Friday, April 28, 2017

Final Fantasy Tactics's Plot's Shift in Focus

Short rant today! I mean, sort of. Short for me, at least.

I do love Final Fantasy Tactics. 1 of the greatest Final Fantasy titles, hell, 1 of the greatest RPGs, period, ever made, Final Fantasy Tactics is intelligent, thoughtful, dire, critical, and inventive, telling an engrossing tale of 1 man’s forgotten heroism in the brutal and unflinchingly amoral land of Ivalice, which mimics in most significant ways Europe of the medieval ages. It’s a great tale of class warfare, the way that grief and anger can both corrupt a man and make him greater at the same time, questions of whether means can justify ends, love and loyalty between family both biological and adopted, the tragedy that war visits upon the innocent, the monstrosity of those who crave power and the havoc they wreak in their power games...all kinds of engaging, powerful stuff.

Oh, yeah, and also there’s some stuff in there about saving the world from hell demons who possess people using magical stones based on the same stuff as your horoscope.

Yeah, see, about halfway through Final Fantasy Tactics, the plot’s focus shifts from the war of succession in Ivalice and the protagonist’s place in it, to an invasion by that world’s Anti-Christ who it turns out was secretly also that world’s Christ figure. The transition isn’t immediate or anything; the Zodiac Stones only gradually start to take over the plot, and the political struggles remain at least in the background of the game for a while,’s still kind of weird, when I really look at it. FFT is well-written enough that the 2 different plot focuses aren’t unrelated, of course, the church’s power is a player in the political story and some of the political story’s figures become key players in the Zodiac Stones plot, wouldn’t be hard to completely separate Final Fantasy Tactics: the war-of-power-hungry-nobles story, and Final Fantasy Tactics: the save-the-world-from-demons story. They seem, in fact, artificially tied together, like 2 different stories that were carefully, but not naturally, welded into 1.

And the thing is, well, I think it’s to the game’s detriment. That’s not to say that Final Fantasy Tactics isn’t a terrific RPG; it definitely is. That’s not to say, even, that the story of saving the world from the threat of demons secretly tied to a false church that FFT presents isn’t good. It is quite a decent adventure, executed in a competent way. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just...well, the first major story of the game, of warring nobles and class warfare, the questions of honor and where the line lies between good and evil when you’re sinning for the sake of peace, and the juxtaposition between protagonist Ramza and the man he considers a brother as one struggles to do lasting good without compromising his principles, and the other becomes a hero king by sacrificing his better nature...that all amounts to a way better, much more compelling plot to focus on.

I mean, think about it. What are the moments that really stick with you from FFT, the parts of it that make it so memorable and speak to you? For me, there are many. The betrayal of Algus and death of Teta, of course. The spite and unrelenting resentment of Miluda, and what we see Wiegraf is reduced to afterward. Ramza managing to stop a major battle and save countless lives by flooding the battlefield. Ovelia speaking to Agrias of her doubts and concerns. Wiegraf agreeing to give his soul to Lucavi for the power to accomplish his goals. The quick, bloody, vicious betrayals of those who conspire to seize power. The complicated character of Algus, the ambition of Delita which you can’t truly say for sure is right or wrong, the plight of the commoners represented by Wiegraf and Miluda, the devotion of Agrias, the determination and despair of Ovelia, the difficulty that Ramza has in reconciling himself to his role and the man he wants to be and his conflict with Delita, as well as with his brothers, the clashing ideologies of Ramza and Gafgarion that cement who Ramza truly is. The ending scene where Ovelia betrays and kills Delita for what he’s done, and he in turn kills her, and thinks of Ramza, the man who wouldn’t do evil for the sake of good, and wonders whether things turned out better for him.

See, the thing is, of all those really memorable, powerful scenes and characters and ideas I just mentioned that really stay in my mind, only 1 involved the Zodiac Stones, and part of that was just that it was the first time we’d watched a soul corrupted by the Stones, and another part was simply what it meant for Wiegraf as a character. Nearly everything about Final Fantasy Tactics that makes the game so great is, to me at least, the overarching story of succession and class struggle, and the personal story of morality between Ramza and Delita, which feeds primarily back into the political plot. So I feel that by gradually turning its focus away from that story, and onto a tale of saving the world from magical evil stones and resurrected demons and whatnot, we kind of missed out. Final Fantasy Tactics is a terrific RPG, but so much of what makes it excellent is found in its first plot focus, not its second.

I just wonder what might have been if the game had stayed the course until the end, whether we might have gotten an even better product had the story stayed grounded in political struggles and questions of the morality of actions and intent. The Zodiac Stones story that eventually overtook the game’s focus is fine, as I said, and they fit well with the setting of Ivalice given the whole corrupt medieval church thing, but...without that, would we have had yet more really powerful moments of emotion and social examination, and raw twists and turns in the plot? Would some of the content of the game’s expansive codex, so in-depth that it feels like a third of the story’s content is locked away in its menus, have been seen in action rather than just read about?

Great though it is, I cannot help but wonder if Final Fantasy Tactics had more to offer, had it not switched its focus. I suppose we’ll just never know.


