All right. Let’s talk about the ending.
Part 8: Mortified
…Nope. Not done screaming yet.
In order to understand why the ending is…that…you have to understand the context. You have to know about the events leading up to it, be it from Chapter 8 (the final chapter), the minutes before it, or the hours before it. It’s imperative that you know about Machina and Rem -- because they ruin the game on a level I never would have thought possible. And this is coming from someone who already declared that they ruined the game.
So if you missed Part 4 of this little miniseries, here’s a quick primer. Class Zero is made up of fourteen Rubrum cadets, but two of them were inserted later on as a means to keep tabs on the young soldiers. One of them is Rem Tokimiya, who has neither a personality nor a presence in the story -- but paradoxically is someone the story bends over backwards for to show how much she matters (because she’s sick and dying and deserves all of the praise, I guess). The other is Machina Kunagiri, whose sheer stupidity is bad enough, but his sheer conviction in his stupidity is even worse. Imagine Lennie from Of Mice and Men playing the white knight, and you’re halfway there.
I have to bring this up again, because this not only ties into the problems with…well, pretty much everything in the game, but ties back to the exact same issue I had with FF13-2. In that game, main villain and ancient immortal warrior Caius had aims to ruin time itself because reasons, but one of those reasons was ostensibly to protect and save the little seer girl Yeul. No matter what the game tried to tell you, Yeul was pretty much a villain by association -- partly because she never even tried to establish herself as a character. Or to be more precise, she never made her motivations -- her basest desires -- clear.
It’s the same old story with Machina and Rem. Machina says over and over that he has to protect Rem, but it comes off as a creepy obsession, and that’s putting it mildly. Here’s the thing: at no point in the story does he talk with Rem about his need to protect her. He seems to assume that she needs to be protected, but against what, exactly? From Class Zero? Protecting her from the Empire is more feasible, but he seems to completely overlook the fact that Rem is a soldier just as much as he is. She’s no wallflower; she can fight and protect herself. If Machina wants to protect her for real, maybe he should devote himself to figuring out how to cure her melodramatoxosis.
But let’s not pretend like Rem is completely in the clear, either. Machina spends most of his “I have to protect Rem” scenes ranting to himself, but there is one moment late in the story where he actually tells her about his aim to protect her -- and he talks to her like some sort of stoned preacher, what with his sheer obstinacy. Rem’s response? She spends pretty much the entire scene going “Huh?” and “What are you saying?” and “Machina…” So basically, she’s dumber than a trout.
They missed a major opportunity here. It would have been the perfect chance for Rem to call Machina out -- to sit him down and say “I don’t need someone to protect me.” She could have said anything to him in that scene, really; she could have taken a stand and made her presence known. She could have said “I trust Class Zero with my life” or “You’re talking nonsense. Let’s hash this out before you do anything stupid.” For so-called childhood friends, these two characters -- the people forced to be the game’s main characters -- have zero communication between them. None. Rem lets Machina saunter off to parts unknown again and again and again, and if she was actually concerned about him (or had a brain) she would do something besides act like some porcelain doll.
Christ, the more I look at her, the creepier she gets.
I honestly can’t decide who I hate more between Machina and Rem -- but either way, the latter ties into something that’s really been irritating me recently (though you could easily say the same about the former). I don’t want to generalize because it doesn’t apply to everyone, but lately it seems like a lot of Japanese media has a problem with creating (for lack of a better term) challenging characters. That goes for both males and females, but females get hit especially hard because of the infamous moe factor. It’s as if people are afraid to create characters that play host to different ideas and concepts, you know? Like the only way for people to like them, as far as creators are concerned, is for them to appeal in the basest, shallowest fashion.
This is coming off of a bitter experience with Kantai Collection, but it’s far from the only one. We’ve all seen enough stories by now to know that basic tropes and archetypes (writing-wise or design-wise) aren’t enough to create good characters; they’re a starting point, yes, but developing characters further is supposed to be the end goal -- if not Step Two in the process. The conflicts and personas woven into them are supposed to be what makes them interesting; it’s through those means that they become more than just designs or outlines.
