This is the part of a long-term project to play and review/analyze all the Final Fantasy games. Whenever possible, I will play the original version, but in cases where it’s not available and/or there are time constraints, I’ll use a port and/or watch a Let’s Play, both of which contingencies will be indicated in the review. Ideally, I will attempt to play a portion so that I can remark more accurately on the gameplay experience. These will be long-form reviews with detailed plot analyses, so please be wary if you do not want spoilers.
I have been waiting to review this game since I initially started this project back in December 2015. Final Fantasy IV is my third favorite Final Fantasy, and given how much I love this series, that position is nothing to scoff at. It also has the unique trait of containing my favorite male main character in addition to my most hated character in the entire series.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” -Genesis 4:9
Final Fantasy IV was also known as known as Final Fantasy II for its initial North American release, because the Final Fantasy numbering system is messed up (discussed more in the FFIII review linked above), but as is plain now, the game is the fourth installment in the still popular and ever ironic “Final” Fantasy series. It was originally released for the SNES in 1991, introducing aspects that became staples of not only the Final Fantasy franchise, but RPGs in general such as the Active Time Battle (ATB) System. IV was also the first Final Fantasy to give each character their own unique and (mostly) unalterable character class. This served to make them more realistic and therefore more relatable instead of just interchangeable avatars. This was also the first Final Fantasy to have actual character personalities to tell a legitimate story.
FFIV has been ported to several other platforms such as the Nintendo DS, Gameboy Advance, and Sony PSP along with its sequel Final Fantasy IV: The After Years with an Interlude in between. It was also released for the PlayStation, which is the format in which I played it, which leads me to my first section of…
FFIV has the tried and true experience system that Square reestablished in FFIII after that odd mess of FFII, and as mentioned, IV is the first Final Fantasy to have a mostly static job system. The caveat is due to the main character Cecil Harvey “switching” jobs about a third of the way through the game; however, for the first time, Square made this an integral part of the game’s story (discussed in more detail in that section below). All other character remain as they were, and their jobs are intricately tied to their character/character arcs.
Now while I stated above that IV was the first FF to use the ATB, there isn’t an actual bar showing the process (at least not in the original or PlayStation ported version), but you learn to pick up how the order is going to go.
You can opt between Active and Wait in battles, and the latter will cease enemy attacks while you’re in the midst of selecting your actions. You can also pause during a fight, though if either you or your foe were in the midst of an attack, that will continue before the action truly stalls.
Enemies vary in speed, while your characters gain in that attribute as they level, but one thing I must note about Final Fantasy IV is the difficulty. It is a fairly challenging game, and the enemy encounter rate is quite high especially in later dungeons. This may be due to the time period it was released, prior to the difficulty drop that many video games experienced. With IV even when my level was relatively high, I never found the game easy at any point in the progression.
One unique thing about FFIV is the ability to remove and equip weapons during the fight. This leads me to a particular glitch that can be farmed to your advantage. If you want to duplicate any weapon, equip a character with said weapon then get into battle. During the battle, select Item, go to an empty spot in your inventory then select the weapon. Afterwards, run away from battle. When you go to the weapon in the Item screen on the Menu, you should have two of them. This is great for either making money or creating an unlimited supply of projectiles for Edge (the ninja/thief combination) to throw.
Characters’ Average Age: 25 (not counting FuSoYa for a variety of reasons: his age is unknown and he’s arguably the oldest character in the entire Final Fantasy series)
Each character has a unique ability not typically shared by any other character except in cases of White/Black Magic. In the beginning when he’s still a Dark Knight Cecil has Dark Wave, which is a offensive move that uses the power of his Dark Sword to attack at expense of his energy. Later when he becomes a Paladin, he has the Cover ability that lets him to take a hit for another party member. This actually works automatically if anyone in the group is low on HP. Additionally, Cecil gains the ability to use a few choice White Magic spells such as Cure/Cure 2, Scan, Exit, and Esuna.
Kain, as a Dragoon, has the Jump ability, which takes him off the screen (and out of harm’s way) until he lands on the enemy with whatever spear weapon he has equipped.
The beautiful Rosa, a White Mage, has curative or White Magic. She is also an expert archer, which is a nice addition and augmentation against the healer trope. She can actually deal some serious damage with her arrows.
Of course we have the ubiquitous Cid whose Scan ability isn’t that great (nor unique), but whose airship is indispensable along with his modification and adaptation skills as an Engineer.
Rydia, Rosa’s ability counterpart, even as a child, can use Black Magic and Summon beasts from the Phantom World or the Feymarch, which is my preferred name for the realm. Rydia is literally forced to grow up quickly into the mighty Summoner she was destined to become.
Though old and forgetful he might be, Tellah the Sage is one of the most useful characters in the game. What Black and White magic he remembers are powerful and those he can sometimes dredge up are more so.
In opposition later you’re subjected to Edward the Bard who is the most useless fucking character in the entire series. Sorry to spoil my most hated person so soon, but I can’t talk about him without ranting. He’s just terrible. His “ability” is playing the harp that may or may not put the enemy to sleep, though it’ll miss more often than not in an attack. What Edward’s really good at is hiding when his HP gets too low.
Bahaha, I’m not the only person to think this either! When I Googled for the picture, “Edward is useless” came up in the search xD There will be more ranting about how terrible he is, just a warning.
Yang of Fabul serves as your Monk/Martial Artist type character. He also brings a pretty nice ‘stache to the party as well.
Then there’s Palom and Porom, the Mysidian twins who can use Black and White Magic respectively.
Edge, the Ninja/thief, who I’m not super fond of either, but who at least has the Steal ability and is fairly decent in a fight. His personality irks me though, which I’ll talk more about in the Story section.
Finally FuSoYa, the most mysterious sage. In terms of gameplay he’s a late replacement for Tellah, possessing the ability to cast both White and Black Magic. In terms of story, he’s quite a bit more.
Parties top out at five characters in varying rows, and they have to be alternated in order to ensure certain characters are in the front or back. What this means is if you want both Rosa and Rydia in the back row, you can’t have them beside each other in the menu lineup.
Since Cecil and Edge use physically offensive attacks and Rosa and Rydia use either long range weapons (bow and arrow) or magic, they should go in the back row. Kain is a good candidate for the front. Though it has no bearing on how much his Jump attack will take off, since he’s normally in the air during battle, you can chance him in the front row where damage is greater. Because he’s a knight like Cecil (only of a different type), his armor is more than adequate to protect him.
Characters leave and join the party as the story progresses. There are no options in the original version to switch people out, similar to FFIII. This gameplay aspect flows seamlessly with the story as characters will leave and new ones will join at necessary intervals.
Relative to later Final Fantasies, an airship is obtained fairly early (right at the start if I want to be technical), but there are other necessary vehicles throughout since airships can only land on particular terrain. The hovercraft is necessary to progress the story at one point, while airships are switched out and modified as needed, too.
If you’re used to the Final Fantasy model, you’ll have no issue with IV’s Gameplay. It’s the standard, tried and true method, which is excellent, because it leaves plenty of time to focus on…
Now we come to the heart of the matter, and there is much heart indeed. While the first three Final Fantasies had all of the parts and pieces, IV is where it all comes together. Though it is heralded as character driven, I see it more contingent on plot with characters who learn, grow, and develop as any would do in such circumstances. IV is also the foundation for many later paradigms including layered manipulation, redemption/regret/atonement, and the coming together of two worlds among many others. Final Fantasies I, II, III are like the count before the symphony starts, where the musicians prepare their play. The notes are gathered to be composed; the symphony’s ready to start.
“One born of a dragon
Bearing darkness and light,
Shall rise to the heavens
Over the still land.
The moon’s light eternal
Brings a promise to Earth
With bounty and grace.”
This is the first game where we clearly see that now common layered manipulation that inundates many of the series’ titles. This could be preempted in the fact that Cecil and Kain had little control over the direction their lives would take (Kain even less so as we shall soon see). The two knights were both adopted by the king of Baron and raised as brothers, though Cecil it seems is more favored and eventually inherits throne. Maybe because he looks like a Targaryen with his silvery hair and violet eyes (per the FF Wiki entry on Golbez, though interestingly enough, Golbez at one point had green eyes…), and if you’re an ASOIAF/GOT fan you know that Targs have kingly blood :p
He’s also the first and only main character whose face is unseen until around a third of the way through the game.
