“Hey, what was that red stuff at the start of the game?”
That was what I asked myself several times throughout the game, most notably in the second-to-last chapter. See, in the first mission there’s a red mist and lights and tentacles that appear out of nowhere that -- well, they don’t really attack you per se. They just kind of hang there menacingly, and none of your attacks work on them. They’re gone before long, though, both in the mission and the story at large. Seriously, I don’t think anyone comments on what they saw. Ever. It’s pretty much stricken from the game -- a game which, I should say upfront, I’ve finished as of this post (as compared to the earlier ones).
Since the game pretty much decided to ignore it, I did too. I focused on the main plot, i.e. the war between the on-the-ropes Rubrum and the invading Militesi Empire. As such, the main villain of the game (if you could call him that) is Imperial Marshal Cid Aulstyne, the guy behind the Empires forces…if we assume that said empire has no distinction between military leaders and political leaders, but whatever. It’s safe to say that he’s the one players will have to face off at some point -- because with this being a Final Fantasy game, and following in the footsteps of vanilla FF13, anyone who is old and has wrinkles is evil and must die.
Sounds simple enough, right? Oh, if only…
Part 7: This is Madness
Let me say this to start (and if it wasn’t obvious before, I’m going into full-on spoiler mode): the campaign to rout and occupy the Empire is an absolute joke. It’s hilariously bad, as if Squeenix ran out of money in the home stretch. What should be the climactic moment in the entire game -- story or otherwise -- full of meaning and catharsis basically boils down to one boss fight for the entire mission. That’s it. One boss fight, against a guy in a mech you already fought (and had no presence in the story, because that’s how Type-0 rolls). And as usual, it’s a boss that doesn’t test your skills or preparation, but is only difficult because he’s a flying enemy -- one with Haste activated, so your melee characters are virtually useless against his sudden hyper-speed.
The sad thing is that a sufficiently-leveled Ace can take the guy out single-handedly in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. So you say goodbye to the so-called Qator the Unscathed…who really should have had a better name, because A) he’s only unscathed because he hides inside his mech, and B) I kicked his ass once before already. And that’s it for Militesi. The next thing you know, the mission is complete, the Empire gets occupied -- almost entirely off-screen -- and there’s zero in-game fanfare from anyone or anything. At most, you get to have a victory lap as you manually ride your chocobo back to the academy.
So ends Chapter 7.
And then there’s Chapter 8.
You cannot even begin to fathom the sheer level of “what the fuck” this turn of events inspired. Contextually, there is one conversation that foreshadows what happens. Just one -- and it’s completely possible to miss (as I did). And sure, a couple of people wonder just what Cid’s up to with his plan, but that’s a consequence of both his character and his motivation never being explained. I don’t know if what he’s doing is weird, because I never knew what he was doing in the first place. Putting it simply, Type-0 goes from having almost no plot to ALL OF THE PLOT…from an entirely different game. It’s like going from a shitty knockoff of Saving Private Ryan to Resident Evil: Apocalypse for the final act.
So, let’s start cracking this thing open. Because I’m dumb and want to torture myself.
Probably one of the first major events of the chapter -- or the minutes before it -- is that Rem keels over at last. It would probably work a lot better if they had actually shown Rem doing more than just coughing on occasion over the forty-ish hours I put into the game (HRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH), but whatever. The important thing is that Rem gets removed from the party, as does Machina. And now it’s not just Rubrum on the ropes, but the entirety of the world of Orience. From what, you ask? From the Rursus, I answer. What’s a Rursus, you ask? GREAT QUESTION!
I’ll admit that when I first encountered one, I had a genuine “Oh shit!” moment -- because while I was walking through Akademeia, I swiveled the camera to have a look around, and when I swiveled back, I suddenly had a twenty-foot tall magic soldier winding up in front of me. But once you get over the initial shock, the Rursus are not all that impressive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to see a new enemy type besides a different-colored Flan, but even with their ability to teleport and not flinch from most attacks, they’re no threat. They’re slow, they’ve got a heavily-telegraphed attack (that can inflict a Killsight on you, but that’s not much of an issue), and as the icing on the cake, they’re about a dozen levels weaker than you. Soooooooooooo all that talk of needing to be Level 36 was just a bunch of lies, wasn’t it Moglin?
I guess the idea with these guys was to make them enigmatic (and scary because of it), but it’s impossible for me to feel anything but confusion about the Rursus -- and not the good kind of confusion, either. What are these things? Where did they come from? What do they want? Why are they here? It’d be nice to know at least a little bit about the super-monsters that have left Akademeia in ruins and turned hundreds of cadets into bloodless corpses -- but as Type-0 presents them, the supposed super-monsters that no one can defeat (which they should be able to anyway, if only to make an escape before they supposedly regenerate) can be dispatched in an instant by the player and any given trio of Class Zero cadets. Can you see how that might be a problem?
