Note: Be warned that there will be uncensored spoilers in this opinion piece.
Second Note: This article is merely my own expositions, interpretations and theories about the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos, and it is every reader's prerogative to agree or disagree as they choose.
Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy
It's a mythos that spans generations, a mythos inspired by multiple sources, a mythos that, in one way or another, has become a little bit confused. Alongside that Fabula Nova Crystallis is a series that Square Enix has been giving to the public since 2006, although the frequency of their release has been sporadic and subject to the whims of commercial trends and internal disputes. As to the mythos, I have seen too many times someone trying to explain it on a site, but too often they have stuck with what Square Enix officially said during their 2011 conference without going deeper into the mythos presented in the games. So, I'm going to try and connect the dots, expand on certain points, and also introduce theories about the mythos.
Understanding the original mythos can be something of a problem as we have not got any access to the original mythology book written by Kazushige Nojima. And there is also an interesting side-note that must not be forgotten: the mythos was designed to be freely interpreted by the creators of its games. So the rough mythos may persist, but there can be marked changes in names and the shape certain creatures take. There are a few constants that I will innumerate, but for now, let's remind ourselves of the mythos, so you won't get anymore lost than you already are.
Fantasy spawned from RealityEdit
Note: Though most of this article is bald fact, I have written the mythos itself in a more florid style. It makes for easier reading.
In the beginning, there were two deities: Mwynn and Bhunivelze. These two deities had polarized ideals; Mwynn wanted balance, while Bhunivelze wanted total control over the world, which had been born as a place split between two plains, the Visible and Unseen Realms. Mwynn saw the spirits and the swirling void which lay beyond the material realm, while her son was blind to it. Bhunivelze fought and killed his mother, who faded away into the Unseen Realm. Bhunivelze, victorious in his battle, was in control of the Visible World. But even in this victory, the god was troubled. He was sure that Mwynn had left a curse of mortality on the Visible Realm and him, so he decided to find the doorway to the Unseen Realm, destroy his mother completely and gain control of both worlds, ridding himself of the curse. To accomplish this, he created new beings assigned to carry out his will. And so the next generation of deities were born.
First, Bhunivelze created Pulse, to whom he gave the task of terraforming the Visible Realm and finding the door to the Unseen Realm. To assist, Bhunivelze then created Etro, but, through some trick of fate or as an unconscious warning, Etro was formed in the shape of her mother. In fear of this child, Bhunivelze gave her no powers, discarding her in favor of a different deity. This third new deity, meant to replace Etro, the god named Lindzei. This one was to be his protector and to summon him when the Day of Reckoning came. With this done and to postpone his death, Bhunivelze returned to his true crystal form and allowed Pulse and Lindzei to carry out their tasks. But fate had other things in store for these two gods. Driven by their assigned tasks, the deities created beings of crystal and magic to perform their tasks until the appointed time. These beings, gifted with immortality like their masters, were named the fal’Cie. Etro, alas, was powerless, and thus did nothing but watch. She, the deity created to assist the mighty Pulse, was left to wander the world in loneliness.
Desperate, she tried to call out to her father and tore at herself, spilling her blood on the new worlds. As the deity without divine power faded away, Lindzei saw Etro’s blood as a source of creation and fashioned a strange new race from it: Humans. These creatures would act as the deity’s tools for breaking down the gate to the Unseen Realm. Pulse would also use these creatures, born only to die and pass into the Chaos. Meanwhile, the powerless Etro had herself passed beyond, but ended up in a between realm. This place, the netherworld of Valhalla, was the border between the Visible and Unseen Realms, where the solidity of the living met the timeless nothingness of the Chaos. Etro wandered the endless wastes until she heard the call of Mwynn. Etro rushed to the goddess’ side only to see her sinking forever into the void of Chaos. The darkness was threatening to engulf everything, and Mwynn gave Etro the sacred charge to keeping the balance between the Visible and Unseen Realms. As the voice of the first goddess faded away, Etro was left without understanding of her task. Even as she pondered Mwynn’s words, she felt the humans crafted from her blood: these too were destined to die and return to the Unseen Realm. These, her children, shared her fate of death. So she took pity on them.
