Season's Gaming

Season's Gaming
A Fine Fantasy

Patrick Dugan | 20 Dec 2005 11:01
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If Terra and Celes are the jewels in the game's crown, the use of multiple perspectives is certainly the alloy that supports the overall structure. Halfway through the first act, the team disperses across the continent, and the player must choose to play each of three character's missions in whatever order he likes. In this way, the player can express their preference to play the beguiling romantic, Locke (who may be an allusion to humanist philosopher John Locke), the motherly heroine Terra, or the macho martial artist Sabin. Each scenario has a distinct feel to it, and each character brings their own attitudes and worldview, providing a range of perspectives to the party and the player.

This multiplicity expounds in the memories and dreams of each character, sprinkled amidst the gameplay. Locke, we find, seeks the power of the Phoenix to resurrect his comatose girlfriend; Cyan, the chivalrous knight, writes love letters via carrier pigeon to a war widow so as to re-live the love of his dead wife; Setzer, the gambler, reflects on the death of a female airship pilot, the only woman he ever loved; Terra tends to a group of orphans and learns what it means to be needed. But, the sharpest of these moments belongs to Celes, who, stranded on a lonely island with a scientist named Cid (a recurring name in the franchise) must try to nurse him to health by catching fish. If the player cannot do this task, which is balanced to be difficult, then Cid dies, and Celes reacts by jumping off a cliff in despair. She awakes on the beach, washed up from her attempted suicide, and a brilliant flash of the interactive medium's potential shines through - Celes' despair is of the player's failure, and thus stings even more sharply.

Midway through the game, the general antagonism of the empire gives way to a very specific figure, a man produced as a weapon by society in the same manner as Terra and Celes, an androgynous, perverted, wicked little clown: Kefka. Somewhere between Shakespeare's Falstaff and King's It, Kefka is one of the most memorable Final Fantasy villains because he isn't distant or mysterious, he is present and taunting, he has personality and catchy orchestral tunes to match. Kefka, like Dostoevsky's Underground Man, is an unforeseen, unwelcome mutation that not only exists, but must exist, considering what civilization is based on. Kefka is the necessary bi-product of technology run amok, an Anti-Christ with a surreal laugh. He is a figure of moral abandon and apocalypse, and in this manner the game's third act takes place.

Kefka betrays his king and unleashes Armageddon unto the world. That is why, when his combat sprite finally descends onto the screen as a flamboyant mock-angel, and the team defiantly pummels him with unceasing ultima spells, his destruction is not just an obligatory end-game ritual, but a meaningful triumph. Without Kefka, the soaring airship tour over the end credits would be a tack on, just another RPG closeout; with him, it is serene and satisfying, a glorious conclusion to one of the greatest games ever made.

Final Fantasy III's greatest fiction, besides its escapism for overweight geeky nine-year-olds, was a brave portrait of an enduring humanism. The game implied in its rules that individuals determined to stand outside the system and challenge its inequities must prevail, given enough level-ups and reloads. It depicted with Dostoevskian poise how such individuals, collaborating as equals, could best the worst offenses of industrial greed, environmental degradation and technological misuse - to a child or adult, this is a fantasy worth entertaining.

Patrick Dugan is a ludosophist. He runs King Lud IC, a blog regarding game design theory, memetics and interactive storytelling. He looks foward to prototyping with Chris Crawford's Erasmatron, and to pioneering socially-oriented narrative challenge.

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