Games have been a big part in helping me work with what I cope with, or at least has been enough of a distraction in the times in which it was needed. And I know it’s a big reason why I am so passionate about games, as I am sure it is with a lot of you. For decades, games have been helping people live through their circumstances, even helping them grow skills, develop connections with people, and can even teach certain lessons.
There is one such lesson I would like to focus on today for you, and how it’s affected my life.
No matter your circumstances, no matter your past, no matter your environment, you can be redeemed. I’m not necessarily talking about this in the Biblical sense, but in the personal sense. Redemption in of yourself in your own eyes.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 46.6 million adults in just the United States live with some form of mental illness. That’s one fifth the adult population, and if we extrapolate that out to the world then that is 1.5 billion people. They always say, “You are not alone.” That’s never been made more apparent than after checking those statistics.
As one of those 1.5 billion, I’d like to say hello. There is a good chance you are there with me.
Today I wanted to delve into more of a personal subject for me, and a place I don’t go into often on this site. Consider this part therapy, and part reaching out to people. So this way you know you are not alone, and hopefully I make a consistent point by the end of this.
We are all human, and so we are prone to mistakes. Working with mental illnesses can exacerbate those mistakes at times. Depression may have us dampen how we feel so those mistakes can’t affect us as heavily. Anxiety may have us lock up or make us literally sick due to mistakes or fear of them, and it can lead into a pattern of making new mistakes to beat yourself up over. Giving your mind more ammo and reasons as to not even try.
But I think one of the most important steps is allowing yourself redemption for those times. It’s not to make excuses, but it’s to allow ourselves to grow beyond those times we may slip up or not choose the right path. Our past and our persons are nothing to be ashamed of, and redemption in your own eyes can allow an honest introspection in how you can be the best version of yourself in the future.
That is why of all the Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II to me at the time) is the most important for me.
While the fourth installment of this series is very well regarded, I wouldn’t call it the best in the series in story or game systems. But it did a lot of things very well for it’s time in the storytelling department.
I know I cannot be the only person who got touched by Dark Knight Cecil’s redemption arc to world saving Mooninite Lunarian Paladin. But something that didn’t quite strike me when I was younger was how deep the redemption themes go in this game.
Almost every main character in Final Fantasy IV goes through some sort of redemption story, and when you look at them as a whole, you can see the game can be one of the strongest game allegories for acceptance of the past and yourself so that you can push forward to change the world (or at least your world).
Even the characters that don’t have an overt redemption arc themselves tend to play a big role in the redemption of others, with many providing the stepping stones that Cecil needed to climb to be able to forgive himself fully.
Rydia overcomes her direct anger at Cecil early on for the actions of Baron via the unwitting hands of him and Kain, providing the first shaft of light on the ability for Cecil to redeem himself later on. One can’t underestimate the power that first act could have on someone wracked by guilt for actions they felt forced to do. Overcoming her latent fear of fire from those earlier events to help the very people that had brought her village and family ruin is a nice cherry on that early bit of story.
Edward gains redemption for Anna’s death and Tellah’s wrath, being able to come to terms with losing his love and helping both him and Tellah come to terms with the senseless casualties of war. In the process of his story he’s able to provide vital assistance to the brave warriors despite being severely injured after the Leviathan attack that separates him and Rydia from the rest, proving he’s stronger than he thought he could be if he only let himself.
Palom and Porom are mostly viewed and act like the ego driven children they are when we meet them, only to sacrifice themselves later on to keep the party pushing forward. Turning themselves to stone to stop the crushing walls of the castle, they were able to redeem themselves of their more judgemental and childish aspects by making one of the most adult choices someone can make. They were saved by the end of the game, but they had no way of knowing that would happen at the time of their sacrfice.
Cid has his redemption from making machines of war for an increasing erratic King of Baron, showing regret as early as Cecil does. He’s able to use his skills as to best try to help liberate rather than subjugate, proving that it wasn’t the existence of airships that made things worse but how they were used in unscrupulous hands.
Kain… is Kain. I don’t like to talk about Kain.
Golbez, the main antagonist for most the game, even gets a taste of redemption after having his true self freed by Fusoya as he tries, futilely, to dispose of the evil he helped bring about. In The After Years he even gets a farther redemption, but my twelve year old self wouldn’t know that quite yet.
But this isn’t meant to be an analysis on a character by character basis. I just wanted to point out how ingrained the themes of redemption are in Final Fantasy IV. It’s not just Cecil’s story, but every character in the game coming to terms with some form of their past, some aspect of themselves that may not be good, some loss that occurred that they wish they could’ve stop, or enabling the redemption of someone close to them.
And that is damn powerful messaging for someone of any age, let alone someone just entering their teens. Even if I didn’t fully appreciate the lessons being taught until years later.
Being able to forgive yourself for your mistakes while being able to take heed of what can be learned is what made me appreciate such a redemption tale. Realizing that I need to redeem myself in my eyes before I could make forward progress is something I’ve taken to heart.
We may be victims of our circumstances, and we may have had people do us very wrong. We may have gone down paths we didn’t want to, or avoided walking forward all together for fear of consequences that are long past. We are creatures of habit, and mental illness can start to have us enforce unhealthy patterns very easily.
But that doesn’t matter in the here and now. Because at any point in time you can start to redeem yourself in your own eyes. To know that the mistakes don’t make you, the stumbles aren’t permanent and that you can be whoever you allow yourself to be.
I know the Bible teaches a lot about this. But we weren’t a religious family. I had Final Fantasy IV, though. And it’s lessons have helped me learn how to accept my limitations and work past them anyway. It’s not about ignoring what I work with, but about giving myself the grace to know that mistakes and bad things do not have to be what defines me and my future.
At the same time, maybe you can help be a chapter in the redemption of someone else. Allowing just that extra time to think about someone’s circumstances, and to not instantly prejudge who they are or what they might do based purely on past actions. People change, including ourselves. We need to allow those avenues of redemption for those who want to drive on them.
I can only hope that you out there have a similar experience with some title, because games can teach us a lot if we let them. Have you ever experienced a powerful lesson or had a game help you through a hard time in your life? We’d love to hear!