Monday, May 9, 2011

Final Fantasy VI: Characters and Story

(The images in this post, while totally irrelevant to the rest of the text, are from the incredible romhack Awful Fantasy. Originally posted on December 13, 2010 at my personal blog.)

The day we had that killer7 conversation we also had a REALLY LONG conversation about FF6, how it works and how it doesn't, and why we love it despite its problems. We approached that game from a lot of angles and talked about it for a really long time, so this will probably be equally as long and rambling.

Disclaimer: I haven't played FF6 in a long time. I've been playing through the Awful Fantasy romhack of it recently, but yeah I should probably go back and replay the original sometime soon if I'm going to talk about it like this.

I think the starting point of it was talking about the huge amount of characters and discussing which ones were actually important to the plot. I wrote them all out on a sheet of notebook paper and we started crossing off people who could have been excised without disrupting the story; by the time we were done, all we had left were Terra, Locke, Sabin and Edgar. Characters who resided in a grey area included Celes, Cyan (I felt he had a lot more motivation than some of the other characters to fight against the Empire) and Setzer, although Locke could have just like stolen the airship. Everyone else is kinda only tangentially related to the plot, although it's interesting to note that there's an entire group of characters (Strago, Relm and Shadow) based around Shadow's little subplot, which is neat. Personally, a lot of my favorites in this game are some of the "extra" characters, like Mog, Gogo and Strago, so the fact that they're filler or whatnot isn't even really a bad thing. More importantly, I think, almost all of the characters are distinct, fun and well-written. As a whole, they're probably the most lighthearted gang in the series.

On the flip side, though, I would be really interested in seeing some kind of reimagining of FF6 where you just have a party of Terra, Locke, Sabin and Edgar throughout the entire game. They're a well-rounded team just by themselves, and they've got a really nice spread of personality types, I think. (Now that I think about it, I wonder if Sabin is actually as important as the others. He's really important near the beginning of the game, at least.)

Celes gets an entire paragraph to herself because that's the one part of the game I think is really, truly bad: its entire portrayal of Celes. The game tells us she's an ex-general in the empire and should be really important, but her special ability is mostly useless (and it's really passive! she just stands there and absorbs shit!), the first time you see her she's chained up getting beaten by grunt soldiers, and then there's the entire opera sequence, which is meant to riff off of her general-ness, except that we haven't seen any of her general-ness so it falls flat. DC brought up the fact that she tries to kill herself later just because an old guy dies, but I don't mind that since I think that's actually the only one of her sequences that makes sense: of course she'd want to kill herself after Kefka throws everything the toilet, who wouldn't.

I end up feeling really bad for Celes, because whenever a character who should be cool turns out to be really lackluster, it doesn't really feel like their fault. She's just really clumsily written.

But maybe that's the point, you know? Like, compare her to Terra, who starts out being a pawn in the Empire's game and turns out to be the most powerful, tempering her destructive potential with her love for other people. Celes' arc seems like it should be the opposite of that, except that the powerful general has already fallen from grace by the time we see her in the game. Both Celes and Terra's character development in the World of Ruin mirror each other, too, with Celes only finding strength to go on after she is alone in the world, compared to Terra's orphan brood giving her a reason to go on. I dunno, I find it hard to believe that Square thought it out that well, but it's something to chew on.

Switching tracks to the general story for a second, one thing I think what FF6 has going for it the most is how simple its plot is. It starts off as Star Wars/monomyth and then it explodes into a survival/revenge story, which are some of the most well-known story templates there are. The simplicity of Kefka himself helps, too--the story doesn't mess around with trying to explain why he's so evil, he just is, and he never lets you forget it. He's basically the Joker and it makes the story feel equally comic booky, where it's focused more on actually going around and doing stuff in the present rather than exploring the origins and motivations of every character in the game. It's something that definitely changes with the later Final Fantasy games, which seem to tangle themselves up with character studies and origin stories. The overall effect is that FF6's story reads like the summer blockbuster of Final Fantasy games, kind of the People's Final Fantasy. It's something everyone can grasp, whether you're an adult or a teenager or a young kid growing up with the SNES.

(enig raised the idea of how neat it would be if we could learn more about Kefka's rise to power, which I think would be awesome if it were well implemented. she also told me about the Ultimania Book, which was basically the in-house bible for Final Fantasy while it was being developed.)

A little ending tangent: compare it to Final Fantasy IV, which is more like a rousing romance (in the classical sense, although it also has one of the more convincing romances in Final Fantasy, I think) that kind of unravels near the end. You have Cecil's horrific acts and his redemption/identity crisis, and then the dashing rescue of your girlfriend, which is simple enough, but towards the end of the game suddenly you have to go to the moon and also this old moon magician is your relative and golbez is really your brother and who the fuck is this zemus guy why is he the final boss. Both Final Fantasy V and VI (V especially, with its throwback find-the-crystals plot) feel like reactions to how relatively complicated IV is. Still, though, I have a real fondness for how classical IV's themes are, like Cecil's redemption and coming to terms with himself, his friend turning on him, the rescue of Rosa, and the expanding, grand scale of the story. It's really exhilarating to play.

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