The Promise of Final Fantasy XIII-3: Lightning’s Atonement

Lightning’s Atonement
Last month I wrote an article entitled The Promise of Final Fantasy XIII-3.  In it, I wrote about the lack of resolution in the Final Fantasy XIII story.  In response to Final Fantasy XIII-2’s cliffhanger ending, Square Enix responded by pointing players to paradox endings and DLC.  I have unlocked all of the paradox endings, and I have now played all of the DLC.  And there is no resolution to be found.  And so there is only one other option left: Final Fantasy XIII-3.  Many people may ask why we need Final Fantasy XIII-3, and that is certainly a valid question.  No other Final Fantasy game has two direct sequels – why is XIII any different?  In the following article, I will attempt to explain why we need XIII-3, and why it deserves a chance.

SPOILER ALERT: The following article contains MAJOR spoilers for Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and the “Requiem of the Goddess” DLC.  If you are interested in finding out the story elements yourself, please play all of these first.  I will also mention that there is a secret ending you can obtain by beating “Requiem of the Goddess” twice, which is also discussed in detail in this article.

Throughout the stories of Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, there has been a recurring theme.  Lightning will often face incredible obstacles to protect her loved ones.  She tries to carry the weight of these problems squarely on her shoulders, but they are too much for one person to bear.  So her loved ones help her overcome these impossible obstacles, but in the process something usually goes awry.  Lightning blames herself for this, and spends a lot of time beating herself up about it.  Finally, she seeks atonement – usually alone at first, but then joined by her friends.
Lightning: the soul of Final Fantasy XIII.

I think the reason why I love Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 so much is because I care deeply about Lightning.  It is not her fault that all of these crazy events happen: it is not her fault that Serah became a L’Cie, that Fang and Vanille were turned into crystal, that Serah died.  All of these events did happen while her loved ones were helping her, but that is what loved ones do.  They put themselves at risk for each other.  As Serah says at the end of “Requiem of the Goddess”: she has no regrets.  Yes, she may be dead, but she was trying to save her sister, and she does not regret that.  And yet we all know how guilty you can feel when someone you love suffers for you, how even though you would do the same for them in a heartbeat, it is ultimately them that is suffering.

Lightning wants more than anything to protect her sister and her friends; she wants them to be safe and happy.  And when they are not, she blames herself.  I think this is the source of the melancholy that we saw with her at the end of XIII, and it certainly plays a prominent role in “Requiem of the Goddess”.  The Chaos that has trapped Serah accuses Lightning of being the sole cause for Serah’s death.  It strikes at the very center of Lightning’s heart, of Claire’s heart.  And I think it works: Lightning’s guilt is what propels her to sit on the throne of the goddess, becoming crystal until the end of eternity.  As she says, this act will be her “atonement”.
 Serah & Lightning reunite
Lightning and Serah – will they ever be truly reunited?

Speaking of “Requiem of the Goddess”, I actually enjoyed the DLC a lot.  I believe that DLC should offer experiences that are part of the main game that were not playable before – i.e., something that is mentioned or alluded to but not actually seen.  And I think Lightning’s DLC did just that.  It offered a different viewpoint on the action of the game, and actually did a good job wrapping up the game itself.  After playing through it, I have to say that everything in Final Fantasy XIII-2 does make sense.  Yes, the story is presented in a confusing manner and is not tied together very well, but all in all it does add up.  You do find out why Caius is trying to destroy the future, you do find out what happened to Lightning, and Serah and Lightning do have their reunion scene (which is beautiful, by the way).

While “Requiem of the Goddess” does tie up FFXIII-2 well, however, it still does not offer players what they are ultimately searching for: an end to the Final Fantasy XIII story.  But despite Square’s proclamations, I really don’t think it should have.  DLC should add-on the the experience of the game, not provide a resolution for the entire story.  That is simply too much pressure to put on a DLC.
The question then is this: if Square wanted us to look to the paradox endings and the DLC for a resolution, where is it?  As I mentioned in my previous article, a resolution occurs when the actions you take in the game change the world of the game.  However, this does not happen in Final Fantasy XIII-2: Caius wins, the timeline is destroyed and the world becomes Valhalla.  We set out at the beginning of XIII and XIII-2 to save the world, and now ultimately those actions are rendered moot.  Nothing Serah, Noel, and Lightning did in the game changed the outcome: the world is destroyed. There is no change as a result of their actions, and therefore, there is no resolution.
 Lightning and the Throne
Lightning chooses to turn into crystal to preserve Serah’s memory.