Humans were little more than dolls to be used and discarded at their inception, but Etro granted her children the greatest of gifts. She bestowed upon each of them a piece of Chaos, to rest within them and return to Valhalla through the Unseen Gate. From there, they would sink into the abyss of the Chaos, and after a time, Etro would bring them back again and send them into the Visible Realm, to inhabit a new body and hold a new name. These fragments of Chaos were called 'heart', cradling their 'soul'. So things are. Pulse searched Land, Sea and Sky, and is called 'Ruler'. Lindzei guards the greatest deity as is called 'Protector'. Etro waits beyond to guide our souls, and is the Goddess of Death. And Bhunivelze sleeps in crystal until the end of time.
Reality based in FantasyEdit
Right, now you've got the mythos in mind, let's get to the tricky stuff. First, the most confusing element: the deities and their relation to the Visible and Unseen Realms.
One of the main pulls of the mythos for me was that the exact forms of the universe's deities has been left deliberately ambiguous, and with very good reason. The minds behind the mythos wanted people to create their own images of the deities of the world. But was there any such constraint about their exact roles? No, and yet many who enjoy the series have asked repeated questions about that. Like, where did Mwynn come from? Well, she was likely born directly from the primordial Chaos, the Void that existed before anything else. And she almost certainly created the world ex nihilo, like so many other real-world mythologies. Some might also raise issue about how she was able to have a son without a spouse. But, as many will doubtless know, many deities across the world have joined in the activity of self-generated births (Zeus and Hera did it with varying results) and/or virgin births (need I say more). Ultimately, Mwynn serves little purpose in the mythos but to provide a source for Bhunivelze's passionate want to live and Etro's determination to keep the balance between the mortal and Unseen Realms. Mwynn has never been seen or spoken of in any of the games so far, aside from being the name of a Fragment in Final Fantasy XIII-2 and a vague allusion in the Japanese version of Lightning Returns.
Now for that spontaneous son, creation of the first deity. Bhunivelze, the heir to Mwynn's realm. What are we to make of a deity that, in many people's minds, has become the main villain of the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos, a slightly demonic figure? Well, first off, that he isn't really demonic: he's just driven by the urge that is in virtually everything that exists, which is the want to live. Admittedly, he was jealous of Mwynn's power and took drastic steps to seize it for himself, but that might have come back to haunt him. More than likely, his fear of death was nothing more than a reaction to his act of patricide. After all, he was a deity, and could probably have "[lived] forever barring accidents", so his pursuit of Mwynn into the afterlife, his creation of the other deities, his thirst to stay alive, I feel all of that stemmed from a gnawing sense of guilt and regret. The fear of death, which turned into fear and hatred of his mother (and indirectly of Etro) can thus be seen as an extreme state of denial at his own guilty act. Added to that is his seeming inability to understand Chaos: he sees it as a corrupting force, something that should not exist in the world.
Most of his attitudes can be seen in Lightning Returns. His hatred for and callous attitude towards humanity can also stem from both his ignorance about Chaos, his fear of death and the hatred of his mother, as he probably saw all three incarnated in them, and (in Lightning Returns) purging them of their emotions to live blissfully in a new world was the only way he could erase that image from them. Perhaps it was also the only way he could erase his own guilt. However, at the bitter end, he did see a need to maintain the balance between the worlds, but even then he would not entrust it to someone so emotional and impulsive as his discarded second child, but that's something else.
Pulse is far less of a mystery than any of the other deities. I wonder if this has something to do with all the protagonists of Final Fantasy XIII being Pulse l'Cie? Never mind that. In the general set-up of the mythos, Pulse was created by Bhunivelze to seek in all possible areas for the way to the Unseen Realm. To this end, Pulse ended up creating the fal'Cie, beings that could, like their creators, live forever unless damaged beyond repair. Pulse is difficult to see into, as he seems to be even more a tool of divine whim than the fal'Cie. He may be a deity himself, but he's still the slave to a will imposed from higher up, making him (and Lindzei also) no different from fal'Cie or l'Cie. The reason why he simply upt and left seems to be that he retreated and simply kept ticking over while awaiting his creator's next demand, all the while allotting powers to those that the fal'Cie sent to him. As we know, Pulse was eventually called into action for his creator, and paid the ultimate price for his loyalty.