But there’s too much stuff out there that strips away that depth -- the very chance for conflict -- under the assumption that it won’t have any lasting appeal. No, don’t be deep! Don’t have conflicts internal or external! Don’t be intelligent! Don’t move out of an audience’s comfort zone! And for God’s sake, don’t make them think! People only want characters that coddle and placate them! So just be cute and go through your role in the plot (or be lesbians, if possible)! That’s how you make a story! It’s all about those attributes, baby! Bring on the little sisters! And/or the pandering!
Characters create opportunities. But when the chance to be characters gets sanded away for the safe approach -- for masses of attributes that inorganically move at the whims of the “plot” -- then it does the story a huge disservice. So on one hand, you get Rem, a character who is less of a person and more like some toddler’s favorite toy to be hugged and hoarded. And on the other hand, you get Machina, a guy who is supposed to be the hero -- someone stronger, braver, prettier, and “smarter” than everyone else, because that’s an oft-opened can of worms -- only be the hero because A) the plot says so, B) there needs to be drama NAOOOOO, and C) problems that can be solved in mere minutes with a single conversation have to be dragged out over the course of forty hours.
Nobody comes out of this clean, is what I’m trying to say here. But that’s Type-0 for you; it could have focused on world-building, and shown what it meant for Orience to be at war. It could have focused on the interpersonal drama of the characters, like the class of super soldiers sitting, like, right there. But instead, it opted to put an inordinate amount of time and effort into a go-nowhere, shallow relationship between an idiot who can’t react to anything besides her decaying innards and another idiot who just has to have his precious toys in his arms at all times.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t completely distort the plot, but that’s exactly what it does. HOLY SHIT, does it distort the plot. It’s as if the game was written by a bunch of moon-people who think “cause and effect” is the name of some kind of space-sandwich. So while the events I’m about to describe aren’t strictly a part of the ending, they do inform and decide it. Fair warning, though: get ready to bang your head against your item of choice. I recommend a nice, solid wall.
So. Like I said, Machina tends to disappear at several points throughout the game after his little shit fit at the twenty-hour mark. Where does he go? Well, as it turns out, at some point in the game he finds Qun’mi, the l’Cie you fought earlier in the game, stuck in a crater. She decides that her life is pretty much over (somehow? I thought she was immortal!), so when Machina stumbles upon her, she offers the power of a l’Cie to her. Machina accepts, on the grounds that he’ll become more powerful -- naturally -- and he’ll be able to protect Rem. So Qun’mi bites it, and Machina takes up the mask and cowl in her place.
You know what I’m going to say next, right?
First off, since when were l’Cie able to transfer their powers to other l’Cie? That sure as hell wasn’t how it worked in FF13 -- and while I don’t mind if they tweaked the rules for Type-0, they have to explain the rules in the first place. Otherwise, it just looks like an asspull -- which it is, essentially. But more importantly, there are still other rules in place that both Machina and the writers overlooked. Remember, our “hero” is part of Rubrum, and Qun’mi was part of the Empire. The power of a l’Cie is granted so that those who receive it can, presumably, protect the crystal of said country, if not the country itself -- meaning that Machina becoming a l’Cie via Qun’mi translates to Machina becoming a l’Cie on the enemy side.
I don’t understand what your plan was, Machina. I don’t. You know for a fact that Class Zero -- including Rem -- is going to do their best to storm the Empire and put the crystal in danger (somehow? Maybe? Probably). So in order to protect Rem, you decided to accept a power that would put you in direct opposition to Rem, and perhaps even demand that you kill her by virtue of whatever your Focus was? Why? WHY? You were already strong enough without becoming a l’Cie. You were in the perfect position to protect Rem, by virtue of fighting alongside her. If you were so concerned about her safety, you could have just told her to back off. Stay off the battlefield, and help the war effort by being a medic or a logistics expert or literally anything else. Don’t assume that everything will go your way just because you have “good” intentions, you fuckhead.
And I can say as much with confidence because -- guess what? Machina ends up killing Rem.
During the player’s trek through Pandemonium, there’s a point where a multiple-choice prompt pops up. Apparently, Rubrum’s crystal asks you straight-up if you want to become a l’Cie, or if you want to stay human. The only reason I hesitated to make my decision was because a sudden question prompt came way out of left field. But there’s only one right decision, even if the game would suggest otherwise: stay human. This is the third game I’ve played with this l’Cie/fal’Cie fuckery, and every single conceivable facet of it tells me that if there’s a choice, say no.
