Lightning Returns, an Origin Story? As a disclaimer, this article contains massive spoilers depicting the ending of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. If you are in the process of playing or do not wish to be spoiled until the English release of the game, please read another article on our home page. Again, this article contains spoilers to the ending of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. We are not responsible for if you chose to read beyond this disclaimer. You have been warned. Theory by EnixOrigin user, Eli.
Lightning Returns, an Origin Story?
It’s no secret that players have seen a few similarities between Final Fantasy XIII and a certain other game in the series. That’s right, looking at you Final Fantasy VII. Often times, players have even criticized XIII for the fact that Lightning exhibits a few Cloud-like tendencies. And that SOLDIER 1st Class costume she gets in Lightning Returns? Come on Square, not exactly being subtle here. Jokes aside though, the release of Lightning Returns over in Japan has prompted a rather shocking theory to brew in my head: The Final Fantasy XIII Trilogy is a prequel to the infamous Final Fantasy VII. Yeah, you read that correctly. You’re probably thinking “but Eli, where are your facts? This is a hugely inaccurate theory, you idiot!” Yeah, I can read your minds. Fortunately, I’m about to go into detail about just why the often hated upon Final Fantasy XIII is a prequel to one of the most beloved, and possibly overhyped, Final Fantasies of all time.
For those of you that are not aware of just where Final Fantasy VII takes place, it occurs on our very own planet Earth. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, right to the core of the planet. But that’s not magma we see. That’s the core of the Lifestream, the very source of our planet’s life. Who’s in there? Sephiroth. As we engage this final threat in the battle of a lifetime, he morphs into his Safer Sephiroth form and uses that signature move we all remember from our childhood: Super Nova. Though the planet is unnamed in the video, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this unsuspecting planet being engulfed by the sun is Earth, especially after we see Pluto, Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury and Venus completely destroyed before we suffer a much lesser fate.
So why is it important to know where Final Fantasy VII took place? Isn’t this theory about Final Fantasy XIII? Yes, you’re correct, it is. Why this location is so important lies in the location of the ending of Lightning Returns. You were warned before even opening this article that there would be massive spoilers, so if you’ve read this far and feel you’ve read too much, turn back now. Or you can keep reading. Either way, you were warned.
Following her climactic battle with the god Bhunivelze, Lightning and her friends manage to rid the universe of this evil deity once and for all. However, this comes at a price. With his death follows the end of Lightning’s very home universe. But no worries, all of those souls you harvested during your game will come in handy here. I can honestly say there has never been a more perfect time to say “first there was darkness, and then there was light” or some variation of that than in this ending, because that is exactly what happens. Serah is brought back to life, Noel finds his Yeul, and all is right with the cast.
But all is not right with the world. There is nothing but the vacuum of space now, save for our heroes and a rather large crystal born of the souls of humanity. As the crystal breaks and a new universe is born, our heroes bid their farewells to the norms of their old world. Yes, our Eidolon friends and even the cute and innocent Mog must part ways with the people they have come to know as family. The scene is especially tear jerking as Odin and Lightning share one final look before Lightning relives the Final Fantasy XIII adventure in her memories before shedding a tear. This scene probably has the most emotional rendition of Fabula Nova Crystallis the series has ever heard so far as well.
Lightning and the cast enter into the new universe that Lightning has created for them, leaving behind their realm in search of a new place to come home. Is that sounding familiar yet? If not, I’m quite surprised. As the scene continues, Lightning comments that they are now in a world unseen by Gods. This is important to note due to Lightning’s obvious scorn toward the fal’Cie for treating humanity like cattle. This new, Godless universe gives our cast freedom, unless you want to count Lightning as being its God, in which case I say go on ahead.
We are not greeted by our cast’s human forms however. During this migration to a new home, they take the form of the very iconic Lifestream found in the Final Fantasy VII universe, and to top all of this off? The planet this “lifestream” fills with life is none other than Earth. You can even see Africa on it as the souls give it a new beginning. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking this is still very farfetched. But take into consideration that the Crisis Core Complete Guide states that the “Cetra are said to have opened up Lifestream veins in the land, working to make the Planet fertile.” Earth was completely dead in this video before Lightning and her crew got to it, giving it life, and the depiction of them traveling the universe in search of a new home greatly resembles the story of the Cetra.
