Final Fantasy 6 is one of my favorite games, so we are going to have seven different articles about Final Fantasy 6 over the course of the next three weeks. We’ll have two weeks of articles on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and then the finale the following Wednesday (just to be confusing). The Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play will resume on July 17. Now we continue Final Fantasy 6 coverage with…
Points to the audience
“Okay! I need a place, and a profession!”
Makes an exaggerated “listening” motion with my hand and ear
“I think I heard ‘opera’ and…’magitek general’? Sounds good!”
Full confession: I have never much cared for the opera of Final Fantasy 6. I feel like I’ve been told, literally since its release, that Final Fantasy 6’s opera is the lynchpin of the game, and the central set piece of the whole enterprise. And… dang… it has just never clicked for me.
This game released when I was 12 or so. I remember being 12 and playing this game, so damn space and time if I was somehow younger or older at that point. And when I was 12, for reasons I do not immediately recall, I thought musicals were objectively bad. Again, no idea where this idea came from (though I have a sneaking suspicion that my mother’s love of Andrew Lloyd Webber was involved), but I was of the belief that if someone burst into song, the writers/producers/whatever were “reaching”, and this was their last attempt at holding the audience’s attention (it was a weirdly specific belief for a 12-year-old, but these things happen). So I distinctly recall being betrayed when I discovered (in the theater!) that The Nightmare Before Christmas was a musical, and similarly being upset at the opera of Final Fantasy 6. I was convinced that my favorite medium was now going to be all singing, all dancing, and I would be stuck on the outside of what was my only safe digital outlet. There are bad things coming!
Mind you, this was all BS from top to bottom. I eventually got over my distaste for the concept of musicals (mostly thanks to Sondheim), gaming and Final Fantasy did not become the last bastion of singing, and, amusingly enough, I’m pretty sure my favorite “forgotten” genre now is the narrative-based rhythm game (Gitaroo-Man! PaRappa! We need you now more than ever). Typing out this entire paragraph has been doubly amusing since devoting 1,000,000,000 hours of the last few months to Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, which… ya know. You can see the irony!
But my point is that, right from the beginning, this opera left a bad impression on my young sense of self.
Similarly, there is and always has been some broken part of my brain that is convinced I am going to be asked to be Tom Cruise sometime within the next five minutes. I blame the dang teevee, but I have always had a pathological fear of being The Best Actor Ever, but somehow flubbing/forgetting my lines. This is partially due to the fact that I have a lousy memory for objective facts (ask me to recite multiplication tables and I will punch you), and partially because of some internal fear that I could be really successful if I only could do one vague task. Over the course of the last nearly thirty years since Final Fantasy 6, I have been in less than five actual stage productions, starred in a whole one (1) play in high school, and I have never had any particular issue with “memorizing lines”. That said, there is still some version of that “underwear dream” floating around my head, and memorizing the script for Celes still causes anxiety. I used to know that libretto by heart… but now the Woolsey translation is out of date, and I still have anxiety to this day (well, like two days ago) about disappointing Locke and choosing the wrong text prompt. Oh! And then the part immediately after the singing! In the original, you have to dance with Dario, and I am still not 100% sure what you are supposed to do with the crosspad so it counts as “right”. In the Pixel Remaster, there is some kind of “press A now” prompt, and I guess you are supposed to press A immediately? Or maybe you’re supposed to wait? I just know I screwed it up on my first go on this playthrough, and I had to repeat the whole sequence from the start with no explanation of exactly what I did wrong.
Point is that the “gameplay” of the opera vexes me to this day for various reasons.
I don’t get the opera. Is the “fiction” plot of the opera supposed to somehow parallel the “real” plot of the game? The East vs West setting of the opera doesn’t seem appropriate; Final Fantasy 6 never has a clear “other” fighting the Empire aside from a loose collection of “Returners”. Every other country seems to be turtling in one way or another. The whole “woman waiting for her main to return from war” thing is weirdly unrelated, too, as I cannot immediately recall any prominent character in FF6 that fits that description, gender flipped or not. Maybe Locke? I mean, something that I latched onto like a baby lizard when I first played FF6 was that it wasn’t a typical love story, and the basic concept of Celes and Terra both trying to find if they even could love was a lot more appealing to me as a preteen (a kid that thought the concept of romance was for other, cooler people). Putting “Maria” in this position where she has loved and lost seems at odds with how the majority of the cast probably hasn’t even kissed anybody at this point in their lives.
To wit aside:
· Terra: No kissing
· Celes: No kissing
· Edgar: All talk, no kissing
· Sabin: No kissing (his own biceps do not count)
· Banon: Maybe had a wild youth, but I’m not buying it. No kissing
· Gau: Not unless it’s an enemy skill
· Cyan: Obviously had some kissing. However always had the weird overarching tone that he watched his entire family die on screen, but is still most often a comic relief character
Locke actually has loved and lost, and the game treats that seriously, but the finale for the opera seems to portray our favorite thief treasure hunter as someone more on the goofy side of things rather than the audience member that resonates with the story.
