The story of Final Fantasy XIII mainly takes place in the floating world of Cocoon, an artificial planetoid built by the sentient fal'Cie, supernatural beings whom mankind view as their protectors. Cocoon floats in the atmosphere of the world of Gran Pulse, a natural world where beasts and plants can grow to tremendous sizes. The citizens of Cocoon view Pulse as hell for humans, greatly fearing its alien fal'Cie who have waged war against Cocoon in the past.
The story follows Lightning, a former soldier in Cocoon's Guardian Corps army, and five other people brought together by fate must face a series of trials as they try to change their destiny and stop an ancient conspiracy to destroy Cocoon.
Having been secluded from the outside world for so long, the citizens of Cocoon have become paranoid of Gran Pulse. The Sanctum, Cocoon's government, led by the fal'Cie Eden and Primarch Galenth Dysley, have issued an edict whereupon any individuals suspected to have come in contact with anyone or anything from the lowerworld are to be banished from Cocoon.
One day there was an incident at the Euride Gorge Energy Plant believed to have been caused by Pulse l'Cie. L'Cie are people who have been made the servants of the fal'Cie who branded them, compelled to carry out the Focus given to them by the deity, as the punishment for defying it is cruel: be turned into a mindless monster known as a Cie'th.
Six days later, a Pulse fal'Cie was discovered in an ancient Pulsian relic near the seaside town of Bodhum. Mass panic broke out, and soon Cocoon's citizens were crying out for the expulsion of the entire town to Pulse, prompting the Sanctum to initiate the Purge. Within the next two days the Sanctum's army, PSICOM, quarantined Bodhum, seized the town's inhabitants regardless of whether they are citizens or tourists, and forced them onto Purge trains. The people were taken to the restricted Hanging Edge zone, along with the Pulse fal'Cie, Anima. The Pulse fal'Cie had been contained within the Pulsian relic that had been a local landmark and a curiosity as an artifact from another world, known as the Pulse Vestige.
One of the many onboard a Purge train is Lightning, a former Guardian Corps soldier who seeks to reach Anima and save her younger sister, Serah Farron. Ten days prior, Serah had accidentally come into contact with the fal'Cie, nobody knowing it had been residing in the vestige, and become a Pulse l'Cie. She is now being held captive by Anima in the Pulse Vestige. Accompanying her is Sazh Katzroy, a civilian airship pilot with a secret reason for pursuing the fal'Cie.
They stop the train and fight their way through the Hanging Edge as the Purge's true nature is revealed: instead of a forced migration to Gran Pulse as the Sanctum had everyone believe, it's a genocide being committed in secret. Elsewhere, Snow Villiers and his friends in the rebel group NORA rally the deportees in a rebellion against PSICOM as he is also trying to rescue Serah, as she is his fiancée. Two youths caught up in the chaos, Hope Estheim and Vanille, become involved when Hope's mother, Nora Estheim, joins Snow's resistance army and dies under his care, prompting the two to pursue him.
The five come together in the Pulse Vestige, where they find Serah. She urges Lightning to save Cocoon before entering crystal stasis, a crystal sleep a l'Cie enters upon fulfilling their Focus. Lightning believes Serah is dead while Snow refuses to give up the hope she will awaken someday, believing the legend that states that l'Cie who fulfill their Focus gain eternal life. Seeking vengeance on Anima, Lightning heads into Anima's Throne to destroy the fal'Cie responsible for Serah's fate.
As Lightning, Snow, and Sazh face Anima, PSICOM forces blast the Pulse Vestige and everything in it to pieces. Upon Anima's defeat, the party is transported into an otherworldly realm where the god Pulse transforms Lightning and her companions into l'Cie, showing them a dream-like vision of their Focus involving the capital city of Eden and Ragnarok, a mythical beast of legend said to have attacked Cocoon 600 years ago in the War of Transgression. An energy wave disperses from the Vestige and destroys the Hanging Edge. The party falls toward Lake Bresha below but survives due to Anima crystallizing the area in its death throes.
Now enemies of the state, the newly-branded l'Cie assume their Focus is to destroy Cocoon, although Snow insists it to be Serah's wish to save it. They set off to escape the area and come across Serah's crystallized form that has become part of the crystallized lake. Snow chooses to stay by Serah's side while the others seek to outrun pursuit as PSICOM is hunting them and other Purge survivors. The party splits with Snow staying to dig out Serah, while Lightning and rest head to the ruins of an old city at the lake's edge, where they come across an airship left by a PSICOM patrol.
