Final Fantasy XIV and Real World Mythology: Who is Susano?

Let the revels begin!

In Final Fantasy XIV Online, primals are flashy, single-boss raid encounters that usually represent iconic summons or monsters from the series. Previous primal bosses include Ifrit, Shiva, and Final Fantasy VI’s Warring Triad. In Final Fantasy XIV’s newest expansion, Stormblood, the first primal that players must face is Susano, the “Lord of the Revel.” Keeping in line with the expansion’s East Asian theme, the inspiration for Susano the primal is taken from a Shinto deity of the same name.

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Susano slays Yamata no Orochi. Kuniteru, 19th century.

According to the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the oldest written works of classical Japanese history dating from 711 AD and 720 AD, respectively, Susano is the god of storms and the sea, and brother to the sun goddess Amaterasu and the moon god Tsukuyomi. The god Izanagi gave birth to Susano and his siblings as he cleansed his face of impurities following a visit to Yomi, the Shinto world of the dead. Susano washed out of Izanagi’s nose, while Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi were born from Izanagi’s left and right eyes, respectively. According to some legends, Susano is also seen as a chaotic god who disrupts the order of heaven.

In Final Fantasy XIV, Susano is presented as a large, vaguely humanoid armored figure with a jolly personality, who carries the moniker “Lord of the Revel.” He is the guardian deity of the Kojin beast tribe in the Ruby Sea, whom the Warrior of Light inadvertently helps to summon when he or she brings a magatama to the Red Kojin’s treasure cove, where it reacts with a sword and mirror to summon Susano.

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From left to right: the mirror, the sword, and the magatama.

The fact that Susano is summoned with a sword, mirror, and magatama is an important detail to note, because those objects are also the Imperial Regalia of Japan, which are symbols of the legitimacy of the Imperial family. The magatama, known as “Yasakani no Magatama,” holds no direct tie to Susano in Japanese mythology beyond its affiliation with the other Imperial regalia. The mirror, or “Yata no Kagami,” however, is said to have been used to lure Amaterasu out of a cave where she hid in grief after Susano destroyed her property and killed her attendant, which resulted in Susano’s banishment from heaven. Upon reaching the province of Izumo, located in modern day Shimane Prefecture, Susano defeated an eight headed serpent named Yamata no Orochi by tricking it into drinking eight vats of sake and killing it in its sleep. From Yamata no Orochi’s tail, Susano took the sword “Kusanagi no Tsurugi,” the third piece of the Imperial Regalia, which he bequeathed to Amaterasu in reconciliation.

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Susano, the Lord of the Revel

As a nod to Susano’s place in Shinto mythology as the god of storms and the sea, the arena in which Susano is fought in Final Fantasy XIV is a flooded area continuously drenched in rain. Several of Susano’s attacks are related to water or electricity. For example, Susano will create an area-of-effect attack visually represented by parting waves while declaring that “the seas part for me alone!” Susano will also spawn thunderclouds around the outside of the arena, which will strike the party with lightning if players do not position correctly. Susano’s ultimate attack is called “Ama-no-Murakumo,” an earlier name given to the Kusanagi no Tsurugi, which roughly translates as “Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven.” Susano’s portrayal in Final Fantasy XIV seems to have taken inspiration from the myths that portray him as a chaotic force disrupting the heavenly order, as he seems to relish his battle with the Warrior of Light, even exclaiming that their hearts “sing in the chaos” of battle.

Final Fantasy is not the only video game to feature Susano. Clover Studio’s 2006 Playstation 2 game Okami, for example, features a segment where the player character Amaterasu fights Yamata no Orochi alongside a charmingly incompetent Susano. Nor is Susano the only reference to Japanese or Asian mythology in Stormblood. Up next: Final Fantasy XIV and Real World Mythology: Who is Lakshmi?

–pokicchi


 

What’s up with Civilization VI?

Checking in on Firaxis’s beleaguered strategy game.

Following its release in October 2016, Civilization VI faced a divided fanbase. Although the game sat in the high 80s on Metacritic, longtime fans of the series were critical of Firaxis’s newest strategy game. Poor A.I., multiplayer balance issues, divisive stylized visuals, and numerous complaints about the game’s systems (or lack thereof) compared to Civilization V dominated the discussion around Civilization VI. Why was the diplomatic victory removed? Why are players still punished with warmonger penalties? Why does the A.I. make nonsensical decisions and seemingly declares war at random? All in all, these fans claimed, Civilization VI was a game that was wholly inferior to its predecessor.

Some fans, however, were hesitant to write off Civilization VI so quickly. Comparisons to Civilization V were a bit unfair, they said–with two expansion packs under its belt, its not surprising that it would have more content than a game that had just been released. Plus, vanilla Civilization V was even more barebones than VI, with systems such as trade routes, religion, espionage and great works for culture victories all added to Civilization V in expansions, but appearing in Civilization VI at launch. The foundation for a great Civilization game was here, these fans claimed, and with expansions it could easily surpass other entries in the series.

