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The Memory Card .18: Syldra's final cry

11:42 AM on 09.27.2007 // Chad Concelmo

Sound is something that is sometimes overlooked and almost always underappreciated in videogames. Not music, mind you, but actual sound effects. While everyone may know the classic Super Mario Bros. theme, the game would never be the same without the memorable sounds of jumping or collecting coins.

It’s not that people don’t appreciate these sounds effects by any means, it just seems they go a little unnoticed when compared to all the other pieces that make a videogame great.

One videogame moment in particular, from Final Fantasy V for the Super Nintendo, uses sound to such great effect that its significance can hardly be ignored. In fact, I can’t play or even talk about the game without my sense memory triggering this one specific, haunting sound clip.

Hit the jump to experience a moving story point on its own that is only exemplified by its perfect use of audio.

 [On a side note, I really want to show some serious love to community members A New Challenger and KamikazeTutor. They created some of their own features based on this Memory Card segment and, honestly, I couldn't be more flattered. You should all seriously check them out. Amazing.]

The Set-Up

Final Fantasy V, while not initially released in America, is one of the most underrated of all the Final Fantasy games. In it, you play as main character Bartz on a quest to protect four elemental crystals and stop an evil power from destroying the world around you. Yeah, okay, the story is a cookie cutter of almost all other Final Fantasy games, but the elaborate battle and job system help this game stand out from the rest.

Most Final Fantasy games have an epic cast of playable characters, each with their own special traits or techniques. In Final Fantasy V, the cast is dwindled down to a shockingly small five, but virtually expanded to an almost infinite number with the complex job system (that allows you to mix and match a large number of specialties to form your perfect character).

Regardless of the job system, the game still heavily focuses on the five main characters’ lives and provides plenty of back stories and plot twists to keep any Final Fantasy fan happy.

One of the main characters you meet early in the game is the purple-haired pirate Faris. Now, I’m not trying to ruin the story for anyone who hasn’t played this little gem, but to make use of the correct gender in this article I have to reveal that Faris, who you initially think is a man, turns out to be a girl (sorry!).

Upon meeting her, your party learns that Faris has a giant water dragon named Syldra as a pet, the beautiful beast helping tow Faris’s ship around the seas (since the world’s wind has stopped blowing).

As you play through the initial sections of the game, Syldra assists you, not only as a loyal companion, but actually saving your life at one point by attacking a giant sea monster. As the battle commences, Syldra is dragged under the water by the lobster-like creature and never resurfaces.

Assuming her friend since childhood is dead, Faris mourns the tragic loss and continues the journey with her companions.

Later in the game, your party makes its way to Walse Tower, the location of the Water Crystal, one of the four elemental crystals the group is striving to protect.

After a tough boss battle, the crystal is unfortunately shattered, sinking the tower and your party into the depths of the nearby sea.

It is at this point when the next Memory Card moment occurs. I can still hear it echoing in my ears as I type this …

The Moment

As Faris and her friends slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean, awaiting certain doom, a familiar face emerges from the dark water. It is none other that Syldra, who obviously survived the sea monster attack from earlier in the game.

The brave dragon quickly scoops you all in her mouth and swims to a nearby shore, saving the entire party from drowning. Weakened by the rescue and earlier battle, Syldra opens her jaws and your characters spill out, desperately gasping for air.

Faris immediately recovers and runs to her heroic pet’s side. To her sad realization, Syldra has used the very last of her strength to save the party and is minutes away from dying.

Not knowing how to deal with the impending loss, Faris yells at Syldra and refuses to say good-bye.

As Faris’s loud voice turns into tears, Syldra slips back into the ocean, letting out a sad cry as she departs the living world. It is this sound effect that pierces the heart and really is something that the player will never forget (I know I haven’t).

As Faris and the party stand on the beach, quietly thanking the brave water dragon, the music slowly fades away and the screen goes to black.

Just when you think the heartbreaking scene is over, however, one more cry from Syldra (her final) breaks through the silence, the tragically perfect ending to a surprisingly moving scene.

You can watch (and, most importantly, listen!) to the entire scene unfold here (unfortunately, a boss battle precedes the story; the actual moment begins around 4:18):

The Impact

I have played Final Fantasy V numerous times (it is one of my favorite RPGs) and the sound of Syldra’s cry truly gets me each and every time.

What impresses me the most concerning this moment is that all of this emotion is drawn from a seemingly simple 16-bit game on the Super Nintendo. No fancy cutscenes or overdramatic voiceovers are needed to portray a genuine feeling of loss in the player.

It seems like with new technology, the beautiful simplicity of these old retro games is getting lost. Think about it: if this scene occurred in a very recent Final Fantasy, do you think the same emotion would be there? Probably not. Sure, the production values would most likely be staggering, but sometimes they can almost be too much.

What makes this scene so powerful is its reliance on tried and true methods of successful visual and aural storytelling. A lot of the time videogames jam so much information on the screen at once that it completely desensitizes you from feeling any emotions. By sticking to the basics (minimal amount of dialogue, no unnecessary visuals), everything is portrayed in a more focused, effective manner.

Actually, this scene proves that point perfectly: a few simple sprites and some very low quality music and sound effects produce a bigger reaction out of me than most of the games I have played in the last decade. That is a very impressive accomplishment (and one I miss dearly).

I know I seem to mention this point in every one of these Memory Card features, but I really can’t say it enough: creating a memorable videogame moment is no easy task and there really is a fine line between a scene being very successful or a sloppy failure. All it takes is a small creative misstep, an early music cue, or simple misdirection to result in a scene falling apart (what if Syldra’s final cry did not occur during the black fade out? Would it be as heart-wrenching?). When something comes together in a videogame it really is a remarkable achievement and should be honored for the art that it is.

The Final Fantasy series is full of many memorable moments, but it seems to be the smaller, subtle ones that stick out most in my mind. I know for a fact that I will never forget the sound of Syldra’s final cry for the rest of my life and it is because of this that the moment will always be one of the most memorable in videogame history.

The Memory Card Save Files

.01: The return of Baby Metroid (Super Metroid)
.02: Palom and Porom's noble sacrifice (Final Fantasy IV)
.03: The encounter with Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)
.04: The heir of Daventry (King's Quest III: To Heir is Human)
.05: Pey'j is captured (Beyond Good & Evil)
.06: The Opera House (Final Fantasy VI)
.07: Attack of the zombie dog! (Resident Evil)
.08: A twist on a classic (Metroid: Zero Mission)
.09: A Christmas gift (Elite Beat Agents)
.10: To the moon, Mario! (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island)
.11: The Solitary Island (Final Fantasy VI)
.12: Wander's brave friend (Shadow of the Colossus)
.13: The submerged letter (StarTropics)
.14: The legend of Tetra (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)
.15: Snake pulls the trigger (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
.16: Riding under the missiles (Contra III: The Alien Wars)
.17: Hover bike madness! (Battletoads)

Chad Concelmo,
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