Fanfiction Fridays: The Agony of Breathing In and Out by argle_fraster

Final Fantasy XII was just re-released for the PlayStation 4 and I have been playing it nonstop these past couple days. With the exception of FFVII, I would say that XII is my favorite game in the series. It has some problems, but on the whole, it’s a great story with some amazing worldbuilding and interesting conflicts and characters. And as I’m still hung out over how bad XV was, playing XII has been an amazing throwback to better times in the series. As such, I had to go looking for some fanfiction for it. XII has never had that many fics in the past—there’s only about a thousand on AO3—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any gems out there. Most of the fics I’ve ever read for XII have been true to the characters, insightful, and a lot of fun. That also holds true for The Agony of Breathing In and Out by argle_fraster.

Trigger warning for PTSD flashbacks and disordered eating up ahead.

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Vote Princess Ashe: True Protagonist of Final Fantasy XII

ashe-ff12-final-fantasy-xiiFinal Fantasy XII, in my opinion, could easily be one of the better Final Fantasy games out there. As part of the Ivalice Alliance—games that take place in the world of Ivalice—the world it gives us is rich with history, religion, and culture. Sadly, the game is nowhere near as popular as others in the Final Fantasy franchise, and it unfortunately doesn’t have the best execution either. Its biggest problem comes from its choice of protagonist: Vaan.

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Legend of Legaia

Oh, how I love all the older games. Unfortunately, the graphics give my boyfriend a headache, thus I must stick to single-player RPGs. And to be honest, I kind of prefer it that way. I don’t get along well when there are other players. But pursuing through my collection the other day, I came across one game that I hadn’t played in forever: Legend of Legaia.

I have such fond memories of this game. I remember my older brother tricking my nine-year-old self into paying for half of it, with the hope that I wouldn’t like it so he could keep it for himself. The love we family members have for each other.

I also remember him being bored with it and getting annoyed that I actually really liked the game, despite what he initially hoped. Unfortunately for him, because it was half mine, I refused to let him sell it after he decided he didn’t want it anymore. And that’s why it’s been collecting dust underneath my bed for the past fourteen years. I guess he should have known that his nature-hating sister would love a game about saving trees so long as magic was involved. And so long as I could beat the shit out of monsters. Those tree-murdering bastards!

Anyway, Legend of Legaia first came out for the PlayStation in 1998, and it had okay ratings, but it was by no means a big hit. And most people I mention it to have never heard of it. In 2001, Prokion released the sequel, Legaia: Duel Saga. From what I can tell—as I’ve never played the sequel, nor do I really plan to—it has nothing to do with the first game. It also had okay reviews, but any connection it has to its predecessor seems to end at simply being based in the same world. From what I’ve gathered, the whole world/tree-saving fiasco impacts nothing in Duel Saga’s plot.

So Legend of Legaia takes place in a world called Legaia. The game begins by giving a brief introduction and history lesson on the world.

God created the heavens, the earth, and the seas. After creating all things in the universe, god created humans to rule over this world. Yet while possessing the wisdom of god, humans were physically weaker than the wild beasts, and impulsive in spirit. Many times did the humans come close to dying out forever. Concerned about the humans’ future, god gave them a mighty force with which to aid them.

It was the Seru.

Since the dawn of human memory, known as history, humans lived together with creatures known as the Seru. The Seru lived together with the humans, always obeying them, and making the humans many times stronger than before.

When not worn by a human, a Seru looks much like a stone figure. However…

Upon touching a human, a Seru changes form and gives that human secret abilities. With a Seru, a human can lift objects heavier than itself and even fly in the air at will.

However, that era came to an end.

Appearing from out of nowhere, the Mist covered the land, bringing to an end symbiosis between humans and Seru.

After the thick Mist came, the Seru, who were once obeyed humans, rebelled against them.

The Seru began attacking humans at will. Seru that attached themselves to humans controlled their minds and turned them into evil beasts.

As if forsaken by god, human civilization collapsed. It was the twilight of humanity.

Those who escaped the Mist inhabited desolate areas and protected each other. Now, their faint hope is their only source of inspiration.

Yeah, all of that could probably have been explained during the gameplay, and not shoved on us all at one. It also takes about two or three minutes for the game to even scroll all that along the screen. It’s pretty dull. I much rather prefer this opening sequence:

It’s after this that we’re introduced to our main character, Vahn. Vahn, who takes after characters like Link and doesn’t talk or have any sort of personality outside what you want him to have, lives in a tiny ocean town called Rim Elm, with high walls that keep the Mist at bay. I guess it’s a good thing the Mist apparently can’t travel over water, or they’d be screwed.

