Category Archives: Video Games

Favorite Protagonists – Yuna from Final Fantasy X.

It’s been a while, but I’ve decided to continue the series of posts about my favorite protagonists. You can read my post about Severus Snape, The Doctor, Sephiroth and Raymond Reddington.

Today, I want to talk about another protagonist I love dearly – Yuna from Final Fantasy X. And no, I will not mention Final Fantasy X-2, even  though I played it. For me, the story was finished with the ending of Final Fantasy X, and that’s how it will stay.

Yuna from Final Fantasy X (property of Square Enix)
Yuna from Final Fantasy X (property of Square Enix)

Now, those of you who played this game might object and say that Tidus is the real protagonist of FFX, not Yuna. I beg to differ. Yes, it’s very much Tidus’s story and we discover the world of Spira through his eyes. But it’s also Yuna’s story, because everything Tidus does revolves around her quest to defeat Sin and bring the much needed Calm to Spira. Everywhere she goes, he follows. She calls the shots in this journey.

I must admit that Yuna is one of my favorite characters, because she is so unlike what is usually considered a kickass heroine. She is not a fighter, for one. She specializes on healing and support magic, letting her stronger companions do the attacking. And if they need additional fire power, she can ask one of her Summons for help. She is not a bubbly happy silly girl like Rikku either. In fact, she is the most subdued and level-headed from all the women in the party.

In fact, she comes across as kind of bland and boring at the beginning of the game. When I saw her during my first playthrough, I thought, “Oh great, another damsel in distress that Tidus will have to constantly save throughout the game.” Oh boy was I wrong.

Under that shy and non-conflictual exterior hides a will of steel, an endless well of courage and an unwavering moral compass.  Yuna is the glue that keeps the group of ragtag adventurers together. And she doesn’t need saving, even when Tidus thinks otherwise, like during that famous wedding scene, when they rush to her rescue all guns blazing only to discover that she already had a backup plan. I laughed so hard at Tidus’s face when she told him, “Don’t worry, I have wings.” and just jumped off the tower.

I also loved her whole backstory and her motivation. She is a Summoner. Summoners are respected and worshiped in Spira, and for good reason. During the Calm, their duty is to perform the ritual sending of souls to the Farplane. It’s an important duty, because without that souls will linger on Spira and eventually come to resent the living and turn into monsters.

Sin from Final Fantasy X (property of Square Enix)
Sin from Final Fantasy X (property of Square Enix)

But this is not why the Summoners are so revered. When the Calm ends and Sin comes to terrorize Spira again, they are the only ones who can defeat him and bring another Calm. A Summoner wishing to challenge Sin has to undertake a pilgrimage through all the temples of Spira to gain the support of all the Aeons. Once they accomplish that, their journey lays into the ruined city of Zanarkand to obtain the Final Aeon and be able to defeat Sin and gain the title of Grand Summoner.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just a sight-seeing journey through the beautiful land of Spira with an epic battle at the end. That’s what Tidus thinks at first too… Only there is a reason why the title of Grand Summoner can only be awarded posthumously. Only the Final Aeon can defeat Sin, but it kills the Summoner in the process as well.

This little revelation shines a whole new light on Yuna’s character. She knows that her journey is one way only. She is well aware that death awaits her at the end. But she chooses to step on this path and see it through no matter what. Not for glory, not for fame, not for respect, but for the people of Spira. Yuna chooses to sacrifice her own life to grant her world another 10-20 years of Calm. Even when she is declared a heretic and excommunicated by the Temples, when she loses the support of the people she wants to save, she still presses on…

I fight for Spira. The people long for the Calm. I can give it to them. It’s all I can give. Defeating Sin, ending pain… this I can do.  

Yuna from Final Fantasy X.

And she never feels sorry for herself or cries about her life. In fact, she goes out of her way to help others and cheer her companions up when they feel down, even though for her this journey is one big farewell to the world she loves so much.

For me, Yuna is the perfect example of inner strength. She might not carry a kickass sword or unleash waves of fire upon enemies, but she never breaks, no matter how hard her life gets. She is also the perfect example of a female character who has agency. She doesn’t just let the current carry her through the story, she swims with it (and even against it in the end) instead. She makes her own decisions and chooses her own path.

The Sending Ritual.
The Sending Ritual.

I would really like to see more characters like Yuna in books and movies, but for some reason her type is extremely rare.

Final Fantasy VII – They are coming back.

Last week, I came across the following trailer on my Facebook wall and, at first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is something that I had dreamed about ever since Sony came up with Playstation 3, and it will finally become a reality, after almost 20 years.

Now I have a confession to make.  Final Fantasy VII is one of my favorite games of all times, and certainly my favorite amongst all of the Final Fantasy games (with Final Fantasy X coming close second).