I will be fair, though. There’s a lot to complain about in Chapter 8 -- and I will, just you wait -- but in some ways it’s actually an improvement over everything that came before it. The chain of command gets broken, meaning that there’s no one to bark orders at Class Zero; because of that, Class Zero finally, finally, FINALLY gets to act and react on their own terms. They actually get cutscenes to talk to each other, figure out what to do, and show off their characters. Why couldn’t that happen more than, like, twice throughout the entire game? I don’t know. But it happened, and it does wonders for the proceedings.
But unfortunately, it’s marred by some of the same old problems. Everyone in the world, the Akademeia cadets in particular, thinks that the sky turned red and the sea turned black because of Class Zero. Are you kidding me? We’re doing this shit again? Why are we blaming the people who have been nothing but helpful? Why are we not blaming the Empire that started this mess in the first place? Class Zero saved Rubrum’s collective asses one mission after another, and now they’re the scapegoats again? Christ, maybe I really am the only one paying attention here. It’s either that, or no one in Orience understands the concept of motive, opportunity, and M.O.
So let’s talk about our main baddie, Cid. Inasmuch as anyone can talk about a non-entity -- or to be more precise, he’s just Barthandelus again.
I spent pretty much the entire game expecting someone to step in and take the role of central villain from Cid. It’s happened before; Sephiroth hijacked FF7, Ultimecia hijacked FF8, and you could argue that at least three characters hijacked FF10 from demon whale Sin. But that didn’t happen. Cid is the villain at the start and the villain at the end -- barring some extra scenes or bosses in New Game Plus, but let’s not get into how stupid that would be. The point is that Cid doesn’t have the presence needed to justify being the main villain. He’s lucky to get as many lines as he did in the chapters prior -- that number being less than a dozen, and that’s a generous estimate.
Imagine my surprise, then, when he spends almost the entirety of the final (or rather, first) dungeon doing his best impression of Borderlands’ Handsome Jack.
Cid sets up shop inside the suddenly-arisen Pandemonium, and as the new ruler of the roost, he goes on and on in the most purple of prose about how Class Zero is unworthy, and how the world is unworthy, and how everyone is a waste of space and should be wiped out, and blah blah blah. Copy-paste Barthandelus’ inane rambling from FF13, and you’ve got Cid in a nutshell, as well as the game’s final hours…only since he’s talking to you in-game, you couldn’t skip it if you tried. Once again, the fact that nothing happens and nothing is explained ends up hurting this game -- but let’s go ahead and start with the big question: who the hell is this guy?
It’s a safe bet that Cid is a military dog out to make his country the best around -- or at least, it was a safe bet. But in light of the story we’re given (without a New Game Plus, because you shouldn’t need two playthroughs to understand core concepts of a story), the only explanation I can think of is that Cid was a fal’Cie all along. And even that’s a terrible explanation. If it turns out that he was a fal’Cie out to judge humanity or whatever, then why did he bother masquerading as a marshal? If his power bordered on the godlike, then why waste untold years working his way up the ranks when he could have just unleashed havoc with his superhuman powers? Was being the marshal his Focus? If so, why? And would that turn him into a crystal as well?
The alternate explanation is that Cid was a human who wormed his way into Pandemonium and was rewarded with power, but that makes even less sense. So you’re telling me, game, that a normal-ass dude with nothing but a sword managed to cut his way through to the inner sanctum amidst swarms of unholy knights and seize quasi-godhood? When? How? Why? He practically had the world eating out of his hand well before game’s end, but he decided he needed to…do what, exactly? What was his end goal? Kill everyone so he could assert his power? He already did that! He already won! Why did he need to go that far? Why did he need to conquer Rubrum as well, or even in the first place?
I want to like you, Type-0. I really do. But you’re making that really hard, because you WON’T. FUCKING. EXPLAIN. ANYTHING.
But wait! There’s more! It turns out that the trigger for this so-called Tempus Finis is for any one country to control the four crystals of Orience. Soooooooooooooooo…I guess that was Cid’s plan from the beginning, but that just opens up a whole mess of questions. Is this common knowledge in Orience? I would assume that at least some people know about it -- so that means that some people of every country knew about that, but didn’t raise complaints. Meaning that the people of the Empire knew what would happen, and were all right with it regardless. (Alternatively, propagandist sentiments shut down all dissent and opposition -- which I WOULD HAVE LOVED TO HAVE SEEN.) Whatever the case, I refuse to believe that there weren’t certain people in every country in the game that knew what would happen.
Remember, this is a game that features l’Cie, and thanks to the framework of Type-0 they’ve been blessed with immortality until the plot says it’s time for them to die. So given that there are people who are at least five hundred years old walking around Akademeia -- probably more than I know at this stage, if my guess that fal’Cie walk among them is true -- then they know that it’s a terrible idea for Rubrum to decide to suddenly take control of all four crystals, right? So why didn’t they do anything? Why did no one in power or no one with knowledge feel the need to speak up besides cryptic moon-speak?
I ask this because, as it turns out, the queen of Concordia -- the one assassinated, with the blame thrown onto Class Zero because reasons -- could actually see the future.
Oh my God. This game…this game is literally killing me. I can feel my brain tearing in half.
