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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Thursday Night at the Arcade: Terra from Final Fantasy VI

Before I start off with this blog entry, I'll start by telling you a small, but true story about a man with a dream, and how he almost gave up on his dream due to a lack of success.

Hironobu Sakaguchi was born in Japan. He had gone to school for a degree in electrical engineering, but dropped out before he got his certification. In the mid-1980's, he was hired at a newly formed branch of an electric company as a part-time worker.

That branch was known as Square.

In 1986, Square became an independent company, focusing on computer and video game development. When the company broke off on its own, Sakaguchi was promoted to the position of Director of Planning and Development. That meant that he was in charge of coming up with original ideas for future games. Although at first, his success was fleeting. He had little success with designing games, and he was beginning to second guess his choice to leave university.

In 1987, he had sketched out some details for a role-playing game that he had felt was his last shot at making a name for himself in the video game industry. If this idea flopped, then he would leave behind the video game industry and go back to school. He even created a title for the game based on that whole idea alone.

The video game was first released in Japan one week before Christmas 1987 for the Famicon system (which in North America is better known as the Nintendo Entertainment System). The game had great success in Japan, and when it was later imported to the shores of North America on July 12, 1990, the sales continued to skyrocket. The following year, Sakaguchi was promoted to Vice-President of Square, and four years after that, he became the President of the company. All because of the idea that he came up with that he was sure would have been his swan song.

The game? Final Fantasy.

Over the years, Final Fantasy has become anything but. In 2010, the game series released both its thirteenth and fourteenth versions of the game, and that's not counting all the prequels and sequels for the main games at that. The seventh edition has more spin-offs than the Mary Tyler Moore show!

I must say that I myself have been immersed in the worlds of Final Fantasy. All the games are different in their own way. Sure, there's some common enemies and themes and magic spells, but the storylines and character development is so uniquely different from game to game.

As a result of this, whenever Arcade Thursday comes around, you may end up expecting a lot of Final Fantasy references, because some of the characters are so deep with development that I can find myself comparing myself to a whole bunch of them. So, be warned.

The character that I've chosen to feature in this blog entry happens to be from Final Fantasy VI, which was released in North America in October 1994...or was it III?

You see, that was part of the confusion. Final Fantasy VI was actually released as Final Fantasy III. The reason being that not all the Japanese versions made it to North American shores. The first game was known as Final Fantasy all over the world. The second and third games released in Japan were not released in North America at the time of their creation. Final Fantasy IV did get released in North America, but it was called Final Fantasy II here. The fifth game was skipped over, but the sixth one was released as the North American version of Final Fantasy III.

Confused? So am I, come to think of it. My apologies.

Eventually, all the Japanese games made it over here through use of game emulators and future video game consoles like the PlayStation and Nintendo DS. For now, let's just go by the Japanese number, since it's far less confusing.

So as I was saying, Final Fantasy VI was released in 1994, and the basic gist of the game is that there's this madman Kefka who is insistent on destroying the world, and you have to stop him. Naturally, there are lots of battles along the way, including a potentially apocalyptic event that happens midway through the game by Kefka, and the ultimate mission is to slay him and try to rebuild the world he has destroyed. Oh, and you help people along the way, and learn some things about your characters in the process.

The one thing I loved about this game was the character development. The plot was good, though it could get tedious at times, and the battle system was pretty decent too. The characters were well-thought out, and in the end, you couldn't help but find something to like about them, or even feel sympathy towards. I'll admit that I even felt a little bad for Kefka, even though he was the main antagonist in the story. But, I'll save that entry for another day.

No, instead of the antagonist, I'll feature on the protagonist.

Meet Terra Branford. At just 18 years old, she is a formidable fighter who slayed fifty soldiers in just minutes. She's tough, yet damaged. Beautiful, but tortured. Soft-spoken, yet emotionally scarred.

And apparently, she loves to dye her hair the same colour as the inside of an Andes chocolate mint. Go figure.

Right off the bat, when we're first introduced to Terra, she's invading the town of Narshe, looking for a frozen Esper (a monster-like creature that leaves behind Magicite when they die, of which humans can learn how to use magic spells from).

Yeah, the game is very much fantasy based, in case you couldn't already tell.

