Opinion – How you start your story

A lesson in storytelling.

Lufia 2 and Final Fantasy 6 may both be JRPGs from the SNES era, but they’re narratively in completely different leagues.  While Lufia 2 satisfies itself with a cookie cutter plot to motivate the player, FF6 builds a rich world with complex and memorable characters.  The contrast is both striking and instructive.  By placing the first hour of each game next to the other, it’s easy to appreciate FF6’s impressive technique and Lufia 2’s minor investment in story.

The opening hour of Lufia 2 has effectively four stories:

  1. Maxim, our hero, learns he will fight something really bad (unexplained)
  2. Tia, Maxim’s friend, holds unreciprocated love for Maxim
  3. The way to the town of Sundletan is blocked by an evil lizard
  4. An evil catfish is causing earthquakes in Sundletan

The opening of Final Fantasy 6 also has four stories:

  1. The mind controlled magic user Terra spearheads an imperial invasion of a town to capture an “Esper” (unexplained)
  2. After regaining control of her mind, the amnesiac Terra escapes with the assistance of Locke and the Returners, an anti-imperial group.
  3. Terra and Locke seek refuge in the castle of Figaro where they meet the womanizing Edward (never thought of him as an Edgar).
  4. Terra learns of Edward’s brother Sabin who fled the kingdom to avoid assuming the throne.

 

It’s easy to see that Lufia 2 isn’t investing for the long game.  While stories 1 and 2 carry throughout the rest of the game, stories 3 and 4 are resolved in about 20 minutes and are never mentioned again.  In those stories, the characters and world aren’t developed and developer Natsume doesn’t mention anything that will be relevant later on.  They are, in short, dead space.  FF6 does things a little differently.  Three of the four stories (1,2, and 3) are relevant later on and the fourth (4) arguably is so as well.  The relationship between Terra, the espers, the Empire, and the Returners remains important throughout huge swaths of the game.  The story refers back to these moments (directly or indirectly) for a long time and they set up one of the major conflicts.  Story 4 arguably does the same, but its limited focus makes it a little less impactful.  Still, the relationship between Edward and Sabin is important for fleshing out two main characters.

The reason FF6’s stories matter and Lufia 2’s don’t is how the stories are integrated into the larger narrative.  Lufia 2’s stories are isolated and so interact very little with any of the other narrative pieces.  They often don’t contribute to character or world building and rarely set up the next event.  Even Lufia 2’s main story threads (1 & 2) avoid each other until pivotal moments.  FF6 takes the opposite approach.  Every minor story contributes to the larger whole.  Stories 1 through 3 establish the empire as an oppressive force which sets up the Returner’s request that Terra join the Returner cause later in the story.  Terra’s interaction with the Esper in the opening sequence lays the groundwork for an important revelation about her character much later in the game.  Every story works within a larger framework to strengthen the characters and world.  This makes each story more meaningful because they mutually reinforce each other.  The player may not care about Terra’s interaction with the Empire, but they could still access that storyline through Edward and Locke.  If the player likes all three characters, than their passion about the Empire story line is that much stronger.  Compare that with Lufia 2.  If the player doesn’t care about Tia, there isn’t another way to access the Maxim love life narrative.  The many links between Final Fantasy 6’s various plots creates opportunities for player investment in a way that Lufia 2’s limit links can’t.

FF6 works because the story constantly invests in itself.  Every element bolsters other elements tieing them together into a cohesive hole.  By comparison, Lufia 2’s story is full of disparate elements that act on their own without adding to the greater narrative.  Not surprisingly, Final Fantasy 6’s story is held up as a classic whereas Lufia 2’s reputation is mostly for its other features.

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