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Colors vibrantly pop in Civilization VI.

So, more than half a year later, how is Civilization VI doing now?

Fansites such as civfanatics.com and r/civ continue to be critical of Civilization VI’s flaws out of a desire to see the game reach its full potential. Chiefly, the game’s A.I. continues to be a point of contention. Patches have brought it up in line with Civilization V, however, that game wasn’t exactly praised for its intelligent A.I., either. Hardcore Civ fans continue to find Civilization VI easy on every difficulty except for Deity, and on all difficulties the A.I. has questionable reactions to the player’s actions. For example, if players are in an alliance with Theodore Roosevelt and declare war on an enemy civilization at war with America, Roosevelt’s A.I. may react with anger. Every leader in Civilization VI has “agendas” that they follow, which dictate what actions on the part of the player cause them to become friendly or hostile. Roosevelt’s agenda, “Big Stick Policy,” causes him to dislike civilizations that start wars on his home continent. So, even if players declare war in order to assist a losing Roosevelt, the A.I. may nonsensically become angered by the player’s assistance.

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Civilization VI’s cartoonish art style has upset some fans of Civilization V’s more realistic look.

The new religious victory has also drawn some criticism. The amount of Great Prophets available in a game to create a religion is always less than the amount of civilizations in a match, and on higher difficulties it’s almost impossible to found a religion as a result. Even if the player does found a religion, organizing missionaries and engaging in religious warfare can become a micromanaging chore.

Other aspects of the game, however, have come to be acknowledged as improvements over previous Civs. The addition of districts has resulted in the most engaging city building in any Civilization game yet. Cities now have to be placed not only according their potential resource yield, but also according to the bonuses to certain districts the surrounding tiles will give. Pursuing a science victory? Make sure you build your cities near mountains, as science districts generate additional science according to how many mountains touch the tile that the district is built on. While warmonger penalties return from Civilization V much to the chagrin of fans, the system has been made more manageable in VI. The inclusion of Casus Belli means that players can reduce the warmonger penalty by declaring war for reasons such as retaliation for hostile religious conversion, liberating a conquered city, protecting a city-state, and so on. The addition of A.I. agendas also means that sometimes the A.I. may actually like a player that actively engages in war. The happiness system in Civilization V penalizes playing “wide”–or settling a lot of cities–in favor of playing “tall,” or settling a few cities. With the replacement of happiness with the amenities system in VI, the game promotes playing “wide” as long as the player has enough luxury resources or is willing to spend limited space on an entertainment district.

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Rather than one tech tree based on science, a new civic tree grants new governments and policies that can be enacted for various benefits.

Rather than one tech tree based solely off of science, Civilization VI also features a second tree of “civics” based on culture output. The civic tree allows players to unlock new forms of government, as well as policy cards to further customize governments towards specific victory conditions and variables the player may encounter throughout the game. For example, policies may make military units cheaper to produce, or increase how quickly tourists come to visit for a culture victory. Each form of government not only affects which types of policies can be enacted but also give bonuses of their own–for example, autocracy can be adopted in the early game to assist with wonder production, while adopting communism in the late game can assist a player’s science victory by increasing production on a civilization-wide level. Each tech and civic also has “eureka” bonuses that reduces research time if certain requirements are met. Building walls in a city, for example, will give players a eureka boost to researching the engineering tech, while building six farms gives a boost to researching the feudalism civic. Because of eureka bonuses, Civilization VI is less focused on science output than V was.

All in all, while Civilization VI’s A.I. continues to face criticism, the game has the potential to become an amazing Civ entry in the same way that Civilization V’s expansions improved upon the vanilla experience. Civilization VI already trumps Civilization V as a base game, as VI includes systems that V didn’t add until its expansions. Districts add an additional layer of strategy and planning to city building, and although religious victories are rough around the edges, its issues are easily fixable with expansions in the same way that Civilization V’s expansions fixed issues with its science, diplomatic, and cultural victories. Fans in love with Civilization V as a complete package may not find VI’s improvements to be worth dealing with its current shortcomings, but given time, Civilization VI has the potential to become one of the best games in the series.

–pokicchi


Why I Love: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

A look at Nihon Falcom’s lovely JRPG.

Nihon Falcom’s The Legend of Heroes series established itself in Japan in the late 1980s with Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes, which initially released on the NEC PC 8801. However, although the series saw numerous Western releases including localizations of the PSP remakes of The Legend of Heroes III, IV, and V, the games did not gain a sizeable Western fan base. The series wouldn’t catch on in English speaking communities until XSEED localized the sixth game in the series, Trails in the Sky, for the PSP in 2011. Following a subsequent PC release of the English localization of Trails in the Sky, the game quickly became a cult classic among JRPG fans due to its heavy emphasis on its characters and world building. Four years after Trails in the Sky’s original English release, XSEED released Second Chapter, the sequel to Trails in the Sky that picks up right after the game’s cliffhanger ending.

