[Currently listening to: Mannheim Steamroller. It’s Christmas, yo!]
Final Fantasy is a Goliath in the video game industry; that goes without saying. This month marks its 29th anniversary, so I figured it’s only due that I give it proper homage.
But I must confess a sad truth: Final Fantasy hasn’t aged well for me. I only ever enjoyed VI and IX growing up, and now even those stories have mostly lost my interest. As for other releases in the series…well, there’s only so many reiterations of K-pop hair that I can take.
But for many, these games are pure gold, even with all the changes they’ve undergone through the past three decades. I’m hardly here to bash any series that’s had an impact on gamers, so instead let me do my best to talk about some of the characters I loved best from Final Fantasy, and why they’ve left a lasting impression on me.
(I caution you, my scope will be limited.)
Cecil Harvey – Final Fantasy IV
This lead protagonist embodied “light vs. dark” in his own journey, from serving a corrupt kingdom to accepting his ultimate role as paladin. I remember when I first played Final Fantasy IV how much I appreciated Cecil’s story. How his questions of right and wrong led him to seek the truth. How the pain he witnessed (and caused) turned him on a redemptive path. He’s no Frog from Chrono Trigger, but his character growth is admirable in its own right.
Locke Cole – Final Fantasy VI
Dashing, chivalrous, clever – Locke knows what the lady gamers love. His character was even pretty much carbon-copied in Zidane six years later, but Final Fantasy IX‘s lead male didn’t have quite the depth of Locke’s character. Why? Well, while Zidane’s helpful nature was based in…pretty much nothing, Locke desperately sought to protect his loved ones because his own past mistakes caused suffering for his beloved, Rachel.
For a game to address relationship “baggage” like that – I think Locke was a pioneer in exploring such themes. Watching him move from loving Celes as a means to clear his conscience to loving her in a way that could let go of past mistakes was a moving story arc.
Kefka Pelazzo – Final Fantasy VI
THE best Final Fantasy villain, hands down.
(Suck it, Sephiroth.) Kefka wanted all the clichés: power, destruction, absolute authority – but his motives were so wonderfully…ambivalent through it all. He didn’t have any deep or personal reason for his actions; he just enjoyed manifesting chaos.
Plus, that outfit is outrageous, and I love it.
Vivi Ornitear – Final Fantasy IX
I had so many feels for this cutie. I loved Vivi for his mix of childlike wonder and grown-up understanding of the world – which makes me realize that I hated Eiko (his six year-old female counterpart) for almost all of those exact same reasons. (I don’t know, man. I can’t make sense of my preferences.)
Looking back at the game recently, I was amazed at how almost nothing goes right for this poor boy. I might even say the game pushed that point a little TOO far to make sure its audience properly sympathized with the little black mage. Still, Vivi was one of the first characters whose psyche I really enjoyed exploring, so I suppose he’ll always have a special place in my heart.
Freya Crescent – Final Fantasy IX
The first of a couple strong female characters to round out the list. You might wonder why I’ve picked the rat woman instead of one of the many leading ladies of the franchise. What about Terra, who’s technically the main protagonist of Final Fantasy VI? What about Aerith, Rinoa, or Garnet?
Here’s the thing: leading ladies in Final Fantasy don’t typically have much control over their own story. Even when they try – like when Garnet sets out to stop her mother on her own – the plot tends to move them instead of vice versa.
I like Freya (and Beatrix, as we’ll see) because she enters the picture with a pre-established quest that has nothing to do with the main storyline as we understand it so far. She has her own drive, which, to me, makes her far stronger as a character.
(And she does it all without flaunting a large/barely-concealed chest.)
Beatrix – Final Fantasy IX
(Speaking of large chests…) Beatrix is like the female version of Cecil, in that her questions over whether she’s acting in the right eventually lead her to abandon a path of destruction. She is also the master of her own destiny and makes her own choices, living by fealty to Alexandria’s royal family.
And her romance with Steiner is more frickin’ adorable than any lead romance of any Final Fantasy ever. Try and prove me wrong.
Of course, there are numerous characters I haven’t covered in this post, so if you’re a FF fan, feel free to add some of your own favorites in the comments below.
(Wow, I think I chose a picture from every Final Fantasy art style out there.)
Final Fantasy belongs to Square-Enix. I can’t even condense the many ways you can play these games…