So let me see if I understand this correctly. The queen knew what would happen. She knew, with a reasonable amount of clarity, everything that would transpire. If that’s the case, then she knew that someone would try to assassinate her. And therefore, she knew that her death would push Concordia into the war. And therefore, she knew that it would put the Empire that much closer to the doomsday-bringing unity. And therefore, she knew that Rubrum would eventually succeed. And therefore, untold thousands of people -- if not millions -- would die.
She knew all of that. And even if she didn’t, at the very least she could have done something to prevent her assassination, and keep some jackass from seizing the throne. But she didn’t do anything. She only gave Class Zero some cryptic moon-speak, and sent one of her subordinates to give her a ride -- a subordinate who, as a l’Cie, apparently had her Focus be “play escort”. Not turn into a giant dragon and bomb Pandemonium inside and out -- just take them there and then die.
This story is so bad, it’s veered into the realm of trolling -- and has actively transcended simple trolling to become pure, concentrated antagonism. It’s digitized malice. And it just won’t stop.
So. How about that gameplay?
Well, throughout Pandemonium --
Hold on, I need to go lament being born for a minute.
Throughout Pandemonium, you receive challenges from Cid himself. It’s actually a spin on the “Special Orders” you’ve received throughout the game at that point, i.e. you can choose to perform certain actions within a time limit to earn bonuses -- though if you fail one, you lose your character. (Or get a game over; I didn’t fail any of them, so I wouldn’t know.) Cid’s version -- “Cid’s Crucible” -- can’t be turned down, however, so the core conceit of the dungeon is that you’re at the mercy of some asshole that won’t shut the hell up. The challenges aren’t exactly strenuous, though; kill all the enemies, win without physical attacks, win while poisoned, it’s all there. Not tough, but it mixes up the gameplay a bit.
It’s just too bad that the enemy variety still isn’t a step up. I mean, Pandemonium is some ancient fortress that was buried in the ocean depths, and yet there are even more Flans for you to fight. And there are even more Bombs, and even more dragons; there’s one Behemoth you have to fight to get to the next area, but it’s a holdover from another area. I was genuinely surprised to see an Iron Giant, but the excitement peters out with the likelihood that there’s another one tucked away in a sidequest.
Probably the biggest wrinkle of Pandemonium isn’t exactly anything that happens during it (though it’s worth noting that you split into two teams, so you’d better have at least six strong fighters ready), but what happens at its end: a boss rush. In a move pulled straight from any number of Mega Man games, you actually fight most of the game’s bosses all over again in rapid succession. So you get to relive the memories of cheap-ass bosses with some gimmick that can two-shot your party, or easy-ass bosses you can cheese to death. (That includes fighting Qator the “Unscathed” in his high-speed mech yet again.)
Beyond that, there isn’t really that much to say. The dungeon at large isn’t visually distinct -- it’s a very red and fuchsia set of ruins -- and while there are a couple of interesting areas, they aren’t enough to make a massive difference. The most trying area of Pandemonium is its take on the microwave hallway in MGS4, only instead of incredible suffering, your members of Class Zero just drag themselves through a couple of paths and hallways. There’s a reason for the slowdown, but I’ll have to get to that in the next post. So let’s go over the final boss.
To be fair, Cid looks a lot better than “I am a Robot Covered in Walls and Faces” Barthandalus, but he’s still not that impressive of a final boss -- and most of that ties into the actual fight. As usual, your input and preparation up to that point don’t really matter; the first half has your drastically-weakened team up against an avatar of destruction, so naturally you get your ass kicked. And thanks to the plot, you come back and kick Cid’s ass so hard that -- surprise -- another boss fight becomes a trifle.
It basically comes down to landing a critical hit on Cid with each member of Class Zero, then harvesting soul energy as you have a thousand times before. You can’t die, and it’s easy to land a decisive hit even with characters like Eight and Cinque. If you’re feeling optimistic, you could say that the real final challenge of Type-0 is making it past the boss rush with at least one character (the others come back to life after a little while). And while the last boss should have REALLY offered up something more, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t cathartic as all hell to throw one card at a time with Ace to cut all of his dumbass rants short.
So props to Type-0 for creating one of the first final bosses you can beat with one hand. Progress!
And so, at long last, Final Fantasy Type-0 comes to an end. Well, granted Class Zero only managed to kill Cid, and there was no guarantee that that would be enough to defeat the Rursus, and the world is still in tatters, and Rubrum’s chain of command is still utterly broken, but the important thing is that the game limps its way towards its ending. It was one hell of a rough trip, but at least it’s over.
And then comes the ending.
All right, look. Words were said in this post and others -- some very scathing, very hurtful words. It’s a shame that I had to say what I did, but I’m not taking them back. I stand by them. Type-0 has some gargantuan problems, and even if I want to like the game, I can’t ignore those faults just because I really, really want to. There’s just no way around it: despite all the potential and the promise, the game just isn’t very good. In fact, it’s actually pretty bad.
How do I know this? Well, I sat through the ending. And taking into account everything from the start of the game to its final minutes -- from the first words of Chapter 8 to the last words of Type-0 -- things manage to get EVEN WORSE. And I’m just sitting here, thinking to myself: “How could that have happened?”
Yup. That’ll do it.