Two months after the English release of Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter, XSEED released Trails of Cold Steel for the Playstation 3 and Vita. While Cold Steel isn’t a direct sequel to Trails in the Sky, it takes place 2 years after the events of Second Chapter, and moved the setting from the Liberl Kingdom to the neighboring Erebonian Empire. Players had encountered Erebonian nationals in Trails in the Sky, and a war between Liberl and Erebonia made up an important chunk of the game’s backstory. Trails in the Sky offered players a glimpse into the political conflicts brewing in Erebonia, however, much of the country itself remained an enigma. Trails of Cold Steel gave fans the opportunity to explore a fleshed out Erebonia with the same attention to detail that drew people to Trails in the Sky.

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Trails of Cold Steel traded Trails in the Sky’s traditional trappings for a high school setting.

Players could be forgiven for thinking that they were in for a drastically different experience with Cold Steel than they had been with the Sky games. While Trails in the Sky opened with the quiet life of the main character Estelle, her father, and her adopted brother Joshua, Trails of Cold Steel begins with an en medias reis sequence that immediately thrusts players into combat with a full party. While the early hours of Trails in the Sky were framed by the low-key adventures of Estelle and Joshua as they worked to become Bracers—questing mercenaries in the Trails universe—Trails of Cold Steel was set in a high school with events seemingly pulled straight out of Persona. At face value, Cold Steel had thrown away many of the traditional JRPG trappings that had made Sky a cult favorite in favor of more contemporary mechanics.

Once Trails of Cold Steel fell into its rhythm, however, its Persona-inspired façade faded away to reveal a game that wasn’t too far removed from its predecessors. The basic structure of Cold Steel is the same as the Sky games: each chapter has a central hub with a main quest to follow, along with several side quests that the player can complete at his or her leisure. At the end of each chapter, the player is ranked by the amount of quests they completed, and given a final grade for the “assignment” if playing Cold Steel, or given a higher Bracer rank if playing the Sky games. While the beginning hours of Trails of Cold Steel gave the impression that school life would play heavily into the structure of the game, in practice it had no strong effect on gameplay. Rather, the school served the narrative function of providing a reason to bring together characters from diverse economic and social backgrounds, and the conflicts that arose between the party characters as a result were indicative of the larger socio-political issues at play in Erebonia. In-between major story hubs, the player can spend time with party members and important NPCs to learn more about them, however, the majority of backstory and character growth for most characters is found in the main story.

Combat, too, is similar to Trails in the Sky. Coming into contact with an enemy on the overworld triggers combat on a separate screen. Attacks, skills, and spells have ranges that require proper maneuvering and positioning to use. Each character has a special move that they can use to “steal” a turn at will once enough Craft Points have been built up through dealing and receiving damage, rewarding forethought as turns will sometimes give bonuses like guaranteed critical hits or health recovery. Where Trails of Cold Steel differentiates itself from Trails in the Sky is with its “linking” system. By linking party members, players can follow up attacks for bonus damage. Using a damage type an enemy is weak against increases the chance of a follow up attack, and after enough follow-up attacks, the player is given the option of using a group action similar to the all-out-attacks from Persona. Each character also has their own unique actions that they’ll use to help their linked partner, such as finishing off an enemy close to death or automatically healing their partner. As the story progresses and the party characters overcome their differences with one another, they gain the ability to form links.

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Like its predecessors, Trails of Cold Steel goes deep into developing its characters.

The biggest draw of Trails in the Sky was the amount of detail it put into developing its setting and characters, and in that regard, Cold Steel doesn’t disappoint either. Persons, entities, and even side quests that were nothing more than flavor text for the world in Sky are fleshed out in Cold Steel, rewarding fans who enjoyed the history created for the continent of Zemuria in Trails in the Sky. Conversations between certain Cold Steel characters reference events of previous games without making knowledge of those events crucial to understanding the main story. Each region visited in Cold Steel is given lengthy explanations of its local government, economic strengths, and place in Erebonian society. Party members, too, are given large sections of the game’s main story in order to establish how the life they were born into in Erebonia contributed to their worldview and values, and how they resolve conflicts with other party members arising from their conflicting points of view is an important part of each of their story arcs. Although the main focus of character development in Cold Steel is on the party characters, numerous story important NPCs in the world are given development comparable to main characters from other RPGs. Even “generic” town NPCs are given more attention than your average JRPG, with dialogue that changes after every major story event and mini-storylines to follow throughout the game. Some “generic” NPCs even return from Trails in the Sky.

While Trails of Cold Steel portrays itself as a JRPG abandoning its traditional roots in favor of social mechanics popularized by Persona, in reality it’s a game that strongly retains the elements that drew people to the Trails series to begin with. This 70-hour game is filled with every bit as much world building, character development, and narrative focus that its predecessors were, which is great news for fans worried that Cold Steel’s school aesthetic came at the cost of what drew them to the series to begin with. Fans of the Sky games owe it to themselves to check out Trails of Cold Steel, and an upcoming PC release featuring additional voice acting will be the perfect accommodation for those who do not own a Playstation 3 or Vita.

–pokicchi