In which Michel S. Beaulieu conflates economic class with character class.
That’s just a snarky opener, though. So far as I can tell the paragraph in which Michel says he tends to privilege his mages while treating knights and thieves like expendable laborers is just a joke, or maybe an example of how all-pervasive the paradigm of economic class conflict can get. He doesn’t actually rest his conclusions on it.
This essay asks the question: Are any of Final Fantasies heroes Marxist heroes? A Marxist hero being one who seeks to overthrow an oppressive regime in order to usher in a new and better society. Not even necessarily a utopian society, as Marx posited that society had progressed from tribalism, to feudalism, to capitalism, and only from there would it progress on to the final stage of communism. That last one didn’t actually go so well, but the basic concept of a Marxist hero is nevertheless someone who leads society to a new and better way of doing things in a time of upheaval.
You’d expect the answer to be yes, that Final Fantasy heroes are frequently Marxist heroes. I mentioned in an earlier post that Final Fantasy is rife with ecoterrorists, sky pirates, and rebel alliances. Nevertheless, Michel makes the claim that none of the Final Fantasy heroes are Marxist heroes – and I think I agree with him. In FFXII, Vaan and company thwart a belligerent emperor’s plan for world domination using his newly built superweapon, although the real emotional climax comes a few scenes earlier when Princess Asche rejects the use of magic nukes to defend her kingdom’s sovereignty. The thing is, the game calls her “princess” because that’s the title she held at the time when Dalmasca recognized her authority, but by the time the game takes place, her parents are already dead and she is the queen in exile of Dalmasca – and is reinstated on the throne afterwards. So far as we can tell, Dalmasca was a capitalist constitutional monarchy under both Vayne and Asche’s rule, Vayne was just more of a jerk about it.
Final Fantasy II? Same deal, evil emperor taking over the world, heroes defeat him, reinstate deposed monarchs who are capitalist if not feudal. Final Fantasy I? You restore like three kingdoms to power. Final Fantasy VI? It’s not entirely clear what happens to the world after Kefka is defeated, but our heroes were fighting to restore conquered monarchies before the world ended and are some of the last potential leaders of society left standing after Kefka’s near-omnicide, so probably they’ll be able to shape society in their image, which seems like it’s either feudal or maybe a constitutional monarchy (a variant on capitalism, by Marxist reckoning).
What about Final Fantasy IX, in which the heroes are a scrappy thief who robs from the rich, a member of an oppressed artifical class used as cannon fodder, and a runaway princess enemied to her monarchial mother? Capitalist Lindblum and its regent Cid is an ally of the party and the runaway princess is crowned queen partway through the game, not as a betrayal of all the heroes stand for, but simply because replacing an evil queen with a good one is how you solve the problem of evil queens in Final Fantasy IX.
What about Final Fantasy VII, the one with an evil megacorporation as the primary villains? A distinctly modern world, not the magepunk Renaissance or Victorian (ish) settings common in other games. Surely this one gives us Marxist heroes? …Kind of? Final Fantasy VII ends very ambiguously. All we know is that centuries later, the destroyed Midgar remains depopulated and has been reclaimed by nature, and at least one party member survived. The others presumably do not live for centuries, but the fact that Red XIII made it out alive does imply that the party in general didn’t immediately die as a result of the massive clash between Holy and Meteor immediately following Sephiroth’s defeat. Advent Children also confirms that society is actually mostly intact after the fall of Shinra, and also that the former president of Shinra is apparently explosion-proof but reliant on a handful of his elite corporate goons rather than commanding all of society like he did during the original game.
So, Shinra was defeated, and in its place there is…some kind of society. Advent Children was mostly about fan service – the entire second act was basically just a deluge of callbacks to Final Fantasy VII while the plot waits around for Sephiroth to come back – and doesn’t really do a whole lot of worldbuilding about how things have changed. It doesn’t seem especially communist, though, which means Cloud et al sure didn’t push the change that Marx claimed would follow on from the failure of capitalism. So, no, not even Final Fantasy VII really has Marxist heroes, despite using a megacorporation as a villain.
If you’re wondering how materialism – that is, the belief that all that exists is the material world, and that consciousness therefore arises from some kind of physical thing – factors into all this, so far as I can tell, it doesn’t. Marx was materialist, but his materialism never seems to actually come up.