After nearly being killed by a PSICOM platoon sent to exterminate him, Snow's desperation causes the Shiva Sisters to manifest in front of him. After subduing them, he receives his Eidolon, mysterious otherworldly beings that only l'Cie can tame. Then he's captured along with Serah's crystal by another Pulse l'Cie, Oerba Yun Fang, as well as Rygdea and other members of the Cavalry, a division of the Guardian Corps.
Sazh pilots the stolen airship through the blockade. While onboard, the group views a live newscast interviewing Galenth Dysley about the ongoing operation being carried out by PSICOM after the "success" of the Purge. The airship is shot down by PSICOM pursuit and crashes in the Vile Peaks. The party splits after a disagreement on their Focus: Sazh and Vanille wish to flee from their pursuers, but Lightning is intent on getting revenge by destroying the Sanctum and the fal'Cie Eden said to be in control of it. Accompanied by Hope, she intends to travel through the Gapra Whitewood, his hometown of Palumpolum, and take a train to Eden, the heart of the Sanctum government.
As she and Hope trek through the remainder of the Vile Peaks, the pressure of keeping Hope safe and dealing with the enemy soldiers take their toll on Lightning and she snaps at him for being unable to keep up with her. The Eidolon Odin appears and attacks Hope as if to force her to choose between her mission and him. Together they bring the Eidolon under control, and Lightning resolves to help Hope toughen up as they continue on their mission together.
Snow and Serah's crystal are taken aboard the Cavalry's headquarters, the airship Lindblum, where their leader, Cid Raines, asks Snow to help him find the other l'Cie so together they could free the people of Cocoon from the fal'Cie rule. While passing through the Gapra Whitewood, Lightning learns about Hope's mother and the boy's belief that her death was Snow's fault. Hope reveals he followed Lightning to gain battle experience and become strong enough to face Snow and forms "Operation Nora," his plan for revenge. Although Lightning tries to convince Hope it was the Sanctum that killed his mother and not Snow, Hope vows to make both Snow and the Sanctum pay for her death. To dissuade Hope from his goal of revenge, Lightning suggests Hope talks with his father in Palumpolum.
After making their way out of the Vile Peaks, Sazh and Vanille travel through the Sunleth Waterscape towards Nautilus. Sazh confesses why he went to the Hanging Edge: his son, Dajh Katzroy, was made a Sanctum l'Cie by the Cocoon fal'Cie Kujata during the incident at Euride Gorge while Sazh and his son were there as tourists. Sazh suspected Dajh's Focus was to destroy Anima when the boy had sensed the Pulse Vestige in Bodhum and caused the Purge, having gained the ability to sense Pulsian beings. To save Dajh from becoming a Cie'th, a mindless shambling monster a l'Cie becomes if they fail their Focus, Sazh boarded the Purge train with Lightning to try and complete Dajh's Focus for him. Unbeknownst to Sazh, Vanille knows more about the Euride incident than she lets on.
Arriving in Palumpolum, Hope leads Lightning underground to slip past the soldiers occupying the city. Lightning realizes she has been running away from reality by making the Sanctum her enemy and she now has Hope following suit. She tells him to end Operation Nora and talk with his dad. Hope's relationship with his father is strained and he feels Lightning is abandoning him, but she assures him she won't. Returning to the surface, Lightning and Hope are surrounded by PSICOM troops. They are saved by Snow and Fang and the l'Cie are separated in the chaos with Lightning and Fang in one group and Snow and Hope in another.
Fang reveals to Lightning that she is Vanille's friend and looking to reunite with her, the true reason she is helping the Cavalry. Fang also discloses she and Vanille are not only Pulse l'Cie but citizens of Gran Pulse, having received their Focus there long ago and entered crystal stasis. They awoke in Cocoon within the Pulse Vestige 13 days ago, starting the chain of events that led Cocoon into chaos. Fang's l'Cie brand is different than the others', white and unchanging, meaning she doesn't have to worry about being turned into a Cie'th. However, as Vanille's brand is still active, Fang seeks to complete their Focus whatever it may be to prevent Vanille from becoming a Cie'th. Fang apologizes to Lightning, saying that she and Vanille were indirectly responsible for Serah becoming a l'Cie. Serah had discovered the open door to the vestige after the pair had departed, and Anima, dissatisfied with Fang and Vanille's progress, had been seeking new l'Cie. Fang assures Lightning that someday Serah will awaken from crystal stasis and explains how a l'Cie's brand advances to show how long they have until they become Cie'th.
Elsewhere, Hope confronts Snow about his mother's death, intending on taking his revenge. His plans are foiled when a PSICOM warmech attacks them and Snow saves Hope from further harm by cushioning their fall from the rooftops. Snow apologizes for what happened to Nora and the two settle their differences. Fang, Lightning, Hope, and Snow are reunited and head to the Estheim Residence where Snow recovers from his injuries while Hope informs his father of Nora's fate and repairs his relationship with him.
