Final Fantasy 4’s world might be the least sustainable world in fantasy history.
Back in the Kolibri article, I mentioned that there’s a sort of “uncanny valley” that is unique to video games that, as graphics improve, the need for a plot drastically increases. Nobody ever questions how Birdo works, but improve the graphics to HD levels, and suddenly you have a thousand messageboard posts about the validity of shyguys hitting up Birdo for breakfast sandwiches. And how do they eat with those masks? Et cetera. I feel a similar thing happened with Final Fantasy 4, not because of improving graphics, but because of about seventy rereleases and a wildly unnecessary sequel.
Final Fantasy 4’s world was built for a measly two purposes: to give Cecil a number of interesting places to bump into on his quest to blow up the moon, and an intriguing spot or two for his inevitable allies to originate. The topography of the world is dictated by Cecil’s various vehicles, and the distance from kingdom to kingdom is just another plot contrivance. I know this is all true.
Square just had to push the boundaries of plausibility with a parade of incrementally improving rereleases, remakes, and “The After Years”. Square, I love you guys, but don’t ask me to look at Final Fantasy 4 after two decades and expect me to believe in this crazy world, I mean, just look at…
Baron Kingdom. First, let’s get something very important out of the way. Depending on the translation/revision you’re looking at, either Cid invented airships, or it was handed down from on high by Kluya, Cecil’s daddy, when he got bored sleeping on the moon and decided to destroy the entire world.
Forget Zemus, Kluya is the real villain of Final Fantasy 4. Kluya was “fascinated” by the blue ball that is Final Fantasy 4 Earth, so he decided to swing on down, have a couple of kids, and share world shaking technology with a few select peoples. Among his sins:
- He introduced magic to the world. White magic is a win, but maybe he could have held off on sharing magic with names like “fire”, “toad”, and “meteor”. Yes, Kluya, that one spell makes a pretty rad noise, but now half the town is dying of poison.
- He constructed Snake Road, a magical teleportation system between two towns, and only two towns. Way to revolutionize transportation between exclusively two spots.
- And then, yes, we have the airship thing. Kluya shared airship technology with Earth. Oh, wait, did I say Earth? He shared it with Baron, one kingdom on Earth. Had Kluya not been distracted by Cecil’s mom, he might have gone on to give atom bomb tech to that one town filled with piggys.
So, whether it’s because it was a direct gift from Kluya or Cid’s invention, Baron has air superiority, and, geez, what hope does any other kingdom have? Seriously, every other kingdom has absolutely no defense against an air raid. Oh, wait, one kingdom kind of does…
Mist, home of the summoners, is about the only threat to Baron. This is likely reason number one that Baron decided to barbeque the whole place inside the opening hour of Final Fantasy 4. Now, I believe the record shows that I am generally against genocide, but, controversial opinion or no, I don’t exactly think Baron was in the wrong here. Yes, yes, murdering every man, woman, and child in town is a mistake, nobody is debating that, but it seems like Mist might be a threat to the entire world, given one pissed-off seven year old was capable of collapsing an entire mountain in a moment of rage. Yes, a treaty would have been the highroad to take here, but how do you reason with a group of people that can summon a space dragon when negotiations go sour? And even if everything goes absolutely perfectly, refuse to buy a commemorative t-shirt from the wrong street urchin on the way out, and suddenly the trade route is covered in seventeen tons of rubble. Rydia, I’m sorry, but maybe nixing your family and everyone you’ve ever known was a net gain for the planet. And, hey, bonus, you get a new family that involves a whacky sea serpent and a mom that is, like, three moms. It’s a win for everybody!
Kaipo is a miserable little oasis town, and apparently a suburb of Damcyan, or at least where Damcyan’s spoony prince goes to pick up chicks. Damcyan is the first kingdom noted here that contains a crystal (the Fire Crystal, which seems to have had a negative impact on the surrounding area), and is also the first kingdom that Baron uses its superior firepower to completely obliterate. Damcyan is introduced to Cecil as a thriving castle for about five seconds before it’s transformed into a thriving, smoking crater. But don’t let that raise your sympathy cockles, oh no, Damcyan is another kingdom best left ruined. What do we know about Damcyan and the surrounding area?
- The only Damcyan Royalty we meet is Edbard, who apparently hides his royal lineage when in Kaipo. Wonder why that is…
- It is a known fact in Kaipo that one must possess a Sand Pearl to cure Desert Fever. How does one acquire a Sand Pearl?
- Well, a Sand Pearl is produced only by an Antlion in Antlion Cave. So, it’s just a matter of going to Antlion Cave?
