HAPPY BIRTHDAY FINALFANTASYIX.COM! HERE’S A RANT

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!

HAPPY SIXTH BIRTHDAY FINALFANTASYIX.COM!!!

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

MY GUYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYS

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

Gaming Inspirations IV: Character Profile: Amarant Coral

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Gaming Inspirations I: Personal Party Composition
Gaming Inspirations II: Character Profile: Adelbert Steiner
Gaming Inspirations III: Character Profile: Vivi Orunitia

The badass is strong in this one. Many thanks to sarrus (http://sarrus.deviantart.com/) for allowing me to use his picture!

Hello, friends, and welcome to the third Character Profile of the Gaming Inspirations series!  “Gaming Inspirations” is a series of blog posts that puts into words how gaming has inspired me to shed my anxiety and its negative effects on my life.  Final Fantasy IX has provided incredible amounts of inspiration (probably because it’s the greatest game of all time), so I’m creating a profile for each of the main characters.  Each profile will examine their unique qualities and I will detail how, through physical action, I’m going to help myself lead the life I want to lead by incorporating those qualities.  Today’s profile is about everyone’s favorite ginger dreadhead, Amarant Coral.

CHARACTER SUMMARY

Like Steiner, when I first met Amarant in-game, I thought he was quite dickish indeed: some brooding guy, arms always crossed, and a chin I thought was his nose for years (this doesn’t make anybody dickish per se, but it kind of looks phallic, so I guess it counts?).

Note: Looking back on it, it’s so clear that it’s his chin.  Like, “how could I possibly fuck that up” clear.  But, I did.  HD didn’t exist.  I was ten.  I’m over it.

Anyway, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with him, because my 10-year-old self soon found out that OH MY GOD HE FIGHTS WITH CLAWS.  FUCKING WOLVERINE IN FFIX FORM.  OH, AND HE CAN REPLENISH BOTH HP AND MP?  JESUS HOW DOES THIS GUY RULE SO HARD

BERZERKERBARAHAAAIII’MLIKEAMARANTAGFHADOIUHFAGH

I digress.  He does brood.  He does have a weird dick-nose-chin-beard.  And I love him.  Here’s why:

QUALITIES

Individualistic

Amarant: Hey, Zidane.  I work alone.  Always have, always will.

In case you hadn’t noticed (or if you haven’t played the game, in which case, why are you reading this?!  Buy it.  Now.), Amarant doesn’t tend to play well with others.  When he does decide to team up, he’s not afraid to let them know when he disagrees with their methods: the scene in Madain Sari when he calls Lani a “scumbag” for taking a hostage comes to mind.

Honorable

This is likely my favorite quality I’ve noticed in Amarant: even though he’s a loner and about as agreeable as a snapping turtle with a skin rash, he has an honor code, and he sticks with it.  When he is defeated by Zidane, he joins the party, even though it’s something he may not normally have done; he doesn’t expect mercy, but when he receives it, he’s willing to repay that kindness.

Skeptical

Amarant: The only dependable thing about the future is uncertainty.

Amarant joins the party not only to repay the kindness of mercy that Zidane granted him, but also because he’s puzzled: how did this person who is so reliant on others beat an experienced loner like himself?   Amarant’s whole worldview, one of self-reliance and of seeing dependence as weakness, is turned upside-down.  He realizes that he still has more to learn about individuality, teamwork, and strength, and he follows Zidane to help him find the answers he seeks.

HOW TO INCORPORATE THESE QUALITIES INTO YOUR LIFE

Ever since a singularly horrific experience giving a presentation in college, I’ve had intense stage fright.  Working in groups, speaking up during meetings at my job, etc. have proven to be a supreme challenge.  I always feel like if I speak up, I’m going to get laughed at, shut down, or otherwise silenced in a humiliating fashion.

Now, I’m trying to use Amarant’s inspiration to help me get over that fear.  I’ve got opinions; I’ve got values that I deem important and I try to adhere to; I’ve got unique thoughts and ideas that I think could be useful for others to know.  I need to follow Amarant’s example, realize that these opinions, questions, and ideas are valid, and voice them.

At the end of the day, I’m inspired by Amarant due to his confidence in himself, and his unwavering ability to voice his opinions, no matter how unpopular they may be, even at the risk of ridicule.  Honestly, most of the time, I think my ideas are pretty damn good, and it’d be helpful for myself and for those around me to voice them.  Everyone’s gotta put their foot in their mouth at some point during their lives; don’t do it to yourself just because you’re afraid to speak.

Even if you’re not afraid of public speaking like I am, you can use Amarant’s inspiration in any situation where you feel silenced for an idea you have or a way you feel.  Next time you’re afraid to voice an opinion, to let someone else know how you really feel… let them know.  The result probably won’t be as bad as you fear it will be.

This “being confident in yourself and sticking to your guns” stuff is all well and good, but the critical element separating the strong, independent human and the stubborn, ignorant douchebag is a healthy dose of skepticism.  Amarant was puzzled by his defeat at the hands of Zidane, and he joined the party to find out how this teamwork-oriented dude was able to defeat the power of his individualism.  This is how we know that Amarant is a part of the “strong, independent human” camp: when something crops up that challenges his beliefs, he questions and examines it instead of denying it outright.

I don’t even need to add a joke here.

People think that “values” are immutable and eternal; they’re not.  At the core of every healthy set of values is the ability to change them as circumstances change.  So, while you’re out there being super-awesome-and-confident-in-yourself thanks to Amarant’s inspiration, remember that the person who changed him most was the one who made him question his beliefs.

