Revisiting Final Fantasy Tactics (Part 5)

In the opening scenes of Final Fantasy Tactics there’s a moment where Delita has to punch Ovelia in the stomach in order to get her to stop resisting him.  It’s portrayed as a generally brutal moment and foreshadows Delita’s extreme pragmatism in trying to achieve his goals, but I remember it more for what Delita says in response to Ovelia’s protestations.

In the original translation for the Playstation version, Delita says this:

Tough. . . Don’t blame us.  Blame yourself or God.

That’s one of those lines that stuck with me, because it points pretty strongly towards one of the major themes of this story (it’s also constructed with the kind of brute terseness that suggests Delita’s a jerk; that’s an interesting case of the shortcomings of the translation shading characterization, because Delita’s not nearly as rude in the newer translation, even though he still hits all the same plot points).  The Glabados Church is rather central to the plot, and it’s the source from which a lot of the strife emits.  It’s because the Church wants to create more unrest among the nobles that the War of the Lions occurs, and it’s the Church that intends to seize power once everyone is too exhausted from fighting to resist.  Even the Lucavi, who have their own plan and are only using the Church as a cover, have as their leader Ultima, who possessed the Church’s figurehead when he was alive.  It’s perfectly rational to say that in this game, every bad thing that happens can be traced back to the Church.

That covers the God half of Delita’s assessment of what’s to follow.  When he says “Blame yourself,” he’s addressing Ovelia directly.  It’s kind of clunky in the old translation because Ovelia has about the least agency of anyone in this story; the newer version better explains:

Forgive me.  ‘Tis your birth and faith that wrong you, not I.

First, note that Delita’s a lot more considerate after having just punched Ovelia in the gut.  More importantly, this translation clarifies that it’s Ovelia’s nobility that’s the root of her problem, not anything she’s done herself.  This clarification helps a lot, since it highlights that where the Glabados Church isn’t at fault, the nobility is (if not for Larg and Goltanna’s desire for more power, the Church’s machinations probably would have failed).  Delita sees these problems clearly, and every encounter with him for the rest of the game highlights that he knows what’s going on, and he only intends to play along with these oppressive forces until he has an opportunity to make his own way.

The irony for Delita’s approach is that he wants to change the system by taking it over, yet when he gets to the top, he finds he’s betrayed everything and everyone that he cared about to get there.  In taking control of the system, Delita gets corrupted by it.

And that’s at the heart of Final Fantasy Tactics‘s theme.  This game tells a story about systemic oppression where everyone who is supposed to be responsible for caring for others utterly fails as they get caught up in their own powerplays.  It’s a great thing that feudal systems of government aren’t the norm anymore, and I don’t have any illusions about the problems of such heavy power imbalances, but the theory behind such systems is that people who are privileged with the power have a responsibility to take care of the well-being of all the people beneath them; this story highlights how those systems fail, both in the form of the Glabados Church and the nobility.

I think it’s important to point out here that the critique in Final Fantasy Tactics is being leveled against corruption in organized religion, and not faith in general.  Back when I saw the video discussing the general attitude of the Final Fantasy series towards religion, my major complaint about that reading was that it seemed to be suggesting that faith of any kind was under attack (it was also the video that got me seriously thinking about Final Fantasy Tactics again and what precipitated this series).  It’s a common critique that’s been leveled at Final Fantasy Tactics in particular for as long as the game’s been out.  I remember reading tons of arguments accusing this game in particular of being anti-Christian because of the corruption of the Glabados Church and the demonic influence of the Lucavi.  What often gets overlooked in these critiques of the game is the fact that the Zodiac Stones, which serve as the media through which the Lucavi possess their hosts, are portrayed as morally neutral relics.  At the same time that they enable the Lucavi, they also demonstrate other, more miraculous powers, like resurrecting someone from the dead.  It’s clear that in the world of Final Fantasy Tactics there is a higher power of some sort; whether the Glabados Church has ever represented that power is more ambiguous, although I think that issue is irrelevant to the story’s central purpose.

The whole problem of Delita’s corruption actually reminds me of an article that I read recently regarding Snowpiercer.  I like the interpretation of that movie as a gnostic parable, though this article sees the film as an allegory for capitalism.  The central point there is that trying to take over a system, particularly one that’s designed to concentrate power at the top, is an essentially dicey task, as you can never know if your coup is being co-opted.  I see the parallel there with Delita, since he moves from being at the bottom of the system to the top, but in playing the nobles’ games, he becomes no better than them.

It’s no wonder than the game’s last image is of Delita standing alone atop the metaphorical heap of bodies and asking Ramza if he got what he was looking for while acknowledging that all he’s reaped is death.

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