It’s actually funny, because during the DLC Lightning mirrors many players thoughts: she reveals that she has many questions that have been unanswered as well.  I believe that Square knows that there is no resolution to the XIII story.  And from what we have experienced, it was not their intention to offer a resolution through paradox endings and DLC.  So what is left?  Where do we turn for our resolution?

A virtue that I believe nearly all fans of Final Fantasy XIII hold is patience.  Patience was required to become engaged in XIII’s story.  But if you stuck with it, XIII became a beautiful tale of friendship and determination that taught us to never give up hope.  Patience was required to fully understand XIII-2’s story – we had to wait nearly 4 months for the final DLC.  And while this DLC offered no resolution, it did offer hope.  The action of the DLC mirrors the game’s situation as a whole.  Serah is gone, and yet she still urges Lightning to not give up hope.  There is no resolution to be found in Final Fantasy XIII-2, but we cannot give up hope.  Serah chooses to not give into despair because she knows Lightning can save the world.  She believes in her sister.  Despite all of the obstacles, all of the questions, all of the missed opportunities, Serah will not give up on Lightning.  And we must do the same.
Will they ever find true happiness?

The DLC ends just as the game did, with the world collapsing into Chaos, and with Lightning sitting on the throne of the goddess, encased in crystal.  But instead of “To Be Continued”, there is just blackness.  If you play through the DLC twice, however (on any level), you will unlock a secret ending after the credits.  In it, Lightning speaks of the gift the goddess gave to humans: their souls.  And with a soul comes the constant struggle all of us must face: of light and dark, good and evil, hope and despair.  Lightning’s soul is heavy with despair – her sister is dead, the world is destroyed, and her friends are lost.  Despite all of this, however, Serah will not give up on her.  Serah knows that Lightning’s soul has the power to overcome all of that despair – it has the power of hope.  As Lightning herself said, “It’s up to you to keep hope alive”.  And Lightning does keep hope alive: the final image of the DLC reveals her walking in A Dying World, speaking of how she awaits “the end of eternity, and the day I awaken once again”.

As this secret ending unfolds, the prologue music from Final Fantasy XIII plays softly in the background.  Lightning speaks of a “world consumed with chaos, in a world where spirits are fading”, mirroring her words of “in a world where I no longer exist” from the beginning of XIII-2.  I believe this secret ending is a prologue.  The world is consumed with chaos, which leads to a new beginning, as Vanille tells us in the paradox ending “Vanille’s Truth”.  There is hope for a new beginning, and Lightning is that hope.
Square has created two games that achieved something truly incredible.  No, the games were not perfect by any means.  But they offered us something more important than perfection: a world that we came to know and love, a story that enthralled us, and characters that we truly care about.  I care about Serah.  And Noel.  And Fang, Vanille, Sazh, Snow, and Hope.  And I care about Lightning.  I won’t give up on her.  I want her to save the world, and I want to experience her story until the end.  I want to play as Lightning again.  I want to explore the vast wilderness of Pulse again, the new Cocoon.  I want to find and unlock the secrets of Valhalla.  I want to see Vanille and Fang again.  I want Noel and Hope to find peace.  I want to rescue Snow from the Coliseum.  I want Sazh and his son to be safe.  I want to save Serah.  And I want Lightning to be happy.  I need to believe that the impossible can happen.  That Lightning can find atonement.  That she won’t be alone.  That she and her friends can be happy.  Final Fantasy XIII began with a promise: the promise to save Cocoon.  And Final Fantasy XIII-2 ends with a promise: the promise of Final Fantasy XIII-3.

 Lightning and Serah Goodbye
It’s up to us to keep hope alive.UPDATE: I have written another article for “The Promise of Final Fantasy XIII-3″ series, in which I discuss my hopes for the game specifically.  If you’d like, please check it out and let me know what you think.  You can find the article here).
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