Thursday, May 02, 2013

Final Fantasy VIII: Good or Evil?

In pretty much every Final Fantasy game it's very obvious what side your party is on. You are good. You are fighting the obvious forces of evil. Sometimes the big bad guy is obvious, sometimes it's shrouded in mystery and there are plot twists along the way. But even when it's shrouded, like in FFIV, you still know your party is obviously the good guys. Something evil is going on and you're going to put a stop to it! FFVI has lots of plot twists, but it is again obvious that Kefka is _EVIL_ and it's a good thing that you're trying to stop him. Kefka is in favour of committing genocide for power. He gleefully poisons a town of civilians. Eventually he gets godlike powers and shoots laser beams at innocent people for sport. He is evil, you are good, and that's all there is too it.

In Final Fantasy VIII you start off as a student in a mercenary school. Your first mission is to help defend a town under invasion, which sounds like a good thing to do. But it turns out this invasion isn't meant to conquer the city; in fact the army withdraws soon after they arrive. They're only there to repair a broadcast tower they once owned. Were there negotiations involved? I can imagine where the army asked the city to repair the tower, and volunteered to do it themselves, and were rebuffed. Is deliberately suppressing technology from a former enemy something good people do?

Next up, my party gets sent out to help out a rebel group that's fighting for the freedom of their city. Sounds like a pretty noble cause. But there's not actually a fight going on. Instead we're brought in to kidnap the president and browbeat him into relinquishing control of the city. A city that presumably was conquered legitimately in a war many years ago. It's not really clear that the president could even trivially hand over the city even if he wanted to. If a group of Iraqi people kidnapped Obama in order to get US troops to leave would that be seen as an obviously good action?

That doesn't work, and the president in fact uses the broadcast tower from before to reveal that he's got a sorceress as his assistant now. A different sorceress was responsible for the big war in the recent past so people start freaking out. Obviously this new sorceress has to be planning to do the same thing, right? So my party gets put in charge of assassinating her. In a preemptive strike. This poor woman has done nothing except have some magical powers and rather than give her some rope to hang herself like most good parties would, we just head out to kill her off. I guess this is the sort of thing that actually does happen in real world politics, with Hussein and Bin Laden and such. US culture seems to think such strikes are good things. I'm not convinced. I certainly don't think they're obviously good actions.

A bunch of stuff happens. We take out the sorceress and her powers shift to a member of my party, who then gets mind controlled and takes some very poor actions and unleashes a lot of monsters. There's a way to freeze her so she can't do anything bad again. She agrees to do it. The main character decides to screw that. He makes the conscious decision that even if she turns evil he'll defend her to the end and breaks her out of stasis. And then we decide that our game plan is actually to help the ultimate evil person out. Ostensibly because we think getting the evil really close to finishing their plan is what will let us kill them for good. But it really seems like sealing Rinoa and killing Adel would fix everything without risk of having all of time compressed away. I'd almost say our plan is to let evil win.

Is my party good, or evil? Very little of what we've done, if anything at all, have been what I would call an obviously good action. There's no Cecil turning into a paladin moment here. In other games the good guys seal away evil instead of killing it off because murder is wrong. That's not the case here. We think the sorceress should die, so we try to assassinate her. I think my party is trying to do what they think is right the whole time (even when they choose love and friendship over saving the world) but what they think is right isn't always the standard fantasy good. And I think it would be easy to frame the world slightly differently and actually see my party as being evil.

And maybe that's why I like the story in FFVIII so much. It's not just the standard fare. It's more character driven than most stories. And when it comes right down to it, maybe I just like people doing what they think is right more than doing what is good?

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