Friday, July 12, 2013

Fridays are Magic: Recasting FFVI, Part One

Pretty light posting this week, huh? (And by that I mean, zero posting whatsoever.) In my defense, I had midterms to deal with and didn't really have a chance to get out do anything worth writing a blog post on. But now it's Friday again, and it is my solemn duty to write something about ponies.

FiMFlamFilosophy is a name a lot of bronies might be familiar with. He's the mind and voice behind The Mentally Advanced Series and Rainbow Dash Presents, one of the two big Friendship is Magic abridges series' and a semi-animated, goofy retelling of some of the fandom's more messed-up fanfics, respectively. TMAS is a bit of an acquired taste--it takes a little getting used to the fact that one guy is voicing all of the female characters, and the humor is so dry it could be used as kindling--and RBDP relies on quite a bit of outside knowledge of the fandom, but as a member of both target audiences, I highly recommend checking them out.

Recently, he's been playing through Pony Fantasy VI, an overhaul of my favorite game of all time, Final Fantasy VI (or III, on the SNES in America), only with the main cast replaced by ponies. Combining colorful pastel equines with the greatest JRPG of all time should be right up my alley, and yet the more I see, the more frustrated I'm getting. Ponies and FF6 were never going to fit all that well together, but for all the effort the game's creator obviously put into making custom sprites and rewriting tons of dialogue, time and again he seems to have forsaken chances at doing something clever in favor of pushing some obnoxious bit of fanon or referencing a meme.

It's frustrating to watch, but Flam's done a damned good job already going through the game and pointing out its flaws. No, I'm not interested in critiquing Pony Fantasy VI; I'm just curious if a good story could have been made out of it at all.

For you Philistines who haven't played Final Fantasy VI, here's as brief a recap as I can manage. A mysterious girl named Terra with magical powers unseen in over one thousand years is brainwashed into service of the evil Empire. An encounter with a creature frozen in ice--an esper--breaks the Empire's control, and she's quickly recruited into the Resistance, an alliance of rebels and free states dedicated to, well, resisting the Empire's advances. Eventually, the Emperor is betrayed by his insane right-hand-man, Kefka, who claims ultimate power, nearly destroys the world, and then rules what's left for awhile as an arbitrary and vengeful god.

That's the very, very broad strokes, of course. The meat of the game comes from its cast of characters and their individual journeys. There's Locke, the treasure hunter, whose carefree swagger masks a deep insecurity after failing to protect someone he loved. Celes, the former Imperial general, infused with magic as a child and raised to be a loyal and fearless soldier. Edgar and Sabin, the Princes of Figaro, and the fateful coin toss who decided which brother would take the throne and which would be free to live his own life. Even the characters you don't get to play are often memorable and compelling, like General Leo, the honorable and brave Imperial commander who stands against Kefka as an increasingly lonely voice of sanity and reason.

There's a lot going on. Trying to add ponies into this mix and make it actually work is a daunting task. So how would we go about it?

Again, I'm not interested in what Pony Fantasy VI did. We're taking this idea from scratch.

The Villains

Before we can figure out how to cast our protagonists, we should probably figure out what they're going to be fighting against. Let's take a look at Final Fantasy VI's roster of bad guys.

Emperor Gestahl is, as you might expect, the head of the Empire. Early into his reign, he discovered an unsealed entrance into the Esper World, where the Espers had all retreated after the destruction they caused in the War of the Magi. Desiring the magical power the Espers wielded--power that had been absent from the world for a millenia--his army waged a campaign against them, capturing or killing hundreds of them. Gestahl then began experiment on these creatures, seeking to find some way to take their magic and put it to use for his own megalomaniacal purposes.

Kefka was the first result of Gestahl's attempts to fuse magic and mortals. A brave and heroic young soldier before, the process drove Kefka utterly mad. He became obsessed with destruction and power, and when the opportunity arose to seize all the magical might he could ever dream of, he took it. Despite being presented as a bit goofy and incompetent early on in the game, Kefka's ruthless psychopathy is never in doubt, and he eventually becomes the game's primary villain--and one of the greatest video game villains of all time, to boot.

General Leo isn't a bad guy. He's actually one of the best people on the planet, all things considered; he's just working for the wrong team. Leo is, essentially, Ned Stark. He's honorable, courageous, and disgusted by the underhanded tactics his superiors and colleagues are willing to use. When a group of Espers is released from their realm and go on a rampage, he befriends the party and works together with them in good faith to make peace with the Espers and bring the war to an end. And then, much like Ned Stark, Leo realizes that he's been played for a fool this entire time; Kefka (under Gestahl's orders) attacks the peace summit, taking out Espers and heroes alike. Leo stands against him, and is killed for it.

