Supple Think: Balthier and Trembling

Balthier and Trembling

by Zen

Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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Disclaimer: I know this reads like some college freshman shit.  It's purple enough to be Prince homage.  Suffice to say that if you have not both played Final Fantasy XII and read at least the prelude to Fear and Trembling you do not get the joke and please don't judge me.

Once upon a time there was a man who as a child had heard the beautiful story about the gods' chosen hero, who was reborn in the power of his destiny to write his chapter of an eternal history.  When the child became older he regarded the same story with a newfound wariness, for life had informed and keenly honed the pious simplicity of the child.  In time such tales, told as they are again and again, were noteworthy more for their human omissions than their divine testaments.  In time he would deliver his answer.
Two great nations go to war.  The battleground, a small kingdom in between, is obliterated in a single explosion that asserts Arcadia's dominance over the entire globe.  This death and destruction set the tone for an era of bloodshed and fear.
The new Ivalice holds no place for the name Dalmasca; her new Dynast-King's time is nigh.  Happy the world whose hero arrives at all, to prevent these terrors.
Her gaze fixed on duty, her thirst for power and vengeance left unchecked, the deposed queen sees only the path to glory.  Filled with holy purpose, stones of power in hand and treaty signed in enemies' blood, the gods' will is fulfilled and a dynasty of sacred order and Roman peace is secured.  What hours of darkest night will these new shards bring?
Sword in hand, Dalmasca's enemies are laid to rest.  Sword in hand, she makes an enemy of all.  Happy the world whose hero gives not her heart to a stone.
When is a quest worth abandoning?  At what point do virtue and justice yield to some hope for dignity, for the peace that history denied a ruined homeland?  What price will the children of Dalmasca pay to see the machinations of empires repaid?
Revolution, resistance, insurgence--these words all splinter, shattered and bloody, at the breast of the uncompromising folly of conviction.  Happy the world whose hero must face the exhaustion her cause has brought the devoted.

The knight's path is arduous but firm, watching over his charge with no concern for his self.  Even a brother's hate and a kingdom's disgrace can be no burden to him as he shields his queen from any harm or interference.  Vulnerable and weak, a desperate regent is not, alone, enough to stand against the tide of history, and a pawn for others' designs she shall ever be.
In the end, the knight's duty is to both sides of a conflict, that it may not be won but rather dissolved.  Happy the world whose hero receives such protection and whose counterpart receives it double.
Memoirs are filled with the posturing of nations.  History's needs are those of borders and titles, of opposing nation-states and conflicting ideals.  This dialectic holds no meaning for the meager, for those desperate lives clinging to its lowtowns, its alleys of muted sighs.
History's orphans seldom offer counsel to its masters, and thus do their numbers swell.  Happy the world whose hero knows the lot of its weakest.
The ground beneath thrones has had its fill of tyrants' blood; their seats are too easily filled by their like for true peace to last.  The trick is to find that rare, solicitous leader who is both poised and willing to replace power with care.
Once again the survivors of war are claimed by the last remaining aggressors.  Once again force begets force, and all the virtues of youth meet their end at the peace table.  Happy the world whose hero has such enemies as these.
Thus and in many like ways we see how the thread of history must be informed by the pain of individuals.
Final Fantasy XII is a story of overcoming empire, overcoming gods, but most of all overcoming pain and loss.  Each of its characters, even those we see as frivolous and offensive, is essential to its precarious outcome.  For it is one thing to cheer on righteous violence and another to burn one's ambitious resolve at the altar of compassion.  Duty to country, to friends, to allies, to history, each is insufficient on its own.  The true leader feels pulled by all of these, but finds a way to be consumed by none and thereby satisfy all.

On the surface it is a story we have seen too much of: the hero's journey, the chosen one leading a righteous rebellion against an evil and powerful empire.  These tales mostly play out the same, but this time the tired resolution is overcome.  This time, the whole picture is considered and a world of individuals cries out against it.  FFXII simultaneously honors and undermines a legacy of storytelling and thematic expression that is said to encompass human history.  It is an unprecedented and brave step forward for fantasy of all kinds, a therapeutic salve for the trauma of the hero's journey.

Ten years ago today this game blasted all expectations, misgivings, and cynicism out of the water.  Ten years ago today Yasumi Matsuno not only revolutionized the Final Fantasy series, but upended a legacy of lazy storytelling and miserable ideology whose origins are ancient beyond belief.

Go play Final Fantasy XII, and if you have the means to play the International Zodiac Job System version then definitely do that.  It is my favorite game, by my favorite writer of games, and its quality will surprise the doubtful and the faithful alike.
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