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Who Pays for My Choices? The Cost of Sacrifice in Final Fantasy XV} ?>
Be ye warned: this article contains spoilers for Final Fantasy XV.
Most video games expect us to sacrifice something to save the world, rescue a princess, or stop an evil dictator. Sometimes we must sacrifice some of our resources, sometimes we have to make the choice to back one country over another, and sometimes we are asked to give up our very lives to save the ones we love. I’ve played a lot of games and come to expect at some point that there will be some sort of sacrifice, although there is one franchise that has consistently made sacrifice uncomfortable and cut through the familiarity: Final Fantasy.
I have a vivid memory of the moment Sephiroth appeared behind Aerith and impaled her on his Naginata. I can even smell the carpet I was sitting on the first time I witnessed that death. And I remember wondering how she was going to come back or who they were going to give me to replace my main healer. Once I realized there was no replacement and I’d have to make someone function less effectively to make up for the loss, I was infuriated. It was frustrating and angering and maybe the first time I really felt the loss of a sacrifice (in game or otherwise).
I’ve played a lot of games since then, experiencing the pattern of sacrifice in their stories. I’ve shed a tear for a lost brother escaping the locust and I’ve been furious watching a valiant warrior give his life for people who don’t even realize their freedom has a cost. To a certain degree, I’ve grown tired of sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake and find myself annoyed that a hero can’t just win without giving something up. Does everyone always have to die? The occasional times all the heroes survive and the bad guy loses have been strangely fulfilling.
However, when I started Final Fantasy XV, I knew there was going to be sacrifice. I had watched Kingsglaive, so I already knew it was coming. I expected the hero, Noctis, was going to give his life to save the kingdom because that is classic Final Fantasy storytelling, but there were two other sacrifices that hit me with something new and forced me to think about the people around me in very different ways.
Lunafreya’s death reminds me of Aerith’s. She sacrifices her hopes, her dreams and her life to give you the opportunity to become a good king. You learn over the course of the game that she has been suffering horribly as the oracle, not to make the world better or to make it a safe place for all, or even to create freedom or equality, but just so that you might be able to be a good king; because she believes in you. You are forced to watch her bleed and die because she has given her life to enable you to acquire power. There’s no way to stop her death and no way to focus on it, you have to let it happen and accomplish what she enables, and then move forward.
Luna’s death was made all the worse because the entire game up to this point is trying to get you to meet up with her so the two of you can get married and rule together. That future is snatched out of your hands.
In the same battle where Lunafreya dies, another tragedy occurs. One of your travelling companions, Ignis, loses his eyesight. The tactician of the party, my driver, the guy who sees where to go and makes the smart calls, is going to be blind for the rest of the game. As far as gameplay goes, his chance to miss attacks goes up dramatically and he can no longer cook stat-boosting foods. From then on, he uses a cane to walk around and when the terrain becomes uneven, he’s slow. When he stumbles and falls, there is no “help him up” button.
The lack of being able to help Ignis is summed up when he says, “One cannot lead by standing still. A king pushes onward, always accepting the consequences and never looking back.”
I don’t mind accepting the consequences of sacrifices I make for others, but accepting sacrifices others make for me is much harder. Seeing someone else suffer for my choices, even if they are choices I have to make, is a heavy weight to carry. It was hard to watch him stumble and fall, knowing I can’t help him and need to move forward in order to make his sacrifice worthwhile. It was even harder keeping him around; I was reminded of his sacrifice every day because I still needed his services, but his suffering was painful to watch.
Final Fantasy XV made me think carefully about being a leader and the costs that might mean to those around me. It brought into painful light the fact that I have to make decisions that will have a cost to others, and I can’t let that stop me from making them. All I can do is attempt to move forward and be worthy of those sacrifices. Noctis is tempted to wallow in pity and indecision, but thanks to Ignis, does not. Noctis wants to sit and mourn in Tenebrae but Ignis won’t allow him to do that, nor pity him. Instead, Ignis has given his sight so Noctis can see who he must become and the only thing I could do about it was to march forward and accept that. To make the world right it was going to cost others.
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