What better time than a long weekend to pull out the games we remember fondly and give them another look? Like Final Fantasy VI, one of the first RPGs I played, and the game that taught me to expect amazing female heroes in all my games (an expectation that led to a lot of disappointment over the years, I might add). Final Fantasy VI did something else that was quietly revolutionary for video games in 1994: it told a story of loss, pain and isolation, where heroics alone were never enough to fix everything that had fallen apart.
A couple years ago, A.V. Club published an article about FFVI and its themes of pain and hopelessness. Just like the game it discusses, that article stands the test of time.
No Final Fantasy game has been so committed to loneliness as Final Fantasy VI, though, which is strange considering it has the largest cast of colorful world-saving heroes. Stranger still, they fail to save much of anything, and the world ends, at least for a while. But the World Of Ruin isn’t a place for nihilistic moping or stoic melodrama, though there are dollops of both here and there. Final Fantasy VI uses its gutted world to explore how people overcome failure and loss to build hope in new lives.
The landscape and experience of the World Of Ruin should be familiar to anyone who’s been truly hurt. If a loved one dies or you’re traumatically injured, recovery starts small. Myopia is a crucial part of the healing process: You focus on the small things in front of you to get through the day. When Celes wakes up in Final Fantasy VI, a year after Kefka broke everything, it seems like all that’s left in the world is a tiny island. Cid, an old engineer and Celes’ surrogate father, has been caring for her, but now he’s ill. At first, all you can do is go to the beach, catch fish, and feed Cid. That’s it. Go out onto the only land left, get something to eat, help who you have left.
That myopia should also be familiar to anyone who struggles through episodes of things like major depression. Your world shrinks down to the things you can manage, and everything else feels quite beyond your control.
Celes was pulled back from the brink of despair by the hope that there were still people out there who cared about her, that they’d survived the collapse of her world. Her journey from there isn’t easy, and she has to struggle to find the support she believes might be out there in the world somewhere, but knowing that she might not be alone is the one lifeline that keeps her going when everything else seems lost.
Nostalgia often makes us remember the games of our youth as being better than they really were, but it can also make us forget that they could be as important and socially relevant as so many games are today. Final Fantasy VI is still there to remind us that hope can be the answer when everything seems lost, and that we can all be someone’s lifeline in a moment of need.