  1. Ivalice is far too dark for Ramza. There is no way ne could play a more proactive role in the politica whitout compromising himself or ending like *spoiler* in game of thrones.
    The zodiac stone plot allowed him to stay heroic,and still contribute to the improvememt of Ivalice. Also, my memory may be hazy on that point, but i never found the two plots disconnected. I should play FFT again.

    1. Well, I don't think that's necessarily true. Ramza has plenty of involvement in the political aspects of FFT's story, at least for the first half of the game, and while he grapples with his limitations and failures from the game's first chapter, he still manages to have a significant presence without compromising himself, such as his temporary protection of Ovelia, and his decision to flood a battlefield to prevent an all-out slaughter between the 2 sides being manipulated by their corrupt leaders. I think Ramza would have been able to quite adequately remain grounded in the political side of the game without having to give up on his morality, given what we see of his actions in the game.

  2. Hi Ess! It's Moonlight again! Just popping my head in (also I was hoping you had written something on Persona 5 haha, I want to hear your thoughts on it!)

    I never thought of the plot that way to be honest. It's certainly an interesting point. Hmmmm I think for me I thought that the whole Zodiac Stone was a driving force that amplified how the corrupt people in power just wanted more power, and the stones reflected their desire. That's what I thought the designers were trying to convey at least, this is bolstered by when Rafa uses the stone and it does something unexpectedly good in front of Ramza's eyes. She's not seeking vengeance or angry at anyone, in fact she was thankful that the stone grieved her brother's death. It seems to me like they were trying to create an analogy between the stones and power itself, and how when the corrupt use it to keep getting more corrupt/powerful they are ultimately defeated by good (aka Ramza), while the good can actually use power to do something for the better, e.g.: Rafa saving Malak, Restoring Reis, Bringing Cloud....? Ionno if that's 'good'.
    Continuing this analogy, consider the people that you encounter that are Ramza's allies or even enemies at some point that question what is going on, a handful of them have a holy stone but don't use them, perhaps saying that they have not let power corrupt them. (Examples: Mustadio, Orlandu, Izlude, Meliadoul, Alma). Even Wiegraf is someone that I believe you would have mixed feelings for and is ultimately a tragic story of someone who had a lofty and idealist goal let his anger of the system, and sorrow for Meliuda corrupt him.

    Thoughts? Haha

    1. Hi, Moonlight, long time no see! Hope you've been doing well as the years tick by. Haven't played SMTP5 yet, but by all accounts I've heard it's rather great. I'll get to it sooner or later, though.

      Hm. That's an interesting perspective that I'd never thought of. I rather like it. It does tie the Stones back to what I think should be the focus of FFT pretty well, and make the 2 plots a little less separate.

      With that said, it's still an inelegant analogy for the fact that it's wholly unnecessary. FFT's plot is such that it doesn't need any such allegory, because it's already DIRECTLY about the corrupting force of power. Whatever messages and ideas that one can glean from the Stones as such an analogy would have been easier and more effective to show as an outright, tangible event in the plot. I love subtlety in storytelling, but when your story is already being direct and open with what it says on a subject, removing part of your message and making it into a metaphor while everything else relating to its message is out in the open doesn't work. So to me, the plot about the Zodiac Stones and the plot about all the rest of the game are still 2 separate games sutured together, and I still regret the shift from the political stuff to the magical hoo-haw stuff...but your insight does make it seem just a bit better, too.

    2. Hmmm I see what you're saying.

      From how I see it, the stones were the tangible things that could create a more obvious outlet for how power is being utilized. Perhaps it was not a perfect medium for conveying such things, but I think the stones do draw out the characters' inclinations in the chaotic world where you're not always sure where peoples' allegiance lies. Wiegraf's desire for the power to change things was clearly larger than his desire to actually change things and even larger than his love for his sister. Without something to draw that part out, it perhaps might have came out as disingenuous or out of nowhere. Conversely Rafa's grief and love for her fallen brother was clearly shown, it totally would have been okay if she was angry and wanted to seek vengeance, but the zodiac stone here brings to light that her priorities were not about what was right or what was wrong, but just her love for brother. And then maybe just as a cherry on top, this is where you hear a bit of Ramza's thoughts on the matter where he questions what the holy stones are about and perhaps what he is doing things for, and magically then next chapter is "Somebody to Love" (The PSP version is "In The Name of Love"). And so instead of the politics or some sense of justice, Ramza is now after his sister. I think that throughout the game, you see Ramza's journey into politics, people's motivations, and justice, the holy stones are some of the tangible milestones that ultimately leads him to his ending; Olan spots him and Alma riding off unknowing to anyone else, probably because he didn't want anything to do with power or politics, and because he wants to actually spend time with his sister, you know cause so many other sibling pairs had such tragic endings (God there were so many of them).

      That was a bit of a tangent, but yeah I believe that the holy stones was just a plot device that the designers used to do said goals, and perhaps have a reasonable excuse for ridiculous bosses and to explain things that probably would have been less logical without some kind of magical component to it. Sure there's probably some other way to do the above, but in the end I think it works out without too much complication. Then again I'm probably bias since FFT is still my Top 3 for sure.