Terra and a couple of soldiers come across the Esper, but before they can take it away, the Esper kills the soldiers and knocks Terra unconscious. She wakes up in a house outside of Narshe, and it is revealled that she was wearing some sort of crown that caused her to lose control of her own mind. Kefka and Emperor Gestahl of the Imperial Empire used the crown to do their bidding. The real plan was to gather as much Magicite as possible so they could use it to make their army invincible, and having Terra on their side was a huge advantage.

Without the crown, Terra was free of the clutches of the Imperial army, but at the cost of losing her own memory. There was no time to reflect on it though. She had to escape Narshe before the army caught her again. With help from Locke, a thief/treasure hunter and Edgar, the king of nearby Figaro, she began her escape, and joined the opposition army of the Empire, known as the Returners. She was well on her way to total freedom from the Empire when an attack on Narshe by the Empire prompted the team to head back there to protect the frozen Esper from Kefka.

It is here that you see this scene immediately afterwards.  (It starts at around 1:29) saw that right. Terra went from chocolate mint headed woman to fuzzy pink Muppet, flying across mountains and crash landing in a city called Zozo. Naturally, the gang wanted to find out what had happened to Terra, so after leaving Narshe, they arrived at Zozo where they found Terra in her monster form, as well as a strange old man named Ramuh, who shed some light on what had happened with Terra. Turns out that she had some of the same characteristics as the Esper that was found in the Narshe mines because she could use magic and because of her monster-like appearance. Turns out that Ramuh was also an Esper. There was an island over by an Imperial base that was rumoured to be the homeland of the Espers, but they blocked off the entrance to keep outsiders away after unwanted visitors infiltrated the Esper world eighteen years earlier.

How timely!  Terra happens to be eighteen years old too! This couldn't be a coincidence, could it?

After infiltrating the Magitek Factory on the southern continent and stealing the Magicite supply that the Empire had previously taken from the Esper world eighteen years earlier, they head back to Zozo. Something strange happens when they visit Terra the second time around. One of the Magicite shards, the one that came from an Esper named Maduin started glowing and then Terra started glowing, and everyone was freaked out. But, there was a reason.

I'll summarize the video. A young lady named Madonna (and no, it's not the same Madonna that asserted herself to be a material girl while simultaneously acting like a virgin), accidentally ended up in the Esper world where she met Maduin. They fell in love, and they had a daughter together. Terra.

NOTE:  I actually have no idea where the name Madonna came from, since in the Japanese version, her name is Madeline.  There's your geek factoid for today all.

So therefore, Terra is half-human, half-Esper.

Shortly after her birth was the invasion of the Esper World from the Empire. Madonna was killed, and Maduin and Terra were taken back to the Magitek factory. Maduin's strength was drained to the point where he was near-death, and Terra was raised to be an Imperial Knight, sent to terrorize the global population in the Empire's quest for power.

Whew. Quite the backstory, eh?

Now comes the fun part. How to tie Terra's personality into mine somehow. I don't like fighting, so that's out. I'm not female, so that's out. I certainly don't have green hair, so that's not quite it.

I think in order to find out what Terra and I have in common, you need to watch this scene (which begins appropriately enough at 2:14). It takes place after Terra, Locke, and the ninja warrior Shadow board a ferry from the town of Albrook to Crescent Island with General Leo Cristophe of the Imperial army.

So Terra's Esper background made her feel somewhat insecure of herself. She always saw herself as not being like everyone else. When she first met King Edgar, she noticed the crowds of women swooning over him, and remarked to herself that a “normal girl would have found him dashing”. Right there, you get the impression that she saw herself as not like everyone else. She was ashamed of her behaviour as a soldier, and tried to deny it even though she knew she couldn't. On top of that, she had the ability to turn into her Esper form, which most of the people in the world did not know.

Therefore, I can only come to the conclusion that she must have had a rather lonely childhood. And that probably affected her feelings, or lack there of.

See, because of all those factors, Terra didn't know what the concept of love was. She had never really had any experience with it. Sure, Maduin and Madonna loved her with all their hearts, but they only had her for a short time before Gestahl and Kefka abducted them. From that moment, Terra was seen as little more than a marionette with the Empire controlling her strings. She never had a normal childhood, and she was brainwashed into thinking that everyone was the enemy, so how could she know what love was?