Things are a little different in Type-0: the most visible there is a deity's dispassionate attitude to what is basically a huge experiment, as seen in the actions of Arecia Al-Rashia. He also appears to imbibe his creations with more free will than in XIII. By her own will, she created Orience's crystals (in case there is any doubt, no l'Cie, who are branded by the crystals, bear anything but the brand of Pulse, and since Arecia is his agent...). Alternatively, Arecia could be a kind of physical manifestation or Avatar of Pulse's will, which would make her that world's form of Pulse. Here again, we see Pulse using the gentle method, using his agents to find the hosts for the fragments of Agito to find and open the door to the Unseen Realm. What kind of being she and the other higher "fal'Cie" of that world are is never clearly defined.
Lindzei is the perpetual mystery of the mythos, mostly because very little is said about her. Yes, "her". Admittedly, Lindzei is probably a variant of "Lindsey", which is a unisex given name, and her depictions definitely vary, but it's simpler to refer to specific incarnations by the gender of the forms they take. And since Lindzei is "Lindzei" in Final Fantasy XIII and she is called a succubus (female demon) more than once.. well, I'll leave the rest to you. This one is the more brutal of the deities created by Bhunivelze: while also charged with protecting her creator, she must also break down the barrier between the Worlds through force. And the only way to do that is to trick it into opening with a flood of newly-released souls, and the only way to produce that is through an act of genocide. In fact, this is probably why she forged humans from Etro's blood in the first place. She, like Pulse, probably retreated from the world to await her master's next command, and continue to protect him while he slumbered. And when called to aid him, she answered.
Lindzei's blood-thirsty attitude to fulfilling Bhunivelze's wishes can also be seen in Type-0 with the Lulusathian Judge, Gala: his armies arrive when the balance between the four countries is disrupted and start slaughtering people en mass: this tactic would likely force the Unseen Gate open eventually. As with Arecia, Gala holds slightly more free will than any standard fal'Cie, and appears to be on amicable speaking terms with Arecia (in sharp contrast to the combative attitude of the fal'Cie in the universe of Gran Pulse and Cocoon).
Etro, the discarded child, protector of the balance, the one that many people see as the truly benevolent figure of this twisting-and-turning mythos. But is she really as benevolent as we make her out to be? Let's just clarify: she was created and then discarded by Bhunivelze, made to have a task imposed upon her, then left out in the cold without task or powers. Little wonder she was driven over the edge by despair and killed herself; and from that piece of tragic serendipity, humanity was born. But then again, she always has been an impulsive creature, primarily because there was nothing to hold her back: no solid task to keep her quasi-emotions in check. And when in the chaotic Unseen Realm, she was even worse, although there she had the task of keeping the world's balance. In terms of that balance, Etro, I think, found a way of merging aspects of the two worlds while still keeping the Unseen Gate firmly shut. By putting a piece of Chaos in the heart of each human, she was ensuring that Chaos had as strong a hold on the mortal world as the immortal fal'Cie. But even that was an impulse on her part, because she felt a connection with her "children". Similar bad impulses included the gifts she bestowed upon Paddra Nsu-Yeul and Caius Ballad. That should have shown her the extent of the potential harm she could cause by acting outside her given task. But, as we all know, she couldn't let well enough alone, and her interference in the mortal world (certainly in the story of XIII) eventually led to disastrous consequences. In Type-0, she does not have a large role, but she is hinted to have a protective role in Orience. She is apparently mentioned in the Book of Void (the game's version of Analects), and according to Tabata, Etro watched over Machina Kunagiri during his reconstruction of Orience. So she is the same deity, still showing the same compassion towards her "children", but appears less meddlesome.