Melancholy without being overly brooding, Cecil was compelled to learn the art of the Dark Sword by the king in contrast to Kain who took after his birth father and became a Dragoon Knight. Though Cecil was a reluctant student of darkness, he excelled at it, becoming a Dark Knight and eventually the captain of the Red Wings, Baron’s airship fleet.
Every time he uses the power of darkness in battle, Cecil loses a portion of his HP. This seems like it should only belong in the Gamplay portion, but I believe it’s more of a story element in showing how darkness, while powerful, comes with a blood price. Later games have a weapon called the Blood Sword that does the same thing, granting you power for bits of your energy/soul. The fact that Cecil was trained to do this is very telling. Was there a dark influence even prior to the king’s replacement that pushed the monarch to set the young knight upon this path?
Despite his darkness our hero does still manage to “get the girl” (ugh, we’ll talk more about the issues with that later) Rosa, a White Mage creating a dark/light dichotomy in their involvement (and this would be the same with Kain). Cecil is afraid the darkness will consume him, while Rosa remains optimistic and unafraid. So though his ascension to kingship is an unknown at the start of the story, Kain has enough fodder for jealousy in that he and his adopted brother both love the same woman.
The story begins in media res with Cecil returning from a mission to Mysidia where he commandeered the Water Crystal. The captain is troubled, though, since retrieving the artifact came at the expense of innocent lives. Lives he was ordered to take to achieve this end, so right from the start we have a problematic situation with a main character who’s done questionable things. This is an excellent way for the creators to establish conflict both internal and without. It also does a good job at establishing what type of person Cecil is and shows the player that no more is Final Fantasy a game of nondescript avatars for them to embody, but more of an interactive tale.
Back in Baron, Cecil is greeted by Baigan and taken to see the king. Prior to this, the captain expresses his trepidation for what he’s done, and we get to see some early irony when Baigan informs the king that Cecil can no longer be trusted for pitying the Mysidians without our hero’s knowledge.
Cecil’s decimation of the Mysidians is paralleled later in FFVI with Celes’s Maranda and again with a darker paradigm flip in VII for Sephiroth in Nibelheim (note the sibilant sound of each name). Each character is considered (at one point at least) a hero in their respective stories, and they each do something reprehensible. We can see Cecil’s regret, assume Celes’s, and witness Sephiroth’s (debatably forced) inability to do so. In every iteration, the action has a different and more ambiguous outcome for each actor. I’ll have more to say about Final Fantasy character archetypes in later essays. For now it’s just something to note.
Cecil is punished for questioning the king’s authority by being relieved of his captain’s rank and charged with slaying the phantom beast of the Mist Valley in order to deliver the Bomb Ring to Mist Village. While the king is chastising him, Kain rushes in to his defense, putting his own neck on the line, which Baron’s ruler harshly takes, consigning the Dragoon Knight to his brother’s fate and ordering them both to travel to Mist.
The relationship between Kain and Cecil reminds me a bit of the one between Loki and Thor, at least Marvel’s rendition of them. The jealous (adopted) brother and the other who ascends to the throne. While Kain’s envy is more due to Cecil’s relationship with Rosa, the emotion arguably leads him to betrayal. (Interestingly enough, though Odin is Thor’s father, Frigga is neither Thor’s nor Loki’s mother.) The brother’s betrayal with that particular moniker is also a clear cut Biblical reference to the selfsame Cain who slew his brother. There will be more Biblical reference and more brotherly betrayal later.
Cecil and Kain leave the Kingdom of Baron to fulfill their mission of disgrace, and the opening sequence runs with the iconic Final Fantasy music. Two moons shimmer in the distant background of this alternative Earth known as the Blue Planet.
But the mission to Mist is another of murder, beginning with a little girl’s mother in the form of a Mist Dragon, which is IV’s first boss. One of its attacks is Cold Mist, which is ice type magic. The dragon itself looks very icy indeed, and this is a point of interest. George R R Martin, my favorite author, has claimed that he was the first person to think up the concept of the ice dragon, but looking at the mist one, I’m not entirely sure. Video games are considered bastard media *rolls eyes* so I’m sure Martin would just scoff at such a comparison (which is really a shame since I have a great deal to say about FFVII in comparison to his work), but even the way the Mist Dragon looks is similar to how an ice dragon is described.
Death continues once the two knights reach the town proper, as the bomb ring from the king was a weapon of mass destruction that burns down the entire village upon their arrival. The only survivor is a little girl who wants nothing to do with them since in slaying the Mist Dragon, they killed her mother whose summon it was, also invoking the trope of Destroyed Hometown.
Kain is willing to kill this little girl on the king’s orders, but Cecil is having none of it. The Dark Knight refuses to commit any more atrocities in Baron’s name. Apologetic, Cecil still insists the little girl come with them (after he informs Kain in no uncertain terms that she’s not going to be harmed), but she refuses and attacks two grown men who are also knights…getting the better of them with her Titan/Earthquake summon. Cecil awakens outside of Mist with the child, and Kain is nowhere to be found.
Cecil, alone now with the girl (whom I assumed he must be carrying) takes her to the oasis town of Kaipo’s inn to rest. She still refuses to speak to him, but like a good knight he vows his protection, which is immediately tested when a general from Baron and his men arrive to finish the extermination of the people of Mist. Cecil manages to utterly mop the floor with a higher officer and his men, afterwards earning the little summoner’s complete trust. It’s then he finds out her name is Rydia, and she’s around eight years old.
This small victory is short lived though as soon afterwards, Cecil receives word that a girl was found in the dessert suffering from Dessert Fever and discovers it’s none other than his beloved Rosa who followed him there. The only cure for the illness is the Sand Ruby made from the secretions of the Antlion in Damcyan, a town I have absolutely no clue how to pronounce. I go between saying it “DAM-see-ahn” and “dam-SIGH-ahn.” It does have Cyan in its name, and I wonder if that was inspiration for the knight of Doma in FFVI.
On the way to Damcyan, Cecil and Rydia meet Tellah who fulfills the role of Cool Old Guy (for the moment) complete with boss ass shades (I’m pretty sure they’re just supposed to be glasses, but they look like sunglasses in all of the pictures).
Tellah is on his way to Damcyan to stop his daughter Anna from marrying this stupid (or rather spoony) bard (more on him in a moment), and he readily joins the party since he needs help defeating the Octomammoth at the end of the cave. Unfortunately, before the group can reach Damcyan Castle, it’s bombed by the Red Wings, and Anna dies in the bombardment. She was shielding her lover Edward who is the most worthless, fucking character ever conceived. The only thing he’s useful at is imparting the information that the Red Wings have a new captain, a man named Golbez who destroyed the castle in order to obtain the Fire Crystal in similar vein to what Cecil did to procure the Water Crystal from Mysidia.
Tellah leaves the party to exact his revenge on Golbez for his daughter’s death, and Edward joins *groan* directing Cecil towards the Antlion’s Den in order to obtain a cure for Rosa’s illness in the Sand Ruby it secretes. After this is done, the party, which now includes the healed White Mage, decides to go to Fabul in order to protect the Wind Crystal from Golbez. There they meet Yang, a warrior Monk in service to the king of that realm and protector of the Crystal.
The battle in Fabul irked the hell out of me because Rydia and Rosa were compelled to assist the medics while the men fought.
Both the women are better fighters than Edward, and Rydia is an eight year old girl! Neither of them shirk or hide when the fighting grows thick, and they can hold their own in any altercation. Edward fights with a fucking harp! Who the hell fights with a harp? Rosa has a bow and arrows and Rydia has black, some white, and summon magic. Make Edward assist the medics *grumble*
Brief side note: I played FFIV long before I read George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, so it wasn’t apparent to me before, but the bard who’s a prince enticing a young woman who dies afterwards for his sake seems a common theme in both stories. Granted Prince Rhaegar is so much better than fucking Edward there isn’t even a scale. Also he looks way more like Cecil.
Despite their best efforts, Fabul falls to the forces of the Red Wings and their new commander Golbez. For a brief moment Cecil is elated as Kain reappears, but this is short lived as he now seems to be in thrall to Golbez. He defeats Cecil, Golbez kidnaps Rosa, and Kain takes the Crystal. The Dark Knight is bereft. His best friend betrayed him, and his beloved is in peril. Truly this is the “all is lost moment.”
