In The Shadow Of The Light: An Analysis Of Final Fantasy I
I have a problem. I like to look past the narrative told to me in the games I play and see what's really going on in the background. So I end up creating a lot of political movements, revolutions, resistances, and mythologies in my head to explain character actions and motivations. Most games now give a lot of this to us; we don't have to create the world for ourselves, we get to have it wash over us with fancy cutscenes and long exposition filled diatribes from NPCs (I'm looking at you, Ralof...).
But back in the early days of gaming, we weren't treated to such lavish worlds. So when I put Final Fantasy into my NES for the first time, I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to get. I mean the cover art looked cool with the crossed axe and sword, but what the heck did the words Final Fantasy actually mean?
And then I started playing, creating my party of all Fighters (because my 9-year-old-self didn't realize that the ability to heal would be extremely helpful in a game where you randomly encounter enemies every 5 steps). Prior to playing Final Fantasy, the only other RPG I had played was Dragon Warrior, and I assumed incorrectly that I would be able to learn spells as I leveled.
Beyond that massive oversight, I was really excited to play the game. The music was epic, the graphics looked sweet, and getting plopped down in front of an awesome looking castle boded well for my underdeveloped RPG skill set.
But then something happened. Specifically, this something:
I knew right away something was up. Even at the ripe young age of 9, I knew girls didn't dance around fountains unless they were looking for a couple coins being thrown their way.
After narrowly escaping with my virtue intact from Arylon (if that was her real name), I entered the castle to learn more about this princess everyone in "The Dream City" kept going on about, saying crap like "Please save the princess!". As far as I knew, I was there to get some bling for the four orbs my fighters just happen to get lugging around the map. I didn't have time to save the princess.
Slowly but surely the back history here was starting to unfold. First I ran into this guy:
Until he started hanging out with Arylon a bit too much? The chancellor even says that Arylon knows many strange things... Odd that a dancer would know things that even the chancellor of Cornelia doesn't know.
Anyway, I make the trek up the stairs and run into the king. He promptly calls me "The Warriors Of Light" and says that there is some prophecy that I will rescue the princess.
I'm flabbergasted! I don't care about some princess; the earth is rotting away, the wind has stopped, and all this old geezer wants me to do is go snatch his teenage daughter away from his old trusted knight. So what happened here Kingy? He asked for her hand and you said no because he had a thing for bats?
I mean, no doubt Garland was into some freaky stuff (he does take over the Temple of The Fiends after all), but he could have given the guy a chance. If he was worried about Garland becoming king, he should have switched to a Matrilineal primogeniture society in which his other daughter, interestingly never given a name, would have become Queen instead of the easily-kidnapped Sarah.
Regardless, I go to this Temple of The Fiends (No one had any red flags go up when this was being built?) and have a chat with this Garland. Only he doesn't really seem interested in chatting:
I quickly dispatch Garland, tote Princess Sarah back to the castle, and she gives me a Lute (I mean, a Lute? I was hoping for the key to that sweet treasury...). Sarah then plays the good daughter and stays in the castle for the duration of the game.
Of course, that's not the last we see of Garland. Unrequited love is some powerful juju and is essentially what sets this whole game (and the actual point of this analysis) into motion.
A Diatribe On Names In Final Fantasy
I want to take a moment and discuss the importance of names in this game. Sarah and Garland represent some pretty big motifs in this game, and their names aren't chosen at random.
The name Sarah means Princess in Hebrew but is also a variation on the name Sera which means Heavenly. Sarah represents purity in this game. She is the princess of Dream City and we literally can not continue our quest until Heaven is restored to its rightful place.
Garland, on the other hand, means battleground. Someone named Garland is said to be overly aggressive and lust for battle.
One more definition before we get into the meat of this analysis: Fiend means demon in most cases (and it applies here); however, it also means someone who is excessively fond of or addicted to something.
Let's put this all together before we move on with the plot of the game. Our opening sequence in the game is where "Heaven" is stolen by a fallen knight who lusts for battle and control. And where do we fight this disgraced warrior? In a place frequented by those who are addicted to something.