- Nope! Only Damcyan Royalty is allowed in Antlion Cave.
Now put all that information together. See what’s happening? Damcyan Royalty is monopolizing medicine that it harvests from helpless creatures and then distributing it to a dependent, fever-stricken populace as they see fit. Edbard is a plutocrat among monarchs, and must hide his true identity to avoid being run out of town on a rail before he finds some sage’s daughter to mack on. Damcyan, it was time for some urban renewal.
Far to the east is Fabul. Fabul appears to be a society built on a “might makes right” mantra that permeates its culture by supporting a vast army of karate enthusiasts. Fabul actually has a pretty good defense strategy going here: they’re surrounded by ocean or mountains, and if someone actually hits landfall, they’ve got a moat that forces only one entry point, and they can just fill that passage up with a tower of oiled, muscled, mustachioed karate men, and watch the enemy flee in terror. Unfortunately, it appears that plan has deteriorated in recent generations, as Yang’s entire manteam got wiped out by one bomb squad (that was eventually defeated by a knight, a bard, a white mage, and a little girl).
In another post that will eventually surface on this site (retroactive edit: here it is), I noted that Rosa is possibly the worst, most damsel-y woman to ever be playable in the Final Fantasy franchise. I now apologize for that assessment, as, apparently, Rosa’s hot white mage bod is the only reason Fabul survived the Golbez war. Fabul could have been bombed into a crater to match Damcyan, but, no, Baron decided on a costly direct assault entirely to kidnap Rosa (and maybe taunt Cecil a little). Fabul loses its B-team and Wind Crystal in the battle, but at least it stands to raise a whole new generation of equally ineffectual karate men because Kain couldn’t keep it in his armored pants.
Speaking of places that survived a Baron onslaught, we’ve got Mysidia. Mysidia appears to be the Vatican City of this planet, the religious hub that’s full of philosophers and bearded guys that think they have a handle on things but never wind up doing anything useful. Mysidia is filled to the brim with potentially powerful mages, which may be why Mysidia is the only place that holds a crystal (the Water Crystal, if you’re keeping track) but hasn’t decided to build an entire fortified castle. On the other hand, Mysidia lost its crystal to Baron when Baron only had the Red Wings commanded by Chief Wimp Cecil, who didn’t even try to start the whole battle off with a firebombing salvo. Man, Cecil even took prisoners during the battle. Ugh! Anyway, Mysidia had one thing to offer the world, and Baron came and took it with barely a fuss. Now, its only export is self-improvement seminars.
The final crystal rests with Troia. Sorta. As Troian Soldiers will tell complete strangers with no provocation, Troia has never participated in a war of any kind, and has no defenses beyond thick walls, surrounding forests, and a bunch of guards in skimpy outfits. Its complete lack of a defense winds up being its greatest asset, as Baron never even sets foot on Troian soil, because a Dark Elf (the only one on the planet?) has already stolen the Earth Crystal, leaving Troians standing around scratching their collective heads. Cecil and company steal the Earth Crystal back to trade with Baron for some item they lost, and the ruling body of Troia barely has to get up. Afterwards, the good people of Troia go back to cowering in the corner, or whatever it is they do for fun. Did I mention that this is the only matriarchy on the planet? Figured I’d throw that out there.
Eblan is the final kingdom on the surface world. Eblan is a country that values ninja-skills, ruled by Prince Edge’s father, The Shredder. Bad news for the 90’s: Ninja are terrible as an army. The entire point of a ninja is singular, small-scale stealth operations, which just does not work well when your opponents roll up and start exploding the place. The only ninja skill that would be effective in such a situation is hiding, which… is exactly what the population of Eblan does when Baron attacks. As Edge sneaks off into the tunnels dug by the Technodrome, Baron wrecks the place and secures the only thing of value on Eblan’s continent: The Tower of Babil. It’s canon that no one, including the people of Eblan, has any idea what The Tower of Babil is there to do, so Baron probably could have taken the tower with about seven seconds of negotiating, but, come on, when else are you going to get to turn a pack of ninja into pudding?
There’s only two other human settlements on the planet. One is Agart, an island town with no useful resources save a (sealed) entrance to the underground. This would be really important if anyone ever wanted to deal with dwarves, but, no, no one even wants to talk about dwarves, so screw those guys. Lali-ho my ass, you doll owning jerks. And then there’s Mythril, which is known for its amazing mining and weapon/armor output. You would think that this would lead to it being a highly sought after resource in a world at war, but, no, it’s not, because it’s filled with a bunch of weirdos like talking pigs and frogs. You could have the best armor in the world, but knowing that it’s assembled by a talking pig man just… sullies the whole affair. Is magic defense really worth the cost?
