Final Fantasy VI: Boredom and Despair

Since nothing much interesting happened during my last session, let’s back up a bit and describe the beginning of the World of Ruin section of the game. After the dirigible wreck, the curtain opens on Celes waking up from a coma. Perennial FF bit-player Cid is looking after her, and she immediately develops a granddaughterly attachment to him. Yes, Celes, former General of the Imperial Army, has been reduced to childishness. This is really just par for the course for her, though. When we first encountered her, she was in a state of complete helplessness, imprisoned and interrogated by her former colleagues. Her one other big moment in the spotlight was one of forced feminization, shanghaied into impersonating a prima donna and singing about how she longs for a hero to rescue her. Progressive it ain’t. One imagines the producers saying “Whoa, Celes is career military? That’s not traditionally feminine at all! She might alienate female players, those delicate flowers. So we’d better wimp her up a bit more on the story level just to be on the safe side.”

But anyway, Celes is all alone in a broken world with Cid, who quickly takes her place in the sickbed. Cid says that there used to be other people on the island, but they “died of boredom and despair”. Once you leave the shack, you quickly realize two things about the world map: it’s radically changed, and you can’t reach most of it. You’re stuck on a small island with no way off. You naturally wander around for a while, but there’s nowhere to go and no goals to pursue. Perhaps you’re afraid at first of getting into random encounters, because you’ve got only one character and most combats are calibrated in difficulty for three or four. But in fact you have nothing to fear: the monsters on this island are so pathetic, they just die spontaneously even if you just stand there doing nothing.

I’m reminded a little of that essay about Metal Gear Solid 2, positing that it was designed specifically to deprive the player of expected rewards. On Cid’s island, the very activities you’re used to are stripped away: you can’t meaningfully explore, and you can’t meaningfully fight. All you can do is keep going back to visit Cid and monitor his deteriorating condition. Boredom and despair! Eventually Cid dies 1I’m told that there’s actually a way to cure him, but it’s obscure enough that most players are guaranteed to miss it unless they’re playing from a walkthrough. , and Celes attempts suicide by leaping off a cliff. This moment is accompanied by an instrumental arrangement of the aria Celes sang atop the castle in the opera scene, and the climb up the cliff is a visual echo of the ascent that set — reminding us again of Celes’ need to be rescued.

Of course the suicide attempt fails: she washes up on the beach, and shortly afterward manages to get off the island by means I won’t go into here. I’ve ranted before on multiple occasions about how the gameplay and the narrative in Final Fantasy essentially exist in different worlds. This whole sequence is a rare example of the opposite: the gameplay, including random encounters, reinforces the narrative and emphasizes the intended mood. It’s telling that this happens in a scene where you have access to only one character, giving the author more control than would normally be the case.

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1. I’m told that there’s actually a way to cure him, but it’s obscure enough that most players are guaranteed to miss it unless they’re playing from a walkthrough.

2 Comments so far

  1. Sean on 15 Mar 2009

    I’m pretty sure that either during the Cid sequence or after she washes up on the beach is where I quit from boredom.

    (I did not finish FF4?, FF6, FF7, *or* Chronotrigger; half due to too-hard battles, half due to boredrom. And I never tried any other Squaresoft RPGs.)

  2. Jason Dyer on 17 Mar 2009

    Ran across this in a FAQ:

    Whether or not you kill Cid has no giant impact on final outcome of the game. I personally kill him every time because I like the scene better.

    Killing characters off for more drama!

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