Picking back up in my look at the Final Fantasy series, let’s take a look at the first entry into the Super Nintendo era, Final Fantasy IV.  Leaving aside the technical and nerdy depths of the game’s various versions and releases, today I want to talk about the game’s plot, and the huge step forward it represented for the series.

Final Fantasy IV is the story of Cecil, a Dark Knight of Baron, and the commander of the kingdom’s dreaded airship corps, the Red Wings.  The game opens with a lengthy cut scene of Cecil flying to the country of Mysidia, attacking, and stealing their crystal.  This is a unique opening for the series, as there is almost no game-play as the player is introduced to Cecil, his friends and subordinates, and his inner turmoil.  Cecil is caught between his loyalty to the king and his desire to do what is right.

When he questions why the kingdom is committing such horrible crimes, the king strips him of his rank and demands he deliver a message to a nearby village, alone and on foot.  Cecil’s best friend and Dragoon Kain stands with him.  This is where the adventure, and the game, really begin.  The first few hours of the game chronicle Cecil’s journey as he gains and loses allies, and fights to make sense of the world and his place in it.  Finally, he washes up alone and broken on the shores of Mysidia, coming face to face with the horror of what he did at the start of the narrative.

The only way for Cecil to atone for his crime is to climb Mt. Ordeals and become a Paladin, shedding the darkness of his past.  And in doing so, the greater motion of the plot is revealed, as he is opposed by fiends serving Golbez, a powerful, shadowy figure gathering crystals to himself for some purpose.  And in becoming a Paladin, he transcends his quest to save himself, and takes on a mission to save the world.

Final Fantasy IV marked a turning point for the series.  The quartet of tabula rasas with blank spaces for names were replaced by more fully formed characters that had a place and stake in the world.  They had their own drive and agency, and drew the story forward as they wove in and out of the adventure tale’s intricate story.  IV didn’t give the player any choice as to who was in the party at any given time.  It was dictated by the story and the actions of the characters rather than the player.  And all the characters had a reason to be there, be it a sense of obligation, a desire for revenge, or just a desire to keep the other characters safe.  Square eased up on the narrative drive in later games, giving the player a bit more control, but this is the game when the party really became characters.  It was a remarkable step forward, and it had a lasting impression on the series.

Next time:  The technical innovations of the 16 bit era, and the five person party.

Advertisements