Week One: Personal Experiences
Week Two: Our Heroes
Week Three: Best Song Ever
Week Four: Gameplay Wallbangers
Week Five: The Big Bad
Week Six: Ridiculously Broken Attacks
Week Seven: Title Logos
Week Eight: Chocobos!
Week Nine: Battle Music
Week Ten: Eye-rollingest Plot Elements
SPOILER ALERT!! This feature by its very nature contains spoilers for every Final Fantasy game. If you don’t want your cherry popped, make sure to skip the bits about games you haven’t played yet.
In order to enjoy fantasy literature you have to know how to suspend your disbelief. When the guy onscreen turns into a green dragon and eats a village, you’re not allowed to say “That would never happen in real life!” Well, no. That’s the whole point. When you want real life you go outside; when you want green dragons eating villages, you crack a book.
Video games are no different, really. You have to suspend your disbelief a little thinner, sometimes, and in different directions. There’s a strong segregation between what you-the-player do in the game world, and what happens in the game’s plot. This is as true in Final Fantasy as in any other game series. Perhaps more so; RPGs by nature are very abstract. They are games about numbers, see, not actions, so when the good guys and bad guys line up on opposite sides of the killing field and politely wait their turn to attack, you aren’t supposed to bat an eye.
Usually though the story of the game tries to play itself straight. Which is to say, they are supposed to be about believable people doing believable things for believable reasons — and that doesn’t always work. Sometimes the fantasy elements are just too strong, or a character is just too willfully ignorant, or a cutscene just doesn’t properly convey what it’s supposed to. For this week’s list I selected the most ridiculous element I could from each game’s plot and laid it open in all its short-bus glory.
Like with the gameplay wallbangers list a few weeks ago, the most horrific examples of plot butchery are at the beginning of the list. If you’d rather read in order of hilarity rather than quality, start at the bottom and page up. You might be surprised who took the #1 slot this week though…
Final Fantasy X: You don’t have to die if you don’t want to.
If you are reading this, you will die. Someday, I mean. Not… not necessarily right away. What I’m saying is that in our reality, everything that’s alive eventually dies. This is such a fundamental part of our environment that we usually don’t fool with it when we create fictional worlds, and when we do fool with it it’s usually to tell a story about the necessity of death. Vampires are evil because they’re immortal and therefore bored… the world goes to pot when Death takes a holiday… people don’t appreciate life until they realize they’re going to die… and so on and so forth.
Death is particularly important in the setting of Final Fantasy X. Every element of Spira is very much tied to the cycle of life and death brought on by Sin. Living souls are innately bound to the physical plane, though… in order to reach the Farplane (FF10’s version of the afterlife) they must be sent there by a summoner. This ritual is uncreatively called a “Sending”.
Souls that aren’t Sent are said to transform into monsters. We don’t ever get to see that happen, though. In fact, the four characters in the game who die but aren’t Sent just… keep on living. As if nothing had happened. There’s some mumbling here and there about how Unsent are abominations unto god and man, but other than that they function exactly like any other living person in Spira.
They’re not undead, you understand. That’s a different affliction entirely. The typical FF undead tropes (weak to fire, reversed healing, etc.) don’t apply to Unsent. They’re just dead people who decided to not die. They don’t seem to be in any danger of ever becoming fiends. In fact, there’s nothing to indicate that this whole “Unsent = fiend” thing is anything but church propaganda, like most of the rest of the teachings of Yevon.
Anyway, this is stupid because once death is made trivial then 1) the story falls apart and 2) the gameplay falls apart. Why worry so much about Sin when death isn’t a big deal? Hell, for all we know, Sin could go ahead and kill everyone in the world and nobody would have to change anything or really notice. And how can a world where people can ignore death support the Game Over mechanic demanded by the RPG genre? Your guys should just stand back up when they hit 0 HP. This is at least a thousand times stupider than the more common “if you die in a cutscene, you die for real” complaint.
Final Fantasy VIII: “We all grew up together! We just forgot because GFs steal memories.”
The supermonsters of Final Fantasy VIII are called Guardian Forces, but that’s too long to fit on a menu so the term is usually just shortened to GF. When equipped, or “junctioned”, GFs provide superhuman abilities such as casting magic spells and transforming enemy monsters into playing cards. They’re the mechanical backbone of FF8, which is to say they don’t need a lot of justification in the story. You equip monsters and spells because that’s what you do; players don’t question that sort of thing.