In exchange? Class Zero might have been spared from becoming tools of the gods (and remember this, because I’ll come back to it in a bit), but the crystal decides to make someone else a l’Cie: Rem, who up to that point had been out-of-action. She gets evil glowing eyes and…well, I don’t know what she does after that, but the screen fades to black. I guess she had to travel to Pandemonium…for some reason, somehow (Class Zero took a dragon to get there, so I guess the implication is that she flew or something?) so she could do her l’Cie thing. And to be honest? I actually started grinning and getting really excited. “You mean I get to kill Rem? AWESOME!” Alas, I wasn’t given the chance.
It’s worth noting that up to that point in the story, the game tried to convince the player that the Empire’s new l’Cie wasn’t Machina -- and did a terrible job of it. When he’s in his l’Cie garb, it’s pretty much just a palette-swapped version of him with a tiger mask; couple that with the fact that a cutscene has him doing an improbably-huge vertical leap, and it’s patently obvious that he’s gone l’Cie. My question (one of dozens, of course) is why Rem, the dying girl, was chosen to be a l’Cie. It’s mentioned offhandedly that Rubrum’s main l’Cie suddenly disappears -- don’t worry, it’s not like he mattered anyway -- so I guess there’s some sort of substitution system in place.
Except that system breaks down when you remember that Rubrum had another l’Cie earlier in the game -- the same one who summoned Alexander and wrecked the Empire. So how does this system work, exactly? The crystal (or is it a fal’Cie?) lets l’Cie pass the power off whenever they feel like it so that any schmuck can become a l’Cie? But the crystal can also decide from a remote location who to make a l’Cie for the sake of self-preservation…but is also easy-going enough to let its first choice -- all of Class Zero, in this case -- turn it down, even with the apocalypse bursting out of every orifice?
And if it can willingly turn multiple people into l’Cie in one shot, and it presumably wants to stay alive, then why doesn’t it make an army of l’Cie instead of just turning one dying girl into its sole hope for survival? And on top of all that, was Rem asked to become a l’Cie as well? Because if she did -- and she accepted -- then wouldn’t that make her into a total bitch as well as an idiot?
Christ. This game is an aneurysm and a hate crime rolled into one and injected straight into my brain.
The takeaway from all of this is that Machina and Rem meet at Pandemonium -- for some reason -- and fight it out. And I guess Machina kills Rem somehow, even though I thought l’Cie were immortal. And Rem goes through with the fight in the first place, because -- idiot that she is -- she can’t tell that a guy with the same height, build, and clothes as Machina could possibly be Machina just because he’s wearing a mask. (I guess she only identified Machina by his hair for all those off-screen years.) And even though there were about a hundred different ways for their clash to have gone down without violence or melodrama, Machina ends up landing the killing blow (WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY) on Rem when a moment’s hesitation -- him losing his mask -- leaves her open.
After that, both of them adhere to the rules of the l’Cie: those that complete their Focus gain “eternal life” and become crystal statues. So they end up embracing in their final moments, destined to be together forever at long last -- and Class Zero sees their remains as they limp towards the final boss fight.
Hey. Want to play a game? It’s called Try to Follow This Line of Reasoning. Ready?
Okay, sooooooooo…apparently, Machina’s Focus was to kill Rem, who up to that point hadn’t even become a l’Cie. I guess it was like 13’s l’Cie system where the Focus is some hazy glimpse of what to do (WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY), but you’d think he could have pieced some of the clues together. And meanwhile, Rem’s Focus as a newly-minted l’Cie -- the one hand-picked by the crystal to protect the crystal and its home base in Rubrum -- was to die.
…Excuse me for a moment.
Okay. Now, where were we? Oh, right.
There aren’t enough screams on the internet. So let’s continue, shall we?
So last time, I mentioned that during the main phase of the final boss fight (Marshal Cid, who decided to become the Devil Gundam off-screen), you can’t die. The reason for that is simple: Machina and Rem may be encased in crystal, but they give their power to Class Zero (WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY) so that they can stand a chance against the empowered Cid. You control each member of Class Zero in turn, and land critical hits on Cid so you can drain his soul energy. The trick is that even if Cid can’t kill you, each cadet “dies” when they successfully drain his soul -- well, either that, or Machina and Rem’s power has to transfer to the next cadet, leaving the previous one as a drained husk. Whatever the case, Cid’s helpless to stop you, and the day is won. And thus, Class Zero strikes a blow in the name of humanity, having seized their fate and right to survive for the entire species.
