For FINALFANTASYIX.COM’S SIXTH BIRTHDAY, I thought I’d put together a nice lil’ post for y’all! Friend of the blog, Anneke, gave me this idea, and I decided to run with it. It’s all about the identity of each of the main characters, and how there are specific pairings of characters who have opposite ways of deriving their sense of meaning/identity in the context of the group. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to comment below if you’ve got ideas, too!
Garnet vs. Zidane
Princess Garnet is assigned a role at birth; she is the princess of a nation. She is expected to act like a princess, be educated like a princess, and one day take over her mother’s role as queen. Before the events of the game, and specifically before Queen Brahne’s husband died, this appeared to suit her just fine; she only attempted to leave the castle after Brahne began acting strangely, and Garnet felt it necessary to warn her uncle Cid, Regent of Lindblum, of what she had noticed about her mother. Her role was fixed, specific; and had her life not been turned upside down by her mother’s corruption, it very well may have remained that way.
Garnet had to find out who she really was when this role was ripped from her. Even up to the moment that her mother ordered her execution, Garnet was clinging to that role. She was raised as the future queen of Alexandria; everything she had done to that point was to serve that end, and to reach that point someday.
Garnet’s also unique in that her identity changes multiple times throughout the course of the game: from princess, to adventurer, to feeling like a guilt-ridden and powerless burden after her mother’s death, and finally to the queen she always expected to become. (Oh, and less we forget, a badass-af summoner.)
Zidane is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum: he didn’t even know where he was born or where he came from, much less what role he was to play in the world of Final Fantasy IX. He fell in with a band of thieves, and adopted that as his identity. They were kind to him and nurtured him as a child, and that was all Zidane needed to find his identity within the group. They were his found family.
Again, Zidane’s conflict is when the opposite of what he expects happens: not only does he find out where he’s from, but he finds out that he’s had a very specific role to play this entire time: namely, the key player in the destruction of Gaia, his home world. I’ve always been intrigued by how quickly he gives into the idea that he is Gaia’s “angel of death”; one minute he’s a snarky punk, mouthing off to his very creator, and the next he’s in Pandemonium, slumped in a metal-as-hell throne, completely resigned to his fate and willing to dump all his friends? (To be honest, I find this to be one of the weirder, more jarring transitions throughout the game. I wish it were fleshed out a bit more.)
Anyway, Zidane’s identity goes through a bit of a back and forth, but eventually, like Garnet, he realizes the fate that he always had for himself: not having a specific identity tied to his own identity, but realizing his fate through his friends, those he deemed to need help, and his own moral compass. (And by the end of the game it looks like he’s gonna be the king of Alexandria woop woooooooop GET IT ON Y’ALL)
Freya vs. Quina
The second pairing that is interesting to examine is Freya and Quina. Freya traverses the world, searching endlessly for her long-lost lover. She never loses hope, but at the same time, she seems pretty damn miserable throughout her journey. She’s always holding two conflicting feelings in her head: absolute conviction that she’ll find Fratley one day, and gnawing dread that she may never see him again. Every time she just misses him, every time she hears rumors of where he might be, it fuels both of these feelings: he’s right around the corner, and at the same time he’s nowhere to be found. I don’t care how full of conviction or determination you are, that’s gonna get draining after a while, and she’s been at this for years.
We’ll never know how Freya may have felt if she had gone another few years without finding Fratley, but I’d guess she’d never give up the search, slowly be drained of all life and hope, never able to let go of the cognitive dissonance of knowing she’ll find someone who’ll never be found. As Fratley was turned into a husk of his former self from the inside out by losing his memory, Freya would be hollowed from the outside in, hopelessness pressing in on all sides and eventually seeping through. (Jeez, that’s depressing… what happened in the game still sucked for Freya, but it’s a hell of a lot better than this….)
Quina…… Oh, Quina. Every year that goes by, I appreciate Quina more. S/he really is the best, and it’s her polar opposition to Freya that makes her so. There’s something romantic about doggedly pursuing your long-lost lover, being tied to someone (or the idea of someone, I suppose) so steadfastly.
Romantic? Maybe. You know what it’s not? Fun.
Quina essentially gets kicked out of their marsh by Quale, who tells them to go experience the world. You might think, “man, Quina, this is a bummer for you. You’ve gotta leave this marsh, the only place you’ve ever called home, and find what’s waiting for you in this big scary world. How are you gonna deal with that?”
You know how Quina deals with it? By being SUPER AMPED when Quale tells her that there’s better foods than frogs out there. After that, Quina is 100% in. That’s all s/he needed to get pumped, and that’s all s/he needs throughout the entirety of the game. If a place has dope food, that place rules; if not, that place sucks. Either way, though, it doesn’t color Quina’s entire experience; s/he doesn’t have some overarching hope that she’s striving for, or conflict that she’s struggling against. Nope, just finding awesome food and eating it. Experiencing experience for experience’s sake, and having a positive outlook on it regardless of how great or terrible it is.
