From Shattered Shards: Dissecting the Mythology of Fabula Nova Crystallis
The third installment to the Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy series is due out at the end of this month. Literally translated as “The New Tale of the Crystal,” the series once included the numerical XIII in the title and spanned the grouping of games under the same moniker: Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2, Agito XIII, and Versus XIII. Agito XIII has since been renamed Type-0 and removed from the XIII universe, but still retains the “vague crystal theme” and mythos present in the other titles. All are the work of different production teams, with almost no communication between them.
The four games (we can only make assumptions as of now regarding Versus XIII) make liberal use of the crystal ideology that runs through previous Final Fantasy titles and is comparable to the mythos that links the first five games in the series, presenting worlds that rely heavily on crystals as plot mechanisms. These crystals are often sources of power for the game world or fantasy-flavored symbolism. While not the central focus of the games, they do feature prominently — in the XIII titles and Type-0 an individual’s body turning to crystal is indicative of having completed a divine Focus, or task. A crystal is often a source of sacred power or an item intimately tied to biological life and the passage of time.
Past Final Fantasy titles make use of crystals as sources of organic power. In III, for example, the four Warriors of Light are drawn to and empowered by mysterious crystals that contain the world’s life force. IV and V require the player to stop the antagonists from seizing the elemental crystals that maintain the world’s balance. Later games such as IX use the equipping of crystals for characters to use summons — XIII uses this same strain as IX in that each character possess gems that allow them summon an Eidolon. Even if the term “crystal” isn’t outright used, the ideology is the same; in VII we have materia and in XII nethicite.
The return to a crystal world is not new, but by using crystals in a way that is linked not with the earth and more with human life, Fabula Nova Crystallis puts a dark spin on the typical shiny ideology. If you really think about it, really think about it, the idea of having your body turned to crystal and dreaming forever — or morphing into a creature that will roam the earth for eternity before losing the will to live and fossilizing — is absolutely terrifying. Fabula doesn’t make use of crystals as a source of power so much as it uses them as the byproduct of supernatural meddling on a large and destructive scale, of deus ex machina at its most potent and selfish, indications of divine glory and failure.
To understand this better, we need to look at the creation myth crafted for the series. The universe is divided into two worlds: the Visible World, the world of the living; and the Invisible World, where the dead reside. A handful of gods and goddesses reigned over these two worlds, including Muin and her son Buniberzei. Buniberzei, wanting full control over the Visible World, killed Muin and threw her into the Invisible World. He believed that before passing into the other world, she had placed a curse on the Visible World so that one day it would be utterly destroyed. Paranoid and distraught, Buniberzei tried in vain to enter the Invisible World but discovered he could not without relinquishing control over the realm of the living. So Buniberzei created the fal’Cie Pulse to seek the door the world of the dead. Note that there are other fal’Cie on Pulse around this time – they’re just not the Pulse.
This is where things get dense. The fal’Cie Pulse is referred to by Barthandelus and Orphan as the Maker. Analects the player picks up throughout the game refer to this fal’Cie as “Hallowed Pulse”, and say that while it lived on the world of Pulse relations were peaceful between the humans and other fal’Cie. Pulse created life forms, flora and fauna, that soon populated the world. Eventually this Maker departed the world, and the events of XIII reveal that the fal’Cie are trying to bring the Maker back in an attempt to erase humanity and allow them to restart civilization.
Because Hallowed Pulse could not find the door to the Invisible World, Buniberzei created Etro to assist him. Etro, as we have all figured out by now, is the patron goddess Lightning now defends in Valhalla at the start of XIII-2. Buniberzei accidentally created Etro in the likeness of his mother Muin, and because of this he gave Etro no powers and replaced her with the fal’Cie Lindzei. Lindzei was tasked with protecting all life and Buniberzei himself. While these fal’Cie worked, Buniberzei put himself into — you guessed it — a deep crystal sleep and asked to be awoken when the door to the Invisible World was found. Lindzei and Pulse began creating more fal’Cie to help them take care of other business while they searched for the door.