Oh, wait. It can.

Plot hole?

So we start off by going through Vahn’s daily routine—but wait, the hunters are back, and the one, the father of Vahn’s love interest who has no relevance outside the first ten minutes of gameplay, has been injured. He dies, everyone mourns, and life with the Mist is truly awful. Then, later that night, there’s ominous banging on the wall. Some giant Seru-like monster breaks it down, which allows the Mist and a bunch of other Seru and monsters to enter Rim Elm.

However, the Mist cannot seem to penetrate the town center where a giant dying tree sits. And though this tree seems capable of holding back the Mist, despite dying, none of the other dying trees can. Plot hole?

When Vahn touches the tree, he encounters Meta, who is a Ra-Seru, not to be confused with plain Seru. A Ra-Seru is a Seru that is immune to the Mist, and even though earlier we had hunters who could travel through the Mist, apparently that’s only possible if a person has a Ra-Seru attached to their arm. That might be another plot hole. Or maybe it’s just really hard to not get possessed by an evil Seru without a Ra-Seru. I’m not sure, because the game seems to flip on its stance here.

Anyway, the tree in the square is called a Genesis Tree, and with Meta’s power, Vahn is able to restore it to full health. The tree does some magic, and it pushes the Mist and the evil Seru away from Rim Elm. From there, Vahn is obligated to go out into the world and revive as many Genesis Trees as possible to save Legaia from the Mist.

Oh, and remember when our history lesson said this:

Upon touching a human, a Seru changes form and gives that human secret abilities. With a Seru, a human can lift objects heavier than itself and even fly in the air at will.

Don’t expect the ability to fly in this game. Or to lift heavy objects. The oh-so-secret abilities of having a Ra-Seru, secret in that everyone knows about them, is to save trees and absorb the magic from Seru controlled by the Mist. It’s also a nice free pass for not having to pay for letting rooms at certain inns. Meta at one point tells Vahn to kill as many Seru as possible to gain magic spells. So… in order to gain power, Vahn should murder all the creatures being controlled against their will to stop evil…?

Well, I personally don’t care. I just want the magic. You end up with a total of three characters that all have Ra-Seru, and they can all absorb magic. One thing I like about this game is that there isn’t some ridiculously large amount of Seru types, so it’s within reason to get all the characters every spell. What’s a bitch is leveling up all the spells for the different characters. They each have nine levels, which may not seem like a lot, but that requires using each spell about sixty some times for each character. And for an obsessive-compulsive person like me who has to level everything up to max, it takes a while. It doesn’t help that each spell takes about as long as the summons from Final Fantasy to be cast.

Our second main character is a girl named Noa. Her personality ranges between quirky and fun to Oh-God-Please-Make-Her-Shut-Up-Before-I-Shoot-Her-In-The-Face. Okay, she’s not that bad, and she has admittedly a lot more personality than Vahn, though that’s not hard. Furthermore, her relationship with her Ra-Seru, Terra, is much more in depth than Vahn’s with Meta. Noa’s backstory—she’s a princess. Opps! Spoilers!—is that she was abandoned as a baby near the Genesis Tree Terra resided in when the Mist first came. But at the time, she was too small for Terra to bond with. Thus Terra took over the body of a wolf and scurried Noah off into a cave protected from the mist, where she raised Noa as her daughter and trained her how to fight. Upon Noa’s meeting with Vahn, Terra uses the power of a Genesis Tree to transfer from the wolf to Noah.

Noa’s fun in a way that I don’t often see—or when I do see it, it’s not done well. Because of being raised by Terra away from any kind of human interaction, she doesn’t understand a lot of trivial things, like the fact that men grow mustaches. Like seriously, they have whiskers coming out their noses. Weird.

Gala, our other character, was raised in a monastery, where it’s taboo to have a Ra-Seru. On top of that, he also hates the Seru and Ra-Seru, though he reluctantly agrees to being bonded with Ozma, which gets him excommunicated. It takes him quite a while to come to terms with having a Ra-Seru and not thinking of Ozma as little more than a leech on his life. And though being a big tough, burly man, he is one of the kinder and gentler characters in the game. His childhood rival, Songi, also ends up with a Ra-Seru, but Songi’s is evil, and he then becomes one of the main antagonists throughout the rest of the game. One internet site I came across gave a character description for him that read something along the lines of this:

He will haunt you for the entire game.

