Guest rant time! Today's rant is another in the fine line of Humza's work, and this time it's even about a game I know! Now isn't that spiffy? Thanks for covering for me yet again, sir!
Disclaimer: I don't own Humza's words below, and they don't necessarily reflect my own perceptions and opinions. Although they might. You'll just have to sit and wonder. I'm not telling.
Final Fantasy 4's Insistence on Not Letting Its Characters Die
July 11, 2016
I think most people that would visit an RPG blog are likely to be at least somewhat familiar with Final Fantasy 4, even if they haven’t played it; for those that haven’t, then it probably isn’t worth wasting your time reading through this and spoiling some important elements of the game.
One of the most bizarre aspects of Final Fantasy 4’s plot (which is saying something considering this is a game where you go to the moon on a giant whale) is how almost every character (save Tellah and his daughter, Anna) dies a fake death and then returns by the end of the game, despite having little plot relevance at that point. There are quite a few theories as to why the writers decided to do this, like the expected audience being too young to witness death, but those explanations aren’t really interesting since there isn’t much meaning to the deaths in that case, and Tellah’s death is also not explained.
The primary cause of the characters’ alleged deaths is their resistance to Golbez and their attempts to prevent him from gaining the crystals and thus achieving...whatever his vague goal in collecting those crystals was. Their deaths are also the main form of destruction and evil that we see from Golbez, since the game doesn’t show us many other evil deeds he was responsible for (the only exception being Rydia’s town, whose citizens were indirectly killed by Golbez).
By reversing the primary source of damage that the players can identify Golbez as being responsible for, the player is more likely to forgive him, since those characters weren’t actually killed (meaning that the player sees even less harm that Golbez has committed, which would make him seem less evil than they initially thought). This fits in with the last quarter of the game, where the game tries (but fails) to make the players feel more sympathetic towards Golbez since he lost his parents and was corrupted by Zemus as a kid. The combination of his backstory (intended to induce players’ sympathy) and his lack of killing (intended to make players hate him less) cause him to seem better than the player previously perceived him as.
That still doesn’t explain why Anna and Tellah didn't survive, though, because reversing their deaths could have added to the decrease in hatred that the player was most likely intended to have (especially so for Anna, since she is a non-combatant and more innocent from the player’s view because of that). So why does the game still not let those two survive?
Tellah’s death occurred by using the Meteor spell on Golbez, which was too strong for the former to handle while still surviving, and it damaged Golbez severely, which seems impressive to the player since the gap in strength between Golbez and the rest of the party is still quite large at that point. The same spell is cast by Golbez and Fusoya against Zeromus at the end of the game, which the player would expect to be extremely strong (especially since it was cast by Lunarians, who are portrayed as superior in magic to humans, and since two people were now casting Meteor instead of one), but Zeromus was still mostly unharmed after the duo’s attack, which increases Zeromus’ strength in the player’s mind and makes him appear a more formidable enemy as a result.
If Tellah didn’t die, then how would that event have differed? The player wouldn’t see Meteor as being such a strong spell if it didn’t have so much recoil damage, which would decrease the intended surprise that would be caused by Golbez and Fusoya’s attack. More importantly, it would also make Zeromus appear to be a less formidable enemy since he would have been unharmed by what the player would perceive as being a weaker magic spell, which isn’t as impressive a feat. This also deals with the problem of the game letting Anna die at the same time, because the chain of events that caused Tellah to cast Meteor and then die as a result would have been avoided if Anna did not die and cause Tellah to set out on his journey with the party.
Okay, so to summarize that verbose mess I typed above, I think that the characters’ fake deaths are because the game doesn’t want us to hate Golbez for killing the characters as much, but instead wants us to sympathize with him. Tellah did die because his death served the plot purpose of showing the strength of Meteor through the recoil damage that killed him, which makes Zeromus seem that much stronger when he survives a Meteor spell cast by Golbez and Fusoya, and this couldn’t have happened unless Anna also died and made Tellah seek vengeance.