Pound for pound, FF8 has more wallbangers than any game in the series. The overall plot of the game is satisfying enough: group of teenagers saves the world. I dig on that. And the villain’s grand scheme, while a mindscrew of epic proportions, is actually pretty ingenious if you can unravel it. If you look any closer than that, though, cracks start to show. The game tries to get away with plot twists and clever reveals where they aren’t necessary and don’t serve the story. There are lots of these, and every one will make you want to eat your own head.
The most head-eatingest comes a ways into Disc Two. One of the characters has just suffered an unimaginable tragedy: the school she’d been attending has just been vaporized, along with all her friends and teachers and everyone she ever knew. While using this moment to reflect on the meaning of life and the shape of the battles to come, one of the PCs suddenly drops a bombshell: five of your six teammates were orphans who all lived together in the same little house by the sea.
This comes as a surprise to everyone, but the stories start flooding out. You had spunky little Sefie and Irvie, who were always together. There was bossy little Quisty and the bleak little Squall(ie). And of course mean ol’ Seifer, who was always picking on crybaby Zell. The team has a collective moment of recognition, despite having only met each other very recently. Oh, and the evil sorceress they’ve been contracted to kill? She just so happens to be the nice, motherly person who took them all in. How odd!
This is all explained with a quick hand-wave: the GFs eat memories, you see. The longer you spend junctioned with a GF, the more memories you lose. This is true for everyone on the team except Rinoa, who was not at the orphanage, and Irvine, who hadn’t been training with GFs.
This has some pretty terrifying ramifications. Remember, the oldest member of the team is 18. This means, in the best case scenario, that if these kids continue to use GFs on into their adulthoods they will never have more than a decade or so in their working memory at any time. Everything before that is like a fog, if it’s there at all. Of course the characters never consider giving up GFs, it’s never explained why GFs need to eat memories, nobody ever considers looking for a way to reverse or inhibit the process, and certainly no one ever considers giving up the practice.
Final Fantasy XIII: “The bad guy has been manipulating us! Let’s kill him, then do what he said!”
The puppetmaster of Final Fantasy XIII is the Cocoon fal’Cie Barthandelus. His ultimate goal is to destroy Cocoon, but the nature of his being prevents him from doing it. Nor can he simply make l’Cie underlings to do his bidding; he can no more give the order than accomplish it himself. His plan, then, is to find a mostly-dormant Pulse fal’Cie inside Cocoon and manipulate a group of ne’er-do-wells into coming into contact with it. Bam! A group of Pulse l’Cie for Barthandelus to mold and shape as he sees fit.
Each l’Cie is given a Focus. The group’s Focus, they come to learn, is to destroy Cocoon. If they complete this Focus they turn into a crystal; if they don’t complete it they turn into a monster. Since they’re kinda screwed either way they try to rail against Barthandelus and interrupt his plan. They try to beat their Focus. They do lots of random things for lots of random reasons.
FF13 would be pretty high up on the wallbanger list if that were as far as it went. Spending much of the game in a purposeless spiral doesn’t do wonders for its story, but that’s the nature of things. Eventually the l’Cie arrive at Chapter 12 and decide to attack Cocoon themselves. In order to save it. From itself. Or so they think. Or so they think they think. The motivations here don’t make a lot of sense, honestly. They do know a few things, though: 1) there’s Orphan cat who, once killed, will cause Cocoon to explodify itself, and 2) Barthandelus wants them to destroy Orphan.
The final bosses in FF13 are, in order: Barthandelus (for the third time), then Orphan (twice).
I’ve played the ending of FF13 a couple times now, and I just can’t figure this out. It seems like they could have killed Barthandelus and let Orphan remain. Orphan wanted to die (for some reason?) but couldn’t kill itself; it, too, is a Cocoon fal’Cie, and therefore cannot actually cause direct harm to Cocoon. It needs the l’Cie to destroy it. They could have just walked away and let it wallow in misery forever… and Cocoon would have been safe.
