Oftentimes in video game RPGs, we have very similar characters from game to game. These characters fit into different stock molds, like the karate master or the mad scientist. One of the most prevalent character types is the tortured hero. These poor souls show up so often in games that you’d think these developers all lost their loved ones. The great scourge of game developer loved ones of the 90s resulted in nearly every brooding Final Fantasy protagonist, and because of the popularity of that game series, a slew of other characters across the genre. And if you are questioning why I write a lot of about Final Fantasy, I’ll answer with why not? It’s a fun series with a lot to explore. Let’s dig in.
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV had the first big cast of characters and most in depth story the series had seen yet. The main protagonist Cecil Harvey was constantly trying to fight his past of being used as a tool of a corrupt government that bullied smaller countries to steal their elemental crystals. Cecil completed his duties without question until after his raid on Mysidia, when his subordinate soldiers had finally had enough. After questioning his king and being demoted, he was sent on a measly errand to a small town North of Baron. His friend and rival Kain Highwind joined him. This was the last straw, as the errand turned out to be a trick to obliterate the peaceful summoners of Myst. Cecil is ultimately redeemed of his past actions when he relinquishes his dark sword and becomes a holy Paladin, but his past continues to haunt him. The primary antogonist, Golbez, turns out to be his brother, and Cecil continues to worry about his past until the final scenes of the game.
Cecil isn’t the only tortured character in Final Fantasy IV. His buddy Kain, the cowardly bard Edward, ninja prince Edge, fledgling summoner Rydia, elderly sage Tellah, and martial arts master Yang all have painful backstories that fuel their desire for victory. Nearly everyone in this story loses someone or something important to them. Kain loses his mind and freedom multiple times to Golbez. Edward and Tellah lose Anna, lover of Edward and daughter of Tellah. Edge loses his parents and most of his kingdom. Rydia loses her mother and the innocence of youth. Yang loses his students and nearly loses his life. Final Fantasy IV is the epitome of high drama! These characters all let their past weigh heavily on them at some point in the story, and will bring their losses up to help steel them for the events to come.
Final Fantasy VI
The next Final Fantasy that was released in North America was a huge improvement in terms of story, at least in my opinion. One can argue that focusing on a smaller cast in the last game made for a much more solid and easy to follow plot, but the diverse and lovable cast of Final Fantasy VI just made the game for me. But does the game have tortured characters who are driven by grief or a terrible past? Oh hell yes. You can argue that the game has two primary protagonists; one for each act. Terra Branford is the star of the show in the first half of the game, and while she can’t remember her past, she does a pretty good job of letting it fuel her inner turmoil. She can’t figure out what direction she should take to follow the “right” path, then she struggles with the fact that she’s an Esper and that she’s “different”, and finally losing the will to fight because she wants to be a mother figure. Celes Chere wakes up on a deserted island with her surrogate grandfather in the second half of the game, and if certain player controlled events don’t turn out in her favor, she tries to KILL HERSELF, only to reawaken and find the resolve to go on and find her friends.
Other characters in Final Fantasy VI that struggle with their inner demons are Locke Cole, Cyan Garamonde, the Figaro Twins Edgar and Sabin, Setzer Gabbiani, the ninja Shadow, and there’s even an argument for Mog. Locke loses the love of his life before the events of the game, making him overly protective of any woman he comes across. Cyan loses his wife, son, and king to a poison attack by the Empire, resulting in an inner struggle so deep that his friends have to battle with his literal subconscious. Edgar and Sabin lose their father before the game begins, and Edgar carries the burden of leadership after tricking his brother Sabin so the younger brother could experience a life of freedom, and Sabin has to deal with the guilt of leaving. Setzer loses his best friend and possible lover before the game, sending him into a spiral of destructive coping. Shadow is a deadbeat father who left his daughter with an elderly man, and struggles with the past of his criminal activities. Mog may be questionable, because nothing is actually said about what happened to his moogle family. He just looks so sad by himself after the apocalypse. His nesting area looked so alive and jubilant before everyone disappeared. Did the apocolypse kill everyone while he was off with his human friends? Who knows?
In the next part of this series, I’ll cover the characters seen in the PlayStation Final Fantasy titles. Some could say that the series gets a bit more melodramatic in the 32 bit era, even if old fans like myself still prefer the drama of the sprite based games.