, I can’t help but think to myself that it could have been better. That’s true of virtually every game, but here? I’m left wanting. I can see the holes in the quilt, and I can imagine all these different ways to fix it. So while it’s an obvious sign of frustration, it’s also a sign of quality; the fact that I want more from the game -- if not expect it -- means that it’s done enough to get me engaged and thinking critically. Chalk that up as a win.
So I guess I’ll see you guys next time. But one more thing: why is this little miniseries subtitled “Kill ‘Em All, Kupo!”? Well, take your pick.
A) To highlight the tonal dissonance
B) Because it’s the first thing that popped into my head
C) As an excuse to reference the Anarchy Reigns soundtrack
It’s pretty good.