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Overrated/Underrated Sunday: Final Fantasy Protagonists

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In the world of Final Fantasy, there are many great characters, ones that are revered and loved by many; some, however, are loved by too many, and some not loved by nearly enough. Now this may simply be because some characters are just much more talked about than others, but I'm calling a moratorium on this; certain characters need to be knocked down a peg, and others need to be put on the pedestal for once. That is why I dedicate this week's Overrated/Underrated to two characters in particular. This doesn't mean that I dislike what I call overrated or am a fanboy over what I call underrated, but I mean what I say when I use those terms. That being said, let's get into it; these are the most overrated and underrated Final Fantasy protagonists.

WARNING: There will be spoilers in this discussion, both minor and major.

OVERRATED: Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII, 1997, Squaresoft, Sony PlayStation, PC

I can just feel the hate mail already, but let's be honest here; Cloud Strife is overexposed. The only character that comes close in this category is Sephiroth, who is ineligible considering he is a villain. For those of you who don't know (which is almost statistically impossible), this blond bomb dropped in 1997, when Squaresoft's Final Fantasy VII basically took over videogames and hasn't been toppled yet, although Halo came close in the "People Need to Shut the Hell Up About It" department, which is a very large department indeed. I am by no means saying I dislike Final Fantasy VII, in fact I actually do like it; it was well-designed, if a little oddly/slowly paced, it had a pretty good script, and it was just basically a solid game overall. I really appreciated the more mature themes of the game, whether it be the death of a main character (which despite popular belief was NOT a first for the series, Galuf beating Aeris to the punch) or having a hilarious cross-dressing quest. However, this does not mean it is the best game, RPG, or even Final Fantasy of all-time, despite what the Gamefaqs community will have you believe. What it comes down to is that in 1997, a whole new generation of gamers were exposed to their first Final Fantasy, some even their first RPG, and many have never touched any pre-VII. For the most part, these are the same people who believe that VII is sacrosanct and perfect, when it really isn't, despite it being quite good in it's own right.

However, Final Fantasy VII isn't the topic of this discussion, it's poster child for hair-care products is. Cloud is by no means a bad character, or even poorly written or anything, but he isn't spectacular either; what he is is average. Ho hum. Just interesting enough to make you care about him, but not memorable enough to make him endearing. He starts out as a man who uses a James Dean, rebel image to hide his true feelings, whether they be for Tifa, Aeris, what he wants from AVALANCHE, and why he is in the line of work he has chosen. However, as the game progresses, we learn his true past, his relationship to the man known as Zack, his forays with Sephiroth, and basically everything we ever need to know about him. Unfortunately, this completely takes away the mystery of his character. It was the carrot on the end of the stick, and once you get it and eat it, you realize it's just an average carrot. You've had carrots before, you've had better carrots before, so you really have no reason to look back at how good the carrot was considering that it was just that, a carrot. This wouldn't be a problem if he had other things to endear you to him; charm, charisma, relatable dilemmas. But he has little if none of these. He's one dimensional in his aspirations, he isn't particularly well-written or developed, and his stoic nature prevents you from being able to connect to him in any real, solid, bonding way. This isn't to say he's all bad, but he isn't the most interesting character in Final Fantasy history, or really even in Final Fantasy VII.

Also, while I'm at it, let me use this as a blanket statement for any and all entertainment mediums: stop using amnesia. Amnesia is a cheap trick to add mystery and sympathy to characters and basically eradicates all need to develop them past revealing their lost memories. Cloud is no Harry Osbourne in Spider Man 3, who earns my award for worst use of plot-convenient amnesia ever (I would say plot-induced illness ever, but that award goes to Sandman's daughter, who doesn't even have her disease named), but he is by no means a shining example of how to use amnesia in a narrative. He is simply another "RPG Amnesiac Protagonist", which is the most over-used characteristic ever, apart from having your hometown destroyed (I'm looking at you, Tidus). In 1997, the idea was already well-versed and by no means cutting-edge in any sense of the word, so it's use and inevitable flat payoff are almost inexcusable. The one thing I will say it's favor is at least they stuck with it as one of the main facets of the story unlike so many other narratives that just toss it onto a relationship because they wrote themselves into a corner.

All in all, Cloud Strife is an overrated character, not nearly worthy of the attention he gets from the videogame playing populous. While not a bad character necessarily, he isn't particularly interesting in any way that any other character from an RPG, or even Final Fantasy is. He's par for the course when it comes to videogame protagonists, which is why it is a mystery to many, including myself, as to why he gets so much attention. Whatever the case, we need to move on from spiky and talk about much more deserving characters.

UNDERRATED: Ramza Beoulve, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, 2007, Square Enix, Sony PSP

Just to be clear, I chose The War of the Lions over the original Final Fantasy Tactics because of the improved translation and large amount of narrative differences, mainly due to a better localization. That said, let's go into why Ramza Beoulve is such a great character. He isn't a renegade amnesiac who seeks the destruction of the one man who destroyed "his" life, but instead is a young man who is born into nobility who seeks justice and truth, no matter what the cost. This doesn't mean he sees things in black and white like a Rorschach, but instead means he is willing to sacrifice himself over others in the pursuit of things that he sees as more important than himself. To put it plainly, he is the living embodiment of chivalry. It's going to be hard to compare him to Cloud, considering that they are completely different characters, but I will go into why he is the more interesting and memorable character.