At least, they would have if Machina and Rem didn’t break the sentiment over their knee. Think about it: Class Zero may have marched up to Cid to try and stop him, but in the end they, as simple(ish) humans were powerless to stop them. It was only thanks to an assist from Machina and Rem -- empowered into godlike beings by what may as well be gods -- that they accomplished anything. So basically, all that talk about Class Zero thinking for themselves and choosing their own fate ends up being a load of horseshit. They didn’t win with their own power; they won with the power of the gods. They won because at least one of the characters did something remarkably stupid -- and the game ended up saying, despite its platitudes, that the idiots were right.
Oh, but don’t worry. That’s only the START of the ending’s problems -- because things get even worse from here. As you’ll soon see, the game decides that not only were Machina and Rem right, but they were super right.
I went into the ending expecting everything to fall apart. I thought that minute one of second one would make white-hot magma erupt from every cell in my body. But it didn’t. In some ways, the ending is actually kind of good. There’s some really admirable stuff in there -- stuff that I’ve thought about since I saw it weeks ago, as of this writing.
It’s in the final minutes of the game -- in an extended sequence, no less -- that Class Zero gets to enjoy each other’s company and talk. They get to show who they are, even if that’s in line with their archetypes. The ending more or less starts out with them having a normal day in class; some of them, like Queen and Seven, are serious; others like Nine and Jack, are goofy. Eight actually gets to laugh it up a bit, and Sice tells Trey to cut one of his little lectures short; Cinque, Cater, and Deuce all crowd around each other and gossip. But their moment of peace and joy ends up being just an illusion -- something dreamed up by Ace in the aftermath of the battle with Cid.
In reality, Class Zero is wrecked. They’re bloody, torn up, and pretty much left to die in the rubble of Classroom Zero. Having thrown themselves into Pandemonium (and got out, somehow), they all come to an obvious realization: they’re all going to die. Despite their best efforts, even the most po-faced among them can’t accept their fate quietly; several of them curse their fates, try to deny the end, and lament the truth. Even though they took so many lives in the battlefield, Class Zero never really understood what it meant to die, and what it would mean when their time came.
As a result, Cinque breaks down in tears and wails. And she’s not the only one. As the class huddles together, several others break down alongside her, and are unable to accept either the pain or the end. But of course, it’s Ace -- the de facto leader of the class and the real main character -- who calms them all down with a song. It’s the same one that he sang when they visited the academy’s cemetery, although the others comment that he’s never able to finish the song.
Even so, Ace’s singing does its job. The others regain their composure, and continue their conversations -- talking at liberty about what happens next, what their futures entail, what to do about the academy, and, well, just enjoying each other’s company. Jokes and insults get tossed out; questions are asked and answers are given; as the final touch, each member of the class gets their shot -- a few moments of them smiling in turn, despite the wounds practically carved into their faces.
And no one comes to save them. Class Zero, the heroes constantly blamed for the world’s misfortunes, the soldiers who almost single-handedly won the war, die. In their final shot, they’re shown huddled together with hands clasped and heads hung. Their weapons are lodged in the ground, alongside a flag of Rubrum. And as a gust of wind enters the ruins of Akademia, the flag -- the tattered remains of a testament to their loyalty, and their home -- begins its silent dance.
It’s easily the most harrowing sequence I’ve ever seen in a Final Fantasy game. Easily. As I’ve said, I haven’t played every one in the series, so I recognize that there are probably better ones out there. But for a franchise mired in poor decisions, outright goofiness, and (as of late) unyielding incompetence, it’s that ending, and those final scenes, that very nearly redeem the entire game.
I say nearly, of course, because there’s one small detail I forgot to mention.
Machina and Rem live.
Machina and Rem come out of nowhere, and find Class Zero’s lifeless bodies. The two of them aren’t hurt in the slightest. Not physically, at least; both of them break into tears, and Machina apologizes profusely, but it’s not enough to bring his comrades back to life. Not like it matters, though -- because there’s a string of text boxes that explains that Machina became ruler of the planet, single-handedly ensured that Orience rebuilt itself and entered a new age of prosperity, and got to die of old age with a smile on his face and his wife Rem by his side. The end.
Question: How do you ruin an ending?
