Okay, so after like a full 24 hours holy crap that’s an actual full day of following the storyline from point to point, you finally get off Cocoon and to Gran Pulse. At this point, most of the details of the plot have been offered. Although the explanation requires some extra explanation. Honestly, the whole thing is a fascinating attempt at telling a story where no one, and I mean NO ONE, is holding all the cards and knows all the details. The villain? As mustache twirly as he is, he doesn’t know everything. Heck, he doesn’t even know if his scheme will actually work. Like at all. To even begin to figure out what is going on in the story at this point you either need to do a LOT of reading between the lines or use a wiki. I did a bit of both and honestly felt very comfortable with what was going on. It felt a lot like watching an old anime where the story is coherent only within the themes being explored. In this case, the nature of free will and overcoming one’s past. The l’Cie are told they have to complete their focus or are doomed to a terrible fate, but twice they’ve seen people turn to crystal (eternal slumber in happy dreams being the reward for fulfilling a focus) by doing something they’ve been told wasn’t their focus. So it’s implied that they can kind of set their own focus.
That of course makes sense when you know the never mentioned in game at all mythos for the Fabula Nova Crystalis. Humans were formed by the god Lindzei out of the blood of the goddess Etro. Etro being one of the three “deity fal’Cie” being created by the Maker, but unlike Lindzei and Pulse, Etro was never given a focus of her own. So she had the freedom to do as she pleased, but with the grief of not being given equal treatment or power like the other two, she used her freedom to off herself. Bam. Done. Dead. The blood of a “free fal’Cie” was the building blocks of humans. So it stands to reason that despite being branded with the l’Cie curse, they still possess the power to do as they please including deciding their own fate or focus. It’s a shame they neglected to add the Fabula Nova Crystalis myth to the game in any proper sense, because it really does clear up a ton about what the fal’Cie wish to do, why the humans can break their curse, and the nature of the Goddess Etro whose mercy intervenes at different points in the game from the Unseen World (Land of the Dead) and also sets up the primary conflict of the second game. And yes, I fully plan on talking about the second game when I get to playing it. Because despite all the rage and hate this game has gotten (and admittedly, a LOT of it is certainly understandable given the amount of extra-curricular work you have to do to assemble the larger narrative), I STILL like them. A lot.
Anyway, back to Gran Pulse. Hell on Earth. Despite no one having the vaguest concept of what hell or earth are. This is the point where the game actually appears to open up a bit more instead of the run from plot point to plot point down tunnels that we have experienced thus far. You get access to a few wide open areas, some side missions that unlock things like chocobos or better items, and the freedom to wander around these areas and complete whichever tasks you can as you see fit. Granted, this is the only area like this in the game, but it does offer a great reprieve in comparison to what you’ve done so far. There is no overworld map still, and the only transportation you get around Gran Pulse is chocobos that move about 50% than you do on foot and can dig up hidden treasures, and certain mission stones can be used as teleporters to the different areas. The teleporters are honestly the most limiting aspect of this. They tend to drop you right at the edges of areas, and can only be accessed by using a stone to go to another stone. So if you’re grinding at the end of a tunnel, you have to go through 3/4ths of the tunnel to teleport out to somewhere else. It’s not as bad once you get the hang of dodging enemies so you don’t have to do every battle along the way.
The mission stones, called c’Ieth Stones technically because they are actually the final devolved form of what happens to a l’Cie that doesn’t complete their focus, offer a ranked mission starting from the easiest (D) to the hardest (A) and usually involve you finding and killing a monster. They’re not all unlocked as once as you need to complete the difficulty ranks or use abilities that some of them unlock (like Chocobos) to reach. Around the mid-B rank is where things go from “Need to take a minute to figure out the strategy here” to “OH GOD I AM DEAD AGAIN BEFORE I CAN DO A THING?!” and it starts to become clear that some of the missions are not meant to be done on your first visit to Gran Pulse in Chapter 11. Oh no. They are for the “End game” after you’ve beat the final boss and unlock your final tier of progression to go grind out. I was able to beat one A-rank boss by using Vanille and spamming the hell out of the Death spell on it. It only took like 12 retries with about 10 spell casts per try I think before it finally insta-killed the boss and then just had to widdle away his insanely powerful minions. I didn’t really plan on doing that more than just that once.
However, all things must come to an end and the freedom of Gran Pulse gives away to the linear corridors of plot as you head back to Cocoon for the final mission: To free humanity from the tyranny of fal’Cie once and for all! Which may or may not involve dooming Cocoon in the larger sense. But they will die free!