That’s not how the PCs roll, though! It’s big, it’s got a mean face, the organs and chorus have chimed in… time to kill it. And so they do! They do the exact thing the bad guy has been trying to get them to do for the past 40 hours, and they do it after taking out the bad guy for trying to get them to do it. Cocoon is saved anyway (sorta) thanks to some deus ex machina that makes no sense and could never have been forseen or counted on, and it’s a (kinda) happy ending… but man. Doing the villain’s bidding for him after you’ve taken him out? That’s pretty messed up, l’Cie dudes.
Final Fantasy V: Kelger commits suicide-by-Bartz.
Before the new hotness takes up the mantle, the old guard has to die. This is a standard fantasy trope, and Final Fantasy V follows it exactly. One of the four Warriors of Dawn, the hero’s father, is dead by the time the game opens. The second sacrifices himself to destroy a barrier surrounding the Big Bad’s fortress. The third, a beloved party member, dies to protect his granddaughter, who then goes on to take his place. The fourth lies wounded due to his own idiocy, and eventually dies for no reason at all.
Wait a minute, back up.
Kelger is the chief of the wolf-man village of Quelb, which the party must pass through in order to complete some fetch quest. The reason they must pass through the village is because the Quelb tile on the world map is situated between two chunks of impassable mountain. Galuf is stil on the team at this point, and he and Kelger go way back… getting permission to pass through town should be no problem, right?
Wrong. Kelger immediately declares Bartz to be an agent of Exdeath, and attacks him. Bartz responds, quite reasonably, by punching him through a wall. No, literally: through a wall. (Well, maybe it was a door.)
There is no reason for this scene to exist. There are dozens of good ways this situation could have been resolved, and hundreds of bad ways that wouldn’t have been as bad. This is already a game where crazy things happen for pretty much no reason: dead characters acting as spirit guides, tunnels leading underneath entire oceans, telepathic moogles, yadda yadda. It makes sense that there had to be four Warriors of Dawn, and it makes sense that one of them would be more or less a throwaway character.
While bedridden, Galuf explains to Kelger that this whole “mortally wounded” thing was just a hilarious misunderstanding on his part. Kelger dies because he didn’t feel like having an eight-second conversation. I don’t have perfect recall of every character in every Final Fantasy game, but I’d have to imagine Kelger is in the running for most retardeded. How does a warrior with such a slim survival instinct live to see old age in the first place?
FF13 has achievements named after the four Warriors of Dawn. I forget what you have to do to unlock Kelger’s, but I’d have to assume it’s something like “pick a fight with an enemy you cannot possibly defeat, then die.”
Final Fantasy III: Desch spends the whole game fixing a tower.
The noble sacrifice is another pretty standard fantasy trope, and virtually every FF game dips at this well from time to time. Final Fantasy III dips more than once, as it happens, though the first such death is Desch in the Tower of Owen. Desch travels with the team for quite a while attempting to find his lost memories. He shares many adventures with them, traverses hellish dungeons, fells mighty foes. At the Tower of Owen, he is told, his destiny will be finally realized.
And so it is: the tower has grown unstable and Desch, the tower’s appointed guardian, is the only one who can repair it. He does this by leaping into the bowels of the tower from its topmost floor, a maneuver which certainly ended with his grisly death but (for some reason) prevented the tower from exploding or melting or evaporating or whatever what was supposed to happen to it. The sad music kicks on and everything. The party must collect themselves and find a way to move on… without Desch.
This is around the halfway-ish point in the game. The heroes find a new world to explore. They meet new people, witness more noble sacrifices, and identify their adversary. They collect macguffins and unlock new jobs. Eventually they find the Big Bad in his immaculate crystal palace — and they get their dumb asses trapped in a magic mirror. The grandfatherly old spirit guide shows up and declares that the curse can only be broken by five pure souls. He teleports around the world meeting people whose lives the heroes have touched: the beautiful princess, the boy prince, the old airship engineer, and one of the goofy old would-be hero gents.
(Sidenote: if grandfatherly old spirit guide had simply recruited the princess and all four of the goofy old would-be hero gents, he could have saved himself three trips. A wallbanger inside a wallbanger — remarkable.)
The last stop is back at the Tower of Owen, where Desch is just now climbing back to the top floor of the tower, having repaired the whole thing. Not only is he not supposed to be alive, but he has spent the entire game down there, doing whatever one does to a broken Tower of Owen to get it running again. Food? Water? Companionship? Not for Desch! All he needs is a monkey wrench and a stretch of weeks or months in the depths of a dank, murky tower.
