Final Fantasy has war as a central theme in the majority of its games, and a unique focus on looking at the many lives affected by it. Today, I’m looking at how Final Fantasy handles war and consequence throughout several of its games.
I will be discussing major plot points, specifically for Final Fantasy IX, X and VII Remake, so please return later if you’re looking to play those games for yourself.
One of the things that I’ve always loved about Final Fantasy is the downtime after a big action scene, where you and your party are forced to walk through cities and landscapes that were once beautiful, but are now marred by the terrors of war, littering the streets with debris, smoke, fire and bodies. Sometimes, you’re directly involved in this outcome.
In Final Fantasy VII Remake, you accompany Avalanche, an eco-terrorist group, to destroy one of Shinra’s mako reactors which is siphoning life from the planet itself. Although it quickly turns out that Shinra had a hand in making the explosion far bigger than Avalanche had intended, to turn the public against you, you’re soon forced to walk through a section of Midgar which is suffering from this attack, believing that it was entirely because of your actions.
In Final Fantasy VII Remake, various text boxes appear, adding life to this world rather than mashing the cross button to talk with people. In this scene, you get rapid fire text bubbles, all voicing similar deep worry and confusion. Why did this happen? Who would do this? Where are you, mum? What’s going to happen to us? These are normal people, just like us, caught up in a wider fight that they have no say or part in. Two opposing factions have clashed, but it’s the people on the ground floor who’ve lost their family, their homes, and their daily lifestyle. And this is only at the beginning of the game…
In Final Fantasy IX, you’re forced to explore Lindblum after it’s been attacked by Queen Brahne’s black mage army, and it hurts even more when you’ve walked through these same streets and seen the same faces before in more peaceful times. That lovely older lady who sells you the gysahl pickles? She was blinded as a casualty of war, perhaps unable to work her daily trade again. There’s a little girl, once happy and full of pep, looking for her mother, who presumably is hidden under rubble, perhaps never to be found. Store owners have lost their places of work, and only have little to offer you now, compared to the large quantities they had when you last visited.
In Final Fantasy X, there’s a scene where the destructive Sin comes and destroys Kilika, killing many of its citizens in the process. This only happens because Tidus, Yuna and the rest of the party are heading there, and Sin is seeking Tidus out. At the point when it happens, it seems like a horrible ‘wrong place, wrong time’ scenario, until you uncover the relationship between Tidus and Sin. Sin displayed its power to spur Tidus and his party into urgency to defeat it — or at least, that’s my takeaway from the scene. Yuna performs a Sending, sending the many recently departed into the Farplane — the afterlife. All those lives lost, with little rhyme or reason.
In all of these examples, you see these cities and their people at their best and at their worst, and although the reasons may be inadvertent and unknown, many of these events happen due to your party’s involvement in one way or the other. You might be fighting the good fight, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t negative consequences. Final Fantasy VII Remake (and the original game) both strongly focus on this. In fact, it’s a core part of several character’s development.
The consequences are heartbreaking. Whilst you’re involved in the story and know that a war may be brewing, or that you’re going to participate in something potentially fatal and catastrophic, the people living their normal, day-to-day lives don’t know this. When something bad takes place in these games, people find themselves affected by something that’s blindsided them, with no hope to prepare for it. These events certainly aren’t the intention of your actions, but they do happen in part due to your actions.
This is something that Final Fantasy has always excelled at. We all know that war is devastating, and that loss is crushing, but Final Fantasy isn’t content with the knowledge that the player inherently knows this. They want you to see why it’s devastating, and to see why it’s crushing. I admire Final Fantasy games for focusing on the woes of war, and I know that when I play one, I’m going to care about the NPCs just as much as my party.