As a serial brooder myself, there’s a lot I could learn from Quina. I think we could all take a page out of their book.
Eiko vs. Amarant
Tiny, blue-haired girl versus giant, red-haired man; total chatterbox versus the strong, silent type; barely any chin at all versus one of the most intimidating chins on the Playstation. Y’all ain’t gonna find many character pairs in gaming that are more polar opposite than Eiko and Amarant. The difference we’re gonna focus on today, however, is possibly the most stark of all: the difference between how they handle group dynamics in relation to their identity.
Eiko’s last summoner relative, her grandpa, died before the events of the game. While she’s still got the moogles to look after her, her loneliness is still obvious from the jump. She starts off bratty and a bit standoffish, but it doesn’t take long before she’s talking everyone’s ear off (especially Zidane’s (who can blame her, Zidane is bae)) and asking to join them on their adventures. Hell, before you even meet her in-game, if you wait for the character panels to appear at the New Game/Continue menu, you can see her signature phrase:
“I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
This loneliness is consuming her, and the appearance of the party is a social lifeline that she quickly grabs hold of. She needs the party for one simple reason: she needs human connection.
AMARANT, on the other hand… man, Amarant is weird. I still have trouble figuring out exactly what he wants with the rest of the party. Clearly, he’s fascinated by the concept of teamwork, but also appears pretty solidly against it until the very end. For the first disc or two after he appears, he basically follows the party, complaining and talking about how much teamwork sucks… while also thinking “damn, Zidane is cool as hell” to himself.
Anyway, it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t put any stock in “being part of the team” as being part of his identity. He’s a proud loner, and is convinced that “my way or the highway” is the way to get results in this world. This view changes over the course of the game, when he sees Zidane use teamwork and connection to accomplish things that’d be impossible on his own, but it seems like Amarant is much more interested in learning how (and why) other people think/act the way they do than he is in learning about how (and why) he thinks and acts. He appears to have all the meaning/identity he needs just by existing and learning from others, even if he doesn’t necessarily need the group to form an identity for himself.
Steiner vs. Vivi
One of the reasons that Steiner and Vivi work so fucking well together is because of how totally fucking different they are. The way they derive their identity is EXACTLY OPPOSITE and also THE EXACT SAME, and that’s what makes it so AWESOME.
Okay, look, so Steiner is a knight. Tremendous knight. Best knight. (Trivia, in case you don’t know: he beat Beatrix in a duel once. He’s THAT good.) He became the best knight because he derived all identity and self-worth out of WORKING HIS ASS OFF TO BE THE BEST KNIGHT. He had a singular purpose, and every action he took (before the events of the game, through about disc 2) was to further his goal (and cement his identity) as Alexandria’s greatest knight. His power comes from his steadfast ability to focus on a singular goal, and doggedly pursue it, no matter what.
Now, when the party comes along, and his most-dearly-held views, things he’s known his entire life, are challenged – and eventually shattered, when he finally realizes how crazy Brahne has gone – it completely upends his sense of self. “If everything I’ve done so far has been in pursuance of this corrupted goal, then what the hell have I been doing? What do I do now?”, etc…… which puts him in the exact same position as Vivi. Which we will get to now.
Vivi, bless his little Black Mage heart, never had a purpose. He basically woke up one day in a foreign world, no one to really tell him what to do or how to live (besides Quan, I guess), and was essentially told to figure it out. He didn’t have the comfort that Steiner’s dogged determination gave him; he didn’t even have the comfort that is given by being an automaton, like the other black mages. He had to start off with a completely blank slate. He was cursed with a perfect storm of consciousness, and a total lack of direction. He started from the point Steiner got to when Steiner realized that everything he had worked for was corrupted. A state of total confusion.
That said, this state of confusion made him mentally resilient and open to experience. He potentially has the most depressing story in all of FFIX, and, while he definitely freaks out a few times, he learns how to roll with the punches, examine his experiences, and come up with his own reason for being. The party doesn’t give him a reason for being like it does for Eiko; like Steiner, his reason is external to himself. But, though his reason is external, it’s also completely self-derived, and that is what makes him and Steiner so different. No one’s telling Vivi how to act, how to live; he’s figuring it out as he goes along, which gives him the ability to change his views when contradictory evidence is presented. This is what makes him so different from Steiner: instead of spending so much time resisting that his views on being are being upended, he simply changes his outlook.
WHEW. THIS FELT GOOD. Sorry it’s been so long! Life’s been kinda crazy, but I got the email that finalfantasyix.com is SIX YEARS OLD TODAY, and I felt inspired to blurt out a post! It’s a first draft, and I reserve the right to edit it later, but I wanted to get it out today, beccause birthdays only come along once a year 😀
Happy sixth birthday to finalfantasyix.com!! And a huge thanks to Anneke for the idea for this post 🙂
How’s everybody doing? How’s life? Agree with my post? Think it’s dumber’n hell? Comment below and let’s discuss!
Hope to see you soon <3