A last interesting point about the various deities is the names by which they are known. I don't mean the names they are given within the mythos, i.e. their true name. I mean the name that was given to them by the humans, or their old-fashioned designations of them as "God" and "Goddess". Of course, one term that can apply to them all is Maker. For humans, their Makers are Etro and Lindzei, for the fal'Cie their Makers are their respective deities, and for Pulse and Lindzei, their maker is Bhunivelze. Of course, it's easier just to think that, aside from all the misdirection the fal'Cie were doubtless subjected to, the one who stands out most as "Maker" is Bhunivelze, since he made the three other existing/surviving deities, and so indirectly made the world we know, the fal'Cie and humanity. This is supported by the fact that in the Japanese version of Final Fantasy XIII, the word "Maker" is substituted for "Kami", the Japanese word for "God" (which appears to be another of Bhunivelze's titles). The way I reason it (to make names less of a headache) is this: Mwynn is Creator, Bhunivelze is Maker, Pulse is Ruler, Lindzei is Protector, and Etro is the Goddess.
The true uniting factor in this chaotic universe is orphans, beings who are left behind by their creators to fend for themselves. This is true of humanity, who were born of Etro's blood and left to fend for themselves. This is true of the fal'Cie, whose deities abandoned them to wait for the End of Days. This is true of Etro herself, who was abandoned by her father because of her resemblance of Mwynn. This is, in a way, true of Pulse and Lindzei, who were left to do their duties, although they still have some connection to their Maker.
Those who wish for DeathEdit
The orphan characters that most obviously spring to mind are inevitably the fal'Cie, but humanity also counts. Both are children born of the original deities, then left to their own devises, both are caught up in the schemes of their creators, and many of both races, certainly the majority of humanity, exist either in ignorance of or rebellion against that higher cause. However, the fal'Cie's drive towards self-destruction is even more tragic as it has been built into them by their creators. They want to destroy themselves so they can meet their "Maker". However, as shows on a few occasions, the fal'Cie are not without some facet of free will: they created the pact of the l'Cie as a way of escaping the terms of their Focus, and one particular Gran Pulse fal'Cie seemed to show a want to protect its human companion from harm.
The crystal-form fal'Cie of Type-0 are little more than automatons, blindly obeying the orders of their creator, blessing (or cursing depending on your point of view) certain people of Orience with the powers needed to carry out their assigned task, and ultimately to find a way into the Unseen Realm. Their masters, Gala and Arecia Al-Rashia are similar beings fal'Cie, and consequently serve Bhunivelze's plan. Yet have a stronger independent will than many other fal'Cie. They play with the pieces in Orience, Arecia forms a definite bond with the members of Class Zero, and Gala is willing to call off the assault of the Lulusath Army on her say-so. Diva is a more atypical example of a "fal'Cie", as she is a neutral recorder and observer of the world.
Those who wish for FreedomEdit
Humans, and the l'Cie they are forced to become, are even more pawns in the divine game than the fal'Cie are, and resent it. This resentment and rebellious or hateful attitude towards the fal'Cie's "gift" is most present in Final Fantasy XIII, where to be a l'Cie is a curse, a fate worse than death, and for many death is a preferable alternative. However, some become l'Cie willingly to perform a task so important for them or protect someone or something so close to their heart that they feel anything is justified. The prime example of the former is Oerba Yun Fang, who willingly became a l'Cie (despite her hatred of her patron fal'Cie) and became Ragnarok to bring down the home of the enemy fal'Cie within the Lindzei-built moon of Cocoon. Even when her companion and friend Vanille backed out, Fang went ahead, not knowing that she was a fal'Cie tool herself. Snow Villiers is virtually the only example of the latter, with him taking on a fate he had once reviled to protect the people he cared about. Ultimately, this led to him becoming a pawn in divine schemes once again. Lightning also fits into all the categories of becoming a l'Cie: while she was forced to become a l'Cie in XIII, in XIII-2, she willingly became Etro's protector, binding herself to the Unseen Realm and taking on l'Cie-like powers, and in Lightning Returns, she acts as Bhunivelze's unwilling servant, saving souls to be reborn in a new world. Of course, there are times when a pawn can change their fate, provided a deity or a fal'Cie doesn't come along later and louse it all up.
