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Reality vs. Myth: Final Fantasy XV

At this year’s e3 Final Fantasy Versus XIII was finally renamed to Final Fantasy XV but the story and concept of the game haven’t changed: it confronts myth with reality, challenges itself to be a fantasy based in reality. Not exactly a new approach for the series since Kazushige NOJIMA started writing many of its most successful installments starting with Final Fantasy VII but especially pronounced in the newest Final Fantasy.

Back in 2008, in the Cloud Message book this concept was illustrated by render artworks like this one:

versus01

versus02

A city scenery at night, lit only by the windows of the large skyscrapers, the rows of street lamps and the cars driving through the road at the bottom of the render artwork. And floating above the street the figure of Stella, the female lead character of the game, visible through what seems to be rift tearing through the canvas of the game world. There are more artworks like this one in which the game world is torn open to show someone from another place, another reality maybe.

What is noteworthy in this artwork though is that there seems to be a source work that is referenced here by the scene shown. It’s very reminiscent of the fold out cover of the Deluxe Edition of the first volume of Pluto, a modern remake of a classic Astro Boy story.

pluto02

Aside from the tunnel that is missing in the CLOUD message artwork, the scenery is very similar. But instead of Stella appearing through a rift there is an actual opening in the paper in the shape of the silhouette of Astro Boy’s head, which served as the cover artwork for the original TEZUKA story Naoki URASAWA retells in Pluto.

When folded the two covers of the old and new manga merge into one cover and Astro Boy’s head becomes the rift through which the world of Pluto can be glanced:

pluto01

URASAWA writes manga for an older audience, with psychologically convincing characters, realistic settings and detailed plot progression, yet he has an affinity to naive hero stories going back to TEZUKA’s early work. Even before Pluto his manga like Monster or 20th Century Boys were full of references to TEZUKA and the otaku heirs to his legacy. He is a master of all the tools of modern and mature manga but deeply rooted in hero stories’ conventions of manga for younger audiences.

Since URASAWA reimagines, ‘covers’ TEZUKA like you would cover a classic Beatles song, the author of Pluto is given as Naoki Urasawa x Osamu Tezuka. The realistic story telling of URASAWA clashes with the more simple story of 1964 TEZUKA. URASAWA wanted to challenge TEZUKA, the great master of Japanese manga, and for his battle with him URASAWA chose the most popular story in Astro Boy history, which left a great impression on a whole generation of manga readers.

In the CLOUD message article for Final Fantasy Versus XIII there is another contrast given with Reality x Myth. It echoes the contrast of the realism of URASAWA and the myth of TEZUKA. TEZUKA manga is like the bible of otaku, the ultimate collection of myths that form the base for otaku culture. Final Fantasy is but a part of this culture, and like URASAWA, Kazushige NOJIMA proves to be an author that dares to approach those fantasies from a more realistic angle.

From the beginning Final Fantasy Versus XIII used Shakespeare quotes to establish its setting: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” This moral relativism evident in Hamlet is also present in Macbeth, where the witches claim “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”.

NOJIMA is no stranger to TEZUKA’s work either, as he draws upon motifs from the same Astroy Boy story on which Pluto is based for his classic Glory of Heracles III. This game was acclaimed by critics and earned him fans even at Square. Series director and producer KITASE explicitly asked NOJIMA to make the story for Final Fantasy VII like the one in Heracles III. And even the moral relativism of Shakespeare in Versus might be borrowed from a TEZUKA source:

neo-faust

“Even Shakespeare says ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’ in Macbeth. So in a certain sense devils too might be man’s ally.”

TEZUKA adapted Goethe’s Faust very early in his career, in 1950, even before he created his classics like Kimba the White Lion, Astro Boy and Princess Knight. At the time he gave it the fairy-tale treatment suitable for his children audience but when he returned to Faust at the end of his career, after he had adjusted to the trends of mature manga for an older readership, in his unfinished work Neo-Faust from 1988, he retells the German classic in a realistic contemporary Japanese setting. The above panel is from this later adaption of Faust.

I’ve written about the origin of Megami Tensei before but it’s interesting how this manga fits neatly between NISHITANI’s novel from 1986/the first game from 1987 and the sequel game from 1990. The moral relativism of Neo-Faust paves the way for the multi-path gameplay introduced in Megami Tensei II.

And the themes of genetic engineering and cloning in Neo-Faust might have served as inspiration for certain plot elements of Final Fantasy VII.

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