But, thankfully, all wars eventually end. Over the course of Final Fantasy 4, Cecil and his pals battle back the nefarious forces of Cecil’s former home, save all of the crystals (eventually), and then knock an entire celestial body out of orbit. The day is saved, and for his efforts to save the world, Cecil is given the world.
Yes, as the credits roll on Final Fantasy 4, Cecil has been crowned King of Baron, with Rosa at his side as his queen. This is… kind of odd, as there’s an entire Baron Army that Cecil just spent the last few days slaughtering, but let’s say they were mind controlled or something. Then there’s the small matter of Cecil having absolutely no governing experience, and this whole mess got started because Cecil was taking orders from a colossal, blue shellfish. But, sure, Cecil rules Baron now. Not like Cid would have been any good on the throne, and the rest of the populace barely has names.
Then there’s the rest of the party. Edbard was always the ruler of Damcyan, so he’s got his ruins to rule, and same for Master Ninja Edge and Eblan. The King of Fabul decides that it’s time to retire, so he appoints Yang as the new Karate King. Rydia doesn’t get a kingdom, she’s just the single most powerful woman on Earth and is on a first name basis with a sea monster that has ruled the oceans since time immortal. And, for some reason, the Elder of Mysidia is super best friends with Cecil now, presumably because of his heroic willingness to sacrifice a pair of five year olds in order to escape a threatening wall. This leaves Troia as the only “superpower” on the entire planet that isn’t ruled by someone in Cecil’s inner-circle, and I’ll remind you that Troia was the city that was ravaged by a friggen’ lone elf.
So, I ask you, how does the world of Final Fantasy 4 keep spinning? Putting aside the obvious gameplay contrivance of Cecil, Rosa, Kain, and Cid all living in the same kingdom and having the combined ability to fell moon monsters, you’re looking at a world where one kingdom has tremendous military firepower, and, evidently, ain’t sharing. You don’t see Fabul’s new airship in The After Years, you just have the Red Wings flying around, ruling the skies (emphasis on “ruling” there) as ever. Eventually, Cecil’s generation will grow old, and when that happens? Whoever winds up with the keys to the airship fleet next is going to bomb the whole planet into oblivion until it bows to his or her feet.
Within a generation, so much artillery will be dropped across the globe, the whole planet will wind up an never ending field of craters. Hm. Might make a neat moon.
FGC #43.1 Final Fantasy 4
- System: SNES, PSX, GBA, DS, PSP, iOS, and a myriad of ports and rereleases here and there.
- Number of Players: Just one. Not the game to teach sharing.
- Favorite Character: Rydia, who seems like a character built just for me. Sarcastic, take-no-nonsense woman clad in green that just happens to command an army of mythical beasts? Sign me up for some of that action. Edge would probably be my second choice, but the gulf between the two characters is as wide as a chubby chocobo.
- Goggle Bob Historical Fact: I didn’t wind up with a copy of Final Fantasy II until well after its prime, likely sometime around the release of Chrono Trigger, when I was able to obtain a used copy from a local video rental place. The save battery wasn’t completely gone on the cart, but it was in pretty bad shape, so I lost my progress a number of times to wherever lost game saves go. If you’re unaware, when Final Fantasy II boots and doesn’t have any save data, it just goes straight to the Red Wings opening scene with Cecil, so, to this day, I still have a sort of nervous twitch when I hear the Red Wings theme. “Oh God, I have to start over again!… Oh, wait, it’s just that song.”
- Did you know? I’m pretty sure that the original Bio sound effect is only found in the SNES and PSX versions, and was changed, for various reasons, in every other version. Why mess with perfection, Square?
- Would I play again? Yes, and it might be sooner than you think.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to be quiet for once. Here’s the deal: I had two equally valid ideas on what to write regarding Final Fantasy 4, but they were wildly disparate ideas, and could not be reasonably combined in any way. So, you wound up with the above article because of a coin toss. But what of the other idea? Well, I was just going to toss it out and maybe save it for another game where it might be applicable, but then I realized, you know what? This is my website, I make the rules! Hehehe. So, coming Wednesday, it’s another, totally different article on the subject of Final Fantasy 4. Also, no one is allowed to read this site while wearing pants anymore! BWA HA HA! I’VE GONE MAD WITH POWER! YOU WILL LOOK FORWARD TO IT!