While the party is busy formulating a plan to deal with the Sanctum, PSICOM officer Yaag Rosch arrives with his troops. Snow tries to make them realize they wish to protect Cocoon and demands the Purge be stopped, as Palumpolum is now also being Purged due to them being discovered there. Yaag claims the lives of Pulse l'Cie are not worth the risk of sparing, and that the Purge was demanded by the populace. After a confrontation with an attack shuttle, Snow, Lightning, Hope, and Fang are rescued by Rygdea and taken onboard the Lindblum with help from Cid.
Sazh and Vanille arrive at Nautilus, an amusement park, where they watch a newsflash regarding the events in Palumpolum and the Pompa Sancta parade, a dramatic re-enactment of the War of Transgression. Tired of running, Sazh decides to turn himself in for a chance of seeing his son one last time. Vanille protests and is about to reveal the truth about the Euride incident when Jihl Nabaat, PSICOM's supreme commander, arrives with a PSICOM platoon and Dajh, who has been kept in PSICOM custody to discern his Focus.
Upon reuniting with Sazh, Dajh turns to crystal and his Focus is revealed to be the capture of Pulse l'Cie. Jihl shows security footage from Euride Gorge and reveals the truth behind the incident: Dajh's transformation into a l'Cie was the result of Vanille and Fang's threat towards Kujata that had turned the nearest person, Dajh, into a l'Cie to protect itself. Furious, Sazh confronts Vanille, triggering the appearance of his Eidolon, Brynhildr, which he brings under control with Vanille's help. In his grief, Sazh tries to shoot himself but is unable to do so, prompting the PSICOM soldiers to take him and Vanille into custody. They are taken aboard the Palamecia to be transported to Eden for live execution.
During their imprisonment, Vanille reveals her origins to Sazh: She and Fang became l'Cie to fight Cocoon during the War of Transgression centuries ago and entered crystal stasis on Pulse. Twelve days before the Purge, they awoke in Cocoon but Fang had lost her memory of their previous Focus. Not wanting any more people getting hurt because of them, Vanille lied and pretended to have also lost her memory and has been running from her fate ever since. Deeming themselves Cocoon's enemies and their Focus therefore linked to harming it, Fang suggested the two of them attack Kujata, a fal'Cie in Euride Gorge that provides electricity for Cocoon, to possibly recover their memories of their Focus. During the ruckus, Dajh was made a l'Cie and Vanille and Fang got separated, and they have been searching for each other ever since.
Upon learning of Sazh and Vanille's incarceration, Lightning and the rest mount a rescue mission with help from Cid and the Cavalry. They board the Palamecia using a stolen PSICOM shuttle, but their ruse is discovered. Sazh and Vanille escape their holding cell, recover their weapons, and fight their way through the ship. The l'Cie are reunited on a forward portion of the Palamecia's exterior, and, using one of PSICOM's militarized wyverns, head to the bridge. They face Galenth Dysley who kills Jihl and the entire bridge crew. Dismissing the l'Cie's assumption that he is one of them, Dysley reveals his true form as the fal'Cie Barthandelus, the true master of Cocoon and a fal'Cie master of illusion.
After suffering defeat at the hands of the l'Cie, Barthandelus reveals the l'Cie's Focus is to become Ragnarok and destroy Orphan, the fal'Cie that powers all the other fal'Cie in Cocoon and holds it afloat over Pulse. Barthandelus claims Serah's Focus was to gather them to be made l'Cie so they could bring about Cocoon's destruction, a revelation that cripples Snow. Barthandelus departs, leaving behind his familiar Menrva to serve as an airship for them to escape from the now-sinking battlecruiser. The l'Cie make their escape, avoiding pursuit from Yaag Rosch onboard the Proudclad, ending up inside the Fifth Ark hidden underneath Eden. Fang and Vanille recall a legend concerning the purpose of the Arks, armories and training grounds for l'Cie, and are surprised to find one in Cocoon.
The l'Cie's powers are fully awoken. Deeper inside the Ark they come face-to-face with Cid Raines who reveals himself a Sanctum l'Cie and how every action of the l'Cie had been orchestrated by Barthandelus. He explains the fal'Cie desire Cocoon's destruction to summon the Maker, the creator of both fal'Cie and the world so the world would be reborn. Sanctum fal'Cie are built for the maintenance of Cocoon and are thus unable to perform the deed themselves. Cid attacks the l'Cie to stop them from destroying Cocoon but is defeated and turns to crystal despite defying his Focus, puzzling everyone.