Let’s set my blatant distaste and stupefying rage towards these characters aside for a minute. Okay, so these two characters come back to life. How? Well, it’s safe to assume that -- by virtue of appearing before the crystallized cadets, SOMEHOW -- Class Zero’s “mother”, Dr. Arecia, revived Machina and Rem; given her constant moon-speak and complete lack of definition, it’s safe to assume she’s one of the l’Cie, a fal’Cie, or even a goddess. Okay, fine. There’s an explanation. So here’s my question: if the doctor had the power to revive people, then why didn’t she revive her “darlings” of Class Zero?
I mean, I guess the implication was that the class’ souls were damaged beyond repair, but that doesn’t excuse Machina and Rem, seeing as how they must have taken some hits from the Rursus to get to the inner sanctum…and, you know, they turned into crystal statues. Moreover, Dr. Arecia’s powers are never fully defined in the context of the game -- so if she has the power to reverse crystallization, how do we know for sure that she doesn’t have the power to reverse damage to souls? Even if she didn’t have the power to revive them, why didn’t she even try to approach her darlings in the ending to pay her respects?
But that’s all ignoring the big issue here: how did Machina become the savior of the planet? We’re talking about a guy who didn’t make a single good decision over the course of some forty hours of gameplay -- months in the game’s timeline -- and failed so hard that he killed the person he swore to protect. Now you’re telling me, game, that he ended up building a new hierarchy -- in a world where the crystals lost their power, making life even harder than it already was -- and aiding in global reconstruction efforts? And people allowed it to happen? Did he lie and cheat his way to the throne? Because I can just imagine how much of a shitshow his memoirs must be.
So apparently, Machina, the guy who made no good decisions, is rewarded. And Rem, the girl who made no decisions, is also rewarded. There were literally no repercussions for their actions. Only Queen managed to call one of them out, and even then she felt like she needed to apologize minutes later. Everything they did was wrong, but it didn’t matter because some higher power -- the doctor, the gods, the plot, whatever the fuck -- smiled upon them and made everything better.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they completely distorted the narrative -- tore it into pieces and rearranged it for a last-minute “happy ending”. It wasn’t even an earned happy ending, because ONCE AGAIN nothing is adequately explained, and we’re just supposed to be okay with everything that happens. It doesn’t matter how much death and tragedy and destruction the previous forty hours had! All it takes is a couple of lines of text over a black screen to completely overwrite that! Class Zero dying for doing the right thing? PFFFFFFFFFFFFFT! Who cares about a story that challenges the audience’s perceptions and ideals? Let’s have Mr. and Mrs. Perfect make everything perfect forever!
As a wise man once said, DON’T EVEN TELL ME THAT SHIT’S FOR REAL.
The sheer level of failure here is astounding. Astounding. I mean…you’ve read everything up to this point, haven’t you? Am I crazy here? Am I just nitpicking? This is a fundamental misunderstanding of storytelling, even on a basic level. How do you take such promising concepts and not only do nothing with them, but conspire, and succeed, at every turn to make it worse? How do you do that? Why would you do that? You couldn’t leave well enough alone? You had to drag Machina and Rem back into the story -- and worse yet, make them the heroes of the entire planet with no buildup, no evidence, and no payoff? This is your creative vision, Squeenix? THIS IS IT?!
So yes. As a matter of fact, I do hate the ending. But I hate that I have to hate the ending -- because for moments at a time, between the mind-wrenching stupidity, and with all the inanity from the dozens of hours before that point committed to memory, I actually saw that potential. I saw glimpses of a good game -- of good characters, a good story, and more -- peeking out at me. I saw the game that I wanted. I saw the game that Squeenix, and gaming at large, needed. I saw the name Final Fantasy come within arm’s reach of more than just redemption. I saw, for a split second, a chance to reach greatness.
And then they slapped that shit aside so some asshole could continue obsessing over his non-entity of a waifu.
No. I’m done.
I’m done with this game. I don’t care if there’s an alternate ending. I don’t care if a second playthrough will explain everything, or show off more of these characters. If the game was doing the right thing, it would have made its best impression the first time around, not try and con me into doubling my playtime. If I want to know the truth, I’ll just read the wiki or watch a video on YouTube.
I’m walking away from this game and never looking back. But before I close the book on this mess, there’s still one more thing I have to do.
See you for the finale. Till then…my throat hurts.