In the summer of 2016, I set out to complete Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI… each for the first time. I managed to finish the first two just in time to begin my teaching duties for the semester (read my thoughts FFIV here and FFV here). Apparently, it would take me another 4 years to begin playing what many consider to be the best game in the series, if not one of the greatest JRPGs of all time.
However, this turned out to be a strange year to play a game known for it’s surprisingly bleak third act. The consensus is that this year has been a dumpster fire. Every time we think that the worst of it has passed, some new nightmare scenario plays out… and you can hear the collective groan of humanity echoing through every corner of the internet.
If you happen to be reading this in the far future and are unsure of the context, allow me to elucidate. Beginning in late February, a deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) began ravaging the world in apocalyptic fashion. Since the word “apocalypse” comes from a Greek word that means “to reveal” or “to uncover,” it behooves us to consider what exactly is being brought to light. In the United States, this apocalypse revealed structural inequality in our nation that we prefer to ignore, specifically in regards to access to resources like healthcare and livable wages. This inequality was violently punctuated by the murders of Briana Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police. A few months later, the nation went through a contentious election. Many of us celebrated the victory of our silver-medal candidate against the backdrop of more violence at the hands of conservative extremists making baseless claims with the intent of undermining democracy itself. Oh, and don’t forget that the COVID-19 numbers are surging again just in time to prevent you from spending the holidays with your family, thus extinguishing the light at the end of this dark tunnel. It wouldn’t surprise me if by the time I publish this blog post, some new horror has played out while televangelists cackle like cartoon villains. (Feel free to drop into the comments and let me know if I missed anything.)
If you aren’t familiar with Final Fantasy VI, it might look like just another “retro” JRPG… but it is a best-in-class game. The immediacy of the game’s graphics, sound, and mechanics belie its the expressiveness of it’s characters, the complexities of the musical compositions, and the intricacies of the progression and battle systems. It’s a surprisingly thematic, and it absolutely holds up over a quarter century after its release.
If you are familiar with Final Fantasy VI, it might still be worth revisiting, especially in 2020. It isn’t a stretch to see an echo of that games themes in current events.
In one of the most dramatic twists in any video game, the villain triumphs. A murderous clown named Kefka harnesses a power that’s beyond his control… which he uses to destroy the world. Everybody in your group appears to have died in the calamity, except for Celes. As I directed her slowly across the blighted World of Ruin, I received a phone call (in the real world) from my mother. My great uncle Harold, who had been recovering from COVID-19, suddenly took a turn for the worse. He passed away.
I had to take a break from the game and process some feelings. But after a while, my thoughts turned back to Final Fantasy VI. I couldn’t shake the sensation that it was my story—perhaps our story—that I was experiencing.
In the World of Ruin we find ourselves isolated and demoralized. We have been separated from our traveling companions, some of whom may be gone forever. The destruction of our world seems to be irreversible, and we aren’t even sure what comes next. We might be tempted to give up and switch the game off.
Yet, if Final Fantasy VI conveys any message—albeit simplistically—it is that we must carry on. In the absence of hope we can cling to responsibility. There is work to be done, and we owe it to the ones who come after us to bend the moral arc of the universe ever so slightly toward justice.