I’m not going to lie though, this game is kind of hard. Unless you’re like me, and you have to spend time leveling up all your Seru magic the moment you get it and are thus about ten levels higher than you should be at any given time, some of the boss fights in this can be a real bitch. Bosses like Xain, a big minotaur-like creature, have been known to be so tough that players have given up.

On top of that, for someone who wants to get all the different magic for each character, you’re going to find that bit of a challenge too. Yeah, it’s not impossible, and it doesn’t take forever, but it is time consuming. Some Seru are easier to absorb than others. For instance, Vahn’s Ra-Seru, Meta, is fire based, so fire Seru are pretty easy to get. However, Ozma, Gala’s Ra-Seru, is lightning based, so water Seru can take a bit of time. Furthermore, Ozma takes longer to level up water Seru than it would lightning Seru.

That aside, the battle system is pretty good, and it has the original Japanese voice actors shouting things during fights. Though, unless you speak Japanese, what they say won’t make any sense outside grunts with syllables. Each character can either do magic, chose between four different physical moves, or something called Spirit each turn. Because this is a martial arts game, a player can pick how the characters fight and discover different combos. Some combos only take three moves, while others take eight or more, and they can be combined. The aforementioned Spirit move increases the combo bar, allowing the characters to do more moves. So it is a lot of fun.

Here’s someone fighting Xain:

Unfortunately, the graphics are lacking compared to today’s standards, but for a 1998 game, they were pretty good. They remind me a lot of Final Fantasy VII, actually. Both games did come out around the same time.

For the most part, yeah, the story can be a little cheesy, but it’s not like it beats its audience over the head with some self-righteous moral of saving plants like Avatar does. It’s just a pretty fun game with an interesting concept. Of course, the beginning history lesson doesn’t really do much. I mean, God had some vested interest in humanity, and then I guess He stopped caring after the Mist made everything go to hell, because He’s never really mentioned again.

I’d definitely check this game out if you happen to have a PlayStation or a PS2 lying about. You’d still need a PS1 memory card. Most of my files are around somewhere between thirty to fifty hours long, so there is a fair amount of story and gameplay. Legend of Legaia kind of got swept under the rug of other games, and despite that fact that I see it referenced a lot, it’s still not that popular, which is a shame, because despite some of the faults I mentioned, they’re all forgivable. If any of you’ve played it, tell me what you think.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

So here’s another belated review of a video game on my part, but are any of you even surprised by this anymore? Just you wait and I’ll have the Arkham City review up sometime next year! Okay, okay, putting all the jokes aside, let’s get right to it.

Now, before we even get into this game, we need to talk about the first one, and quite possibly the franchise as a whole.

So Final Fantasy XIII originally came out only a couple years ago, and it didn’t do very well. Oh, it was successful, but it got a lot a criticism. It’s not even the fact that it wasn’t a good game, but it certainly wasn’t a good Final Fantasy game. Ever since the release of Final Fantasy X, I kind of felt as though the creators were expecting the title to carry the games alone without any real effort being put into the works. The games as a whole have a lot of reccurring elements, and for the Final Fantasy franchise, that’s not bad, but it does give the game makers a lot less room to work with.

For example, there has to a character named Cid, an airship, summons of some kind, a world-wide catastrophe, Chocobos, Behemoths, and a variety of other beasts, etc. Not to mention the romance story that’s been prevalent for quite a few of the games. Also, at some point, the main characters will be excommunicated from and/or used as scapegoats for a powerful organization and spend the rest of the game on the run while trying to save the world from the aforementioned catastrophe. Another similarity is that the lead character will fight with some kind of sword, despite living in a society that has things like machine guns.

And yeah, all of these elements have been repeating throughout the games over and over again. But regardless, each game could still stand alone. Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII both have everything I just mentioned and more, and they are still two very different stories.

As of late, however, the games have been moving away from these things. The airship is all but nonexistent at this point, summons are occasionally absent—especially in the sequels—and that pesky romance has deteriorated into just about nothing since the release of XII. And while I’m all for a story that doesn’t have a romantic interest—because let’s face it; a romance born while saving the world from an all-powerful sorcerer is doomed to failure—by moving away from these things, the games are slowly losing what it is that makes them Final Fantasy to begin with. And that’s not to say that all the games absolutely have to have everything I just mentioned. I can think of plenty of traditional Final Fantasy elements that don’t appear in numerous installments, but those games still have enough of everything else to make up for it in order to deserve the Final Fantasy title.

