Spoiler Warning: This post may contain spoilers for the game Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy and opera both use gorgeous music to shape unforgettable stories.
Full of of intrigue, betrayal, revolutionary coups d'état, love, and murder all staged against magnificent worlds while accompanied by beautiful orchestral scores, the Final Fantasy series shares opera’s innate sense of dramatic flair. Famous for its stories, characters, and music, Final Fantasy is an old friend and longtime staple in any gamer’s repertoire. This series helped to move the idea of what a game could and can be from a novel toy or idle pastime to an immersive, memorable journey.
While the series overall shares thematic and musical parallels, one title draws a more direct connection to opera - Final Fantasy VI. The game is made up of an ensemble cast with fourteen player characters, the most still to date in any Final Fantasy main title. This is just our core cast, the game also features temporary playable actors and has major non-player characters who are essential to the plot. With no set protagonist, each character is meant to embody the hero of the game.
“We began work on Final Fantasy 6 with the idea that every character is the protagonist of the story. Everyone on the team contributed ideas for characters into a melting pot. We were very keen to design a game featuring individual episodes for each character. In fact, Final Fantasy 6’s influence may have been responsible for the greater emphasis on character creation in subsequent titles in the series.” – Yoshinori Kitase, Final Fantasy VI, Game Director
This game was unique in its development process, defining a standard for later titles. The challenge of rounding out such a large set of personalities while maintaining consistency in the story was tackled through a collaborative endeavor. Rather than a single character designer or concept artist, multiple creative team members worked together to have the game take shape. All these moving pieces coming together into one complete experience brings to mind a bustling back stage.
Our party forms that of the rebel faction known as the Returners who fight to disrupt the expanding evil of the authoritarian Gestahlian Empire. Final Fantasy VI changed the canon of fantasy in role-playing games and arguably beyond. Before, the player would be placed in some pseudo-medieval setting with the expected lot of wizards, elves, dragons, and so forth.
In VI the fantasy genre pushed an aesthetic that popular culture now knows as steampunk. This pairing of magic with industrial machinery captivated imaginations while offering a needed breath of fresh air.
“Final Fantasy games are divided into two core elements: battles and drama.” – Yoshinori Kitase, Final Fantasy VI, Game Director
With a wink and a nod we have reference to opera made apparent early on in the game with the twins Edgar Figaro and Sabin Figaro of Figaro Castle.
Later, the game takes a break from saving the world to wildly crash a performance during a heist at the opera house. At this point of the epic, our party is in desperate need of a working airship. Naturally, the only airship belongs to a flamboyant gambler known as Setzer Gabbiani who just so happened to send a letter outlining plans to kidnap the mezzo-soprano of the opera Maria and Draco. Why announce a kidnapping, one to take place in front of an audience no less? Well, that’s Setzer.
Our motley crew formulates a wacky plan to have hardened former general Celes Chère don the disguise of Maria to intentionally get kidnapped by Setzer in order to then have access to his airship. Nonsensical? Sure. Fun? Absolutely. This convoluted plan (though is it really that much different than the comedic antics in Marriage of Figaro?) leads to a scene heralded as one of the best, most famous, and a pivotal moment that changed video game history.
This interactive moment of performing "Aria di Mezzo Carattere" highlights the emotional depth of the game – and series – while offering some relief from a story that often could veer into heavier moments. The story within a story, used throughout literature but at that time rarely within video games, also works as a plot device to illuminate aspects of Celes and treasure hunter Locke Cole’s relationship.
The opera is performed though, naturally, it is crashed by a boss. After its defeat, somehow our kooky plan works and Setzer joins the bunch with airship in tow.
The Final Fantasy game series pushed video game music into an established genre. Such grand scores not only create an atmosphere, they also guide the player emotionally through the story and establish lasting impressions. Indeed, the famed aria from Final Fantasy VI has proved these soundtracks have artistic merit. Square Enix powerhouse composers Nobuo Uematsu and Yoko Shimomura have dazzled fans not just in game but also with many full symphonic performances. These two legends have helped to shape the video game music genre into one that offers full blown academic programs shaped around it.
Final Fantasy has inspired musicians, artists, cosplayers, and opera singers alike. Aria di Mezzo Carattere later was re-recorded by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra and performed on tour. Moreover, the lasting influence of this aria can be heard in "Aerith’s Theme" of Final Fantasy VII. Certainly, there are many more soundtrack compositions within this series that are operatic or classically inspired.
It is easy to compare video games to cinema; however, Final Fantasy is a perfect example that, with grandeur and flourish, they stride hand in hand with opera.
Listen to the sounds of Final Fantasy here:
Tags: #VideoGames #FinalFantasy #FinalFantasyVI #YoshinoriKitase #SquareEnix #SquareSoft #YoshitakaAmano #TetsuyaNomura #HironobuSakaguchi #HiroyukiIto #NobuoUematsu #YokoShimomura
GIF/Image Sources (in order of appearance):
1. Yoshitaka Amano artwork of the opera scene
3. Yoshitaka Amano concept artwork
4. Yoshitaka Amano artwork of FFVI characters
5. Yoshitaka Amano artwork of Terra and her Magitek armor
6 & 7. Terra in Final Fantasy: Dissidia (Arcade) https://loreia.tumblr.com/post/155627881803
8 & 9. Yoshitaka Amano artwork of Figaro twins
10& 11. https://www.tumblr.com/search/final+fantasy+vi+celes+gif & http://www.dualshockers.com/final-fantasy-vis-most-moving-scene-gets-lovely-tribute-music-video/
12. Hideo Minaba artwork of Draco and Maria for Nobuo Uematsu's band The Black Mages
14. Final Fantasy: Theatrhythm Curtain Call cover art