Shaken by the turn of events, the l'Cie reach a dead end. Snow decides to follow Cid's example and forget their Focus and fulfill Serah's final wish of saving Cocoon. While everyone else agrees, Fang turns on them, proclaiming that even though they might wish to save Cocoon she would rather follow their Focus to destroy it than see any of her friends become a Cie'th for defying it. Fang unwittingly summons Bahamut, and brings it under her control with the others' help, reluctantly agreeing to follow with their plan. The l'Cie discover a new path following Bahamut's "taming" and a Pulsian airship at the end, which they use to travel through a portal leading to Gran Pulse.
The airship is attacked by a wild wyvern in the skies above Gran Pulse and the l'Cie become stranded in the valley of Vallis Media. The party searches Gran Pulse for days looking for a way to remove their brands, but find no traces of human life. Sazh's Chocobo Chick warns the party that Hope's l'Cie brand is advancing and he has fallen unconscious. They bring Hope back to the base camp and Vanille suggests they go to Oerba, her and Fang's hometown. Hope wakes up and tells them he should remain behind because he would only slow everyone down, but his Eidolon Alexander is summoned and brought under his control. After Hope is given newfound strength, the l'Cie come to believe the true purpose of the Eidolons is to give l'Cie hope instead of freeing them through death.
Discovering a path to the Archylte Steppe, the l'Cie begin their journey to Oerba. Along the way, Vanille claims she became Ragnarok during the War of Transgression and cracked Cocoon's shell as her previous Focus. While traversing the Mah'habara Subterra, Fang bluffs about remembering her past Focus to coax a confession out of Vanille. Fang claims she was the one who became Ragnarok and scarred Cocoon. Vanille tries to deny it, but the shock from having her deepest lie exposed causes her Eidolon Hecatoncheir to appear, confirming Fang's suspicions. Vanille and Fang defeat it, after which Vanille resolves to come to terms with her fate and stop running.
The l'Cie traverse the remainder of the Mah'habara mines and use the fal'Cie Atomos to reach the Sulyya Springs, where Vanille speculates Barthandelus lied to them about Serah's Focus, and that she had overcome her Focus and turned to crystal of her own will as Cid had. They reach Taejin's Tower, a crumbling mechanical tower where the fal'Cie Dahaka makes its home. The Menhirrim there help them destroy the errant fal'Cie and reach the top of the tower from where the l'Cie ride a capsule down to the slopes of Oerba. They find the village covered in a blanket of snow-like crystal dust and infested with Cie'th. At the end of a crumbling railway overpass, the l'Cie are shocked to find Serah waiting for them.
Serah implores the l'Cie to become Ragnarok and destroy Orphan, but they refuse. She abandons the disguise and assumes Barthandelus's human form. The fal'Cie explains the reason Cocoon was created: the fal'Cie, desiring to summon the Maker, need a sacrifice large enough to attract the Maker's attention and that the deaths of Cocoon's inhabitants would cause a large enough disturbance in "the great beyond" for it to happen. The l'Cie engage Barthandelus in battle, determined to prevent this atrocity from being committed.
After defeating him Barthandelus gloats how the citizens of Cocoon are fighting among themselves now that the resurrected Cid has become the new Primarch, angering the Cavalry for his supposed betrayal. He claims the Cavalry is mounting an attack to destroy Orphan under the belief it would free Cocoon from the fal'Cie rule, and the l'Cie have a choice: destroy Orphan themselves or let the people of Cocoon destroy it. He leaves behind another airship and returns to Cocoon to oversee the final stages of his plan.
The l'Cie find an ancient record telling the War of Transgression's aftermath: the reason Fang hadn't destroyed Cocoon was that the goddess Etro, a deity whose worship was once prominent on Gran Pulse, intervened and turned her and Vanille to crystal before they could. Vanille and Fang's crystals were placed inside the Pulse Vestige to honor Anima, the fal'Cie they had served. Barthandelus brought the Vestige into Cocoon so the two could finish the job when they awoke. The party decides to return to Cocoon and either save Orphan or die trying. They board the airship and use a portal in Pulse's atmosphere to return to Cocoon.
Eden under siegeEdit
The l'Cie disrupt an ongoing race in Eden with their Eidolons, causing mass panic among the spectators and the deployment of a full PSICOM battalion along with the resident Guardian Corps unit. Barthandelus uses transgates to warp Pulse creatures and automata from both the surface of Gran Pulse and within the Fifth Ark into the city, causing mass hysteria. The l'Cie fight their way through soldiers and monsters alike while the Cavalry infiltrates the Primarch's office. Cid, no longer under the thrall of Barthandelus, tells Rygdea the latter's actions will lead Cocoon into ruin. At his request, Rygdea shoots Cid, ending his torment, and leads the Cavalry to confront Orphan at Edenhall, the seat of the Sanctum's power.
