(The above picture is strangely fitting)
I was on the bus yesterday talking with Zero, about the evolution of character development in video games over the years. The topic of Final Fantasy IV was brought up in discussion. I know, surprise, surprise, right? For what it's worth, Zero brought it up. We began discussing some of the characters, the upcoming DS release and the fact that reports have shown that the original SNES incarnation had only about 25% of the dialogue due to storage limitations. We daydreamed about our favorite characters being more flushed out in the DS version of the game. We also talked about one-dimensional characters in games when he brought up an interesting point. He felt that Rydia was the most flushed out character in FFIV, and suspected that was the reason why I liked her so much. I gave it some thought and realized that I was drawn to that character for more than just that she was a female in a male-dominated hobby. Her growth is on the same and perhaps even higher level than the evolution of our protagonist, Cecil.
(Warning, FFIV Spoilers, just in case)
Rydia starts the game out as a small child. The japanese compendiums claim she was seven. Her mother was killed accidentally by Cecil and Kain, before the Bomb Ring/"Package" destroys the village of Mist. She's scared and angry at the two, not knowing that killing the mist Dragon would kill her as well. After Rydia summons Titan and the Village of Mist is closed off, Cecil takes Rydia to the village of Kaipo, bringing her to the inn and defends her against soldiers of Baron who want her captive. She slowly decides to trust Cecil. We see the first sign of growth in Rydia's character.
Rydia shows more dimension to her character when the party reaches Mount Hobbs. Blocked by a wall of thick ice, a fire spell is essential to passage. Rosa asks Rydia to cast the spell and fire and she hesitates. The incident in the village has traumatized her. We see more vulnerability to her character in a way we hadn't seen in characters back in 1991. She overcomes the fear and manages to cast the spell. After that Rydia can use fire spells, which is quite handy when dealing with undead.
In the first play-through of the game, we think Rydia is done for after the Leviathan attack. When she does return not only is it extremely satisfying, but it shows heroism in a female role. This rarity only appeared in the 90's with the likes of Samus Aran. Golbez arrives in the Dwarven kingdom, looking for dark crystals. He summons a shadow dragon, leaving our heros defenseless. He eliminates everyone in the party, about to give the final blow to Cecil. Suddenly we see a mist dragon being summoned, defeating the shadow dragon and healing the party. They hear a familiar voice but it's not clear until she appears on the battle screen fighting by your side. Our summoner has returned, marking a moment that is a favorite among fans of FFIV (fans beside me, I can assure you).
This is probably the biggest evolution of her character, not just because she has aged, but is wiser, and braver. The scared child is gone and what is left is a brave woman who isn't afraid to fight. Her strong character personality is also what draws Edge to her and her toughness can put up with his firey personality. Had the events she experienced not happened, would she be as developed as she was?
I know her character is still pretty shallow compared to the complexity of characters we see in a lot of todays video games, but given the time when this came out, Rydia was a well-flushed out character for 1991. She transforms both physically and emotionally, overcoming her fears and anxieties. She conquers them and helps others to conquer an evil being. For the time, I don't think any character could get more flushed out than that.