Etro, distraught at having no powers or purpose, killed herself and entered the Invisible World. From her spilled blood humans were born — making the creation of mankind a huge and sad mistake, explaining why the fal’Cie in XIII are so intent on wiping them off the face of the planet. In the Invisible World Etro found Muin, her body being consuming by the black energy mass known as Chaos. The idea of “Chaos” has been used before and alluded throughout the Final Fantasy series as the ultimate evil entity (although nowhere more flagrantly than Dissidia). Muin,with her last breath, tasked Etro with protecting the balance of power between the Visible and Invisible Worlds, for it was the Visible World’s fate to be destroyed and preventing it would bring about the collapse of the universe.
Etro loved humans and placed a piece of Chaos in each one, calling it their “heart” — symbolism for a human’s free will. As long as the cycle of birth and death continued, the balance would be maintained. Meanwhile humanity was frightened by the creatures Pulse created and petitioned Lindzei to help them. Lindzei therefore made Cocoon and housed humanity within its crystal shell. The fal’Cie came to be revered and worshiped as gods, and Etro Goddess of Death waited at the door to the Invisible World to greet each human who died. Buniberzei continued to sleep.
The fal’Cie of Cocoon, lead by Lindzei, proceeded to eradicate all life on Pulse. Pulse and its own fal’Cie fought back, and l’Cie were recruited and given power to fight as soldiers of the divine. The fal’Cie of Pulse believed that if Cocoon could be knocked out of the sky, the simultaneous death of millions of humans would release enough energy to call the Maker back.
The infamous War of Transgression mentioned in Final Fantasy XIII is actually a war between Lindzei and Pulse, carried out by the fal’Cie of Cocoon and Pulse and the l’Cie they gave power to. Lindzei and Hallowed Pulse may have left the building, but the fal’Cie of either world seek to wipe each other out — hence the grand scheme to call the old gods back into the world and have the slate of life wiped clean.
The mythology of Pulse and Cocoon is similar to that of the Emishi, an ancient indigenous people that lived in what is now Hokkaido, Japan. The notion of a world doomed to be destroyed and defeated, powerless goddesses hiding in an unseen world are taken from their creation myth. If the War of Transgression happened about 500 years before the events of Final Fantasy XIII — we know this because Fang and Vanille, branded to become the apocalyptic beast Ragnarok, say they have been in crystal stasis for this amount of time — and that is when Lindzei and Hallowed Pulse left the world, then the world we are looking at in XIII and XIII-2 is either still in its infancy or kept its gods on the ground for an absurdly long amount of time.
Fal’Cie — demigods or angels, you could think of them as — have a wish to start the world over without humanity. The idea of divine beings pushing the restart button because they feel humanity is unworthy is a staple of religious tradition. The Christian story of the Great Flood and Noah’s Ark is the best known example of the destruction of all life for a divine cause. It is no small wonder the enemy-spawning training vessels used by l’Cie to hone their skills are called Arks.
Ragnarok, in the Fabula Nova Crystallis world, is an entity based on the event of the same name in Norse mythology. Ragnarok is the great battle heralding the end of the world, in which gods and humans will die and the world will be submerged in water. Fang and Vanille outsmart their fate as Ragnarok by using their power to bring down Cocoon and onto a pillar of crystal, cushioning its fall but making it fall nonetheless. The inhabitants of Cocoon soon move to Pulse and create new settlements, which brings us to the events of XIII-2.