Final Fantasy IV: “We can’t let ____’s death be in vain! We’ll avenge you, ____!”
Fill the blanks in with any Final Fantasy IV hero outside of Cecil, Rosa and Edge… and congratulations! You’ve just re-created an actual line of dialogue. Every single character in this game dies, only to miraculously turn up unharmed at a later time. The trick is to make sure you’re doing something heroic when you die, or you may end up like Tellah: actually dead.
Kain is lost in a landslide within ten minutes of power on, only to show up evil later on. Yang, Edward, and Rydia fall off a boat, but they all wash up eventually with various maladies (amnesia, pnemonia and progeria, respectively). Palom and Porom turn themselves to stone, and a Gold Needle is ineffective on self-inflicted petrification. Cid leaps off the side of an airship with a bomb only to get patched up by dwarves and complain loudly about the food. Yang, not content with one fake death, ups the ante by blowing himself up as well; he gets rescued by fairies.
FF4 characters are like those clown balloons with sand in the bottom: every time to knock them down, they pop right back up.
Most retro RPGs had this short little tune that played for special occassions, like when you recruit a new party member or find some key item. FF4 had those as well, and in addition had a tune for when one of your characters died. The first few times you hear it, you are heartbroken. After that it becomes a cliché. The ninth or tenth time you hear it you’ll be wondering if FF4’s Heaven has a revolving door.
The case of Palom and Porom is particularly bad. Tellah immediately tries to reverse their stasis with Esuna, only to declare that it is permanent since they did it to themselves. Later it’s revealed that the Mysidian Elder had the power to revive them all along and… chose not to? For some reason? The twins’ statues were in Baron which, while on another continent, is within walking distance of Mysidia. If the Elder refused to walk for some reason the party could have simply picked him up and carried him there on an airship. If you try notifying the Elder he doesn’t give any indication he might be able to help. I can only conclude that he gets off on letting little kids torture themselves.
Final Fantasy VII: “Can we just forget I’m a traitor? Please?”
I’m sure people are expecting me to gnash about Aeris’s death here. “Why can’t they just use a Phoenix down!?”, I can imagine them imagining me say. But no, that kind of thing doesn’t faze me. Story/gameplay segregation is one of those things that falls cleanly under “suspension of disbelief” as far as I’m concerned. Besides, Aeris’s death is the lynchpin of the game’s story. It’s the crossover point between the first half of the game, which is something of a mystery story, and the second half, which is a dire crisis culminating in the destruction of the world.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Cait Sith, the giant stuffed animal who joins your crew in Final Fantasy VII. He hops into your party at one point in the story and just kind of hangs out there. The first two times I played the game he was a mainstay in my party simply because he was big and goofy. At one point in my long and storied history I maintained a Cait Sith webring. (Man… webrings. Why do I feel so old all of a sudden?)
Cait Sith is described in the game manual as a magic “toysaurus”, but this isn’t actually the case. He is, in fact, a remote-controlled robot spy planted in Cloud’s team by a Shinra high-up. His true colors are revealed when the team gets hold of a powerful artifact. Cait Sith, ever the loyal stooge, steals it and turns it over to Shinra. Then, when confronted, announces that he’s got a little girl held hostage and intends to do unspeakable things to her if the team doesn’t just forget about his overt betrayal.
So they do. In fact, it’s barely ever mentioned again.
Eventually Shinra falls and Cait Sith’s operator is revealed to in fact be an AVALANCHE sympathizer. His cross was actually a double-cross, and his last few relevant scenes in the game portray the man spying for the toy rather than vice-versa. Still, that’s a pretty large pill to swallow, especially considering prior betrayals in this series were met either with quick retribution or lengthy apologies.
There’s a second, smaller Caith Sith-flavored wallbanger, keeping with the trend of heroic sacrifices. Namely, he makes one. The toy stays behind in a crumbling tower to die, only to be replaced within mere minutes by an exact replica. Is there a warehouse full of these guys somewhere? Yikes.
Final Fantasy I: The time-loop that doesn’t actually accomplish anything.