The king of Fabul gives Cecil a sword that belonged to a dark knight who came to the kingdom many years ago. Who this dark knight could be is a mystery. I doubt it’s Cecil’s father as I believe he must’ve been a paladin, so my only other guess is it’s the king of Baron. This…would make a strange sense and speak to the overarching duality nature of FFIV’s story. Cecil’s adoptive father, the king of Baron, was once a wandering dark knight, while his birth father is a paladin/white knight, and Cecil has to forsake the path of darkness in order to find his true self. It’s kind of like a weird Star Wars thing except there are two fathers instead of one who turned from light to darkness (and then back again).
The king tells Cecil that though the sword’s power is immeasurable, it is still a weapon of darkness and can therefore never triumph over true evil. He then gives him Death (actually Deathbringer it’s truncated in the game, but still “hic veni da mihi mortem iterum!” #bilingualbonus) This is foreshadowing to Cecil eventually becoming a paladin and eschewing the shadow’s pall, because “the promises of darkness will never lead to light.”
The only thing left is to return to Baron to regroup and plan, but on the way there by sea, the party is attacked by Leviathan. Rydia is knocked into the water (possibly on purpose since she is a summoner and Leviathan is a summon); Yang jumps in after her; Edward cries. The entire group is scattered, and Cecil wakes up ashore…near Mysidia. The Mysidians understandably hate him for what he did to them, their town, and their Crystal, yet it seems only fate could’ve had the Dark Knight wash up on the very shores of where he committed his most heinous crime. The elder repeats the King of Fabul’s words about the dark sword, adding that Cecil himself may become consumed by darkness one day if he does not give it up. He offers Cecil the chance to redeem himself by traveling to Mt. Ordeals to forge the paladin’s path, but no one has ever succeeded in passing the trial…
The elder takes some pity on him and charges Palom and Porom, the mage twins, to assist him on his quest. They serve as a bit of comic relief, the former more than the latter, though Palom is a good straight “man” for her irascible brother. On the way there, the small party encounters Tellah who is seeking the forbidden Meteor spell in order to take his revenge on Golbez.
At the top of the mountain when Cecil examines the tablet, he hears a voice calling him, “My son…” surely, his father speaking to him beyond the veil of death and ages. He takes up the mantle of paladin, but must face his old, dark self, which is just an example of the long held dichotomy in fantasy. Dark is not always evil though, as we see in Cecil, though arguably Cecil was light all along fighting the darkness that was forced upon him. In fighting the dark part of himself, the knight vanquishes the darkness he held in order to atone for all of his wrongs, though ordered they might be (we all know that “I was just following order” is not an acceptable excuse).
This part always makes me think of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero Path” quote or at least part of it.
“…And where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world.”
The light that changes Cecil into a paladin also breaks the spell on Meteor, which…is…interesting. In one instant a character eschews darkness, while another picks it back up. There’s a cyclical balance to this, and it suggests that darkness is never extinguished; it just passes to another, nor is this the last time Cecil will need to fight a darker half.
I have to pause for a moment, because we need to talk about this. Cecil is ridiculously beautiful.
This is the first time we see his face and what a face it is ♥♥♥♥
He has a decidedly unearthly beauty to him (which makes sense since half of him isn’t of this earth, more on that later); silvery white hair, delicate features, and a bluish tinge to his lips. His eye color is either described as dark blue or violet, but I’m truly shocked that he doesn’t have more fangirls or fanfictions written about him.
He’s pure bishounen without a great portion of the angst of the majority. Because he eschews his darkness in canon, there’s no feeling bad that he’s a mass murderer (even though he…kind of is and was compelled to do it by a higher force), and he acts as the atoner for all of his wrongdoings. He’s a true knight, brave and loyal on the battlefield, to his friends, and of course to Rosa.
When the paladin scene first happened, I sat awed for many moments as I legitimately thought that becoming a paladin turned Cecil into what he was, but then I realized that was ridiculous. He looked like that underneath the dark armor all along, but his true self wasn’t shown until this moment. This is a brilliant paradigm in the game that’s never been utilized before or since (as far as I know). It’s as though the main character hadn’t been revealed to us until a good portion of the way through the game, a motif that’s generally reserved for the villain whom at this point is still a bit of an unknown. Yes, Golbez has been introduced, but…well you’ll see.
Cecil forgot who he was behind the dark mask if he ever knew at all being an orphan/foundling. Now on top of Mt. Ordeals he has a glimpse into who and what he might be and what fabled destiny awaits.
Returning to town in his “final form,” most of the Mysidians are awed (though some still won’t forgive him). With the twins and Tellah in tow, the white knight returns to Baron through the opened Devil Road to find an amnesiac Yang is now captain of the guards and another pawn of the king. Like Cecil and Kain before him, the warrior monk is used as an unwilling tool of war. (How the hell did Yang recognize Cecil as a paladin?? Did he see him with his helmet off at some point in the story.)
Once his memory is restored, the monk joins Cecil’s party confronting the king for the atrocities he’s allowed only to find he’s been replaced by one of Golbez’s minions, Cagnazzo, the fiend/emperor of water.
Like Final Fantasies before it, IV has that, well, rule of four, keeping with the ancient elements (earth, air, fire, and water). It’s reflected in the Crystals and reflected in the fiends like a dark mirror. There are also Dark Crystals as well, which we’ll talk about further on.
After Cagnazzo’s defeat, Cid arrives to facilitate their escape on one of his airships the Enterprise.
But before they can make a clean getaway, the party falls victim to a booby trap set by Cagnazzo. Palom and Porom sacrifice themselves by turning to stone to save Cecil, Tellah, Cid, and Yang. I do so love how Final Fantasy knows how to properly use comic relief (a la Shakespeare), and then dash it by having children play the lambs for slaughter. This is also called Mood Whiplash, and Disney loves it, too.
It must be noted that Tellah is hellbent on revenge in every situation. Definitely shakes up the kindly old man trope. I also love how Cid and him compete for who’s going to be the Cool Old Guy hehe. There’s some very subtle genre savvy machinations going on.
On the airship Kain appears and demands Cecil retrieve the last Crystal in exchange for Rosa’s life, and it’s here that I come to the part of Final Fantasy IV that really irks me. I mentioned a little bit of it above with the battle in Fabul where Rosa and Rydia were told to help the medics. I hate that the white mage is being used as a bargaining chip as if she’s a commodity/thing and not a person. I know it happens in many stories, and hostage situations are quite common (hello ASOIAF), but the love triangle aspect or rather the fact that Kain is attracted to Rosa gives it a creepy vibe.
This is my one gripe with this story, the stereotypical way they treat women. Later iterations are much better. Hell FFVI has Celes who’s female general with no questions asked about why she was qualified for that position. It’s clear to everyone why she is, and Terra, while a pawn, is one because of her powers with nothing to do with her gender. Had she been male with the same abilities, she’d have been treated in the same way. They didn’t even try to shoehorn in a love interest for her (the fans are perfectly capable of doing that on their own).
I also need to mention that Kain under Golbez’s thrall is a homophobic asshole (much more on Kain’s manipulation in the Story Analysis section). When he sees Cecil as a paladin, he tells his (once) friend, “That drag suits you well.” Um wtf Kain? If the localization team was trying to make him seem like a dick, they did an excellent job.
The final Crystal of Earth resides in Troia, which is run by women (yasss), eight cleric sisters to be exact. When Cecil and party ask about the Crystal, the sisters tell him it was stolen by the Dark Elf who resides in a cave with an anti-metal force field, but the dauntless paladin and friends are able to vanquish him and retrieve it with help from…Edward?! Holy shit, I forgot he’s not entirely useless. Yes, Edward might be bedridden in Troia where he apparently ended up, but by using a “harp resonator” of sorts, he’s able to send his music across space, distracting the Dark Elf enough to disrupt the force field (guess he’s not a music lover) so that the party can kick his ass with heavy metal.
Speaking of awesome metal, there’s a town literally called Mithril, which is of course a Tolkien reference and quite ubiquitous for Final Fantasy franchise. VII has a Mithril Mine and it’s quite a common material used in armor and weaponry throughout the series.
When they rendezvous again with Kain, the fallen knight leads them to the Tower of Zot, an extremely high tech facility in an unknown location. Until this moment, we’ve only seen medieval structures in the game, and, barring airships, the technology seems firmly planted in that era (it begs the question of what kind of fuel the airships run on). The Tower is clearly more advanced that anything the Blue Planet could’ve built at this time, which is our first clue that Golbez has access to far greater technology than any seen before.
