How Does She Catch Those Fish Anyway?

This week I’ve played the hell out of Final Fantasy VI. A long car ride into the mountains presented me with the time to really push into the game. In the space of one day I rescued a child from a burning house (the fire rods were stored in there!), witnessed the return and demise of a magical race, failed to stop the end of the world, attempted suicide, rescued a child from a collapsing house, and battled an undulating mass of tentacles that was gumming the gears. More importantly I miraculously, unbelievably, finally made it past the sticking point that has ended all my playthroughs of the game for the past ten years. I’m now in a world of half-remembered plot points and dungeons, forgotten puzzles, and “new” enemies. All making an experience that’s much more fun than the oft played first half.

However, some pieces don’t stand the test of time. And when viewed from an adult perspective are more than a little embarrassing.

If you were to ask my parents what was the biggest mistake they made raising me they would most likely answer buying a NES. I went from a normal kid to a kid who loved video games. An unforgivable crime in their book. From time to time they tried to connivence me give up my hobby and devote my energies to something of worth. “But!” I would exclaim “video games are full of importance! They teach of heroism and honor and sacrifice! About standing up to evil and doing what’s right!” And, thinking specifically of FFVI (III at the time), “they deal with adult themes like teenage pregnancy and suicide!” Blegh. Where did this stale argument originate? I remember reading about FFVI’s “adult themes” back in 1995 but I can’t remember where. It shut my parents up but I think more out of embarrassment than the strength of logic. Even at the time I knew deep down that what I was saying was hollow but I felt that the passion of my delivery more than made up for my shaky claims. Fifteen years later I’m struck at how bad the suicide scene is. There’s no adult insight here. It is, at best, melodramatic pulp.

As you remember, after the end of the world magic mopey girl Celes wakes from a year long coma on a tiny island with her surrogate father Cid. He’s on his deathbed and Celes must nurse him back to health by feeding him raw fish. If she catches speedy fish he’ll regain his strength and give Celes a raft to sail to the wider world and rest of the game. But feeding him slow fish causes him to die and sends Celes spiraling down the path of depression. She climbs to the highest cliff on the island, the place where every other survivor of the cataclysm has committed suicide. She takes a moment to ponder the pointlessness of life and then hurls herself off… only to awaken fine and dandy on the beach. Somehow, a pigeon wearing the headband of a friend is waiting for her, and this fills her with enough hope to find Cid’s raft and escape the island.

Not only does Celes reach the decision to kill herself far too quickly (would it be so hard to do a quick montage of Celes staring at the sea or burring Cid’s body? Apparently, for as soon as she’s done with her big no she hoofs it to Off-Yourself Cliff and Cid’s body rots on that bed for the rest of the game) but her jump has absolutely no consequences. Celes isn’t hurt, isn’t changed from the experience, and the solution to her problem is far too arbitrary. She gains hope from the convenient pigeon just as quickly as she turned to suicide in the first place. An adult game would explore the implications of attempted suicide. It would be insight into a character. Celes is barely a character to begin with and her not-quite suicide leads to nothing. FFVI uses the event as a beat to introduce the player to the destroyed world. It’s pulp. Which is fine! FFVI is great pulp. It’s a fantastic adventure with some great plot twists. But adult it is not. And when people claim that it is in this day and age it comes off as more than a little childish.

I have to admit that while the scene is silly and pointless it is aesthetically beautiful. It’s hard to not to be endeared when it plays out to Celes’ Theme. And there’s a moment of brilliance when, as Celes falls to her not-death, two shiny sparks erupt from her face. This spark sprite has been used often in the game to represent everything from save points to magical attacks to hot interspecies sex. There’s something magical how when this same sprite flows from falling Celes we instantaneously recognize is as tears.

I can’t begrudge the suicide scene too much. It’s over quickly and soon the game is back to doing what it does well. It rubbed me the wrong way but before too long I was fighting a group of electric pyramid beetles and all my enmity was forgotten. FFVI is a touchstone game but let’s praise it for what it is and stop heaping accolades on it that it doesn’t deserve. And really, with pyramid beetles afoot how does something like a suicide scene even bare mentioning?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “How Does She Catch Those Fish Anyway?

  1. chasmang

    Great point.

    I felt the same way when I came across the scene a week or two ago for the very first time. I was surprised at how quickly Celes decided to off herself and even more surprised to find that it had absolutely no effect on her.

    VI gets a lot of praise for its cast, but I honestly think it’s a bit bloated with superfluous characters and leaves the actually important ones undeveloped.

  2. Metal Man Master

    I agree, it’s definitely the music that made the suicide scene. While Celes’ Theme is basically an arrangement/remix/whatever of part of Aria Di Mezzo Carattere, it’s honestly one of my favorite sad tunes in games, along with the violin music that plays when Justin leaves his hometown in Grandia.

  3. The music and the tears made the scene for me. And I dunno, but I think the game works like a comic book in which you can fill in the blanks between the panels. So, sure, the characters are underdeveloped but you can fill in the blanks with your own intuition or by judging their actions. Like, Edgar and his friggin’ chainsaw Jason mask. What’s up with that?

    But I played the game recently too and I didn’t think the suicide scene was superfluous. She thought she was the last person on Earth! That’s sad, man!

    The whole scenario reminded me of the movie, On the Beach (1959) as well, where the last survivors of humanity just … wait to die. Sure that movie handles the subject of suicide and apocalypse wayyyyy better than any video game, but being reminded of it certainly counts for something doesn’t it?

    BUT YOU’RE OLDER THAN ME SO WHAT DO I KNOW :(

  4. Thanks for ruining the story for me Loki?! I still haven’t played this yet! How about a spoiler alert on a game thats nearly 20 years old? Haha, just kidding! Good to see you writing again, I should give that a try myself.

    I just started this game myself in the hopes of getting past my own hump. I don’t know where that hump is as its been so long. Hopefully, like you I’ll be able to finish it this time.

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