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The Seven: most interesting NPCs

by October 21, 2016 0 comments

This is the fifth entry in an ongoing series of articles on The Lifestream called The Seven, in which we turn the spotlight on seven of the best (or worst) aspects in the Final Fantasy series. Previously in this series, we have looked at the best lines of dialogue in Final Fantasy VII, the best FMVs in the Final Fantasy series, the most difficult boss fights in the series and the most appropriate character themes. The selections are made with the help of our community.

Konstanstin Stanislavski once remarked that “there are no small parts, only small actors.” The truth of this Russian thespian rings true in the powerful performances by the holder of the “bit part”, and perhaps in no other medium is this explored more fully than in video games. Combine the story-rich tapestry of the Final Fantasy games, and the interactive story-telling unique to video games and you have a perfect formula for some remarkably memorable side characters.

We at the Lifestream Forums have decided to hash out who we consider to be the cream of the crop in this latest episode of “The Seven”, entitled: The Top Seven Most Interesting NPCs. The entries are listed in chronological order of the games they are featured in. Be warned of spoilers for Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX and XII.

1. Train Man (Final Fantasy VII)

The “Train Man” from Final Fantasy VII was a darling of the discussion from the first, and suggested by the former author of The Seven series, Flintlock. This character is truly an immensely tiny character, especially when judged against the cast of thousands that exists within Final Fantasy VII. Flintlock suggested him for the following reason:

“Train Man is one of the dozens of unnamed NPCs that turn Midgar from a wonderfully crafted city to a living, breathing one. You, the player, only have three opportunities to talk to him: upon arriving in Sector 7 for the first time, before boarding the train the following morning, and if you go out of your way to visit the station before climbing the pillar. You don’t have to talk to him at all – to my shame, it took me until last year to do so for the first time – but I think that’s part of why I love him: the writers came up with these short but wonderful monologues in the knowledge that many people would never see them.”

Forum member Splintered adds this:

“I have told people that train station guy was one of my favorite characters before. I still find him to a great example of why games as a medium of storytelling is so unique. Because you don’t need to talk to train-station guy. You don’t even really know him, outside of a few text boxes about his job. You don’t know his name. You’ll never know his fate because he isn’t important enough to establish. But the fact he was recommended so many times shows you how even strangers in videogames makes an impact. That a face in the crowd has a story, even told in barely a paragraph, can make Midgar and the people around it fully realized is something only video games can do, and this guy proves it. And like, when I was younger I kept wondering, did he make it out alive? If he did, did he ever find happiness? And I think it’s great that we never get an answer, because that’s what happens in real life too.”

2. Bugenhagen (Final Fantasy VII)

Bugenhagen is one of the central cogs of the Final Fantasy VII storyline and does so without ever lifting a sword or appearing as a boss (though I’m pretty sure he taught Goku how to use the Kamehameha). Any listing of iconic non-playable characters would be remiss if they failed to include this legendary character, especially for a Final Fantasy VII fansite. Many of the community members agreed. Community member LicoriceAllsorts offers this concise explanation:

“Sometimes a bit of a deus ex machina, but crucial to both exposition and plot. His macabre jolliness – ‘We’re all going to die, hoo hoo hoo’ – makes me want to slap him.”

And Flintlock expands:

“His understanding of the planet is remarkable. As well as the impressive demonstration he gives the party when they first arrive in Cosmo Canyon, I’ve always liked his scenes on disc two: the way he shakes his head in silence after Shinra No. 26 collides with Meteor; the way he “communicates” with the huge materia; the way he gets excited about leaving the Canyon for a change and getting to ride the Highwind; the way he keeps laughing even when faced with the end of the human race.”

3. Ellone (Final Fantasy VIII)

Final Fantasy VIII almost missed an entry on this list, and it’s not surprising considering the supporting cast is comparatively minor. If Final Fantasy VII had a cast of thousands then Final Fantasy VIII has a cast of maybe a baker’s dozen. However one character did stand out amongst the community – the tragic time-altering character of Ellone on a grandfather paradoxing quest to help the people she cares about. I was able to get a lot of support for this character but was the only one to offer an explanation, saying:

“Her plight is, in some ways, actually more moving than that of the main characters of VIII, which says a lot about both.”