At the tower’s summit, Golbez has Rosa imprisoned with enthralled Kain being super creepy.
I do wonder if there are fanfics where Rosa is…more than kidnapped D:
He tries to cut and run after the exchange occurs, but Tellah will not be denied his vengeance and casts the forbidden Meteor spell. Sadly, this only weakens Golbez, but kills the old man, and the futility of this is heartbreaking. Similar to the peals of Edwards harp, the spell does manage to offset the villain enough that he loses his clutch on Kain’s mind, freeing the dragoon from his thralldom, but Tellah still lies dead.
Is it better to gain a contrite traitor at the expense of a faithful elder? And would you consider Kain to be a traitor anyway? Herein lies not only interpretation but serious ethical questions. While it’s true Kain was under Golbez’s spell, it was his jealousy towards Cecil that arguably caused him to be susceptible to such manipulation. This weak spot in the friendship carved a path for Golbez to worm in. On one side, jealousy is an involuntary emotion brought about by the situation of unrequited love; however, you could argue that Kain allowed it to take the better of him and betray his best friend and brother.
There is more intrigue at the top of the tower when Golbez strikes Cecil and it looks like he himself was hurt with both of them were confused for some moments. It’s possible that Golbez felt the connection between Cecil and himself past the veil of his own manipulation, but it was too brief to have a lasting effect. This asks the question of whether or not Golbez has any memory of Cecil besides his hatred of him? Does he even know why he hates the white knight?
I should probably explain a little bit here for the paragraph above for those of you not in the know. I did warn about spoilers for everything so here we go. Golbez and Cecil are brothers, Golbez’s real name is Theodore, and he has a legitimate, if not necessarily fair, reason for hating the paladin.
Before Tellah perishes, he makes a poignant and important statement about he lost himself in hatred and revenge. It consumed him until there was nothing left. Now, in all honesty, being the age he was and losing his only child, it’s understandable. He will never have any more offspring so all he has left is his vengeance, yet he still regrets. This is a parallel for Theodore who lost himself to the same to become Golbez (looks like I lied about the “later” part of discussing this. There will be more still later though).
What I love about FFIV is everyone has a chance at redemption, which is a major theme of the story along with with regret, and damn Cecil is forgiving! Even before Kain can say anything, he insists his friend was hypnotized, though Kain tells him he retained his consciousness within. That’s the worse kind of hell and nearly all Final Fantasies present that Fridge Horror for rumination. To be a puppet forced to do terrible things for another’s benefit and to know you’re doing them with no means to stop or prevent.
The worst kind of hell. To be trapped in the vehicle of your body, but no longer the driver of your own soul.
I can’t help but feel even more sympathy for Kain even as I’m impressed with Cecil and Rosa’s 8-bit kiss. That has to be rough on the dragoon, being in love with his best friend’s lady.
Also noted is Kain is left handed. The left was long considered the “evil” hand so much so that many children in the generation before mine were forced to write with their right lest they be doing the devil’s work or such nonsense. Left in Latin is “sinistra,” which is where the word sinister originates.
Back in Baron after Rosa teleports the team out of the crumbling Tower of Zot, Kain reveals that Golbez needs to obtain the four subterranean Dark Crystals in order to open the path to the moon, and herein we have another light/dark dichotomy, which seems to be represented on repeat with this game. It’s seen with Cecil and Golbez (Theodore), (Dark Knight) Cecil and Rosa, Cecil and Kain, and the overarching theme of the moon, which has been considered both light and dark through time immemorial. I love how Final Fantasy layers themes and started doing so early.
When the Crystals of light and dark are gathered together, the way to the moon will open. Cecil is utterly astonished by this. He doesn’t know his own history/origin, which is another sad but shared paradigm for stories in the series. He felt an inkling of it on Mt. Ordeals when that voice called him “son.” This doesn’t cause the paladin to doubt his full humanity obviously, because why would he? Though Cecil is a bit odd looking with his white/silver hair and blue/purple stained lips. This brings up the question of whether or not the king pushed him to become a dark knight in order to hide his face/alien features…
The party travels to the underworld via an opening in Agart, marking the second time Cecil and Kain have caused an irrevocable change to some locale (recall the destruction of Mist). Down in the bowels of the earth, they encounter the Dwarves who are currently fighting Baron’s Red Wings.
This brings up a serious question that could be a plot hole. How the hell did the Red Wings get underground so quickly and why wasn’t the pathway opened? Either way Rydia returns just in time to save Cecil from Golbez in the underworld, summoning the same Mist Dragon as her mother. She’s now a young woman due to time moving differently in the Feymarch, the Land of Summons, which is where Leviathan took her.
Time in the Feymarch seems to work the same as Narnia relative to our world, though Narnian time moves even slowly than FFIV’s Fey. When the four Pevensie children returned from Narnia, no time had passed, and as a bonus, they returned to the ages they’d been before they first entered. In the Fey the Blue Planet’s time is slower(I think…I’m terrible at this). Either way, Rydia is now around sixteen or so and a full-fledged summoner who’s lost any white magic abilities she might’ve had.
Despite their best efforts, the team is unable to prevent Golbez from taking the dwarves’ Dark Crystal, but the dwarf King Giott hatches a fairly good plan to sneak into the Tower of Babil where the villain is keeping the other seven and steal them while he’s going after the final. It makes sense to me. Why go after the one you know he’s seeking and do what he expects you to do when there’s a far greater and (hopefully) less guarded bounty to be had.
There’s another small dichotomy underground with Luca, the little dwarf girl. She’s Cecil’s “darker” equivalent (dark because it’s the underworld and the dwarves hold the Dark Crystals) in that she’s the king (and I assume queen’s) adopted daughter.
The base of the Tower of Babil is in the underworld, so it connects the core of the earth with the core of the moon. The story takes us from the bowels of the earth to the bowels of the moon, and the Tower of Babil connects it all. It hardly needs to be mentioned that “Babil” is a reference to the Biblical Tower of Babel that men attempted to build to reach the Heavens. Because of humanity’s hubris, God confused speech and scattered man across the world. This is one mythology behind why there are different languages. In FFIV the Tower legitimately does connect to “heaven,” but this was not humanity’s success…
The assault on the Tower of Babil is ultimately a failure. The Crystals have been moved to a lower location, and Yang winds up sacrificing himself to prevent the tower’s canons from firing on the dwarves. The party manages to flee the underworld with yet another sacrifice from Cid who does so to seal the passage between the two worlds so the Red Wings cannot follow.
In a cave near Eblan where the people are hiding in caves due to monsters taking over their castle, Cecil and company meet up with Edge, the prince of that kingdom. Edge is…annoying. Not nearly so much as Edward (whom you thankfully never have to put up with in your party again), and the prince is also much more useful even if his defenses aren’t that great and he tends to die easily. He can steal though and is a ninja,
but I hate the “ladies’ man,” cocky attitude. He’s like Edgar from VI, but without the charm. This drags him down to my second least favorite character in the game and possibly series over all (those ratings will come later). I do feel bad for Edge though. Upon returning to the Tower of Babil to retrieve the stolen Crystals, he discovers his missing parents, the King and Queen of Eblan have been turned into monsters by Golbez’s mad scientist Dr. Lugae.
Under some kind of thrall the now monstrous monarchs attack the party and attempt to kill their own son. That…is pretty damn hard to deal with and earns Edge some sympathy points. Eventually they come to their senses, declare their love for their son, and perish ;_;
Final Fantasy does love its orphan stories, and no less here with Cecil (and Golbez/Theodore), Kain, Rydia, Palom, Porom, and Edge. The game is a bit vague on the why, but it looks like Lugae turned the king and queen into monsters as part of some experiment, and of course you see clearer echoes of this in later games (VII where clarity makes it more horrifying), and Rubicante, the fiend of fire that Edge was chasing when you found him, is quite put out by the whole business. Of all the elemental emperors, Rubicante is by far the most noble. Though he works for Golbez, there’s a certain honor to him, and he always heals your party before every duel.