Now, yes, I thought Final Fantasy XIII was a good game. And no, it didn’t need the airship. It didn’t need a love story between the main character and a girl with magical powers. And it certainly didn’t need Moogles synthesizing weapons to make good gameplay. But this game needed a lot of things that it didn’t have. Yeah, I said it was good, but I’m going to reserve using that adjective as a description for the first five hours or so of playing. There are very few things at the beginning of this game that I can describe as being good, outside of visuals. That the game is boring as all get out for the first part—you know, the part that’s supposed to grab the player’s attention—before becoming enjoyable is not a positive. To be honest, I would much rather play games that start bad and end well than vice versa, but that’s still no excuse for a terrible beginning.

It doesn’t help that it’s near impossible to know what’s going on simply by playing the game and watching the story evolve. I believe I mentioned this in my Trailer Tuesdays: Final Fantasy XIII-2, but let me say it again: having a built-in dictionary is not a substitute for storytelling. At the beginning of the game, a whole bunch of what I assume to be innocent civilians are being murdered by some army called PSICOM during something called the Purge. Why? Well, it seems like a good way to draw a player in, because yeah, having this situation explained to us would be very interesting; however, new players of this game should be informed that an explanation isn’t going to happen because why the hell ever should anything about the situation we need to be invested in be explained to us when we can just read about it on our own time?

And for those who do read about it will also discover that the Purge cannot be explained without learning what the crap the fal’Cie, l’Cie, and Cie’th are. No, not even just that. The difference between the Pulse fal’Cie, l’Cie, and Cie’th compared to the Sanctum fal’Cie, l’Cie, and Cie’th. It’s like a word bomb just goes off, and until a player knows what everything means, nothing makes sense.

The problem here is that all the characters we’re introduced to already know everything about the situation, and therefore there’s no need for them to explain it. Sure, Sazh doesn’t know why people are being murdered rather than dumped down on Pulse, and Lightning, our main character, responds by saying that the Sanctum wouldn’t bother taking the danger all the way to Pulse when it can just get rid of it.

Now, I know those of you who have played this game will know what’s going on, but for those of you who haven’t and just read this explanation, I know you have to be confused, because what I just said tells you nothing. And that feeling of confusion is going to stick with you for the first eight hours of gameplay. It wasn’t until my second time through when I was more familiar with all these terms that I fully understood what was happening.

So not only did we have this problem from the very beginning—which, to be honest, isn’t so much a Final Fantasy problem as it is a storytelling problem in general—we had no sense of the world we were in. Final Fantasy games will span entire globes. Players can run around, explore new areas, chance fighting creatures they can’t possibly beat, you name it. In XIII, we have two worlds instead of one: Cocoon and Pulse. So, yeah, you may be thinking, there’s a lot of exploration to be done.

No, that doesn’t happen. Until the characters reach Pulse, which is over halfway through the game, the path is very linear. There are so many times the characters run through towns and have to stay on the main street, or they go through a forest and there’s only one trail. On top of that, after going through these areas, there was no going back. This is probably why the game didn’t get really enjoyable until Pulse.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 came out to tie up some of the holes in the first one. And according to the ending of this game, it’s not going to be the last FFXIII installment. Now, as to whether or not the sequel deserves the Final Fantasy logo, let me just say that it deserves it a lot more than the sequel to X did. X-2 may have been really fun, but it should have been called Final Fantasy Dress Up. (Though, to be honest, XIII-2 should probably be called Final Fantasy Pokémon.)

However, as a sequel, it didn’t meet all of my negative expectations. It still met some of them with flying colors, but it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Yeah, the makers apparently didn’t learn anything about introductions for this installment. It has a twenty minute intro where shit happens. What shit? Well, now that I’ve played the game for thirty hours I understand it, but actually watching it for the first time, my thoughts were along the lines of: What the crap is this?

It opens with Lightning, our previous main character, fighting some dude. Why? No one knows. What are the stakes? Take your pick. Why do we want Lightning to win? Because she used to be the main character, damn it!

Somewhere during all of this, a boy called Noel falls from a clock in the sky, and he and Lightning proceed to have a nice little chat, as though this is an everyday occurrence. We have the same problem here as before; there’s no outsider that needs things to be explained. Everyone knows what’s going on. When the audience is confused, we need a character who’s confused to relate to, and we’re just not getting that.

