We’ve been waiting for a long time: usually, when games take ten or more years to develop, they either go the way of vaporware or they collapse under the weight of all the ideas gathered over the time of its development. With some formerly thought long gone titles like Duke Nukem Forever coming to rise to release and ultimately failing under expectation and hype, the support for Final Fantasy XV has been extremely mixed, with even the most optimistic being cautious about how they approach the title. I, personally, cannot think of a single game that’s fielded that kind of development cycle that has succeeded incredibly. When it was first announced, the game was supposed to fit within the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology with the Final Fantasy XIII games and Final Fantasy Type-o, which was formerly under the title of Agito XIII at the time. Whereas Final Fantasy XIII and its series was supposed to be an exploration of a world of fantastic fantasy torn away from the reality that humanity left behind and Type-o sought to explore a world whose reality depended on that fantastic fantasy to the point where the fate of the world was intricately tied into it, XV, or aptly named versus XIII at the time of announcement, was supposed to be a world that fought with itself over that fantastical fantasy element that seemed extremely removed from a world that operated with its aid but without depending on it. There was supposed to be a very strong “technology versus magic/nature” theme across the games where, nearly the entire time, the player was in control of the party fighting against technology.
While it’s been a long time and the title has changed and the plot apparently has deviated from its original themes, a lot of the plot devices in XV still remain intact: tons of political intrigue in a world that doesn’t rely on the crystals but rather would seek to abuse their power that exists separately from humankind and your task was to protect the crystals from abuse. There are those who serve as the crystal’s guardians and those deities who exist within that world who are tied to the crystals and it would seem that the fate of the world may rest on those guardians.
However, there still seems to be a lot of confusion about what exactly Fabula Nova Crystallis is other than a branding for a series of Final Fantasy titles and I’ve thought quite a bit about it since there’s been talks about the rumors of XV‘s release date and I’ve come to settle whether or not I think XV may still thematically reside within it. I don’t think this should have to be said but in case you haven’t gotten it by now, there are some serious spoilers ahead.
What is Fabula Nova Crystallis?
If you can recall, I wrote an article some time ago about how I thought the Final Fantasy franchise followed some kind of pattern: in the space of three games for every console generation, Squaresoft would explore certain approaches to design, themes, and quality, in almost the same way up until about two generations ago, where things started getting kind of crazy. While it’s been talked about, officially, as to what the mythos is supposed to accomplish and explore, I, personally, think that this whole thing was an attempt to go back to that kind of pattern, to try and give it a name to follow but it would seem between expectation, hype, and technical evolution, it was quite a hard thing to follow up on.
If things went exactly as they had planned it, the games would have followed the pattern I’d laid out in the article I wrote: the first one laid the groundwork for what was to come, the middle one was to explore new themes and gameplay elements, and the last one was supposed to blow the top open and show how exactly what the last two experiences have taught them in a console generation all while having a very common theme between them. Unfortunately, it would seem that Square-Enix was a tad too ambitious with this project and it kind of fell apart as it went along, requiring that it would be approached as three individual projects as opposed to three parts to the same project.
This series which, if I’m not mistaken, translates from Latin as “The New Crystal Story,” sought to focus yet again on the crystals as a centerpiece for the titles within the mythos and create a very strong theme of fate and “nature versus technology,” whereas you play the part of the party fighting for the fate of the world and the people who live on it and, more often than not, technology seemed to be a burdening evil that was, at the very least, used as a theme to expose the corruption of men in power. While the games seem to have broken away as separate projects, I still think the themes originally thought up that were to bring the games together under the same banner still do apply.