After the battle is won, the party escapes on an enemy airship (though if it were part of the Red Wings’ fleet, it’s really just a reclamation) that Edge names Falcon to impress Rydia (ugh). Note this name is recycled in Final Fantasy VI
After retrieving the eight Crystal from the Sealed Cave in the underworld, Golbez shows up to mind fuck Kain again in order to obtain the eighth and last Dark Crystal for him. Sounds like something else that happens in a later game, right? I’m not trying to continually bring up FFVII and the precedence for what happens therein, but it’s so easy to see it, and Golbez is a great example of that meta/trickle down manipulation, which is revealed later. It serves as support for my favorite argument. Just because it isn’t overtly revealed to be this in VII doesn’t mean it isn’t woven into the subtext *gets off soapbox*
After this dark part, Final Fantasy shines again with how well the creators use comic relief. Following Kain’s second (unwilling) betrayal, Cid shows back up to lighten the mood, having not died in the underworld, which is good news in and of itself, but he proves even more useful by attaching a drill to the new airship so that the party can tunnel out to daylight again.
The group goes back to Mysidia in order to pray for the dragon prophecy (see below Story above) to come true. Instead of a dragon, they get a Lunar Whale, a great ship that can bear them to the Red Moon.
The conveyance is from the moon and is endowed with powers greater than men can bestow. As mentioned before Golbez also seems to have access to technology that is beyond the bounds of this world, which is a heavy, binding clue. “Someone” hid the Whale in the bay near Mysidia, a piece of ancient technology far more advanced than what’s current.
Note that the Lunar Whale appears to have a Dark Crystal inside of it, too, which begs the question of whether or not there are actually nine crystals with one in the Whale needed to travel to the Moon. This begs yet another question or whether or not the Tower of Babil would be needed to open the path to the Moon if the Whale were available. Since Golbez obviously didn’t use the LW to get there, I think this is a valid supposition. Are Dark Crystals a form of dark energy or antimatter? The ship would have to travel incredibly fast in order to make it to the Moon so swiftly.
The Red Moon of the Blue Planet is where “the big reveal” occurs. The party meets a character who may very well be the oldest in all of the Final Fantasies, FuSoYa, keeper of the sleeping Lunarians.
Per someone who could be considered a true ancient, in eons past there was a planet between Mars and Jupiter. This seemingly simple statement tells us a great deal. One, the Blue Planet is an alternative Earth in a solar system that’s the same as ours. I’m not going to get into alternative/parallel universes, because that would be too confusing, but just the very names of the planets (Mars and Jupiter) and their placements heavily suggest this and makes the fact that the BP is a world of two moons an anomaly, which would not be the case if FFIV took place on some random, alien planet. Also utilizing the space between Jupiter and Mars is wildly clever as there is enough room for another planet to orbit therein before the gas giants on the outer edge of the solar system.
In real life there is an asteroid belt in their midst, containing what’s known as the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object within.
Ceres is composed of rock and ice with no chance of life. While it’s possible Square meant to imply a flourishing planet dwelled in that space, it’s also possible they were implying Ceres was once a living world. It should be noted that Ceres and Celes would be interchangeable in Japanese (correct me if I’m wrong), and Celes is quite an important character in a later game (VI). It is both ironic in real life and FF that Ceres is so lifeless, since she is the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain and crops.
The planet between the two heavenly bodies had an advanced culture, but found itself on the verge of extinction for reasons unexplained. Was it due to what we’re doing today with our own planet that’s reflected in VII? If they were technologically advanced enough to build ships that could traverse the distance, they certainly had the power to be the authors’ of their world’s demise. They escaped their lost home’s destruction and went to the Blue Planet, which FuSoYa literally calls Earth. Because the people there were still evolving, the survivors of the doomed world decided to create an artificial satellite, the Red Moon where they now sleep. Again, the fact that these people were able to leave their home world, travel across space and fashion a reasonable facsimile of a moon speaks volumes to how much more advanced they were than humans.
Some of the Lunarians were reluctant to sleep and wait for the people of earth to be advanced enough. They schemed to take over the earth and steal the planet from its rightful owners, which is a definite precursor to FFVII played straight. FuSoYa had to use all of his powers to force a particular Lunarian back to sleep, one called Zemus, but even in slumber, the power of his will still grew.
Then the old man drops a major bombshell, revealing that Zemus is the one controlling Golbez who in turn is controlling Kain, and this right here is one of the main supports for my Heart of Darkness essay.
You have the sleeping/comatose entity deep within some subterranean lair controlling someone outside who shares a commonality with it (Golbez is half-Lunarian, Sephiroth had the most Jenova cells, Rinoa is a sorceress, etc.), and the person being controlled is in turn holding the puppet strings of a “weaker” or less adept mind (Kain, Cloud, and Rinoa) who fights against it. They sometimes withstand, sometimes succumb, but the psychological/emotional damage is always guaranteed; however, the first person in the manipulation relay never emerges unscathed. They are arguably more damaged since they were not only manipulated, but were forced to be a manipulator.
FuSoYa calls Golbez an “evil soul” who was corrupted by Zemus’s will and recruited to gather the crystals, but we find out later that Golbez isn’t as terrible as all that (see the paragraph about manipulation above), though like Kain, his jealousy and anger towards dispossession (losing someone you love…in two different ways. Golbez’s case to be discussed below in Story Analysis) helped the manipulation along. In manifold and meta ways, FFIV is a tale of brotherhood whether by blood or other bonds that tie two people together.
The biggest bombshell however could be the identify of Cecil and Golbez’s father, KluYa, a Lunarian who came to the Blue Planet and taught magic to the people there. By this he is the “progenitor” of sorts of the people of Mysidia and Mist, two cities Cecil, his son destroyed (can we say definition of irony?). Alongside bestowing “fire from the gods” in the vein of Prometheus, KluYa also fell in love with a woman of the Blue Planet, Cecilia, and Cecil still bears her name. This confirms that it was his father’s voice Cecil heard on Mt. Ordeals, and also throws a pretty blatant “heavenly father,” Jesus motif into the mix, which is par for the course with Final Fantasy, and something that is also well symbolized with white/silver hair. There’s also a bit of the nephilim mythos invoked in this as those “watchers” were the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of man.” Symbolically, aliens, beings from the sky, could be considered such and seeing as the offspring: Golbez and Cecil were both drawn to darkness in one way or another, the assessment isn’t inaccurate.
Zemus wants to use the crystals, which are the Lunarians’ source of power, to bring down the Giant of Babil and annihilate life on earth, very much like FFVII’s meteor in the destruction of life aspect. This will flowed into Golbez who is Zemus’s physical representative. In accomplishing this apocalypse, the Blue Planet will be free and clear for the Lunarians to descend upon. This is echoed five games later in FFIX with the Terrans attempt to cycle out the souls of the people of Gaia and replace them with their own.
The problem with this is the Lunarians don’t want to usurp life on earth. They chose their self-imposed slumber in order to allow the planet’s inhabitants to evolve so that one day the could commune. Well…obviously some Lunarians had no issue “communing” since KluYa fathered Theodore, who was born out of darkness (possibly during the dark of the moon), and Cecil, who was born out of light, on Cecilia, the earthling woman he fell in love with and married.
KluYa introduced the concept of airships and the Devil’s Road to humanity, which makes sense as they’re both rapid forms of travel, and as a Lunarian, he once sailed the stars. He also built the Lunar Whale and sealed it away near Mysidia in hopes that one of his sons would fulfill the prophecy and find it.
Unfortunately, mankind has never had a good track record with anyone/anything different, and KluYa was attacked and killed by villagers who disagreed with his peaceful teachings and wished to use magic to make war. This occurred while Cecelia was pregnant with Cecil, and she later died giving birth. Theodore’s grief and anger left him open for the ravishments of Zemus whose mental manipulation turned him into Golbez, and he abandoned his baby brother outside the kingdom of Baron. It is not until Cecil arrives on the Red Moon that he finds out his origin and truth from his paternal uncle FuSoYa.
According to the ancient man, Cecil resembles his father, but he has his mother’s name. KluYa gave Cecil the power to fight Zemus, because Cecil was always meant to battle the darkness.
This will be discussed more in the music section, but the song playing during FuSoYa’s exposition is the same music that plays during the opening credits. Like all (?) Final Fantasies, IV begins in media res, and this moment is more the beginning near the end.
