I wasn’t actually expecting this to happen, but I finished Final Fantasy IV this week. It kind of snuck up on me. I guess time flies when you’re gallivanting around the moon.
The end of the game really isn’t anything particularly special or mold-breaking, particularly given some of the more non-standard stuff that goes on earlier, so I’m not going to spend much time talking about that. Instead, I want to look at a subject that I’m not sure I like FFIV’s approach to: death.
A lot of characters die in this game. I mean, a LOT of them die. Frequently, this happens in extremely noble, self-sacrificing story beats, without which Cecil would likely be unable to continue his quest.
Here’s the problem, though. They all come back.
Now, when I say that this is a problem, I don’t mean that I WANT to see these characters dead. I don’t hate them, nor do I have some particularly sadistic urge to raise the game’s body count. I do, however, worry that the impact of their sacrifices is lessened when they turn out to not actually be sacrifices at all.
The first time this not-quite-dead reveal happens, it makes sense. Rydia, who joins the party as a very young girl, appears to die when she is swallowed by Leviathan. In reality, she is taken to the Land of the Eidolons, where time passes more quickly, so that when she rejoins mere hours later (in game time), she has aged into a young woman with matured powers. Not only is there a legitimate story reason for her to have been gone, it’s also necessary to balance the gameplay. She also didn’t make a big spectacle out of laying down her own life for the good of the group only to have that grand gesture taken away. A monster ate her, which was really not her choice.
On the flip side, take Palom and Porom, the black mage/white mage pair of twins who accompany the party from Mysidia onward. They willingly turn themselves to stone in order to stop Cecil and the party from being crushed in a trap, and you are led to believe that this is an action that cannot be reversed. However….surprise! Later on, the Elder of their village releases them from the spell, so that they can once again join your party if you choose.
It could probably be argued that, since the twins believed they were making a final choice rather than doing so knowing that they would be freed later, that this was still a noble deed. However, since they probably had a pretty good idea of their Elder’s abilities, having trained under him for their whole lives, I don’t think this is very likely. It’s impossible to say for sure, though.
If this were the only questionable “death,” I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but it isn’t; it also happens with Edward, Yang, and Cid. Edward is the lightest offender, as he pretty much falls under the same scenario as Rydia, only without the cool stint in Summoner-land. He’s knocked overboard in Leviathan’s attack, and washes up later for you to find.
With Yang and Cid, it’s a bit different. Yang puts himself in the path of the cannons about to destroy the dwarven tanks assisting the party, and is believed killed. In reality, though, he is rescued by the Sylphs, and wakes when you hit him on the head with a frying pan given to you by his wife. Similarly, Cid dives off his airship to detonate explosives that seal off the underworld, but appears later on when you need him to modify your ship again. It’s all very convenient.
Actually, aside from Palom and Porom, the others probably don’t have any good reason to suspect that they will live through their respective ordeals, so maybe their gestures do retain meaning. Having them come back just seems wrong to me, though. Perhaps having one character come back from a “certain” end would feel okay, but all of these? Why even bother “killing” them off at all, if that was going to be the case?
I think my real problem here is that it feels manipulative…and a bit cheap. If you’re going to kill your characters, then just do it, and make it mean something. Don’t back out at the last minute because you’re afraid you’re going to make someone sad.
You know who’s not coming back, though? Zeromus! OH, SNAP!
WEEKS #26-27 PROGRESS: Final Fantasy IV completed (final time: 24 hours, 45 minutes)