The Final Fantasy XIII Trilogy
The first piece of the puzzle and perhaps it’s strongest and yet it’s weakest piece, we have the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy which started out as a strong deviation from the norm in the franchise, seemed to turn into a confusing mess of themes and gameplay elements by its third entry. Introducing the character Lightning, you took control of a group of people who were branded as l’Cie and set along a predetermined course of actions by the fal’Cie, manufactured deities who pretty much run and maintain the world and its inhabitants. The story of the first game follows Lightning and her friends as they fight against their branded fates – to fulfill their roles in ensuring Cocoon’s destruction at the hands of a monster named Ragnarok – and find that these efforts were orchestrated and manipulated in every way possible by the fal’Cie Orphan in an effort to kill so many people that it would force something called Etro’s Gate wide open and would permit the summoning of The Maker, who would come and remake the world. Cocoon was created and events were manipulated to ensure this happens by concentrating everyone into Cocoon, demonizing Gran Pulse – the world below Cocoon – as evil and filthy, and creating Sanctum, a theocratic government which controlled its people through its ideologies. Orphan saw that the world was doomed and saw opportunity in remaking the world to prevent its irreversable destruction. However, Lightning and her gang did not see things that way and eventually fought against their fates and, eventually, Orphan itself, which brought Ragnarok about anyway and they had pulled the last step out by deviating from their fates so strongly that it crystallized themselves into a pillar that would hold up Cocoon and effectively save the world and its people. The Goddess Etro, taking pity on Lightning and her party, released many of them from their crystalline prison and through these events, set into motion what Orphan – while somewhat crazy and fatalist – was trying to prevent.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is kind of where things start on the road to confusion: the gameplay changes, the cast pretty much gets brushed aside, and the story gets really confusing at certain points. It would turn out that behind the scenes, Orphan was well aware of this force called Chaos which is this aimless entity that embodies death and evil and the only thing holding it at bay from the world at large was the Goddess Etro; Orphan knew her strength would eventually wane and sought to summon the Maker and create a world without Chaos. In preventing this and with Etro’s divine intervention at the end of XIII, it weakened Etro greatly and shortened the lifespans of those who would share powers with Etro. It turns out a seer by the name of Yeul has that power, called the Eyes of Etro, which allow her to see into the fated future when l’Cie are created. Yeul has this guardian, Caius, that Yeul chose a very long time ago and bestowed upon him the Heart of Chaos and, with it, the power of immortality, which he would use to serve Yuel eternally as Yuel reincarnates after death. As he is determined to guard Yeul, he seeks to break them from this pattern, and he is eventually driven to madness and he holds Etro directly responsible for his suffering. He creates a series of paradoxes in an effort to set events in motion that would destroy the world by forcing open Etro’s Gate and releasing Chaos into the world through the same method, more or less, that Orphan had attempted. These paradoxes caused Lightning’s disappearance and accounted for her direct role as Etro’s guardian within Etro’s Temple in a place far removed from reality called Valhalla, the last bastion of hope for the world against the forces of Chaos. Caius eventually finds his way to Valhalla, entering into eternal battle with Lightning in an effort to trick Lightning into killing him but as Lightning discovers he carries the Heart of Chaos she refuses to kill him as destroying the Heart of Chaos would allow him to die and, by proxy, end the existence of Etro.
This is a lot to swallow, I know. I told you that this game was kind of confusing. This all takes places before the start of your story with Serah, by the way: Lightning, at the very beginning of XIII-2, is spirited away by a Time Gate paradox just as Etro released her from her crystal prison and the occurrence alters time in a way that would make her absence seem perfectly normal. Lightning, in a last ditch effort during her battle with Caius, summons a young man named Noel who was Caius’ would-be successor long after the game’s events and sends him back in time with the sole mission of retrieving Serah and having her resolve the paradoxes and undo the damage done by Caius. Serah, having already suspected that her memory of Lightning had been altered, accepts Noel’s vague cause of finding Lightning rather easily and sets off through the paradox-created Time Gates to find Lightning and save her. Noel and Serah eventually find Lightning in Valhalla and engage Caius directly, feeding into Caius’ desire to die, but having learned of Caius’ efforts through the course of the game he suddenly realizes that Caius carries the Heart of Chaos but not before Caius impales himself on Noel’s blade and, in effect, dies anyhow, killing Etro and releasing Chaos in the world, merging the worlds of Valhalla and Gran Pulse and causing the concept of life and death to have no meaning as no one can age or die, also trapping Lightning in crystal stasis indefinitely and killing Serah.