In Norse mythology, the result of Ragnarok is an empty world that must be populated by two human survivors. The mythology of XIII tells us that before leaving Cocoon, Lindzei destroyed Pulse with a great flood and a slow ecological decline, leaving only two survivors whom Etro herself prematurely crystallized to protect them — Fang and Vanille. When the party visits Oerba in XIII, a fine crystal dust has settled over the ghost town; its inhabitants, as well as all inhabitants of Pulse, have died under fal’Cie meddling. The crystal dust is the fossilized and scattered remains of those would could not or would not complete their Focus — Cie’th ashes. Parallels can also be drawn with what we know so far of XIII-2: with the world of Cocoon and Pulse thrown out of line by Etro pulling Lightning out of the timeline to be her champion, restoring the balance and essentially “recreating” the world fall on the shoulders of a chosen two — Noel Kreiss and Serah Farron.
The fal’Cie Lindzei is portrayed in the Analects as a “viper” who “bore fangs into the pristine soil of [our] Gran Pulse” and created Cocoon, a “viper’s nest,” from pieces of Pulsian land. Not all humans fled into the skies with Lindzei, but those who remained on Pulse reviled those who left. The second analect reads: “O cursed are the fools who trust a snake and turn their backs upon the bounty of Pulse’s hallowed land!” Like Eve and the Serpent with the Apple in Christian tradition, Lindzei capitalized on humanity’s fear and tempted them with knowledge that would raise them to a loftier existence. Humanity, the orphaned and ill-begotten children of Etro, would suffer for the sin of vanity.
While the Pulse fal’Cie, most notably Barthandelus, refer to Hallowed Pulse as the “Maker,” I would argue that this term actually refers to Buniberzei. Buniberzei creates the fal’Cie is his own image the same way God creates humans in the Bible, then steps back and goes to sleep much like the Supreme Architect of Deiist thought; Buniberzei has created his world and will no longer meddle it in, allowing it to do as it pleases. But the clock will one day stop ticking, and there is no route to avoiding this fate.
The Analect titled “Fabula Nova Crystallis” tells of the door to the Invisible World being revealed “with despair its secret key; sacrifice, the one hope of seeing it unsealed.” Fang and Vanille’s sacrifice has unlocked the door, and Lightning has been called to the edge of time to defend it. Etro, however, seems to have vacated her position, as trailers for XIII-2 show Lighting kneeling before an empty throne.
In the only existing footage for Versus XIII, Stella tells protagonist Noctis that those who have had a near-death experience have seen Etro at the door to the underworld, and consequently are granted power by her hand. Square Enix has stated that godlike entities will feature prominently in the game as well, which is touted as a “fantasy based on reality.” Etro is the Death Goddess of the Fabula worlds; as her children, humanity is born from her blood just to die, mortality being her gift to them. Humans will one day pass into the Invisible World to be with Etro, whereas the immortal fal’Cie — including the sleeping, distraught Buniberzei — can only perish by being killed. Eternal life, watching the world begin and end, is the lot of these beings, and so they seek to end it all on their terms.
“Chaos” is a cosmological term for the state of being prior to the creation of the universe — the formless void, or the gap between the separate worlds of heaven and earth. The Chaos of Fabula Nova Crystallis seems to be the primordial, shapeless entity of many creation myths, the state of universal disorder before the creation of Pulse and Cocoon. In most myths the forces that maintain this order often cannot continue indefinitely, and Chaos will once again consume the world and drag it back into the abyss. In the case of Pulse and Cocoon, Ragnarok appears to be an inevitable fate, and by preventing the death of Cocoon’s inhabitants Fang and Vanille have cheated fate and ignited the chain of paradoxes featured in XIII-2.
We still do not know how the Goddess of Death and the idea of parallel worlds function in Versus XIII or Type-0 (for our readers outside of Japan), as the “vague crystal theme” running through the compendium, though similar in their fundamentals, have taken dramatically different roads in each game. From what we do know of the XIII world, the destruction of Cocoon was inevitable. The destruction of the remainder of the world is a given fate — so in cheating this fate, paradoxes have been created. The question that remains for the XIII universe is: can Lighting, Serah, Noel, and their companions cheat fate once again and prevent Chaos’s triumph? Or are they doomed to fail, rendering their struggles in XIII and XIII-2 an exercise in futility?