As video games veered more towards the cinematic, how they began became bigger than merely introducing the character you’d control and their basic objective. Nor is the film aspect just about the spectacle, though we could argue (especially in my particular choice) that it is a major aspect. I may be in the minority when I say that FMVs enhance the gaming experience rather than diminish it, but then again, I tend to play narrative heavy games. Sitting for a few minutes and watching a dramatic scene play out takes nothing away from my gaming experience, but that is part of my gaming experience. Of course, lavish FMVs will not make up for a lackluster game, and I’ve given the same criticism to movies many times over. You can’t just CGI up a flawed narrative and expect to have something artistically viable, despite its potential blockbuster status (i.e. Michael Bay’s Transformers), but in the right developer’s hands, an FMV will feel less like a break and more like a bridge, connecting one side of an active gaming experience to the other, where the landscape of where you’d been to where you stand is irrevocably and profoundly changed.
With that in mind…
What is your favorite Final Fantasy opening scene?
Surprised by my answer? 😉
As I was crafting the above paragraph and thinking about the question, I realized I’d been a gigantic hypocrite about Final Fantasy Type-0 (which btw I finally finished my leveling up for, tonight, whoohoo! Also, someone asked me about the trick in a comment. I’m either going to check them tonight or tomorrow depending on how tired I am after I knock out my to-do list. I haven’t forgotten about you!), because I critiqued how it just threw you into the action with little to no introduction, and the calm moments to collect your bearings don’t come until afterwards. Well…so do several other Final Fantasies including my beloved VII, FFVI, FFII (like literally. You are forced to fight four black knights who mop the floor with your ass), and Final Fantasy IX has what amounts to a (literal) boss battle within the first five minutes. I think VI, VII, and Type-0 are the most “egregious offenders,” since the battles are real, meaning you could also have a real game over prior to finding out the foundation of the story or the motivation for the battles at all. I suppose I could make an observation about soldiers, war, and how the games’ mechanic of forcing you to fight before you really know why or have an adequate grounding is a metaphor for that condition, but I think that’s better explored in detail at another time. My point is I can’t critique Type-0 for this mechanic without critiquing my first and favorite Final Fantasies, and I was probably more judgmental of the HD game, because I’m not fond of the battle system.
Final Fantasy VIII has an action packed opening scene that forces the player to be passive. You can only observe the fight between Squall and Seifer set on the crescendoing background of “Liberi Fatali.” Who are these “children of fate?” The song was clearly crafted on the heels of Uematsu’s masterpiece “One Winged Angel,” and like Sephiroth’s leitmotif, VIII’s opening melody is rendered in Latin (with the exception of a few seemingly nonsense words) and concerns fate’s tides.
The dueling duo always reminded me both thematically and aesthetically of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy: boarding school rivals, the analogous hair color, and while Draco doesn’t have a scar like Seifer does, the inclusion of it with Squall’s just serves to double the symbolism. The only other person in the opening is Rinoa (also Edea, who is extremely important, too…her and Rinoa are juxtaposed and compared just like Squall and Seifer, but alas, I don’t have time to do a full analysis. Edea and Rinoa might be the same person…which is beyond fucked up in terms of “mommy issues,” but we’re not going to go there now). Both Squall and Seifer wind up dating her, Seifer in the past and Squall in the future (it’s a time thing, get it?).
Now that I know a little tidbit of information about FFVII insofar as Sephiroth was supposed to replace Zack as Aeris’s love interest, I wonder if Square decided to rehash that theme in their next iteration. Miss Heartilly’s inclusion strongly implies that they’re thematically fighting over her (unknowingly since Squall hasn’t met her yet, but this, too, brings us back to the time motif), and makes sense for a story that focuses on teenagers, wouldn’t you think? It’s a bit deeper than that, but still not a bad starting point. The feathers that swirl around Squall’s gunblade could imply whom Rinoa ultimately chooses, though they don’t seem to help the hapless protagonist since Seifer winds up drawing first blood, and when Squall retaliates, the feathers turn black.
I could write a full essay about FFVIII’s opening (and…most of the other openings, too), and I will more than likely when I replay and review it, but I believe it’s my favorite because it presents so much. Having finished the game, I know how it all ties with the ending, and FFVIII is the only original opening to show scenes later on, which again speaks to the time motif (the PSP version of Final Fantasy IV shows later scenes, but this was arguably created in order to utilize the newer system’s processing prowess). An argument could be made that FFVII’s first and last image is Aeris, and while I think there are definite similarities with VIII’s time loop and VII’s bookend, Final Fantasy VIII decidedly reveals things that happen later interspersed with the present and intricately woven with the end, and I do not believe this is done without purpose.
Unlike many of the other games mentioned above FFVIII has this opening spectacle and then gameplay is “slow” to start. You can explore the school a bit before taking your SeeD test, so you’re not only not just thrown into a battle, but you also know why you’re fighting. Going back to my statement about soldiers and war, this is a marked difference possibly because these are students who chose to be or remain in Balamb Garden, as opposed to the forced, (initially) child soldiers of VI and VII.
What’s your favorite Final Fantasy opening? Do you prefer the ones that throw you right into the action afterwards or do you like to catch your bearings beforehand? If you’re not as familiar with Final Fantasy, what’s your favorite game opening for your favorite series? How does it compare to the openings for the other games in the series? Let’s discuss!