Noel eventually goes off to find Lightning’s sister, Serah. Serah is our main character this time. I like this change. We don’t get to see much of Serah in the first game, because she’s too busy being turned into a rock and remains crystallized until the very end. So it is nice getting to see more of her. Another reason that I like this is because I don’t really like Lightning. Had I not played Final Fantasy VII, my opinion would probably be different.

The franchise kind of started going downhill once the personality type of the main character went from badass emo, like Cloud and Squall from VII and VIII, to happy-go-lucky, like Zidane and Titus from IX and X. Even Vaan from XII is pretty abhorrent, especially considering that he has no reason to even be in the party, outside wanting to be a sky pirate. That whole story was carried by Ashe and Balthier. In XIII, the story is pretty much equally carried by all the characters, but Lightning was a means to cash in on the success of Cloud. She is a female version of him. I don’t need a female version of Cloud as my main character. If I want to play as Cloud, I’ll pull out FFVII. If I want a female Cloud, I’ll log into fanfiction.net. I’m sure I can find something. Oh, here‘s one. Enjoy.

What I want from a main character is for that character to be her own person and to not ride on the success of someone else. Even right down to her occupation, she is the same person as Cloud. As I said, I’d like her more had I not played VII, but I did. I don’t hate Lightning, but I am disappointed that there wasn’t more originality to her design.

So I did find playing with Serah much more enjoyable because of that. Our party consists of Serah, Noel, Mog the Moogle, and different monsters that they can tame—like I said, Final Fantasy Pokémon. After his meeting with Lightning, Noel finds Serah and explains that he’s from seven-hundred years in the future, and that the world is dying. Cocoon is going to fall from the sky in a couple hundred years and wipe out most of humanity in the process. On top of all that, because of all the time-jumping, paradoxes have started cropping up and this is only adding to the disaster.

I should mention that the plot of this game has almost nothing to do with the plot of the first game. Remember those words I shoved on all of you: fal’Cie, l’Cie, Cie’th? Yeah, those ones. The entire plot of the first game centers around them and bringing down the government known as the Sanctum. I expected going into XIII-2 that the characters would be adjusting to life without the Sanctum and dealing with issues of massive amounts of people having to move from Cocoon to Pulse, a place that the inhabitants of Cocoon are terrified of. I was not expecting time travel. The two games tie into each other very sloppily. In some ways I feel as though the writers had this all planned from the first one, and in other ways I don’t.

For example, in the first game, it’s kind of implied that Serah can see the future, and this really comes into play in this game. But at the same time, l’Cie and whatnot have nothing to do with anything anymore. It would have been very easy to just cut the first game out and start at this game and very little would need to be changed to do that. I don’t know what the next installment will be like, but this is my current feeling on the matter.

Other than all of that, my opinion of this game is pretty high. Much higher than I thought it would be. So here are a few points I like about it:

  • People don’t trust Noel the moment he first arrives. He comes back in time and appears during a bit of a crisis. After saving Serah’s life, he info-dumps on her the whole time-travel thing and the problem with paradoxes. Serah and her friends are thankful for his help, but they don’t believe him at first, as they shouldn’t.
  • Serah does not have Cloud’s personality, nor is she a carbon-copy of any other Final Fantasy character.
  • There’s no dumbass love triangle. Serah is engaged to Snow, one of the characters from the first game. We only see Snow a couple times during Serah’s and Noel’s journey, and he does not worry about her hanging around another guy. What I like here is that Noel and Serah develop a platonic affection for each other. They love each other, just not romantically, which is not something we see a lot between a male and female character out saving the world. Furthermore, Snow isn’t jealous of the time they spend together. This is refreshing and it makes the relationship between him and Serah so much stronger, because it helps show how much they trust each other.
  • It is possible to go back and re-explore areas that I’ve already been to.
  • The battle system, which is very similar to the battle system of the first game, is still a lot of fun.
  • Mog. He’s a lot of fun in this game, and he does have a bit more of a personality, such as being very greedy and always talking about what he’d do if he were rich.
  • Hope’s character is much more grownup in this game. In the first game he was, I think, around twelve, and though I know a lot of people didn’t like him, I liked his character. In this installment he’s had a lot more time to come to terms with his mother’s death and everything else that has happened, so he’s also a lot less whiny.

I would check out this game if you haven’t already. Just be prepared to be really bored for the first hour or so. This is one of those games that just grows on me as it goes on, but it doesn’t have a strong start, unfortunately. Check it out and tell me what you think.