I still remember the first time I played it. I had just graduated from high school and started my first year in college along with three of my high school friends. We were extremely busy with studies and all of us also worked part time to pay for school, but we had a rule: we always met on Saturday nights to spend time together. Since we were broke college students, we rarely went out. We met at my place instead, because I was the only one who had moved out of my parents’ house at that time. I was also the only one to own a Playstation.

We would play table top RPG games or watch TV, or just talk about the books we read, things we did during the week. And sometimes we would play games. I remember that I picked up Final Fantasy VII in a second hand game store in 1998 almost as an afterthought. I had never heard of the Final Fantasy series before, or never played a JRPG game. It was cheap and we had ran out of games to play on Saturday nights, so into the bag it went.

Needless to say that we were hooked from the very first Saturday night, my friends and I. I don’t think any other game had managed to absorb us so completely before (and very few did after). We would spend the whole evening playing, then the rest of the week talking about it and discussing boss strategies, best places to level those pesky materia, which equipment was best for which character and so on and so forth. We spend a lot of wonderful hours together drinking tea or wine when we could afford it, eating whatever we could cook and discovering the wonderfully complex story of Cloud and company…

I have played many games since then, and I have replayed Final Fantasy VII several times as well and it never gets boring. I love the world. I love the story this game tells. I love all the characters, even if I’m not a very big fan of Cloud. And I will always be grateful to Squaresoft for creating the most wonderful antagonist of all times – Sephiroth. I even wrote a whole blog post about him about a year ago, if you want to check it out.

So when I think about this game, I think about wonderfully detailed characters and an amazing plot, but also hours of laughter and good times I spent with my best friends. So yes, I’m excited about FF7 coming back, even if my friends are a continent away now and living their own lives. I can’t wait to play it. I’ll even buy a PS4 just for that.

But I am also a bit scared of this new take on a game I love, because Square Enix announced that it wouldn’t just be a remastering of the original game, but a remake. Remake means new vision. Remake means telling the story in a different way and often changing it to fit this new vision. What if I start playing this new Final Fantasy VII and absolutely hate what they’ve done with the story? Would it taint my love for the characters and the story of the original as well? So I will be waiting for this release with an equal part of excitement and fear, and hope for the best… and wish that I could gather all of my friends around my PS4 and TV one more time and share this game with them like in the good old times.

All good characters should have scars.

When you read the title of this post, you probably thought, “What is she talking about? Has she jumped off the deep end?” Nope, I’m doing well, thank you, and I promise that the title will make sense after you’ve finished reading the post.

All the wonderful characters in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I have been playing Dragon Age Inquisition for the past two weeks or so, and yes, I know that I’m really late to the party and the game came out in October last year. I was in the middle of my first draft of Choices, so I didn’t want to have any distractions. Getting DA: I was my reward for finishing it.

Now I am a big fan of the Dragon Age series and I’ve played all the games and expansions since DA: Origins. Bioware managed to create a complex and compelling world worthy of some good epic fantasy novels. I enjoy roaming around the different zones and collecting books, letters and codex entries, but you know what keeps me coming back to those games? The characters.

I think I spend more time in camp or in Skyhold talking to all my companions and learning their stories then I do exploring different locations, doing quests and killing baddies. I’ve been knowns to stop dead in my tracks just to listen to the random party banter and switch the companions I run with around just to see how they interact with each other. To me, unlocking a new dialogue option for Zevran, Cassandra, Cullen or Fenris or any other companions is more exciting than defeating a new boss.

So to me the success of Dragon Age franchise has everything to do with the complexity of the characters, and you know what gives them this complexity? Scars.

Cullen battles his lyrium addiction every day.
Cullen struggles with his lyrium addiction every day.

And I’m not talking only about physical scars here, though some of the companions have plenty of those as well. And all those physical scars tell a story. Both Cassandra and Cullen are fighters and their faces and bodies are scarred by countless battles. Iron Bull lost his eye saving the life of one of his Chargers. Fenris in Dragon Age 2 has a different form or scars – the lyrium tattoos that his master branded into his body…

No, what makes all those characters interesting are the psychological scars all of them bear on top of those physical ones. They make them seem more human and fallible and also so much more endearing. We all have scars. They define us and determine how we interact with the rest of the world. They make us unique. They make us real.

The procedure of branding Fenris with lyrium was so painful that he forgot everything he was before that.
The procedure of branding Fenris with lyrium was so painful that he forgot everything he was before that.

That’s why nobody wants to read about perfect characters – they are not interesting. Perfection provokes detachment instead of empathy. Would I want to hang around someone who has a perfect life, always does the right thing just because, and never seems to struggle with anything? Hm… probably not. So why would I spend hours reading about them or interacting with them in a game?

Scars give the characters depth and purpose other than following your main character around. They hint at a life outside of the story you are reading / playing. Each one of Dragon Age companions could be the hero of their own story. In fact I WANT to read their stories or play through them.

