I have heard it put that a story is: The protagonist facing a problem and how they change as a result. How about change? Joseph Cambell might have a thing or two to say about this, and I’d be one to agree with him.
I was sitting at my desk the other day (no not that desk, the other desk, the one where they think I’m working on insurance claims) and it occurred to me that I adore characters who change. Then the thought that quickly superseded that was that I actually don’t write much about characters like those.
Holy crap. Here I was always thinking “Write what you love.”
So this is sort of a trip down memory lane for all of those Twenty-somethings out there who’ve picked up a Super Nintendo (or emulator) and played Final Fantasy 4. You know, the one where the dark knight Cecil must betray his kingdom, one for which he’s done some heinous things, in order to do the right thing. I guess as far as stories go, the plot is very simple. Oh sure, there’s more in it than that one liner – a couple betrayals, lots of monsters, some 2-dimensional character development – and in fact Cecil, the main character, is indeed one of most boring blokes out there. But he does something that a lot of other characters do not do: he changes. Sadly it’s not from uninteresting to interesting.
Cecil changes from a dark knight to a paladin. A man of darkness (as evidenced by his abilities and usage only of what’s labeled as “dark” or “evil” weapons and armor. Yeah okay.) to a champion of light.
Not that I particularly favor self-righteous and judgmental holy knights. I hated paladins in World of Warcraft, though enjoyed them in Diablo 2 (Two!!) and Baldur’s Gate (I still remember that sound when activating “holy strength” or something in Bladur’s Gate — epic. Those xvarts had it coming.). In worlds like those, there were clear-cut good gods and bad gods; good and evil. None of that real-world “But who is the one true god?” nonsense. Talking a god or spirit from those realms doesn’t make you crazy, it makes you capable.
I guess what intrigued me most about Cecil, to this day, was the forgiveness involved. It’s not enough to become a holy knight for no apparent reason. Most games to have you earn that at all, you just pick your class and find your next quest. Cecil though, boring as a personality as he was, felt like he was really redeemed. Perhaps that’s because the story starts around the decline of his career as a dark knight, and we as players never actually see or hear of whatever terrible things he’s done in the name of his kingdom, Baron – save one or two, and in those instances, he’s conflicted, so we already kinda know what’s gonna happen.
But the change. Could be the nostalgia of the game – okay, very likely that – could be the music, could be something else I can’t put my finger on. But in that moment when Cecil is more or less redeemed – when he destroys his former self in a cliche moment of doing some swordplay with a mirror – I can’t help but feel a sense of longing.
I guess deep down I really, truly wish I could find a similar mirror and destroy parts of myself that I hate.