Welcome back to The Gamer’s Guide to Writing!  Last week, we introduced the game Final Fantasy IX and talked a bit about where it fits into the franchise of the series.  Let’s start up the game and have a look, shall we?
The first thing that appears on the screen are logos for the publishers and developers.  But the Squaresoft logo fades in to a short cinematic, while soft, medieval-sounding flute music plays.  This is the audience’s first real look at the style and tone of the game, and FFIX goes for an epic tone out of the gate.  We see images of a vast city, its sky teeming with airships, grand castles, and sweeping landscapes, all superimposed with a map detailing their locations.  The screen finally crossfades to the title screen, with the Final Fantasy IX logo over the background of a glowing crystal.
The thing I find interesting is that nowhere in the clip do we see a character, or get any close ups of a human figure at all.  This is the setting and art on display.  It is a promise of a wide scope, of a game that stretches across global proportions.  This is a promise of where you’ll be going.  But if we leave the controller alone for a moment, something else happens.
If left to run by itself, the game will run through a series of still images of the protagonists.  Each of the eight playable characters appears in close up, with a single word description above them and a line of text below.  Nowhere in each picture do we find the character’s name, but each is an efficient little description of who each one is, and what their motivations are in the story.  Each of these is a still shot from a FMV cutscene.
For instance, Zidane, the main character, is an image of him with a horrified expression standing against a bank of dark storm clouds.  It reads “Virtue” at the top and “You don’t need a reason to help people.”  In this single frame, the game tells us that this is the hero of the game.  He’s a good guy, and he is motivated by a strong sense of justice.  Now, this isn’t all there is to the character, of course.  This is especially true of some of his actions during disc one, but when it comes down to brass tacks, he isn’t motivated by greed or status.  He is motivated out of a desire to do good.  Vivi, on the other hand, is motivated very differently.  The text on his image reads “Despair,” and the line underneath says, “How do you know you exist?  Maybe we don’t exist…” While Quina’s states “I do what I want!  You have problem?”  This shows the reader that Vivi’s motives stem from his need to understand and establish his own identity, while Quina’s actions stem from their own simple desires.
But what purpose does putting the movie and character portraits serve?  Much like the text and quotes on a dust jacket, they are there to sell the product.  If you went into a game store in 2000, you might have seen a monitor on the counter with the opening to Final Fantasy IX playing in a loop.  Prospective players could watch and get an idea of what the story of the game was like, without being spoiled by it.
This little opening section is an excellent example for writers coming up with description copy for their books.  Whether you go epic, or personal with your characters, your goal is to present your story as evocatively as possible in the fewest words.  And notice that none of them have to necessarily be your characters’ names!
This could also be an excellent character building exercise.  Think about the protagonist  of your work in progress.  What is one word to describe them?  Can you summarize their motivations in a single line?
Next week, we’ll press start and explore Alexandria from the point of view of a little Black Mage in a big city!
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