The citizens take shelter at Edenhall where the l'Cie spot crystal shards floating in the air. An illusion of Barthandelus appears telling them the shards are the souls of the departed, and their presence signals the appearance of the Door of Souls and the Maker's inevitable return and tells them he has their "loved ones" captive. The Calvary soldiers and PSICOM troopers in their vicinity turn into Sacrifice Cie'th, the result of Barthandelus branding them l'Cie without giving them a Focus. They are confronted by Yaag Rosch, who, after being defeated for the second time, helps the l'Cie by ordering his soldiers to evacuate the city rather than search for the l'Cie. Rosch detonates the Proudclad's wreckage, sacrificing himself to ensure the l'Cie won't be followed into Orphan's Cradle, an alternate dimension serving as the true command center of Cocoon.
Inside Orphan's Cradle, the l'Cie discover the remainder of the Calvary soldiers has been converted into Cie'th. Guided by the fal'Cie Eden, they arrive at the Narthex, Orphan's resting place where they meet Barthandelus. Barthandelus destroys Serah's and Dajh's crystallized forms and commands the l'Cie to fulfill their destiny by destroying Orphan, thereby cutting the power fueling Cocoon's functions and causing it to crash onto the surface of the lowerworld. The l'Cie see through Barthandelus's illusions, and Barthandelus engages them in battle only to be defeated and sent sinking into a pool of liquid. Menrva, Dysley's familiar, dives into the pool allowing Barthandelus to rise as the protective shell surrounding the dormant fal'Cie Orphan.
The l'Cie fight Orphan's first form that has merged with Barthandelus, but fail to destroy him. Growing frustrated, Orphan reveals the reason fal'Cie make l'Cie: Each fal'Cie was created by the Maker for a defined purpose and given finite power to accomplish the task, but humans have infinite potential to be anything they want to be through sheer willpower and determination. Thus fal'Cie make l'Cie to partake in the power inherent in humankind.
Orphan tortures Vanille to force Fang to transform into Ragnarok. Seeing no way out of their situation Fang submits, but the others try to stop her. She overpowers them, causing everyone except her and Vanille to turn into Cie'th. Fang is attacked by the shambling remnants of her companions, triggering her transformation into an incomplete version of Ragnarok. Fang's Ragnarok is unable to destroy Orphan; only the outer shield dissipates before Fang reverts.
Orphan revives Fang and tortures her to force her to transform into Ragnarok once more while a helpless Vanille watches her friend suffer. Meanwhile, Lightning, Snow, Sazh, and Hope relive the memories of their journey and find the strength of will to revert, though they believe their Cie'th forms were another fal'Cie illusion. As Vanille prepares to make a stand against Orphan, the others fire magic spells at it and save Fang from the fal'Cie, who sinks into the pool.
After giving themselves the Focus of saving Cocoon rather than destroying it, the party's l'Cie brands burn out and turn white. Orphan's true form rises from the pool and reveals it shares the same desire as Barthandelus to summon the Maker, even if it means its death. As Orphan has shown its true colors as an enemy of Cocoon and believing that if they can destroy Cocoon, they can also save it, the l'Cie destroy Orphan.
The dawn of a new eraEdit
With Orphan's demise, the rest of Cocoon's fal'Cie shut down as the now-powerless structure descends towards Gran Pulse. Finding themselves back in Eden as Orphan's Cradle vanishes, Lightning, Snow, Hope, and Sazh float away and begin to crystallize. Fang and Vanille join hands to summon Ragnarok's true form and create a column of lava to engulf the surface of Cocoon and slow its descent. Ragnarok crystallizes the lava by summoning the crystal dust from the ruins of Oerba, leaving Cocoon supported by a massive crystal pillar entrenched on Pulse's surface. Their Focus fulfilled, Lightning, Hope, Sazh, and Snow are crystallized on Gran Pulse's surface.
Through an unknown force, Lightning and her companions wake up from their crystal sleep. Finding their l'Cie brands gone, the group is reunited with Serah and Dajh, who were also revived and are normal humans again. While the Cocoon survivors rally around the remaining military units as they see Gran Pulse for the first time, Hope takes a moment to mourn for Fang and Vanille while Lightning gives Serah her blessing to marry Snow. Within the core of the crystal pillar holding Cocoon above Gran Pulse, the crystallized forms of Vanille and Fang float, still holding hands, their Focus complete.