And once you get past all that, I keep coming back to the idea that The Opera’s “seriousness” was the Final Fantasy writers taking the piss out of other, older stories. Look! There is Celes playing the typical part of a damsel in distress, forced to marry another man while her warrior betrothed is lost on the battlefield. And you, audience, know we’re better than that, right? Celes is actually a kickass general! All of our women in FF6 are not pining “opera floozies” like Maria, they studied the blade!
As such, I get the impression that the authors either wanted to outline how “our heroines are different”, or (less charitable interpretation incoming) take a comical break to “embarrass” their Strong Female Character by forcing her to be a girly-girl for a scene or two (whether it is because she is “playing” the damsel, or she is doing this whole thing to somehow impress Locke). Either way, the only hypothesis that seems concrete is that there is a “couldn’t be more different” parallel between Celes and the character she is being forced to play.
Basically, this point is that I don’t get the point, and I never have. Or maybe I do get the point, and I don’t like it.
Note that I would still prefer this “version” of the opera to a hypothetical version that would exist if Final Fantasy 6 was somehow released later in the Final Fantasy lineage (like sometime after Final Fantasy 9), when, inevitably, the writers would just make “the opera story” a retelling of Final Fantasy 3 or something.
Additional Note: Don’t know if this is intentional on the latter game’s part, but this whole scenario reminds me deeply of the bit in Persona 5 where Ann finds her center and becomes a kick ass phantom thief… and the next scenario involves her male teammates practically selling her into a situation where she is forced to model for a creepy pervert-artist that is obsessed with her “aesthetics”. I don’t know. I hate the trope of “you’re a useful party member, but you’re the only one here with breasts, so suck it up, buttercup, time to be exploited”.
All that said, I come back now to praise the opera. I love the Ultros segment. I love that they set up this whole silly scenario to “trap” Setzer who has already made it known that he is going to interrupt the proceedings, and, somehow, a malevolent octopus gets involved to further muddy the waters. So rarely do stories have the guts to just throw a bunch of random events together into the complete chaos that ensues. Does Setzer even notice that things have gone horribly awry while he is kidnapping “Maria”? If Ultros was successful, and everyone had to spend the rest of the night scraping Celes chunks off the stage, would Setzer kidnap the real Maria some other night? Are the rats in the rafters Ultros minions, or does this opera house have a serious problem with man-sized rodents? Everything ramps up to eleven immediately after the “serious” opera, and I sometimes wonder if that was the “point”. Final Fantasy 6 generally takes itself seriously, and the fact that you can “fail” the opera while playing as Celes tells me that the producers wanted you to pay attention for a serious opera here. But maybe that’s a feint? Maybe the seriousness is all setup for the punchline of Locke and Ultros becoming impromptu stars at the last minute? Whatever! All I know is that BBQing octopi on the main stage is a highlight.
And to say something unerringly positive about the whole affair: despite not personally liking it, I acknowledge that the opera scene is where Final Fantasy became Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy 6 is a product of its time. And a significant part of that? Final Fantasy 6 is not comfortable when it isn’t a “battle game”.
Recall “The Emperor’s Feast”. Something I always remember more fondly than the Opera is the bit after the Espers wreck Vector, and the Returners are invited to a dinner with Emperor Gestahl. This is fun and unprecedented in an RPG of the time, because, prior to Final Fantasy 6, if you had a problem with the evil emperor, you hit him with swords until he became a God of Hell. The concept that you are going to have a diplomatic meeting with a warring country is great, particularly when half your party seems to be kings and fallen kingdom survivors (And Gau. Don’t take him to dinner). The results of the dinner are organic with the plot (South Figaro and Doma are almost always liberated as a diplomatic showing of good faith), and you can even earn extra fun items if the Emperor “likes you” by the end. However, the whole sequence is super-duper videogame: before the dinner, you are asked to run around the castle and talk to soldiers, occasionally instigating fights. Once you are at dinner, you get a whole three questions in, and Gestahl asks if you want to take a break. If you take a breather, you can instigate another series of fights. And it’s a sign of the times that, basically, the producers only had full confidence that you were playing this game to engage with the (awesome) Final Fantasy battle system, and the idea of “talking” through an event was probably going to be ignored. This is in stark contrast to modern game design, where your average Persona title involves about seventeen hours of advancing conversations before your first battle, and dungeons are punctuated with opportunities to enjoy wannabe dating sims. Mind you, I’m just punching down to Persona again here, but Final Fantasy itself has gotten into a routine wherein you can go long swaths of game without what was considered “the game” back in 1994. And that wouldn’t be possible on the SNES just due to a lack of confidence that was earned here at the opera house. There is audience participation, and the timed battle event immediately thereafter, but the opera scenes are basically just “sit back and watch this part”, and that somehow became one of the most iconic parts of this game (if not the genre as a whole).
For better or worse, I don’t see the deep tales of Xenosaga or Final Fantasy 10 without the confidence earned here in Final Fantasy 6. There is a reason the characters of FF6 are shallow compared to their metaphorical descendants, and it is because every character-rich scene was only ever ten seconds away from a fight with lizard-chickens. The certainty of getting away from an RPG just being a battle-delivery service started with Celes in a fancy dress.
So, hey, sing it again, Celes.
Next time on Final Fantasy 6: We all make choices.