L'Cie in Type-0 are a very different kettle of fish. They are chosen by the crystals of Orience as warriors to defend their homelands, or rather as warriors to defend the homeland's crystal. They live forever, and are worshiped as heroes by the common people, but they also have a freedom unlike many l'Cie from Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels. Those blessed by the crystals may choose to become l'Cie, or have it forced upon them, and people can wield magic from the crystals without taking on the l'Cie brand. However, being a l'Cie is not without risks: if one avoids their Focus, or ignores it, or even forgets it in the turmoil of constant war created by higher beings, they lose their memories, start even to lose their sanity, becoming no better than Orience's monsters. L'Cie can also transfer their focus and allegiance to others who are willing, a freedom not present in other games set within the mythos. You might be lulled into thinking that l'Cie have far more freedom in this world, but when you think on it, the freedom they have is all part of the vast experiment to open the Unseen Gate. This collection of random events is a gigantic process of trial and error where humans and l'Cie alike are expendable: so the l'Cie of Orience are just as much slaves to the divine as the l'Cie of Gran Pulse and Cocoon.
L'Cie in Final Fantasy Versus XIII, though not called that in the context of the world, appear to have been be even stranger than those in Type-0, mostly because of who allowed them to gain their powers. According to legend, when a person suffers a near-death experience, they see the light of souls going through the Unseen Gate, and likely see the Goddess Etro. Their powers are bestowed upon them after that, from the Unseen Realm. This begs the question: could Noctis and Stella, the only two named people to have this power, be holding a focus from Etro rather than any of the other deities?
In XV, Noctis and Lunafreya likewise hold mystical powers: these mainly appear to be linked to the heavens and stars, which in turn may be linked to the afterlife. Lunafreya in particular regularly holds communion with the gods to prevent the "Plague of the Stars" from spreading. Noctis' power still seems related to the realm of the dead, due to his powers to forsee the deaths of others.
The Eternal DreamEdit
Crystal stasis is the thing that no-one has properly explained, in any of the released games. While it may not be in XV, in the rest of the games within the series, it appears to be an ability linked strongly to the magical powers held within the world. It is most strongly seen in the original mythos when Bhunivelze enters crystal stasis to await the coming of the Day of Reckoning. This power also extends to the l'Cie: if they succeed in their task, they enter crystal stasis, essentially ceasing to age or move, both dreaming and conscious. And so the l'Cie is imprisoned for eternity. However, an essential thing to note is that crystal stasis is not linked to the will of the fal'Cie or their respective deities: l'Cie who have changed their Focus of their own will still enter crystal stasis, as seen multiple times in the series. The reason behind crystal stasis as one of the fates of a l'Cie seems to lie in the Eidolith they carry, the crystal that imbues them with their power and binds them to the fal'Cie. As stated in a Fragment in XIII-2, crystals form the core of the universe, help bind it together, are linked to the power of Chaos, and at their heart is Bhunivelze himself, a shining beacon of godly power. It appears that the Eidolith within them links them to Bhunivelze, and maybe this is his way of showing "gratitude" to his servants (not as a willed thing of course, just as a built-in thank-you message, which explains crystal stasis happening even when a l'Cie has defied their focus); but as we all know, a l'Cie can be given another Focus, and face an eternity of slavery. While in crystal stasis, they are incredibly vulnerable: as seen in XIII and Type-0, a l'Cie's crystalline form can be shattered, and thus they die. However, Lightning mentions "indestructible crystal" as her means of preserving the world and Serah's soul and memory in Etro's stead. It seems more than likely that "indestructible" was a purely figurative word in this instance, referring instead to crystal's incorruptibility, immune to the effects of Chaos. "Incorruptible crystal" might have been a better, less confusing line.