General Celes isn't a bad girl, either. She was infused with magic at a young age (after the process had been stabilized following the disaster with Kefka) and raised to be a good, loyal soldier. Around the time the game starts, she begins to question Emperor Gestahl's motives, and is branded a traitor. In-game, she's never actually working for the bad guys (a questionable moment or two aside), and she eventually becomes just as much the main character as Terra. However, she did some pretty awful stuff before she broke ties with the Empire, and so she should be included here.

Cid isn't a bad guy, either... at least as far as we see. Emperor Gestahl's chief scientist, he's the guy in charge of experimenting on Espers, harnessing Magitek power, and turning soldiers into magic-wielding demigods. He basically raised Celes, acting as her surrogate father, and helps the party on her behalf. Of course, before this, he was conducting sick and twisted experiments on a group of unwilling captives for almost two decades. Being nice to to your adopted daughter doesn't make up for all your war crimes and atrocities.

So, we've got our primary antagonists. We're building a ponified version of this game, and our goals are thus:

1) Cast existing villains/antagonists in roles that are the most appropriate for their canon personalities.
2) Casting should keep in mind the original characters' particular alliances and rivalries, given that they will be sharing scenes together.
3) Important primary and supporting roles should be given only to characters who are named and who have speaking roles on the show, with exceptions to be made for characters like Derpy who are widely recognizable even to casual fans.

So.  Villains.  Let's do this.

Emperor Gestahl will be played by Discord. Discord is a powerful demigod of chaos. The obvious role for him would be Kefka, and it's very tempting to cast him there. After all, Kefka is one of the most popular villains in gaming history, and Discord is easily the most popular antagonist in Friendship is Magic. But! At the end of the day, Discord is a bit of a harmless goofball. He's menacing, cruel, and supremely powerful, but he's not exactly evil. This isn't a character who would destroy the world in order to seize power... and why would he, when he already has it? Casting Discord as Gestahl immediately explains why he's in charge--he wanted to be, and who was going to stop him?--and, given that the heroes' interactions with Gestahl are all non-violent, we will be able to hint at Discord's power without ever putting a concrete value to it and making him a physical obstacle the heroes must overcome.

Kefka will be played by the Great and Powerful TRIXIE! Incompetent, goofy villain with a ruthless streak, repeatedly defeated by the heroes? Check. Desire for ultimate arcane power and willingness to abuse ancient artifacts to get it? Check. Trixie is a natural fit as Kefka. While she may not be as outright evil as the mad clown, her pride and arrogance are more than a match for his. There's also the possibility to make Trixie a more sympathetic villain than Kefka, at the end. Instead of intentionally destroying villages at a whim, she could be having difficulty controlling her new power, and growing increasingly paranoid and lonely atop her tower built from the ruins of her former home. In the end, maybe she'll even thank the heroes for defeating her. (This being a pony game, if it were at all possible, I'd prefer to have her escape the collapsing tower alive and have her in the epilogue. I'm not sure that's doable within the engine's limitations, though.)

General Leo will be played by Gilda. Kind of a weird choice, aye? Well, this version of Leo wouldn't be quite the hero he was originally. Gilda's significantly rougher around the edges and dedicated to being "cool," but then, we don't really know much else about her other than that she used to be best friends with Rainbow Dash. We know Dash is kind of a jerk, too, but ultimately one with a heart of gold; is it a stretch to think that, underneath her pride and contempt, Gilda has some sort of moral compass as well? After being standoffish but basically not evil during her previous appearances, Gilda's moral threshold could be crossed during Kefka/Trixie's betrayal of the Espers; she stands up for what's right, and she gets smacked down for it. She wouldn't be as likable as Leo, but she might actually be more interesting.

General Celes will be played by Rarity. I admit, my favoritism might be showing through, here. Celes, despite being central to the story and one of the primary leads, is honestly kind of boring. She's a good and loyal soldier, and she's a bit cold and distant, and... she kinda likes Locke? Eventually? One of the only real character moments she gets is in the Opera House, when she goes undercover to pose as the singer that Setzer (more on him later) is coming to kidnap and seduce. Putting Rarity in her place not only immediately infuses life and humor into Celes' dialogue, but it lets us say more about the Empire and its society. Rarity, being Rarity, would of course still be interested in fashion and romance and nobility and whatnot, and--being the party's representative of the Empire--would also provide a window into what life is like down there when giant, Magitek robot suits aren't involved. Plus, if we must have a romance in this game, there's no better match for her than my choice for Locke...

Cid will be played by... I'm honestly not sure yet. Honestly, Cid is an exception to my guidelines above. He doesn't need to be an existing character, because his only role in the story is to be the person Celes cares about most. I suppose we could put Sweetie Belle in that role, but then we'd have an eight-year-old girl playing, essentially, Himmler. I am not comfortable with this. So, Cid will likely just be an original character with a distinct design, maybe based off one of the background ponies. (Doctor Whooves? Hrm.)

I think we've got a decent start, here. Next time, we discuss the heroes and the setting itself. Stay tuned.

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