“The migrations of the Cetra were a Planet-reverent pursuit of the fabled Promised Land, one conducted by traveling from one area to another and cultivating life as they went.” –Final Fantasy Wikia. Sounds a lot like what happens after the creation of the new world in Lightning Returns. Long story short, the Pulsians of Final Fantasy XIII are indeed the Cetra of Final Fantasy VII. Or at least, the first ones to have landed on that planet. We know very well that the Cetra at the time of Final Fantasy VII were a spiritual people, but even in a Godless world, faith can exist in the hearts of man. Clearly the events that transpired in Final Fantasy VII would be thousands of years after Lightning’s crew colonized the planet. I find it interesting and a bit ironic that one of the most negatively bashed games of the Final Fantasy series reveals itself to be a prequel, if not an alternate origin story, to the most beloved.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking “well, what about space travel and the fact that the Cetra could use magic while regular humans could not?” As we saw in Final Fantasy XIII, there was never any mention of them being able to travel into space. In fact, we know that they couldn’t have traveled into space due to their isolation in Cocoon. Following the fall of Cocoon and the beginning of XIII-2, we are very quickly informed that the leading factor when it comes to technology is the Academy, headed by Hope Estheim. Though Hope is incredibly intelligent, his greatest achievement was in planning the building of Arcadia and getting the New Cocoon (which he named Bhunivelze) to float in the sky shortly before Chaos ripped through the timeline. We then see him aiding Lightning in Lightning Returns. I’m positive that if there was ever going to be space travel in the XIII universe, Hope would have been the one to develop it. As he clearly did not, that explains our space travel development issues in Final Fantasy VII.
Now in regards to magic use, non-l’Cie were not able to use magic. Or were they? In XIII-2, we actually learn very early on in the game that after the fall of Cocoon, humanity migrated to Gran Pulse and it was there that they actually learned to utilize magic. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at this Final Fantasy XIII-2 Datalog entry: “’Magic’ is the ability to draw on the crystal power residing within oneself and make possible all manner of incredible feats. This power was once only the province of l’Cie, but since the catastrophe and the migration to Pulse, some former citizens of Cocoon have suddenly developed the ability to wield magic. Serah is one of those people. Many of those who now command magical energies are simple civilians, and have never had Serah’s experience of once being a l’Cie. It is theorized that the move to Gran Pulse has awoken these abilities, and people are beginning to see magic as just another tool in their everyday lives. Noel is also capable of casting spells, but doesn’t seem to think of himself as anything special.”
Draw on the crystal power residing within oneself? I don’t know about you, but that sounds an awful lot like how Materia works in Final Fantasy VII. Keep in mind that not even our main characters in VII can use magic until we give them the ability via crystallized Materia. It was also said that those regular humans that existed during the time of the Cetra were unable to use magic because they favored a life of leisure and convenience. Was this not what we saw with the development of Mako using cities around the world as the game’s history unfolded? Furthermore, in the epilogue of Lightning Returns, we actually see how developed the world really is, with its use of a train system, roads, even cars. It greatly resembles our own world.
So now we come to the verdict. What is Final Fantasy XIII to Final Fantasy VII? In short, you can look at it in one of two ways. Clearly, the XIII trilogy serves as an origin story to both our reality and the reality of Final Fantasy VII. This would bring it into being a multiverse, where anything can happen. So why am I saying that it’s a prequel to VII and not our own reality? Well, obviously because we humans know how our own history unfolded, so Lightning Returns isn’t going to be able to fill in the blanks there.
But my main reason is due to the very way Lightning and humanity came to Earth, how they colonized it using an energy that could only be the Lifestream and the lack of viable knowledge of Space Travel. We know by looking at the Final Fantasy VII timeline that the game took place in the year 0007, and the world’s first rocket launch wasn’t even until 0003, equivalent to our real world 2003. We know very well that we launched rockets into space well before that, so Final Fantasy VII merely shares our planet, but not our passage of time and events. In short, Lightning Returns proves itself again to be the prequel to Final Fantasy VII via its passing of knowledge from Gran Pulse to Earth. It is sad to know that Jenova and Sephiroth are going to come and screw all of this up though. (You can check out the timeline on Final Fantasy Wikia, taken from the Ultimania Guide of the game.)
The two titles also contrast very nicely with one another. Where Lightning must stand against the death of her world, losing her loved ones only to regain them in a final battle against her own creator to find peace and salvation on Earth, Cloud and his friends must save a world being killed for power. Were Lightning’s efforts all for not? Does this mean every time you equip Materia, you’re equipping the crystallized memories of the denizens of Gran Pulse? Well, in the words of Game Theory’s MatPat, things like this, no matter how convincing, can’t become fact until proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Until then, it’s just a theory!
Personally, it saddens me so much to know that Final Fantasy XIII has received so much back-lash for its faults, that I feel players often forget to look at its good qualities. Yes, the first game was a linear tunnel, even going so far as to make the battle system into something so different than older games. But isn’t innovation what we want in Final Fantasy? A game series doesn’t always die because of the games. It dies because we players force it to die. I challenge you, look beyond what you hate about Final Fantasy XIII and look for the qualities just begging for your attention. The story has been by far one of the best stories the Final Fantasy series has had to offer. Far better than even the very first Final Fantasy’s story. The story is smart, reminding us that even in the face of adversity and at times where we feel at our absolute lowest, there is going to be someone there for us willing to risk their lives and give us their undying love. The game has continuously covered touchy areas such as segregation, war, love, loss, grief, death, religion, Creationism; I could literally keep going with how many broad topics this story is just begging players to think about. Why should we not give it a chance? I would personally take this game over the next Call of Duty or Angry Birds any day. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII hits stores February 11, 2014 for the United States, February 13, 2014 for Australia, and February 14, 2014 for the United Kingdom. See you in Nova Crystallia!