The moon has eight crystals, as well. They form a barrier between the surface and the core where the Lunarians sleep. They also speak and tell their stories, and it’s unknown if the earth crystals have this capacity. One crystal explains that FuSoYa has protected the Lunarians for ages, which again brings up the idea of how old the sage really is. His people must be long lived even out of stasis, and he’s clearly the more benevolent precursor to FFIX’s Garland in watching over sleeping souls before they awaken to new life. But even beyond the barrier and FuSoya’s magic, Zemus can exert his will. From the core of the moon all the way to the earth, which is a terrifyingly powerful alien influence indeed.
So this is how FFIV perpetuates and uses the idea of ancient…
After the Giant of Babil is stopped, FuSoYa casts a spell that breaks Zemus’s hold on Golbez, and it’s here the reveal of his and Cecil’s brotherhood occurs. The first words the once villain states upon awakening are, “How did I bear so much hatred inside?” which makes a statement about the meta-manipulation he both exerted and endured. It was a trickle down borne of pain and hatred from a powerful, ominous source. While being manipulated both Kain and Golbez’s envy and belief of dispossession helped tighten the bonds.
This is one of the overarching themes of Final Fantasy, and it could very well be something else inspired by Star Wars, since this aligns with Yoda’s warning that “Fear leads to anger, which leads to hatred, which leads to the dark side.” It’s also a nature/nurture question in addition to tackling the idea about the individual vs. social conditioning. Can you really blame the person who’s manipulated for their actions? Were they in control at all? Did they have a will/say in what was being done to them and/or what they were doing, or were they just a spectator at their own hellish descent? Was there a point of no return, a threshold crossed only once?
FuSoYa tells Golbez that it was his Lunarian blood that made him easy prey for Zemus’s will, which goes back to my theory about VII/Sephiroth. Because the fallen general had the most of Jenova’s cells, he fell to its influence far easier and far deeper than Cloud or anyone else who was tainted by the corruption.
Cecil has a moment of crisis at this reveal. He’s been cursing and fighting the brother he never knew this entire time (a similar thing happens in FFIX). The paladin even states that Zemus could’ve used him instead, but this isn’t true: Cecil was already chosen by the light. While it’s true the paladin starts off as a dark knight, he never wanted that path. It was counter to all he felt, and this may explain why using the powers of the dark sword made him bleed. Since he was born of light and Golbez was born of darkness, the answer may lie with that, but again Dark Is Not (necessarily) Evil. The darkness never infested Cecil, and his melancholy nature at the beginning of the story speaks to the wrongness of him bearing the dark blade. He didn’t have the same jealousy and hatred that Golbez/Theodore bore, which was actually against Cecil himself for “killing” their mother in childbirth. Golbez, too, rejects his brother’s worry that Zemus could’ve chosen him, repeating FuSoYa’s harsh claim of “the evil in my soul, however small it was,” which supports what I said above. That “evil,” which is more of the resentment caused by grief is what allowed Zemus to worm his way inside.
Part of Golbez/Theodore’s atonement is to accompany FuSoYa to the moon to help the ancient sage defeat Zemus once and for all. Cecil and party follow, witnessing the paladin’s brother and uncle vanquish the evil Lunarian whose dying words are echoed much later in Final Fantasy IX, “The body dies. The spirit lives on.”
Those final words were both a threat and a promise. The manifestation of his hatred, Zeromus, rises from the host body, laying both FuSoYa and Golbez low in addition to striking down Cecil and his companions. It is an even more dire “All is lost moment.”
The hatred and enmity living on through death is mirrored in Final Fantasy VII with Sephiroth, who though “dying” in Nibelheim (in theory) retained his misguided hatred of Cloud and humanity, though there’s a strong possibility this was Jenova manifesting through his form, as it’s also possible Zeromus could’ve been manifesting through Zemus; however, FFIV provides less evidence of this. “Death only increased Zemus’s hatred,” says FuSoYa, which is again echoed in FFVII. Dying only enraged Sephiroth more, because he’d been defeated by a failure. Of course much of the fallen angel’s animosity was due to manipulation by an alien parasite, which is a valid description of Zeromus’s hideous form.
Back on earth, the Elder of Mysidia commands all of Cecil’s friends and allies (Cid, Yang, Palom, Porom, and Edward who are respectively no longer dead, petrified or quite so useless) to pray for for the paladin and party, which gives them the strength to fight and slay Zeromus (though it took this Narcissist four times to heed the prayers. Also, how the fuck do the people of Mysidia know what’s going on in the core of another “planet?? I barely know what’s going on here). This paradigm is revived in Final Fantasy IX with the battle against Necron, which is absolute nothingness, something Zeromus surely represents (see the “zero” in its name).
And there’s a bit of this same motif in the Earthbound series where prayer is your last refuge and only hope against Giygas.Not to mention that Cecil as a paladin is a half-breed with holy power, which is similar to Aeris in FFVII.
After the battle is won, a more sentimental one is fought between the two brothers Cecil and Golbez. The elder decides to go with FuSoYa as he feels he has no place on the Blue Planet due to the atrocities he wrought. He also wants to know more about the Lunarians, his father’s people. It’s an interesting dichotomy between the two. According to the ancient sage, Cecil resembles his father, but he has his mother’s name (Cecilia). Golbez was compelled to wallow in the darkness Cecil was forced to embrace until he found the paladin’s (and his father’s) light. Also of note, Golbez’s faux hatred of Cecil was based on his resentment due to his mother dying in childbirth. There’s an abundance of twisted up issues among the brothers. Golbez hated Cecil for “killing” their mother, which caused him to “side” with his father’s people. Now at the end of the story, he decides to embrace them in a far better way in order to atone and learn.
Thus the story ends in a duality of joy and tears. Kain, also, feels the need to atone, sharing the paradigm with Golbez, so Cecil loses not just one brother, but two. The dragon knight leaves to train more in order to surpass his (birth) father in skill as Golbez leaves to learn more about his father’s people. They were both Cecil’s antagonists though deep down they both loved him, and at the end both leave him to atone for their sins against.
Cecil is crowned King of Baron in the old king’s place; Rosa is crowned queen, and the entire realm rejoices.
But the bittersweet notes of what is now missing can never be fully ignored.
Now that the tale has been laid out, it’s time for the…
Final Fantasy IV is the tale of two brothers in two different ways: Cecil and Kain, the former’s adopted sibling and brother-in-arms
and Cecil and Theodore (Golbez), brothers by birth and alienation.
The name Cecil means “blind,” and Cecil has been both literally and figuratively kept in the dark for most of his life. The man he knew as his king and adopted father became a pawn of his brother who himself was the pawn of an alien darkness that lives in Cecil, too. His last name, Harvey, means “battle worthy,” and to be both blind and battle worthy is to be a tool of war. He is the only main character (in the games I’ve played) who literally starts out dark. We certainly have our reluctant heroes and our ambivalent protagonists, but Cecil invokes the Dark Is Not Evil trope, though he was always destined for light. It’s fitting he doesn’t shed that illumination on his life (including his origin, parents, or estranged brother) until he finds his own.
Theodore means “God’s gift,” a meaning we could play with. If we want to believe Zemus/Zeromus is a type of deity pulling the strings, then Theodore as Golbez was his avatar/messenger. Since Zemus/Zeromus fills the same role in IV as Jenova, Ultimecia, Necron, and Sin fulfill in their respective games, this is not an inaccurate assessment. Going smaller though, Theodore (then as Golbez and under Zemus’s influence) left Cecil in the Kingdom of Baron, giving them what he hoped would be a poisoned gift.
Arguably, Theodore became Golbez due to the fact he was “born of darkness,” and grief pushed him into the ken of Zemus’s manipulation, another despair becomes madness paradigm. This aspect fed on the grief and resentment due to his mother dying in childbirth and hatred of Cecil for “killing” her. This is the same motif in A Song of Ice and Fire between Cersei/Tyrion and Viserys/Daenerys. FFIV also ponders (or makes me ponder) if Cecilia succumbed because her children were half-Lunarian or if she just died in childbirth because that whole process sucks. Either way, it’s always a handy method to get the mother out of the way…whether it’s true or not (I may write a meta just about this since it’s so prevalent across genres throughout the ages).
Both of Cecil’s brothers, blood and adopted, must fight their dark sides just as he did, but the young knight was forced into darkness; it was never his true place at all, utterly anathema to his nature.