Ramza is the second-youngest of his siblings, with his two older half-brothers, Zalbaag and Dycedarg, being in positions of authority over him as well as others; Dycedarg is a politician and an adviser to Prince Larg, and Zalbaag is a commanding Officer in the Order of the Northern Sky. His younger sister, Alma, is his responsibility after his Father dies, and he is charged by him to protect her at all costs. His best friend is a peasant named Delita, who is given the advantages of nobility thanks to his friendship to the Beoulve family, meaning he and his sister attend the same Military Academy as Ramza and Alma. All of this is fine and dandy, however all of these characters are in the middle of a war, the War of the Lions, which is a battle over the throne, much like the real life War of the Roses in Britain's history. Things escalate due to the harshness of the conflict that surrounds Ramza, who is charged by the Academy and his brothers to defeat members of a terrorist organization called the Death Corps, who seek the equal treatment of all citizens of Ivalice. It is with this that Ramza sees first-hand the horrors that society holds, and the plight of those he once was told to see as inferior causes him to question his nobility. After Delita's sister is killed by a soldier of Zalbaag's army for convenience and Delita is presumed dead after an explosion, Ramza leaves his nobility behind, determined to separate himself from what he sees as corrupt and wrong. After finding work as a mercenary, one job leads to him meeting Delita again, who has kidnapped the princess Ramza and his fellow mercenaries were supposed to protect, and this leads to the main plot of the game.

That is all within the first chapter of Final Fantasy Tactics, and it all leads to Ramza being exposed to the corruption that power can cause in both the Church and the Government and Nobility, who all seek to utilize Zodiac Stones to resurrect a power capable of ruling the world. What it all comes down to is that Ramza is a beacon in the darkest days of Ivalice, he is the man who will do what is necessary to bring justice to the world, even if it means killing his own corrupt friends and family, being branded a heretic and an enemy of the state, and being lost in the pages of history. Ramza is a true hero who is never acknowledged by anyone and does not seek such treatment. Even his best friend Delita is corrupted and uses everyone to gain power, wearing a facade to make it all the way to Kingship. All evil in the world of the game is punished by death, whether it be the Priesthood, the Knighthood, or even Ramza's best friend, and those who seek righteousness are rewarded, whether it be Ramza, Orlandeau, or Agrias, who face death numerous times throughout the story and overcome it. Ramza is the type of man who would give up everything to protect the one's he loves and the world he lives in, even if it means being left for dead by history and being called a traitor and a heretic. That is why Ramza is such a great character, because his morality has a weight and realism to it. You get the feeling that if he wasn't willing to do what was right, then the world would be doomed, but the game never has to tell you this. It's obvious by the end exactly who this man is and why he did what he did, and never once does he ponderously monologue about his fate, or reminisce about his father's dying words, or even acknowledge his position to anyone else. That is what true, honest-to-goodness, great character development is about; letting the story craft the character rather than words spoken by the author or the character themselves.

In both the history books of Ivalice and in the real world, Ramza Beoulve has never gotten the respect and attention he deserves. He is a true hero and a shining example of character development. He is the one just man in an unjust world, and you really get a sense of that in the game, and he doesn't need amnesia, multiple personality disorder, or any kind of narrative twist to endear you to him. He deserves better, and if Final Fantasy fans ever took the time to stop idolizing Final Fantasy VII, he may just get the attention that he deserves.
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About Canti-samaone of us since 9:47 PM on 08.03.2009

Hello, I'm Trevor Johnson, also known as Canti-sama. I like to write about things including videogames (that should be paramountly obvious at this point...) music, film, and anime, so what you see in this blog is just one part of my pretentiousness! I'm a nit-picky bitch when it comes to basically everything, so excuse me if I seem like kind of an elitist, even though I try not to be. If I had to sum up who I am, I would do it through top 5 lists, so how about we a do a few right now! But before that, since DTOID tends to remove frontpage posts from my c-blog, here's the list of my frontpages, which I thank everyone very much for!

Frontpage Posts:
1. Monthly Musing - I suck At Videogames: Nostalgia's Curse, 8/12/09
2. Promoted Story - Suda 51 and the "Art" of Videogames, 9/6/09
3. Monthly Musing - Nothing is Sacred: Videogames, 10/7/09

-----FAVORITES-----

Top 5 Favorite Videogames:
5. Fallout 3, PC
4. Mega Man X, SNES
3. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, PS2
2. Braid, PC
1. Shadow of the Colossus, PS2

Top 5 Favorite Albums:
5. Death From Above 1979 - You're A Woman, I'm a Machine, 2004
4. Radiohead - O.K. Computer, 1997
3. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92, 1992
2. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam, 2007
1. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation, 1988

Top 5 Films:
5. Brazil, Directed by Terry Gilliam
4. Fargo, Directed by Joel Coen
3. Fight Club, Directed by David Fincher
2. Shaun of the Dead, Directed by Edgar Wright
1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Directed by Sergio Leone

Top 5 Anime Productions:
5. Spirited Away, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
4. The Big O, Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama
3. Cowboy Bebop, Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion, Directed by Hideko Anno
1. Fooly Cooly, Directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki

----OTHER STUFF----
Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks
PSN Name: MetalLink1979
Wii Friend Code - 8089-7286-5497-4717
XBL - Metal Link 904 (Note: My Xbox 360 is in possession of my brother, so this is no longer technically my XBL Tag)
Xbox LIVE:Metal Link 904
Steam ID:MetalLink1979
Mii code:8089-7286-5497-4717


 

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