Ancient Final Fantasy Lands?

While the Ancient Lands that are floating around in my head is a pretty great place (yeah, the actual writing isn’t really comming along that well so far) it often feels to me like it’s still missing a certain something. Worldbuilding at the drawing board is a technical task of deliberate consideration and choice, and while it’s a wonderful assembly of parts, it is lacking life. What I really need is that spark of emotional value that can make it truly ignite.

“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

Project Forest Moon was my first attempt to really give the setting an aesthetic core, and seeing how often I am refering back to that post it apparently was a very successful one for me. The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi both defined by inner ideal of fantasy atmosphere with Endor, Bespin, Dagobah, and also Jabba’s Palace. (While I also love the atmosphere in several parts of Mass Effect, those are actually just recapturing that Star Wars magic very well.) Obviously, I also love Morrowind as a main source of idea, but the actual game itself feels much more bland and lifeless than it looks on pictures, just like the other Elder Scrolls games.

But today I somehow ended up listening to some samples of the soundtrack of Nier: Automata (still have not even played the first game) and I really quite like it. It really very much reminds me of the music from the last Final Fantasy games, which now actually brings me to todays topic.

I only played Final Fantasy 10 up to and failing at the final boss, finished Final Fantasy 13, played a couple of hours of Final Fantasy 7, which I found very much lacking, and tried out the beginning of Final Fantasy 12. So in the eyes of true fans, I probably don’t actually know shit about real Final Fantasy games. But while I have not seen much of 12 and 13 has some really big problems in the gameplay and story department, from an aesthetic perspective I really like them and 10. Sure, they are cheesy and overly dramatic, and not in a fun camp way, but the visual and aural presentation of the world outside of combat and cringy dialogs is really working for me. It hits that Star Wars nerve and actually does so a bit stronger than even Star Wars.

These environments are like 70s Sword & Sorcery art brought to life with light and sound that you can walk around in. The games also manage to create the impressions that these worlds are vast and also almost uninhabited, which is another thing I really like and that you rarely find in contemporary fantasy anymore. Books have huge numbers of characters and countries, while videogames are forced to cram all their content into very dense spaces because of their technical limitations. By not having an open world like The Elder Scrolls, The Witcher 3, or Horizon, Final Fantasy games can show vast landscapes stretching to the horizon that only have to look good from one perspective. But the inherent flaws of the open world videogame concept are a completely different discussion.

But another thing I think Final Fantasy gets right is that these worlds don’t feel like they could have been alternative Earths if magic were to replace technology. You can buy them as alien planets on which magic doesn’t exist besides physics but is inherently interwoven with it. Magic doesn’t just express itself in spells, magic items, and demons, but also in the shape of the terrain, the growth of forests, and the anatomy of impossible animals. Which are all things that I’ve consciously decided to have being part of the Ancient Lands, but which in the past I didn’t really feel being part of it. When writing the setting as a readable text, this is something that really needs to be woven into the subtext and the style. A technical listing of the parts that constitute the setting won’t be enough to really make it what I want it to be.

Game Review: Final Fantasy XIII

I was quite excited about Final Fantasy XIII back when it was announced, having just had a lot of fun with Final Fantasy X. Somehow I ended up actually buying it only much later after its release and then also only played it halfway through until I got bored with it or destracted by something else and forgot about it. And only now did I finally get to play the whole thing. I am not exactly a huge Final Fantasy fan. Before this one I played FF10, played maybe halfway through FF7, and also played a bit FF12. So mostly the most recent games. I don’t really know anything about the games before FF7, which I believe where really quite different things.

Final_Fantasy_XIII_EU_box_artFinal Fantasy XIII is set in the two worlds of Cocoon and Gran Pulse, the later being a big planet covered by wilderness while the former is an artificial hollow moon that has all the people living in the inside of the shell. Cocoon was created by the fal’Cie, a race of powerful and immortal crystal beings of huge size that runs the world both politically and mechanically. On Cocoon, the fal’Cie provide light, energy, food, and the entire infrastructure, making it a paradise for the millions of humans who live beside them. Sometimes they require special servants and pick more or less random people nearby to turn them into l’Cie, giving them great powers which they will need to complete their tasks. Those who complete their Focus are rewarded with eternal life, but those who fail eventually are driven mad and turn into rampaging monsters. Usually the fal’Cie of Cocoon send their l’Cie to fight against their great enemies, the fal’Cie of the planet Gran Pulse below and their own l’Cie which they send to attack Cocoon.

The game begins right in the middle of the action. It has been discovered that a Pulse fal’Cie has been hiding and sleeping on Cocoon for possibly centuries and now it has awoken and begun to recruit people from the nearby town as l’Cie. The response of the human military is swift and clear. Everyone in the town has to be deported from Cocoon and send to Gran Pulse, together with the huge ancient structure that is housing the Pulse fal’Cie. And they have absolutely no mercy. It’s either going to Gran Pulse or death. Anyone who tries to escape is killed immediately. But not everyone is willing to go along with it and we’re introduced to the heroes for this game as they crash the train in an attempt to give people a chance to escape. The most prominent character is Lightning, the lady from the cover of the box, but not truly a protagonist in the traditional sense. It’s not a story that is about her, but about all of the characters equally, though she quickly becomes a kind of inofficial leader of the group. Lightning is a member of the local police/military and looking for her sister Sera, who was the first person to be picked by the Pulse fal’Cie and turned into a l’Cie. The next character is Snow, Sera’s boyfriend and leader of a group of local vigilantes. There’s also Sahz, a middle aged man whose involvement in the whole thing remains quite unclear for a good while; a young boy named Hope whose mother gets killed when she joins Snow in fighting the military; and Vanille, an extremely girly and inappropriately cheerful girl who just somehow sticks to Hope in the chaos of the breakout. Soon all five of them find themselves inside the huge ancient structure in which the Pulse fal’Cie is hidden as it is getting transported to be thrown back down to Gran Pulse where they come face to face with the being and end up all getting recruited for a mysterious task as well. At that point their fate is sealed. Complete their Focus and be rewarded with eternal life by being turned into crystal, or turning into monsters. Both choices are not really appealing and to make matters worse they don’t really know what it is that the fal’Cie wanted them to do before they killed it. Over the course of the game they are trying to find out what’s really going on, what they are supposed to do, and how it might be possible to restore people who have been turned into crystal back to their normal form. Which doesn’t start out very well as both Lightning and Hope have a deep hatred for Snow, whom they both blame for Sera ending up as a l’Cie and Hope’s mother being killed. How the characters come to see things from different perspectives, learn to get along with each other, and how to deal with the situation they’ve been put in is the major focus of the story. And I think it’s done quite well. My first reaction to seeing the characters was thinking that almost all of them are really stupid ideas, but they all end up having a good amount of depth and interesting relationships with each other.

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