Sunday, April 19, 2015

Character Select: Rydia of Mist (Final Fantasy IV)

Once in a blue moon, I come across a video game that I would consider ‘definitive’ to its genre or series. Final Fantasy IV is one such game, taking the essence of what turn-based JRPGs are all about, and cranking the gameplay up a notch with the introduction of the active-time battle system. It takes the medieval fantasy aesthetic to fantastical settings, with a skeleton wall bearing down on Cecil Harvey and company deep below the surface of their world, a massive tower that bursts forth from the ground to loom over the countryside, and a journey to the moon in order to make the final strike against the true foe of this epic adventure. And while Cecil, Kain, Rosa, Yang, Cid, and the rest of the playable cast were a lovable, iconic bunch, the one character that I adored from the moment of her introduction to the climactic finale was Rydia of Mist.

I think it is not much of a stretch to say that Final Fantasy IV spoiled me, in a way, offering me such a perfect balancing of party members over the course of the game, Rydia being chief among them. She is unquestionably the greatest black mage I have encountered in a Final Fantasy title to date, a role that has long been a core element to my strategies in JRPGs. Even more impressive is the fact that, on top of this, she is also the best summoner I have encountered in the series. I have made mention a number of times that my experiences with the proper numbered Final Fantasy titles remains limited to about six games, but even in the company of other JRPGs that I very much enjoyed, like Persona 4, Rydia still stands out as a force to be reckoned with. She never feels overpowered, per se, but the sheer variety of summons and spells at her disposal late in Final Fantasy IV is incredible.

Her story is also quite well-written – simple enough to juggle with the narratives surrounding all the other major players in FFIV, but elaborate enough to give players a reason to care about her plight. When Cecil and Kain first encounter Rydia, she is saddened by the destruction brought upon her village by the Red Wings, the very team that Cecil and Kain serve, and the fact that the two dark knights inadvertently caused the death of her mother while fighting her Eidolon. All this sorrow and anger causes the young girl to call upon an Eidolon of her own, displaying firsthand to Cecil and Kain the unthinkable powers they have upset. Though their alliance is uneasy at first, Cecil’s decision to abandon his role as dark knight and seek out the underlying machinations involving Golbez leads Rydia to see him as someone more human and trustworthy than she initially believed.

After an attack at sea by Leviathan, the rest of the party believes the young girl has died, and mourns her, only to later discover she was taken to the Feymarch, home of the Eidolons. Because time passes faster in the Feymarch, Rydia was able to hone her skills as both black mage and summoner, growing from child into young woman, and returning to aid her friends and allies when they needed her most. As an adult, Rydia is more calm and collected, and carries a noticeable air of confidence about her. There is, however, a certain element of pep and feistiness to the way that she takes on foes in battle – perhaps due to the fact that, having improved all of her abilities, she knows that her Eidolons are capable of laying waste to as many foes might stand in her way.

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