Final Fantasy IV is the first game to introduce the paradigm of the love triangle that permeates the series going forward. Even though Cecil and Rosa are the official canon couple of the story, the unrequited love Kain endures for the white mage is arguably what makes him susceptible to Golbez (Zemus’s) influence. The dragoon even admits afterwards it was not merely Golbez’s hypnosis that caused him to act as he did. A part of him wanted to hurt Cecil for taking away something he held so dear…which is similar to Theodore/Golbez’s plight. Cecil is the wholly innocent/pure bystander who must bear the brunt of legitimate dispossession in one instance and illegitimate in the other. While it’s obviously not his fault his mother died in childbirth, Theodore’s pain for this loss is valid even if his abandonment of his brother is not. Kain, on the other hand, while righteous in feeling is not so much in action.
The friendship strained by the love of a woman might be a cliched motif, but Squaresoft expands upon it beautifully by making it the deciding factor which allowed Kain to be manipulated by an outside source. This doesn’t mean his jealousy wasn’t a factor. Rosa was never his, and since she’s a person and not a possession, invoking dispossession (legitimate or not) is repugnant. This goes back to my one major critique of FFIV in using a woman as a pawn. One catalyst for the entire story could be attributed to Kain’s unrequited love for Rosa (though if we go farther back it’s more Golbez’s sorrow and rage that led him leave his brother in Baron, and even further it’s Zeromus, but without Golbez, the manifestation of hatred would have no way to act), since the pain of rejection and subsequent resentment is what potentially opens him up for Golbez’s influence just as Golbez’s pain is what opened him up for Zemus’s. One agony bleeds from the other and can cause the destruction of worlds.
The motif of the pawn is more amorphous in the prior Final Fantasies, but it coalesces perfectly in FFIV and becomes a very common (and much beloved imo) Final Fantasy trope. Cecil and Kain are initially pawns of the king, their adopted father, who is under the influence of Golbez. Kain then becomes a pawn of Golbez who is himself a pawn of Zemus whom we could argue is a pawn of his own hatred Zeromus. Granted, the counterargument is Zeromus doesn’t exist until Zemus is dead, but the spirit of hatred could’ve been his driving force that refused to succumb even when the body did.
This of course becomes extremely philosophical and metaphysical, begging the question of “Can we blame people for their hateful actions if it’s really that they’re being possessed of something hateful?” or simply the “devil made me do it” motif. Where does responsibility begin and end. This is going to expand beyond the scope of this examination very quickly, has been discussed in Heart of Darkness, and would really delve deeply into the individual vs. outside influence debate, which I’m neither willing nor equipped to do, but are we truly just puppets dancing on the strings of those before us?
When pawns realize that they were ill played, the next step is regret, which is a major theme of the game, as well. In the very beginning Cecil and Kain burn down the village of Mist, invoke the trope of Destroyed Hometown for Rydia. They are also responsible for killing the child’s mother (the second one Cecil has “killed”).
Bear with me for a minute it should be worth it. The German word for “mist,” “fog,” or “cloud,” is “nebel.” This is a source of many things such as Richard Wagner’s opera The Ring of the Nibelung, which is the basis for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It’s also where the world in the Norse cosmology, Niflheim finds its name. Niflheim is of course the origin of the name Nibelheim in FFVII, roughly translating into “cloud home.”. “Nebel” or “Nibel” means “mist,” and the “mist” in IV was burned down just like the “mist” in VII.. Burning down the mist… One final point. Niflheim is “the land of always winter” for you ASOIAF/GOT fans out there.
The two knights have much atoning to do for actions that aren’t entirely their fault. Both were being used as pawns of the king who is himself a pawn of Golbez who is a pawn of Zemus. FFIV may have an even higher level of meta manipulation than FFVII.
Returning to regret, Cecil rues his dependence on the dark sword, and Kain grieves for the envy that led to his malleability. Theodore sorrows in his inability to fight his darkness, something else reflected in Kain. For the latter though when one is “born of darkness” how then should one fight? This goes back to that philosophical question presented about without answer. Zemus/Zeromus serves as that overshadowing spectre of the abyss, yet his/its actions aren’t unfathomable from his/its point of view. All species strive for survival, though just the thought of sparing an iota of empathy for a diabolus ex nihilo gives me a twinge in my gut. It’s the same emotion I get when thinking of Jenova from VII. Again, all life strives to survive be it parasitic or symbiotic, but being the devil’s advocate in this case means I must argue against my own existence, and since all live strives to survive, I run into a double blind.
At the end of the game, both Kain and Golbez leave Cecil in order to atone for the wrongs they committed against him. Despite the fact they were both being manipulated by the same outside, powerful source, both “brothers” take responsibility for the damage caused by their resentment.
Transformation lies at the heart of the narrative as Zemus seethes in the core of the moon. Kain is transformed by his jealousy into a pawn. Theodore is transformed by his grief, resentment and finally hatred into Golbez, and, as mentioned above, there’s a parallel between him and Kain as both of their negative feelings are directed towards and because of Cecil. The dark knight himself is transformed into a paladin by a pure heart that cannot be shadowed by darkness. Rydia is transformed into a true summoner while in the Feymarch where time moves differently, and Zemus is transformed by his hatred into a very vessel for that hatred. It always corrodes the container it’s carried in, which is why there is strength in forgiveness.
Finally, we have the coming together of two worlds in a beautiful unity of opposites. The existence of Cecil and Theodore prove that it can happen even if the results don’t always manifest perfectly. One brother was more aligned with his mother’s (earth) world, while the other was more aligned with his father’s (sky) world. This seems to be another metaphor for the earth gods and sky gods. This is something huge in religious symbolism; think Christianity with the birth of Christ being facilitated through a human woman, Mary, being impregnated by God…for the most part. These aspects are often at war and typically represent the opposite factions of patriarchy (sky) and matriarchy (earth).
Cecil is half-Lunarian, arguably a child of prophecy and the fulfillment of a legend (need I mention “ice and fire?”), which is literally the name of the paladin sword. This was only the start of this paradigm for FFIV (the precursor for it was touched upon in III). It continues in VI with Terra, half-human, half-Esper, but is distorted/subverted in VII with one character who fulfills this being both artificially fashioned and corrupted by abomination due to lies (Sephiroth), while the other is a wholly natural hybrid and the true fulfillment of the prophecy (Aeris). Nor is IX remiss in this area with Kuja and Zidane, which has the additional similarity of the two moons and the brother paradigm, as well. IV was the first to show these dual satellites, the one artificially created by the Lunarians that leaves at the end of the game (but possibly “returns” per my speculation in When the Moon Has Turned to Blood).
Final Fantasy IV was Squaresoft’s first foray into the realm of plot driven story telling with characters that developed along the way. These were no longer just player avatars, but personalities in their own right with hopes, dreams, and motivations of their own. It was less about inserting yourself into the game and more about being absorbed into the story like you would a good book or film. FFIV is and remains one of the best Final Fantasies, RPGs, and video games every made, and I count it third in line for my favorite in the franchise. It is woefully underrated, cast in the shadow of the more recent and higher acclaimed VI and VII, but like the moon, an unseen shadow still retains its influence.
It now gives me great pleasure to move onto to…
Final Fantasy IV has the best music heard before, and it even holds up decades later. There are so many songs in this game I enjoy that I can honestly say I love more in IV than any of the prior others combined. It is easily the best Final Fantasy soundtrack heard so far.
Let’s start with the ubiquitous “Prologue” that’s become the music associated with Final Fantasy. It plays at both the beginning of the game and in the first part of the final boss fight in a sort of melodic book end.
Next there’s the: Overworld (Main Theme).”
It perfectly captures the forlorn but hopeful aspects of Cecil’s nature, the latter which drives him to seek out an answer to his darkness and become what he was meant to be at last. Speaking of which…
This chill inducing music only played twice in the game: the above where Cecil becomes a paladin and again when the Lunar Whale first surfaces, two times of a great (and otherwordly) reveal.
The battle music may be my favorite out of all the games in the series. Final Fantasy always has a flare for the epic, and Nobuo Uematsu knows how to tell the story of high stakes in every note.
Nor does the boss music disappoint. I love how Uematsu-san knows how to layer music so that you have multiple melodies going at once, presenting the listener with a mental puzzle that’s a delight to divine out. I don’t recall the source, but I recall reading how the music written for video games is specifically designed to help you concentrate/think. This is among the many reasons I love listening to it while editing/writing.
