Epic Gaming Moments Vol. 3: Start Your Engines (“Final Fantasy XIII”)

Small warning: in this post, there will be some very minor spoilers for story details established very early in the game. This doesn’t describe a twist, so don’t worry yourself too much.

I consider myself a Final Fantasy nerd, but not a purist. I’ve played all the main numbered games and beaten all except V (nothing fundamentally wrong with it; I just wasn’t feeling it at the time). I’ve enjoyed all of them, loved most, but my two favorites are the most polarizing of the bunch: “Final Fantasy VIII” and “Final Fantasy XIII” (closely trailed by IX), the latter being the focus of this post.

The experience of “Final Fantasy XIII” is and will always be one of my favorites of all time, in and outside of the game world. I shared this game with my girlfriend and sister, both of whom watched over my shoulder throughout most of the game, enjoying the story and characters almost as much as I was.

Again, as you can tell, I am not a purist. Final Fantasy has been changing since the beginning, it has always been a mainstream series—and you’re being a douchebag if you think otherwise, since ‘Oh my god it’s gone mainstream now!’ is horseshit—and that’s precisely what makes it special. When I first saw that this series that birthed my love for videogames was returning to sci-fi after 10 years of medieval (IX) or weirdly anachronic (X, XII) settings, I was ecstatic.

Playing it was a sweet experience. The gameplay was so complex and layered, the characters so impossibly likable and the story so creative while being backed by beautiful and massively produced backgrounds—I was enticed from the opening cutscene to the gorgeous ending, and it left me with such an incredible taste in my mouth. I would miss these characters (“Final Fantasy XIII-2” doesn’t exist unless I finish it and it actually gets good) and this experience as a whole. It’s what gaming is all about. I will write more about this game eventually, even if it’s not exactly topical.

So in a game that had me in complete nerdbliss from beginning to end, there are many moments I could mention in this post, but there was one that made me literally drop the controller and get on my feet, jaw hanging and cheering.

The Context

In “Final Fantasy XIII”, we follow a group of six people who are tied together because of a common goal. Unlike most of the Final Fantasy games, where the party sticks together because they have to stick together, these guys are grouped in shifting pairs and separated from each other most of the time, going by their own plot threads, which is good because everyone in this party is always at odds with one another.

Hope is convinced Snow killed his mother and many times tries to kill him in revenge. Lightning hates Snow for wanting to marry Serah (Lightning's sister) and failing to protect her from a horrible fate. Vanille feels guilty for having caused Sazh’s son to be crystallized, and is afraid of him finding out. Fang is terrified of losing Vanille and uses the others as pawns to protect her. Lightning sees in Hope a little brother and abhors his weakness.

The web of relationships is complex, and it takes hours and hours of story to create, mend and fortify the friendships between these characters. Now, after so many hours and so many twists, turns and hardships, the group of six is only one assault away from being freed from a horrible fate the gods put upon them.

The Shitting of the Brix:

Before the final chapters of the game, the party finally resolves to finish their quest together by surprise-attacking Eden, a powerful city, during an exhibition race. After so much shit happened to them, many times because of their own weakness and mistakes, they are finally okay with each other’s company and understands their individual plights. So how does the game decide to show us how far they’ve come as a group?

With the best fucking cutscene Final Fantasy has ever done. Watch it. Just . . . fucking watch it.

Out of context, anyone can enjoy this FMV simply because of the incredible production values, the adrenalin-pumping music, the expert choreography of the action, the creativity and complexity of its visual design, but that’s not the true beauty of it. What makes this such a powerful scene, and without a doubt my favorite moment in any Final Fantasy, is that for the first time we see Lightning, Hope, Fang, Vanille, Sazh and Snow work not as individuals, but as a team, acknowledging their strengths and even having fun with each other.

This was a climatic moment thematically and character-wise. Even though the story climaxes and culminates in the final battle not to much later, this is the moment when everything comes together in harmony. After this, the party has a completely different face, and in the end, when the fates of the characters are finally cemented, the losses really feel as such.

It’s crazy how much joy it brought to see Snow joke about his own absurd heroics, Fang laughing with Lightning, Hope being a bite-sized badass, or Sazh getting out of his way to protect Vanille (especially after what happened in Atlantis, which I don’t need to spoil).

Still one of my all time favorite gaming moments. I actually had a separate game file so I could revisit this scene anytime. Anyone who scoffed “Final Fantasy XIII” off on principle, really did miss one of the greatest things the series has offered.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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