Thanks for reading, everybody!  The upcoming Thursday post is going to be a recap of what we’ve talked about so far, and how our internal FFIX party is shaping up!  Plus, I’ll have a SUPER SPECIAL BONUS GAMING INSPIRATIONS POST out before then, so be on the lookout!  🙂

Necron: The Really, Truly, Seriously Most Underrated Villain in All of Final Fantasy

Hi Everybody!

I was thinking about the feedback that I got from the Kuja post, and I was amazed by the response;  I’m glad I got people to look a little further into the character of Kuja, and see that he wasn’t all pomp and flair, and could actually stand on his own as a great Final Fantasy villain.

That said, I was just talking with a buddy of mine, and we were talking about the end of FFIX.  We are both huge IX fans, and the subject turned to the final boss, Necron.

“Yeah, the less said about Necron, the better,”  he said.  “He was definitely just thrown in there.”

Now, I think this was the first time we had truly disagreed on something FFIX-related.

“Wait, what?  What are you talking about?”  I sputtered, and we proceeded to have a heated debate about Necron’s purpose for a few minutes.

After these few minutes, my friend said, “y’know, I think this would make a great blog post.”

SO HERE I AM!  😀

Anyway, here goes:

Yeah.  Necron.  Gets shit on by pretty much everybody, right?  You may think he’s one or more of the following:  useless;  never referenced;  no purpose in the game?

Image

Let me begin, like I did with my Kuja post, by saying that I don’t expect to turn you into a huge Necron fan.  I’m just trying to give you a bit of my perspective on why I think he’s fantastic.  Maybe I’ll even get you thinking that there is a bit more to him than you previously thought.  That’d be great.

From what I’ve read, it seems like Necron may be mentioned once or twice throughout the game, but these claims seem shaky at best.  My question is, how is one supposed to know of the existence of an entity that exists outside of normal spacetime?  This, of course, is kind of a flimsy excuse for making a final boss, but, in Pixar’s “22 Rules of Storytelling“,  #19 says “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great;  coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.”  Again, not saying that this is a great excuse to just throw a final boss into the mix, but this is the perspective with which I look at the final battle.

I’ve read that Necron is “summoned” by Kuja’s hate and fear.  I have a different perspective.

kuja ultima
Kuja, right after he casts Ultima.

Now, here’s what I see in the above gif:

–  The main characters disappear.  The only time you see that in-game thus far is when someone or something dies.

–  The Crystal is no longer behind Kuja.

So, here’s what I’m thinking:

–  When Kuja casts Ultima, it destroys the Crystal.  The Crystal’s destruction is what prompts Necron to come start kickin’ ass, not just Kuja’s massive amounts of butthurt.

–  The heroes were the first people to die after the destruction of the Crystal, which is why they’re in this weird quasi-death-realm thing.

–  When Necron is defeated, the crystal is restored due to the “nothingness-vacuum” caused by his absence.  Because Necron is the personification of oblivion/nothingness, when he is defeated, he’s gotta be replaced by… somethingright?

Huh.  Weird.  Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Necron made… some sort of sense existing, at least.  He’s also a great foil for…  well, every protagonist in the game.

These characters have been through hell.  Homelands have been laid to waste.  Family members, loved ones, and thousands more have been slaughtered, many of which were at the hands of Garnet’s own mother, gone mad with greed.  Freya’s lover, Sir Fratley, who she has been searching for for years, has no memory of their past.  Eiko’s family was dead or missing.  Steiner and Amarant’s most long-standing philosophies, one of blind loyalty to another, and one of blind loyalty to self, that had kept them alive through the most dire of circumstances, are dissolved before their eyes;  the same thing happens with Vivi and Zidane, except instead of their philosophies, they face an even more harrowing question:  the status of their humanity itself.

I don’t think Necron is a useless, no-purpose final boss.  Quite the contrary – I think he’s the linchpin of the game, the story, and the transcendent theme of Final Fantasy IX.  Without Necron, the game would cease to have the exact quality which I think makes it the greatest video game in history:  the absolute, against-all-odds, blindingly-bright love of life itself that finally answers the great question that each of our protagonists face when they are staring down the seductive peace of utter oblivion:  “is life worth the pain it brings?”.  Each of the characters above have fan-fucking-tastic reasons to say, “Hey, nothingness sounds pretty great, compared to the shitstorm that I’ve been through!”.

Not one of them does.

After everything they’ve been through, each and every one chooses life.

I think this has a two-pronged effect.  If thought of in this manner, the choice shows more starkly than ever before the fortitude of the heroes, as well as making Kuja slightly more sympathetic and less villainous.  He’s just scared, guys.  He’s been dealt much the same hand as Zidane, and he’s scared.  He doesn’t want to die;  more importantly, he doesn’t want the fear of death.  Who can be blamed for trying to escape fear?  Not that Kuja went about it the right way or anything, but still, he was misguided and scared, and I can’t blame him for that.

Maybe Necron could have been referenced more in-game;  maybe he should have been somehow hinted at, if only for the player’s knowledge;  maybe it’s not an original idea.  But Necron is the character who poses, once and for all, this final question to the protagonists of Final Fantasy IX, providing the single most intense experience I have ever felt from a piece of media in my life.  I was 11 when I experienced this;  it was the first time I had encountered such a question, and Zidane’s response left me in tears.

“I’m gonna live!”.

I can’t call that useless.