Revenge of the Nihilists?

Recently, yours truly rediscovered Squaresoft’s (Square-Enix, beg ya pardon) Final Fantasy series.  I last enjoyed the delights of Final Fantasy IX, which I must admit is my favourite FF – it had the fairytale premise, the lovable characters and the stunning visuals and sound.  It was a tour de force in storymaking for me at the time, and although signs of veritable age leap onto the Playstation 1 cycle of games now, it still evokes fun memories.  I had not played an FF before FFVII, yet have since enjoyed the re-releases of those games on the PS1 format.

I loved the plethora of anachronistic design, story-telling and scale of FFVII, got a little confused and distracted by FFVIII’s system (and a little disheartened at the premise, which did not seem inherently interesting at the time) and recently purchased the great FFXII title on the PS2.  I completely missed the cycle on the PS2 at the time and am only slowly rediscovering it now, having reached the latter stages of FFX – supposedly one of the best in the series.  I’m very impressed with it to an extent – the gameplay is fantastic and really improves on the turn based mechanic that lets my replays of FFIX down (and it also makes combat in FFXII a little “cheap”) – but I am noticing the distinct pattern of archetypes within the series.

I have no problem with archetypes.  Thiefs, Summoners, Black Mages and Honourable Knights are stock Final Fantasy, but I must admit to being a little disheartened at the the frequency of FF games to use a Nihilist as the main antagonist.  I understand that the majority of the game has the player experience the wonderful world and its wonderful peoples, so much so that the cause is worth fighting for – and this is typical narrative fare – especially against a Nihilist wishing to end it.  But the trait of nihilism seems almost an excuse for antagonism rather than a cause.  No, perhaps I should start at the beginning of my FF journey: FFVII and enter Sephiroth.

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Sephiroth is a great character and a great villain.  He is the archetypical nihilist, and much of his angst was conveyed to incredible effect, so much so that I enjoyed the game first time round wishing he was a lone wolf who would eventually join my party.  Sure, it was Shinra firing cannons, but Sephiroth’s story had pathos.  Next up would be the FFVIII villain, but considering I never played past the first few hours, it seems ingenious to consider the antagonist a nihilist when I had no clue for or against.

Then there is Kuja, villain of FFIX, my favourite game.  Kuja wants untold destructive upon the world because he knows he has an expiry date on his existence – he’s part of a project to ferry ancient souls from world to world yada yada.  Yes, FFIX gets weird near its finale, and the existence of another, older planet other than Gaia, is the “big reveal.”  Kuja is nothing too special in himself; if anything, he, like practically every character, is particuarly effeminite, rides a big silver dragon and lives above an Auction House, of all places.  Yet the notion of expiry dates calls into question alot of what the protagonist party in FFIX hold dear, especially Vivi, the toy shop doll/black mage made on a production line.  Maybe he wasn’t enough of a moaning, fatalistic git however, because the FFIX developers tacked on Necron-whatever, a strange being who appears once you do in Kuja, only to state his intentions of destroying the world.  Points for originality.

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In FFX however, and this is where my main gripe comes from, we get yet another Nihilist.  Maestor Seymour Guado: a character so feminine and strange looking, simply out of expectation, you know he is the villain.  Similar to all Nihilists, Seymour has a history, a reason for his madness; but to me, compared to Sephiroth’s tragedy or even Kuja’s minor inconvieniance, Seymour’s back story is weak, very weak.  And what I find almost disturbing is the stories reliance upon Seymour’s difference (he is half human-half Guado (bit like an Elf)) as a factor for this nihilism – racial difference no less.  Surely a more responsible – yes, it does matter! – way of dealing with this would be a reconilation with poorly Seymour on behalf of the protagonist, rather than blasting him off to space.  Poor show.  Anyway, here he is.

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Basically, all I am saying is that Square, in these games, rely to much on worn formulas.  The Nihilist can make a great character, but continued use of such archetypes can create stereotypes.  Yeah, there may be people who want to end it all, and Square can do the route of convincing us their worlds are worth saving well enough by now, but villains with plausibly attainable goals that are certainly easier to identify with (oh yeah, power, wealth, intolerance) should be the way forward, at least until that cycle wears thin.  Considering though, all I’ve just said is moot because Square went ahead and did it; they made a villain who wasn’t entirely obsessed with global destruction, just global domination; enter Vayne Soldior.

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Maybe next time I’ll moan about the plot devices used to tip the whole world on its head:  Genova, Garland, Occuri and Yunalesca, I’m looking at you.

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