A Hurried Summary And A Major Plot Spoiler
Ok, so we beat the bad knight, the king fixes the bridge and then a bunch of crap happens with pirates and elves and dwarves and stuff. We fight a vampire, there's a giant, and along the way, we light up our fancy crystals.
But eventually, we find ourselves back at the Temple of Fiends. And a familiar face is there, waiting for us. Garland, now showing himself as Chaos, the god of Discord, has created a time-loop for 2000 years so he can live forever. The Fiends of the game choose Garland to become Chaos for some reason. We travel back in time and defeat Chaos, thereby closing the time-loop and erasing the events of the game from everyone's mind (including ours).
But even when I beat the game the first time, and again every time I have played it since, one question has bugged me. Why did Garland go bad in the first place?
It All Starts With A Dancer Around A Fountain
On my most recent playthrough of the game, I noticed something. Arylon knows everything about where I'm supposed to go, and what I'm supposed to do. She knows about the pirates, she knows about the witches eye, everything.
How could she possibly know?
Unless, she is Cosmos, the Goddess of Harmony. Seeing that Chaos has interfered with the world, she takes the form of a simple dancer who helps the heroes on their quest and pretty much ensures they find their way.
She even says she doesn't have time to dance. What kind of dancer doesn't have time for a dance?
Given she is Cosmos, we can start to see the events of Final Fantasy in a different light.
It makes sense now why the chancellor would know Arylon and have spoken with her at length about many "strange" things. One of those things surely must have been the true nature of Garland.
Let's set the scene for a moment: Garland is a loyal knight. The bravest of the King army, we're told. He takes an interest in Sarah (who is beautiful beyond compare). He asks his king for her hand; the king naturally would consult with his wife and his chancellor before answering. In asking his chancellor, he discovers that Garland is really just a lustful, power-hungry demon who will stop at nothing to live forever and get his way. So the king, rightfully, refuses his daughter's hand.
Naively, the king doesn't think this sort of unhinged warrior would do anything within the castle walls, and so he simply dismisses Garland from the throne room.
Garland, enraged, kidnaps Sarah, and flies to the Temple of the Fiends, where he tries to convince her to marry him (although I don't think its out of the realm of possibility that he forces himself on her by the way that he talks about no one else touching her).
Sarah, being heavenly, refuses and Garland goes mad with unrequited love. Mad enough to listen to Chaos' whispers to get himself killed so that he can travel back in time and create a never ending loop where no one can escape Chaos/Garland's madness.
The Allegory Within The Fantasy
I've always wondered why call it Final Fantasy. I know the story about it being the creator's last chance to make a game or he was going to have to become a janitor or something. I don't buy it. I think that the name Final Fantasy is much more meaningful, given how carefully they picked the names in the game.
Essentially what we have here is a retelling of the fall of Satan. Garland/Satan were once respected warriors who presented a plan that got rejected and caused them to be outcast from their respective kingdoms.
Garland/Satan then try to ransom "Heaven" preventing others from enjoying what they were denied. This turns them into a demon, someone to be reviled as evil.
Garland goes mad with the unrequited love of Sarah; Satan goes mad with the unrequited love of God the father.
Being cast out of their kingdom leaves them dreading the Light. They are forced to live their lives in the shadow. And while they ultimately become the epitome of evil, it's being denied the light and love in their lives that drives them to find a way to overcome their banishment and cause those around them to suffer.
So why Final Fantasy? It could be because the game represents the "Final" story. The fight between light and shadow, good and evil, Chaos and Harmony, God and Satan. Whether you believe in the end of the world, God, Satan, or the Great Green Arkleseizure and the Coming Of The Great White Handkerchief, these themes and motifs populate our religious and mythological stories, or "fantasies".
Final Fantasy is an exploration of the themes of Heaven, Lust, Evil, Light, and Shadow. And it's characters represent varying degrees of those motifs and how one man can enslave the earth if given enough unfettered power.
Let's just hope there are always Warriors of Light to put to stop to the madness.