And while my life was pretty much not as Terra's was, I do know exactly what she might have been going through.

I realize that I'm probably going to take a big step here by telling all of you this, but at this point, I'm too old to be keeping any skeletons in my closet. Especially since in the Final Fantasy world, they can come back to life and try to attack you.

Like Terra, I have a difficult time with the whole concept of love. Like Terra, I've never really been in any position to fall in love with anybody. Until recently, like Terra, I thought the problem was with me, and not anything else.

Having to work through years of low self-esteem and emotional abuse, it makes it difficult to love someone else when you can't even love yourself first. Really, that should be the most important thing. If you feel good about yourself, you tend to find ways to make other people feel just as good as you are...maybe even better.

It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I started to heal from all of that, and began to work on my physical and emotional reconstruction. Truth be told, I was tired of living that way, and should have done it earlier, but the right opportunity hadn't come by until recently. I'll maybe talk about it in a future entry if you don't let me forget it. All you need to know is for the first time in years, I'm actually starting to enjoy the person that I have become.

Terra Branford struggled as well. When she first appeared in the game of Final Fantasy VI, she was so completely confused as to who she was. It was cruelly taken away from her by those who had imprisoned her inside the Imperial Empire. By the time she reached adulthood, she was left without any sort of identity whatsoever. It wasn't until she was rescued by Locke that she began to find herself...and more importantly find love.

In a wickedly ironic twist in the game, Kefka ends up taking over the world after the Returners fail at their mission to protect the Esper world, and using some sort of weapon called the 'Light of Judgment' to destroy cities, towns, lakes, forests, and mountains. The Returners were all separated during the events of the world crumbling, and Terra happened to find herself outside the town of Mobliz, destroyed by Kefka.

When Terra entered the ruins of the town, she was horrified to learn that everybody over the age of eighteen had died in the destruction of Mobliz. They had died trying to protect their children from the disaster. Immediately, Terra lost her will to fight. All she wanted to do was stay with the children. With help from the oldest of the children, Duane and Katarin, Terra took care of all the children. The children grew to adore Terra, even calling her 'Mama' as a sign of affection. When some members of the Returners were reunited with Terra, they asked her to join them so they could take care of Kefka once and for all, but Terra refused. All she wanted to do was be there for the children. Nothing more.

Of course, Kefka wasn't the only danger to the remaining residents of Mobliz. There was a monster named Phunbaba that was trying to terrorize the town, and Terra was simply too weak to even throw a punch at it. But eventually, you'll witness this lovely scene (which technically starts around the five minute mark, but if you want to see her fight, you can click before this).

See, the kids didn't care that Terra was in her Esper form. They could tell that she was their 'Mama'. Their love for Terra was strong enough that they would accept her in any form. And, that love finally cleared up Terra's feelings about love. Terra loved the children of Mobliz, and she would do anything to see that they had a future in a world that was dying. She had finally found what it had meant to love someone, and that was her motivation for rejoining the Returners.

So you see...the lesson that I learned from Terra Branford is this. Sometimes it's hard to find yourself in this world. Sometimes you're faced with choices that you feel are a Catch-22 situation no matter what choice you pick. Sometimes you don't even get a choice at all. When faced with odds like that, it's no wonder some people struggle with finding out who they really are.

The thing that Terra taught me is that nothing is impossible. Terra had such a terrible upbringing that she was convinced that she couldn't understand a basic emotion of love. While it may have taken the tragic destruction of Mobliz to awaken those feelings inside of her, she eventually discovered that yes, she was capable of loving someone, and having someone love her.

I'm certain that one day, it will happen for me too. And without having a town burn down!

You just can't give up. You can't let your past dictate your future. As you can tell from my blog entries, I'm still having some issues with it, but at least by sharing those issues, it shows everyone that I'm not afraid to share my feelings. I haven't let those negative experiences harden me to the point where I'm bitter about what happened. It's coming along, but there's still some work that I need to do.

But hey...I love a challenge.

I guess if I go back to the beginning of this note, I'm kind of like Mr. Sakaguchi. He took a chance at designing a video game while having a back-up plan on the side, and it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him.

My Final Fantasy moment is coming people. This I'm certain of.

My Terra Branford moment will be arriving as well.

I just hope the trains don't collide midway...that would just be messy. :D

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