4. Regent Cid (Final Fantasy IX)

Ah Regent Cid Fabool IX, the royal rendition of the resplendent recurring role. Forced alliteration aside, the unwilling shape-shifting ruler already had the benefit of a familiar name, and did not disappoint us when we finally got to meet him face to… well proboscis. Here’s what community member Clement Rage has to say about the temporarily insectoid Regent:

“Another very on the ball, politically aware leader, even with the mind of an Oglop. It’s not that often you get a powerful head of a nation on your side that actually gets stuff done. He’s politically skilled, skilled in engineering, runs his nation as an Oglop / frog extremely well even though in canon that has negative effects on his mind.”

LicoriceAllsorts, ever to the point, adds this:

“Come on, what’s not to love? He’s an inventor, a ruler, a man who cheated on his wife and gets turned into a cute oglop.”

5. Black Mage No. 288 (Final Fantasy IX)

Black Mage No 288, the leader of the Black Mage Village, was the other darling of the community, garnering the most votes total of an NPC. Given he belongs to an entire race of people whose very existence is a tragedy, he must have gone to great lengths to stand out, and much of the community agrees. Community member Flare explains:

“The leader of this village is a character that seems to exist with contradictions. So young and still with much to learn, yet so wise already by what he’s witnessed and his experiences. He lives with a strange clarity that one with a random time limit may only be able to. Cherishing life, he acts as a mentor to many of the villagers and also to Vivi, teaching him a great deal about Black Mages and giving reflections on what it means to exist.”

And Minato has a slightly different take on it:

“I think it’s brilliant to have the most adult subject matter (death and the fear and acceptance of the inevitability thereof, letting his brethren stay in blissful ignorance to make them happy and such) you get in the Final Fantasy series come out of characters that look like the iconic cartoonish Black Mage of FFI. More than anything 288 (and Vivi) prove what the franchise is capable off and doesn’t need insane high-res graphics to do it.”

6. Larsa Ferrinas Solidor (Final Fantasy XII)

Larsa, one of the guest party members of Final Fantasy XII, has a sort of Prince and the Pauper feel about him. Torn between worlds and being so young as he is leads to some great character development. Splintered had much to say about this character:

“Larsa’s character is dynamic, interesting, and proactive enough that he shapes the events of the game. He has a relationship with not only many of the party members beyond the generic friendliness, but also the final villain. Larsa’s relationship with Vayne also serves to deepen the villain, here is a man who ruthlessly killed his own family, but has not touched a hair on Larsa. Larsa is a boy who actively seeks the truth but he also holds his brother in high respect. Even so Larsa understands what he must do after Vayne goes too far, so when Larsa accompanies you in that final battle, you couldn’t imagine it any other way. He deserves to be a huge part of the ending.”

7. Judge Zargabaath (Final Fantasy XII)

Wrapping up this list is a staple of the Final Fantasy series – the act of the redemption. One of the Judges from the game who, like the aforementioned Larsa, is conflicted between his morals and his duty, finally lets his morals win out in the end. Flare offers this description:

“He’s one of the 5 Arcadian Judges, and though he gets possibly the least amount of screen time of them all, he’s always stuck out as a character I remember. Not just because he has the coolest Judge helmet, either. He’s a voice of reason towards the other Judges. While not giving outspoken opposition against Vayne’s actions, he does not condone it either; he knows when to hold his tongue to keep his life, and commits to being loyal to Arcadia rather than one person or the rulers of the country. He nevertheless feels remorse for leading a fleet to attack the Holy Mountain, and when the Sky Fortress Bahamut begins to fall towards Rabanastre, he offers to ram his airship into it, sacrificing himself and his crew, to save the city and the people inside it. Is it because he simply cares for innocents? Or is it a way for him to atone for the actions that Arcadia has committed?”

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