And so Cullen fights the ghosts of his memories at night and the demons of his lyrium addiction during the day. Solas has a whole pantheon of ghosts and regrets to deal with every day. Varric jokes and hides behind words, but his devotion to Bianca hints on a heart that had been deeply wounded and is still bleeding. Cassandra might come across as harsh and unbending, though as nails, but she hides a much softer romantic side under all that armor. Dorian jokes and jests, but cares deeply about his home and what’s happening there. And Liliana has evolved from a young and somewhat idealistic bard from Orlais into this cold and uncompromising master spy, the Nightingale that everybody fears and respects…

There is nothing left of the young bard Leliana we saw in Dragon Age Origins in this master spy.
There is nothing left of the young bard Leliana we saw in Dragon Age Origins in this master spy.


That’s what makes Dragon Age such a great game and keeps you coming back to it even if you’ve already invested over a hundred hours into the game. You come back for the story, but you also come back for all those side stories and character interactions.

I think this is a lesson every writer should remember. If you want to keep your readers engaged and make them stick with you until the end, you need an interesting story, but I think (and some of you might disagree of course) that characters are much more important. Create a protagonist and secondary characters that the readers invest in and they will follow them even through the moments when the story slows down because they will want to spend time with them and get to know them better. Give your character scars.


The importance of a good antagonist – Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII

A good plot is driven by conflict, and there what better than an antagonist thwarting our protagonist at every turn to escalate that conflict until it has us turning page after page at 4am in the morning because we just need to know what’s going to happen next? And then we feel like zombies at work because we only managed maybe two hours of sleep…

However, the more I read, the more I discover that good antagonists (ha, talk about an oxymoron there!) are hard to come by. Most often, we are presented with a cookie cut villain with absolutely no depth or character, and who does evil because hey he is evil. Or the antagonist is so bland that he or she gets lost in the light of the protagonist’s awesomeness who manages to thwart his evil plans almost effortlessly. Sometimes they are somewhere in the middle: you can see that they are there to drive the conflict, but no real effort had been done to make them interesting and tridimensional. That’s why whey I come across a story with a better than average antagonist, it tends to stay with me for a long time.

So for this post, I thought I would share with out what I think is one of the best antagonists I have ever seen in a book / movie / video game. And, strangely enough, he doesn’t come from the written page, but from the screen of a video game. Back in 1997 (good god, almost 20 years ago, time does fly), I picked up my first ever Final Fantasy game. It was Final Fantasy VII and I still think it’s the best game of the franchise (Final Fantasy X comes a close second, but will never dethrone it for me). It had managed to create a rich and complex world and told a compelling story with interesting characters. But what makes this story so awesome is the presence of the main antagonist – Sephiroth.


Part of what makes Sephiroth so awesome is that he is present throughout the game, even if we don’t see him at all until we are about a third of the way through. But we hear about him: he is a hero, a famous General, the greatest SOLDIER in the history of SHINRA, the monster that burned Nibelheim, presumed dead, but rumors of his sightings spread all over the continent. He is shrouded in mystery, his past a secret, the reason why he went mad and decided to burn a whole town unknown. During the length of the game, we are one step behind him, walking in his footsteps and seeing the ripple effect of his actions.

This build up is so expertly done that by the time we actually see him in Cloud’s flashback, Sephiroth is a figure extremely hard to forget. I must admit that the game designers went all out when they created his model: he is a head taller than anyone else in the game, clad in black and with long silver hair. But perhaps the most memorable detail about him is Masamune – the extremely long katana that he wields one-handed, as if it was a feather, not a huge damn sword.


What makes him such a good antagonist though is not his looks or the mystery surrounding him, but the fact that the creators of the game put a lot of thought into his character and his background story. The player uncovers different facets of this story during the game. And during all that time, we can’t help but admire Sephiroth’s might, feel sorry for him when we discover certain painful details about his upbringing, and hate him after that fateful episode in the City of the Ancients, but never ever are we indifferent to what he does or what he is.

The game developers managed to create a character who has such a gravitational pull that the whole story revolves around him. This makes the protagonist’s journey and personal growth even more meaningful, and the last battle, where Cloud manages to finally defeat Sephiroth, feels like a real, but very bitter-sweet victory. And this, for me, is the true mark of a good story and a good antagonist.

And before I leave you to ponder about this, let me show you a small example of how the game developers manage to show just how much more powerful than the protagonist Sephiroth is. At one point, your party wanders into a marsh they need to cross and is attacked by a giant snake, the Midgard Zolom. If you are anything like me and haven’t read the walkthrough (I never do unless I’m absolutely stuck), you will get stomped to the ground in all kinds of new and painful ways by that snake. So you go back to the previous area, you kill generic monsters and level up as much as you can, you stock up on potions and go back to face the snake. When you defeat it this time, it feels like a real accomplishment. Then you cross the marsh and just before going into the next area, you are greeted with this sight:


Snake skewer, anyone?
Snake skewer, anyone?

Yep. It took you a party of three to kill your snake and you threw everything you had at it, and Sephiroth just single-handedly skewered it on a tree and didn’t even break a sweat.