Day of ReckoningEdit
What's the End Game in all this? What is the ultimate goal of all these machinations, tragic guilt and long-term schemes involving such death and delusion? The ultimate goal for Bhunivelze, however stupid it might be, is to open the way to the Unseen World and achieve the final victory over Mwynn. That day could well have many names, but in one fragment in XIII-2, it is called the Day of Reckoning (which is another name for Judgement Day just so people know). There is little said in the games about this, but a lot is inferred, especially in Final Fantasy XIII. In that world, there are special arks created by Pulse to train warrior l'Cie and house special monsters and ships. They also seem to hold powers and substances inside them that, like the many fal'Cie, go against the order of the natural world. It is more than likely that these Arks are created to be fortresses. This theory seems reinforced by Lightning Returns, where Chaos appears to have created, either on its own or from the existing mammalian life of Gran Pulse, monstrous creatures which attack anything that might become a threat to them, i.e. the Savior herself or the general human population. So we can say that the Arks, the creatures created by the Pulse fal'Cie, and the many l'Cie that could be created at this time are weapons, an army to attack Mwynn in her stronghold. However, we all know what Bhunivelze will find. Still, the eventual conflict between the forces of Chaos and Bhunivelze's armies could also be called the Day of Reckoning. Eventually, in Lightning Returns, the Day of Reckoning did come, and it involved Bhunivelze facing a woman who was Mwynn, Etro, Chaos and the will of humanity combined into an unstoppable force against him.
In Type-0, there is not as much said about an end game, except the end game of the Milites Empire and its now-leader Cid Austine. But, from the general structure of the world and what we know about the general mythos, it seems to me that the Lulusath Army and the l'Cie of Orience's crystals will be Bhunivelze's soldiers to send against the supposed forces of Mwynn, an army contracted to him or his "children" to destroy the last remnant of either the threat to his power or his festering guilt. There is also a concept similar to the Savior in the form of the Agito, a powerful soul that would open the way for these "armies".
What about Final Fantasy XV?Edit
As is well established, Final Fantasy XV was once called Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and a solid part of Fabula Nova Crystallis. Since then, all terminology and associated marketing has been removed, but there are still trace elements to be seen through thematic and design connections.
The backstory of why the so-called Starscourge occurs seems to focus around a war between deities, similar to the infighting that goes on between the fal'Cie and their masters. The Crystal is granted to humanity by the gods to bring prosperity, promoting the growth of civilization. Crystalline shards are also seen frequently, correlating with scenes revolving around death and its relation to magic. The concept of Chaos is vaguely referenced visually, with key scenes and the appearance of Daemons and their master all reflecting its most recognizable form: after her death, Lunafreya's spirit is even seen falling into a sea of black smoke, bringing back memories of the Sea of Chaos. There is also an afterlife, and the concept of dream worlds is heavily references in both the ending of XV and the entirety of Platinum Demo.
Predestined paths play a crucial role in the overall story. the Caelum and Fleuret lines are chosen by the gods to fulfill a greater purpose. Noctis and Lunafreya's family would serve a similar role to l'Cie, people carrying out the will of the gods. There is also the figure of Ardyn: he was initially one of the Crystal's chosen, but he was discarded and sought rebellion and revenge. Rendered immortal by the Daemon force, he is effectively insane, and his only peace is brought through death. He's basically the equivalent of a Cie'th: a monster whose divine blessing is forsaken and allowed to run wild.
Also, there's the Astrals. We still don't know where they fit into this for certain. At least we don't know at the moment. The Astral Leviathan refers to places higher and greater than the world of Eos, and since they are possibly the makers of Eos, who made them? If we're still thinking in Fabula Nova Crystallis terms, then the most likely candidate would be Etro: she has been previously associated with pre-destination and prophecy, her powers gifted to humans have a detrimental effect on the body as in the case of both Lunafreya and Noctis, and the Astrals push to preserve the world rather than furthering its demise as servants of Pulse or Lindzei might; with the exception of Ifrit, who despises mankind. In this scenario, Ifrit can be seen as a traitor. The final scene has Noctis sacrificing himself, the power of the Lucii, and the Crystal to purge the world of the Starscourge. This essentially break's Eos' link with wider magic, while the surviving Astrals would likely return to slumber or even retreat into the netherworld.
I hope you better understand the internal workings of the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos. And you are perfectly entitled not to agree. Ultimately, this mythos is one of supreme tragedy: a universe reliant on death for its continued existence, deities living in a delusion or tormented by their inescapable faults and facets, demigods and humans being used as tools for these deites' dreams of immortality, the ultimate form of death waiting for them should they succeed, and the struggles of humanity, the orphaned children of Etro, to keep the world ticking over, assert their own will, and forge their own destinies.