This leads us into the utter mess that is Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII where things come to a climax, finally, resolving this struggle between fate and futility. Bhunivelze, the entity responsible for the creation of the Goddess Etro, brings Lightning out of her cystal stasis 500 years after the events of XIII-2 and sees that the world of Gran Pulse has kind of went to shit in the meantime: Chaos is constantly spreading and consuming the world, leaving it in a constant threat of utter and complete destruction. Bhunivelze strikes a deal with her: do his bidding in retrieving souls before Chaos consumes everything and forces Bhunivelze to recreate the world and he will revive Serah for her. Lightning is apprehensive but agrees. Having only 13 days to do so, Lightning must hurry and finds herself performing tasks for people in exchange for energy from their souls after giving them peace of mind by performing these tasks for them. Through these tasks Lightning is eventually introduced to Lumina, someone who looks like Serah but acts very differently and speaks to her in confidence, appealing to Lightning’s apprehension in doing Bhunivelze’s bidding, each time growing more doubtful but becoming more aggressive in denying Lumina’s insistence.
Over the course of Lightning Returns, Lightning discovers Bhunivelze has been using her as a pawn to recreate the world as he sees fit: where humans are the pawns they were meant to be, to begin with, recreating the fal’Cie, Gran Pulse, Cocoon, and basically starting over from scratch before human meddling changed everything, like it seemed Orphan originally intended. Bhunivelze never truly intended to save humanity in the way Lightning intended and brought her back and manipulated her as a kind of savior to eventually take over the role of the late Etro and stand as the pillar between life and death as Etro once did. Lightning, upon discovering this, completely rejects it, and seeks to find a way to recreate the world as she originally wanted to. To do so, she defeated Bhunivelze and freed the souls she had captured for him, and recreated a world using the tools Bhunivelze himself set up to free the world from the control and manipulation of Bhunivelze and his fal’Cie.
I know, I kind of hauled off, here, but the long-and-short of it is this: this trilogy pit Lightning in a direct fight against the powers that be, so to speak. The world did not rely on Bhunivelze and his fal’Cie so much as humanity was controlled and manipulated by them and upon discovering that, Lightning sought to free the world from their grip. It sets the pace for Fabula Nova Crystallis by creating a world where the fal’Cie, their l’Cie, Eidolons, and the crystals in these worlds are established and explained at length. It tells a story of humanity’s strength and willingness to seek peace by their own means and, eventually, saving the world they lived in.
Final Fantasy Type-o
Things change quite a bit for a game that changed everything up about the Fabula Nova Crystallis series in both its gameplay and story. Focusing on the efforts of Class Zero that reside within a school erected with the specific task of creating pawns with the task of assisting the entities of Lindzei and Pulse in finding a path to the Unseen Realm; in XIII, this is where Chaos is born. Their servants, Arecia and Gala, are charged with performing experiments to see if they can find the Unseen Realm on those entities’ behalves: it is said that the experiment has been performed nearly six hundred million times before under the name Tempus Finis and the story chronicles the final attempt.
In Type-0 you have a series of nations that each have access to a crystal that grants them a certain amount of powers and guides them through their lives. They almost act like a vizier to the rulers of their respective nations and, much like you would expect, are pulling strings towards the ends set out by their own ruling entities. What ends up starting out as a militaristic and political story of control and war between nations starts bleeding into the fact that Cid Aulstyne discovers the truth about the world and its crystals and seeks to control his own fate in spite of the wishes of Arecia and Gala, who, themselves, are of two minds: Arecia seeks to fulfill the orders of Lindzei and Pulse by performing Tempus Finis and find the Agito – sixteen human personifications of constellations that will open the way to the Unseen Realm – through it whereas Gala seeks to force open Etro’s Gate by eradicating mankind and surging a mass of souls through: each time Tempus Finis arrives, each entity attempts its methods; Arecia by using the currently gathered Agito to open the door to the Unseen Realm and Gala by letting loose the Rursan Crystal, whose powers devastate humanity in an effort to force the door open. Cid’s goal, knowing Arecia guides Class Zero, directly, is to become the last Agito – without knowing the last Agito was already gathered into Class Zero – and halt Tempus Finis on his own, once and for all. However, this kind of anomaly is accounted for by Gala and twists Cid into his chosen using the Rursan Crystal and serves his ultimate purpose in testing those gathered by Arecia to be Agito at the end of Tempus Finis. Should they fail in defeating the Arbiter created by the Rursan Crystal, the experiment fails and Gala attempts eradicating the world to force Etro’s Gate open again, ultimately failing and starting the loop anew.