Then there’s the haunting melody of the Feymarch. There could be no better music to encapsulate the land of the Fey. It has a discordant note to it even in its beauty as if something is disjointed and time is awry. This is not the place for mankind, but is ruled by a far stranger and alien race. It’s perfect for a story that’s about that very threat where the savior of the world carries part of it in his skin…
Speaking of Rydia and the Fey, FFIV is the first game to introduce character leitmotifs, and Rydia’s is one of the most famous of all.
There’s even some “funny” music, because Final Fantasy knows how to balance levity with grim. I’m talking of course about the Fat Chocobo melody, which literally sounds “fat.”
To the majesty of Baron Castle…
…to the cozy “Welcome to Our Town…”
…to the haunting, almost sehnsuch inducing “Long Way to Go…”
…and the very first theme celebrating Cecil and Rosa’s love…
…Squaresoft pulled out all the stops for the soundtrack and allowed the master musician to have his day, and I would be remiss and in need of reprimand if I didn’t discuss the truly transcendent Ending Theme.
Suffice it to say the music of Final Fantasy IV takes you on a journey as wondrous and magical as the game itself.
We’ve come a long way from the beginning and Gameplay, through Story and Story Analysis, winding through the transcendence of Music. Now as I listen to the Epilogue above it’s finally time for…
I’m going to do this a little bit different from the prior games since I can one, finally break out my more in depth ratings since IV introduces the ubiquitous themes that define Final Fantasy, and two, I organized and added a few more categories for individual games,
Gameplay: 9.5 – They finally updated or had the technology to update the targeting system to move to the next enemy instead of just missing as it did in I, II, and III (maybe? I’m not sure if they fixed it by then). The horrendous leveling of FFII is also not present; it’s the typical experience system with the EXP spread out amongst your characters. So why is it a 9.5 instead of a 10? The menu brings it down just slightly. This is just a minimal critique and not me trying to sound petty, but the Menu requires you to back up instead of being able to cycle through characters. This may have been a limitation of the time, as it was fixed in later iterations, but it’s the one “issue” I can find.
Difficulty: 9 – FFIV is one of the hardest Final Fantasies I’ve ever played. It was truly challenging without any of the quick enemy kills of the later games (remember FFVI’s vanish/doom?), though there is still the duplicate trick that FFVII emulates with W-Item. Enemies hit and hit hard all the way up until the end of the game no matter what level your characters might be on, and it took me four tries to beat the final boss.
Story: 9 – There are only two reasons FFIV doesn’t get a perfect score. One, the cliched and annoying (if necessary for the narrative) trope of the kidnapped female character as motivation for the male character is the main one. While there are a lot of pawns in IV, I’m kind of tired of women literally being used as props, and while Rydia gets some character development of her own, Rosa’s MO seems to revolve entirely around Cecil. She ends up in Kaipo with desert fever because she followed him. She’s kidnapped by Golbez because Cecil “cherishes” her, which means she can be a bargaining chip, and prior to this in Fabul, her and Rydia were relegated to the medics when both of them separately were better than Edward. This is similar to what happens later when the crew goes to the moon, and Cecil attempts to leave them behind. It’s. Irritating.
The second reason is more petty. FFVII is going to get a perfect 10 rating when I get to it, and if I give every FF a 10, the standard loses its meaning. Plus the first reason is egregious enough to knock it down one point.
- Favorite Character: Cecil Harvey – Cecil is arguably my favorite FF main character. The only other contender is Celes Chere from FFVI. He’s just a good person who always wants to do the right thing, and he’s not above defying/questioning authority in order to do so. He would do anything for his friends and loved ones and even lays down his life for people he just met.
- Least Favorite Character: Edward von Muir – I fucking hate Edward. I won’t harp on it (…) since I’ve already railed on how useless he is, except for moments the game forces him to be worth something. Edge is a close second, but at least the ninja has some fighting skills. Edward “fights’ with a harp. Who the fuck fights with a harp?? As Cecil is arguably my favorite character in the entire series/franchise, Edward is hands down the one I most abhor.
- Most Beautiful Character: Cecil Harvey – he’s a white haired, pretty boy/silver-haired bishounen. I’m baffled there aren’t more fanfictions/fan art about him/proclaiming his loveliness. Like really surprised. This is probably one of the few Final Fantasies where a playable character was equal or greater in beauty to the villain. One could argue it’s because they’re brothers, but so are Zidane and Kuja, and Kuja is way prettier. This isn’t to say I’d kick Golbez out of bed for eating crackers, but Cecil is seriously gorgeous. Oh, and Cecil’s quote about Sephiroth in Dissidia is incredibly insightful and poignant. “There is sorrow in those wintry eyes.”
- Most Unfortunate (Fucked Over) Character: Kain Highwind – I thought of this category one day, because Final Fantasy loves to fuck over at least one character to the point of no return. Even though the majority have at least halfway happy endings, this doesn’t hold true for the entire cast. Kain suffered unrequited love, had his jealously from this used as a manipulative force to have him betray his best friend/brother, and in the end, the woman he loved married said best friend/brother who was made the king of the realm. I mean, I’m sure Kain was happy for Cecil, but that’s a lot to take and a lot of dispossession (whether valid or not) to get over. Cecil got everything. He’s king; he marries Rosa, and he’s not even entirely of this world! Then Kain his to contend with the guilt that he didn’t fight Golbez’s influence hard enough and almost hurt his friend and destroyed the Blue Planet. It’s not wonder he leaves after the day is won to train and atone. Golbez is a close second for this “award.” He feels he has no place on the BP and decides to leave if not forever then at least in his brother’s lifetime (unless other Lunarians besides FuSoYa are also long-lived and Cecil’s life span is more extended than a full human). Theodore also has the grief of his mother’s death and the guilt of abandoning his baby brother to contend with, but I still say Kain was fucked over more.
- Favorite Town/City: Troia – If I had to pick one it would be the lush green land with upbeat, Celtic sounding music ruled by wise women :p.
- Favorite Dungeon: The Feymarch – What can I say? I love the land of fairy, though the actual Feymarch could potentially be counted as a town I suppose.
Overall Music: 10 – No hesitation here for a perfect score, I don’t want to say this preemptively until I’ve reviewed them all, but it is very possible that FFIV has my favorite overall music in the entire series. While later games have songs I absolutely adore, the total glory of IV’s OST is pretty hard to top. It’s like finding the magical unicorn of an album where you like every single song or damn near close enough.
- Favorite Leitmotif: Rydia’s Theme – FFIV was the first game to being the practice of giving characters their own song, though I believe only Rydia technically gets one named after her. From my internet wanderings, Cecil’s song is the one entitled “Red Wings” and Rosa gets the “Theme of Love,” which should really be her and Cecil’s song (which more shows she’s more of a plot device and pawn than a person, but I’ve ranted about that enough). Rydia’s Theme has just the right amount of innocence and forlorn to perfectly portray a little girl both orphaned and deprived of town and home, but who has the tenacity and drive to still find her way.
- Best Town Theme: Kingdom Baron – There’s an authority woven into every note. It’s easy to tell that Baron is great military power in the world, one not wise to contend with…unless your cause be just and true.
- Best Dungeon Theme: Feymarch – My favorite dungeon also has my favorite theme. Like the fey it’s named for, the melody is otherwordly and haunting
- Favorite Song: Long Way to Go – This was a tough choice, and I didn’t want to pick the Ending Theme, since those are usually my favorite, and once I finish reviewing all the Final Fantasies, I’ll reveal my favorite/best of this category (and favorite song overall if I can figure that out). This was also a toss up between LWtG and the Paladin song. Both are chill inducing, but in the end the forlorn and haunting nature of Long Way won me over, and I have to declare it my favorite song of a game that has many outstanding pieces.
Final Fantasy IV is my third most beloved Final Fantasy game, but do not think for an instant that third place is anything to scorn. I played the fourth installment many years after its initial release, probably around or after the time I played FFX. If ever there was a game that deserves an HD remake, it’s Final Fantasy IV, Squaresoft’s woefully underrated masterpiece that truly showed that video games are more than just blips on a screen, but rather a viable medium for storytelling interwoven with compelling characters in the mien of unforgettable and haunting themes.
Final Fantasy V is my next step in this years long project, and I go into this utterly new. I’ve never played or even seen a moment of V. I know some of the characters’ names, and I’ve heard a bit of the music, but I know nothing else. I am greatly looking forward to the experience.