I have played the original Final Fantasy more than any game in the series by whichever metric you care to use. Most hours logged? Most times completed? Most challenges attempted? Most new games started? Check, check, check and check. And yet I still have no idea what this whole time-loop is supposed to accomplish.
Maybe you can help me. Here’s the set-up: you’ve got this dude Garland. He kidnaps a princess and is killed by some uppity Light Warriors in, oh, let’s say the year 2000. On the brink of death, Garland is sent back in time by the four elemental fiends, who have been ravaging the land for some time. The fiends actually arrived on the scene when Garland-from-the-past sent them forward, and they started waking up in 200 year intervals. Thus the timeline looks something like this:
- Year 0: Garland arrives in the past, then sends the four fiends into the future.
- Year 1600: The wind fiend wakes up and wrecks some shit.
- Year 1800: The water fiend wakes up and wrecks some more shit.
- Year 2000:
- Garland gets punked, and the fiends send him back in time.
- The earth fiend wakes up, but the Light Warriors kill him before too much shit gets wrecked.
- The fire fiend wakes up early, but is killed before she can even think about getting any shit-wrecking done.
- The water and wind fiends are killed too, which opens up a portal to the past.
It’s that very last bit that wasn’t on Garland’s agenda. The portal lets the heroes go back in time and kill him before he can send the fiends anywhere, breaking the time-loop. The world is saved!
My question is, what was the point of the time-loop in the first place? Is the Garland who kidnaps the princess actually 2000 years old? Does he just ping-pong back and forth between past and future forever? Are the fiends immortal? If so, why do they need to be sent into the future at all? Aren’t there better ways for Garland to attain immorality that aren’t so prone to getting shit-wrecked by uppity Light Warriors?
Final Fantasy IX: “You’re a golem? Oh yeah hey cool me too.”
One of the central plotlines of Final Fantasy IX is the sad story of Vivi and his black mage kin. Vivi’s plight is that he is an artificial person, built instead of born, given life by the Mist that envelops the world. Most black mages are mindless drones, bred for war, although some (such as Vivi) have gained sentience and developed a conscience. Not only is he factory-made, he’s also got a short lifespan. It’s implied that the events of FF9, plus the few short months before and after, is the entirety of Vivi’s brief, almost joyless time on Gaia.
With the help of his friends, including the big-brotherly Zidane, Vivi develops the courage required to come to terms with what he is. He uses what little time he has to do good things, and manages to be a bright spot in the cast, if a bit melancholy. The story of Vivi’s life and his tribulations, from his birth to his death to the legacy he leaves behind, is touching and bittersweet. There’s not another story quite like it in any other FF game or, indeed, any other video game I’m familiar with.
There is another story like it right here in FF9, though. Sometime after Vivi learns he’s a golem, he travels with Zidane and company to the planet Terra where we learn that Zidane is a golem. Of course at this point we no longer have thirty hours ahead of us to come to grips with this shocking turn of events, so the full range of emotion from anger to acceptance is condensed into about fifteen minutes of screen time. Zidane breaks down, snaps at all his friends, gets his prescribed pep talks, bounces back and forgets all about it.
I’ve mentioned this particular scene before in previous weeks. As scenes go it’s pretty weak because of how out-of-character it is. As plot points go it’s still really weak, because this is an issue FF9 had already tackled — and better. Vivi’s tale is emotional and heartwarming. Zidane’s is abrupt and jarring. To be honest, I half expected another FF8-style ass pull. “Okay guys, who else is a goddamn golem? Freya? Amarant? How about you Quina? You stuffed with straw or something? Come on guys, fess up.”
Final Fantasy XI: The Evil Shadow Lord’s Evil Head
Each Final Fantasy XI expansion has its own bad guy. The main title’s villain was the Shadow Lord, who I’ve already talked about. The first expansion, Rise of the Zilart, had a villain named Eald’narche, who as far as I can tell is this one-eyed preppy kid who had designs on world domination. This involves opening a portal to a magic flying island where the gods live, but to do that he needs some manner of lost ancient knowledge which blah blah you know where this is going.
So Eald’narche has his giant portal-opening machine built, but it needs a battery. A special battery. It needs… the Shadow Lord’s head.
