In the last article, we took a look into the brooding and tortured heroes of Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI. I didn’t touch Final Fantasy V because while those characters have their issues and even deal with tragedy, they aren’t nearly as tortured. The characters also don’t seem nearly as fleshed out as the characters in the other two Super Famicom/NES games. Maybe it’s just because I never really cared for the story and haven’t really taken a closer look at it. Maybe in a future article.
In the late 90s, the Final Fantasy series jumped to the new 32 bit Sony PlayStation. Gone were the charming sprite based characters, replaced with ugly polygonal balloon people…at least for Final Fantasy VII, (They’re still charming in their own way) while Final Fantasy VIII attempted a more realistic approach that looked great for the time. While the visuals changed, the melodramatic characters did not. Final Fantasy IX has it’s own tortured characters, but for now, we’ll be looking at the first two PlayStation releases.
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII starts in dramatic fashion. The intro still gives me chills even after seeing it a million times. After the train makes it into the station, we are introduced to the spikiest haired character Final Fantasy had ever seen, Cloud Strife. At first, Cloud comes off as cold and arrogant, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is a lot lurking underneath the surface of his steely facade. He frequently has short nervous breakdowns where he recalls his past. Cloud is tortured by what I would assume to be PTSD after being held captive and experimented on by Professor Hojo. When he sees his childhood friend Tifa again he steals the story of his buddy Zack, claiming to be a first class Soldier when he hadn’t ever made it that far in his career. Sephiroth uses Cloud’s insecurities against him, eventually manipulating Cloud into giving him the dangerous black materia. Cloud’s guilt sends him spiraling into a catatonic state, and is only able to overcome it with the help of Tifa.
The other characters in the game all have tragic backstories as well. Tifa’s father, family, and friends were killed by Sephiroth. Barrett’s family and friends were similarly killed by the evil corporation Shinra, and he was burdened with his best friend’s daughter. Red XIII grew up believing his father to be a coward, who left his mother to die. Cid’s dream of launching into space was dashed by his assistant Shera. Vincent was captured and experimented on after losing the love of his life to his captor. Aeris lost her mother at a very young age and grew up running from Shinra. Reeve, the man who controls the animatronic Cait Sith, is torn between his duty to Shinra and doing what is morally right. Most of these characters carry these burdens heavily, while characters like Aeris and Red XIII (at least after the very early resolution of his past) don’t seem to let their pasts bother them nearly as much. Final Fantasy VII is not lacking for tortured souls.
Final Fantasy VIII
Oh man. Squall Leonhart. One of the most divisive characters in the series. You either like him or you don’t. There’s not a real gray area there. He’s an asshole. Squall wants to be the loner and do things alone without other people needlessly complicating his life. When he’s thrown into a leadership position to command his mercenary group of SeeDs, he slowly starts to come out of his shell. I wrote about Squall and my ability to relate with him before at Gaming Rebellion. I played Final Fantasy VIII my sophomore year of high school, and like Squall, I was a moody loner who didn’t want people complicating his life. While a lot of people see Squall as an asshole, I always saw myself. Squall’s problems are tied to the fact that he grew up in an orphanage and the person closest to him, his “sister” and closest confidant Ellone, left him while he was still very young. Squall vowed to be strong for her so she’d return to him, but after junctioning with Guardian Forces in the Balamb SeeD academy, he literally forgot his past and why he had a chip on his shoulder. Squall retained the pain and the bad attitude without remembering why he had it in the first place. His friends helped him to break out of his shell, remember his past, and become a better and happier person by the end of the game.
The other characters in Final Fantasy VIII don’t carry their issues with them nearly as heavily as their counterparts from the previous game. Rinoa doesn’t act tortured despite her rocky relationship with her father. Seifer has his issues, but it’s never really explained why he’s such a bully. Quistis is a bit sad at one point early in the game due to a failed job as a SeeD instructor and a make believe infatuation with Squall, but she gets over it fairly early. Selphie struggles with being the new kid in school, and her old school being bombed to kingdom come, but doesn’t really seem too bothered by it outside a couple of pivotal scenes. Final Fantasy VIII really hones in on Squall and his reactions to all of his new friends and relationships rather than fleshing out the other characters in the game. That doesn’t make the story or the characters suffer, but it does give us less to examine.
There are plenty of other moody, broody, tortured heroes in the Final Fantasy series, but the four games I’ve covered in these two parts are the ones that have characters that really stand out above the rest. In the next part, we’ll take a look at various characters across the remainder of the main Final Fantasy games.