At the end of last year, Square Enix released Final Fantasy: Dissidia Duodecim (or something…I’m gonna be honest, I don’t care enough to figure out the real title), a game in which the main characters from all the Final Fantasy games duke it out with the central antagonists. The game is decently fun and rich with the series’ history, but the plot manages to be even dumber than its premise would lead you to believe, and the script reads like a 7-year-old’s fan fiction. An illiterate 7-year-old.
Anyway, when you load up the game and pass the unnecessarily long tutorial, you are tasked with choosing which hero’s quest to first embark on. The good news is that I had already planned to select which Final Fantasy character to use first based on which installment in the series was my favorite. The bad news is that I had no idea which one that is (I am terrible at making any sort of exclusive choices). In order to work through this dilemma that I’m sure you are now deeply invested in, I decided to utilize a very in-depth process to arrive at my selection. Sit back; I know you’re excited.
Best Protagonist: Zidane Tribal/ Final Fantasy IX
“WTF, WUT ABOUT CLOUD CLoUD IS TEH SO MUCH BETTER ZIDANE IS MORE LIKE THE MOsT BAD.” This is the normal response I get online when I tell people that Zidane is the most likeable and well-rounded protagonist in the series.Despite receiving these verbal razors that cut to my core, I stand by what I say. Really, it’s the only rational conclusion, and can be arrived at by both recognizing how awesome Zidane is, and utilizing the process of elimination, which I will do now.
No character before Final Fantasy VI has a chance, although Cecil is close; there is just not enough characterization in these early games, and too much is left to the imagination. Sure, Cecil is awesome when he looks straight ahead and says “…” — but that’s because the gamer fills in the blanks themselves with their own interpretations, not because he is a well-written or deep protagonist. If this were a column about how awesome people pretend protagonists are, he would win. But it’s not. Moving on.
Final Fantasy VI features great characters, but suffers in this category due to the fact that the game really has no clear central protagonist. Technically, the hero is Terra (as Dissidia reaffirms), but a case can be made for about three others. While VI has the strongest ensemble, a clear main character is not really present.
That brings us to the PlayStation era Final Fantasy titles, which can be summed up really easily. Cloud (Final Fantasy VII) is a character who drowns in the tears shed from his self pity. “Whine, Sephiroth is so damn mean. Whine, I am so (expletive) up that I pretend I am someone else. Whine, my girlfriend got skewered.” We get it, Cloud. You have some angst issues, which you resolve in the last five minutes of the title. Oh wait, you have unreasonably fashioned hair and a huge, badass sword. Who cares that you are an emotional train wreck? You fight with a cool weapon, and that makes you everyone’s favorite character. That and your brooding.
On the complete other side of the spectrum is Squall (Final Fantasy VIII), who hates the world, has really maintained hair, and fights with a badass sw…wait, this is less than the complete other side of the spectrum. This is more like the exact same character. If it wasn’t for the fact that Squall does not cry like Cloud due to him being completely devoid of all emotion, they would be the same person. When the irritating Rinoa is heralded as the game’s most endearing character because she seems personable in comparison to your protagonist, that’s a problem.
Tidus (FF X) is not a bad protagonist, but he spends way too much time being annoying in the beginning. Sure, he is naïve, and that’s okay, but his “go get-em” attitude and spunk made my ears bleed for the first three quarters of the title. I just wasn’t invested in his daddy complex, and he really didn’t turn the corner for me until he gains the resolve to kill Sin and save Yuna, which doesn’t happen until much later in the game. Combine this with the weak ensemble cast, and then combine this again with the fact that the star of the show is the awesome Auron, and you have a fairly lame hero.
Vaan (FF XII) suffers from the same problems as Tidus, although he is much more subdued; his naivety is believable, and he manages to be endearing rather than stroke inducing. I don’t know why too much naivety would induce a stroke in anyone, but it seems like it could. However, while Vaan is relatable, and does a good job of representing the audience’s eyes due to his learning of the world as they do, he is not capable enough to be the best protagonist. He seems helpless through a good majority of the game, and commits a multitude of frustrating mistakes. Oh, and he wears a terrible vest outfit. Put on some clothes, boy! If anything, Ashe is the best-written character of that game, and her moral dilemma presents one of the best inner character conflicts in the series. However, she is a secondary character, and thus disqualified from this list.
Lightning (FF XIII)…don’t get me started on Lighting. Take the worst qualities of Squall and Cloud, fuse them together, then throw this demon spawn into the most incomprehensible FF story ever (by a wide margin) and you have Lightning. At least her design is cool.
In the end, the natural choice is Zidane. After two installments with the Emo McEmosons in VII and VIII, Zidane’s upbeat and outgoing personality was a breath of fresh air. Sure, at times he went through inner struggles dealing with his own sense of identity, but he handles it in a believable way, and depends on those around him for strength. Most importantly, he reaches a resolution to his struggles relatively quickly, and goes on to do some particularly badass things, like saving Princess Garnett from a collapsing castle during an attack by Bahamut, defeating the powerful Kuja, and escaping a deteriorating world after showing compassion to his arch nemesis . Through a mix of his capable combat abilities and complex, layered characterization, Zidane is the best overall Final Fantasy protagonist.
Well…I had planned on analyzing the best aspects throughout the series by choosing the winners of categories such as Best Plot, Best Antagonist, and Most Likely to Succeed, but I just accidentally spent more than 800 words in my Best Protagonist argument. So…next week, expect the full list! Unless I change my mind, in which case you can expect the follow-up some time in the future. Maybe.