I quit FF11 long before I got anywhere near the Shadow Lord, let alone Eald’narche, so I’m trying to think of this from a typical player’s point of view. You spend countless months leveling your dude up, crafting gear, running quests… and you finally topple the Shadow Lord. The biggest, baddest beastman in Vana’diel, gone, dead at your feet. That must be an incredible rush.
But then there’s this bigger, badder dude behind him: Eald’narche. So you keep leveling your dude, grind out more exquisite gear, cook up a batch of Steamin’ Rocky Mountain Galka Oysters or whatever. Then, after weeks or months of chasing the quest line down, your new villain reveals that he’s got his evil world-exploding machine plugged into your old villain’s business.
Honestly, this is mostly your fault. I mean you killed the Shadow Lord, didn’t you? Why the heck did you just leave his head all layin’ there? Isn’t it standard procedure, when toppling a shadow lord, to burn the corpse or encase it in cement or fire it off into space or something? You never know when some dark priest from the Eldritch Dimension is going to come along with a cosmic revival song or something, you know?
On the other hand, Vana’diel will probably never have an energy crisis. I don’t know how much electricity you can generate with the head of a satanic bear-man, but I bet it charges a lot of iPods.
Final Fantasy VI: Siegfried the Mystery Man (…or is it “Ziegfried”?)
The absolute least believable plot elements are behind us now. The last three games are actually fairly solid as far as stories go, eliciting minor groans at worst. Truth be told, Final Fantasy VI could be at the top of the list; each scene in the game segues logically into the next scene. Plot points relate to each other, and affect each other. Characters act in believable ways, as long as you define “believable” as “this is a 16-bit Nintendo game”. Romances and betrayals make sense in this world, and the one major character who acts without clear motives does so because he is certifiably rubber-room insane.
There is, however, a character in FF6 that causes my brain to ache when I try to make sense of him. Siegfried. What the hell is up with this character?
Siegfried shows up precisely three times. He first appears when you attempt to open a treasure box while on a ghost train. He fights you for it, loses in one hit, then steals it anyway and runs off. You never learn what that box contained. Later you see him in a cave tailing some theives. All the treasures in this cave are empty, presumably taken by him. He finally comes to rest in the coliseum, where he has nothing to say except that someone is running around impersonating him.
Older versions of the game sometimes spell his name with a Z instead of an S, which just fuels the confusion. Ultros, the game’s inexplicable comic relief villain, apparently works for him. He supposedly collects treasure, but there’s no sidequest associated with him and you never gain anything by helping, defeating or even simply talking to him.
Honestly, this wouldn’t bother me so much if we were talking about any earlier game. But FF6 has such well-realized characters that a cipher like Siegfried stands up and waves a flag around. He’s not the man with the dark, mysterious past; that archetype is much better realized in Shadow. And he’s not the utter nonentity; he’s got far too much dialogue for that. Four hints is all you get, and they don’t amount to anything.
Was there supposed to be more to the character than ended up in the final release? Is there more to the character that the game has simply managed to guard from millions of players, hackers and speculators? Does he join your party if you kill 9999 Brachiosaurs? Thinking about this joker gives me an aneurysm.
Final Fantasy XII: “It was my evil twin!”
The opening scenes of Final Fantasy XII involve a young soldier named Reks and his commanding officer Basch attempting to foil an assassination attempt on the life of their king. Basch instructed Reks to stand his ground while he went to faced the assassin. When Reks finally caught up he saw something horrifying: the king lay dead, and Basch stood over him with a bloodied sword.
Captain Basch, the king slayer, traitor to the kingdom of Dalmasca. Word of his betrayal spread far and wide, and his name became one of the most reviled in all the land.
Some hours into the game Reks’s kid brother Vaan gets some adventures under his belt and falls in with a pair of Sky Pirates. The three of them wind up in a dungeon where they find Captain Basch imprisoned, rather than executed like the authorities claimed. Despite Vaan’s protests his comrades release Basch so he might escape. When asked why he would betray Dalmasca and murder the king on the very eve of peace, Basch cooks up the most weaksauce excuse imaginable: “It wasn’t me, it was my twin brother.”
Now, to Basch’s credit, this turns out to be the truth. Basch’s twin brother Gabranth is the true king slayer; the Empire replaced one with the other in order to kill the king and besmirch the name of one of Dalmasca’s great heroes. It’s a page ripped right out the script of every terrible soap opera ever conceived. Next you’ll be wondering whether Ashe was switched at birth, or whether Fran used to be a man.