This game, summarized a little easier than the above trilogy, speaks of another story where humanity is trapped by the machinations of the crystals, gods, and their servants: however, this story doesn’t exactly paint a happy ending for Class Zero. Ultimately, even if you win against the Rursan Arbiter, Class Zero seems to have failed and, upon playing through the game again, it’s implied that the experiment runs anew as Tempus Finis was only stalled; a second playthrough reveals Cid kills himself in an effort to not take place in Tempus Finis but a chosen is found by Gala anyway and another Arbiter is made. However, at the end of that playthrough, it is determined that after Tempus Finis is stalled and the Crystals fade, Arecia and Gala are convinced to reconsider restarting the experiment again. Further yet, in an alternate ending that is not known to be canon or not, Arecia is convinced to stop the experiments all together and she ends up recreating the world without the Crystals at all and everyone… really… just lives happily ever after.
Yet again, we have a game in this series where the goal by the overseeing entities is to open Etro’s Gate to enter the Unseen Realm or retrieve something from the Unseen Realm. Through manipulation, mankind is led to the tasks set out by their puppet masters and only when an aberration occurs that those entities did not account for is the world able to seek redemption. The entities in this game seem a little more benevolent than those in XIII but the goals still seek to be accomplished without any accord for the planet or its residents.
Final Fantasy XV
Well, now that we’ve talked about the previous games under the Fabula Nova Crystallis banner, I can say that with a fair amount of certainty that we aren’t going to see much deviation in where this game will fit in the series’ thematic overlay: we’ve already seen paintings of the Goddess Etro and there are Crystals and they are presented almost like they are in Type-o as they are a symbol of power in the nations they are held within. In XV, we have a world that’s already torn itself apart in wars over the crystals and the character Noctus is the prince of the kingdom that holds the last remaining crystal and the trailers we’ve seen so far seem to overlook another kingdom’s attempts at invading and conquering Noctus’ kingdom to seize control of the crystal. We don’t know a whole lot about what’s going on, exactly, within the story, but we see a lot of themes returning: two chosen guardians who have powers unlike anyone else in the world that are tied to the crystal somehow, warring kingdoms that are either acting in self-interest or, more likely, acting under orders from a manipulating party. We already have seen evidence of a robed figure who seems to play some kind of importance in the story and is symbolized in the trailers to be a neutral party at the center of everything who kind of looks like a Ascian from Final Fantasy XIV, who are a group of powerful individuals who worship an unseen entity that seems to control things from behind the scenes.
Why this is kind of a big thing to me and why I’m hyped about this as much as I am is that the games have had a hugely epic scope and each one seems to focus on the opening of Etro’s Gate as the ends to everyone’s means: since there were only three main games announced under the Fabula Nova Crystallis, is this the one game where we finally get to see Etro’s Gate opened and see what the big deal with The Maker – who may or may not be Bhunivelze, I suspect that he is – and the Unseen Realm is. I think we’re going to get a game with a lot of intriguing concepts and high drama and that’s right up my alley. I just hope they didn’t scrap a lot in order to make a completely different story like they claim they have because there’s so much potential left to make something huge that would justify the development cycle of the game, to me.
What do you guys think? Will XV follow in Fabula Nova Crystallis‘ shoes or will we see something that deviates completely from that?