When I first saw this happen in the game I wanted to fling it across the room. Remember, this was 2006; I had endured Cait Sith’s betrayal, and Yang’s miraculous double-recovery, and Time Kompression and You’re Not Alone and a hundred other Final Fantasy wallbangers. But an evil twin? Certainly this was too much.
As more of Ivalice opened up to me, though, I began to see that it wasn’t so far-fetched as it seemed. Twins are uncommon, but not otherworldly so. I’d never questioned the existence of Palom and Porom, or Edgar and Sabin, or… is there another pair I’m forgetting? And anyway, the plan to pit one twin against the other was concocted by Vayne Solidor, whose machinations I came to respect as the game went on. Vayne is a man who can identify an advantage and then exploit the hell out of it. Fate had given him a powerful tool; why not use it?
In the end, one twin pretending to be the other is no more cliché than spirit guides or time travel or heroic sacrifices or whatever else this crazy wackjob series tries to pull. It’s the kind of stunt a real person might pull off as a gag, done on a much grander scale. Gabranth was rewarded for his treachery, and Basch was eventually sprung, so things worked out in the end.
Oh, except for Reks. He died never knowing the truth. Poor bastard.
Final Fantasy II: Leon’s Meteoric Rise
Oh my god you guys. Final Fantasy II? At the top of the list!? Believe it — I triple-checked my math and it all works out fine. FF2’s eye-rollingest plot point is downright tame compared to some of the muck we’ve slogged through. I promise I didn’t set this up; this is just how the chips fell. I can scarcely contain my excitement!
Here’s the score: one of FF2’s primary antagonists is the Imperial Dark Knight. The plot jukes and jives, one thing leads to another, and it turns out the Dark Knight is none other than Leon, the long-lost brother of scantily-clad party member Maria.
Wait, did I say “long-lost”? I mean to say “lost for a couple weeks”. Or, you know, however much time has elapsed since the beginning of the game, where Leon is fighting alongside Maria during the Empire’s attack on their hometown. That’s the tricky part: how did Leon go from being a prisoner of war to the Empire’s right hand man?
FF2’s story actually isn’t bad so much as… what’s a good word here? Dated. Sitting down to analyze various plot elements for this list (and then over-analyzing them when FF2 reached the top and I was all “wait, that can’t be right…”) I realized that FF2’s plot has a lot in common with FF12’s. Both stories are primary political, yet with strong fantasy undertones. The protagonist of each story is just some nobody who got swept up in the tide of things. The villain of each story is a human who cuts a deal with supernatural forces to build his Empire.
So I look at something like Leon’s missing plotline and I think, what would go there, were this game made in 2006? My brain immediately went to “it was his evil twin!”, which made me facepalm. But you know, there are a lot of perfectly believable ways to fill the gap. Maybe Leon was an Imperial spy, and it was his information that led to the attack on Fynn? Maybe he was a decorated war hero trying to squirrell his sister’s friends out of town, got overwhelmed, and bought their lives by defecting. Maybe the Emperor is as sentimental as he is eccentric, and just happened to see something… special in his new boy-toy prisoner. Maybe Leon was just overwhelmed with jealousy at Maria’s affections for Firion.
Maybe he was just straight-up brainwashed. That wouldn’t at all be out of place in this series.
Point is, there are all kinds of believable roads that could get Leon from Point A to Point B. FF2 is filled with little subplots like that… little mysteries left unexplained, more likely for lack of space on the cartridge than lack of ideas. Maybe someday we’ll get the chance to see them.
I didn’t want to get in-depth with storylines for this project, figuring it would be more fun to focus on the weird little quirks that make the FF series unique. I’m glad I broke that rule this week though, because it looks like we finally found what FF2 is good at: it’s just the game that will make you vomit blood. The story is… well, boring, I guess. But not, like… no blood-vomit involved. Still… don’t play it.
If I had wanted to be fancy, I’d have designed this whole project from the outset so that each game would make the top spot exactly once over the course of thirteen weeks. That’s not going to happen now, since FF12 has “won” twice, but it would have been cute. This means at least one game is going to have to live with the shame of never being king, though, and surprisingly enough it won’t be FF2 or FF10. Things… are heating up!