Sunday, 23 October 2011

Character Showcase: "Zargabaath"

Final Fantasy XII is not an exceptional product by any means. One of the most troubled development cycles in gaming history led to multiple rewrites, delays, shuffling of creative employees and at least one person who was so screwed up by the bureaucratic process that he became violently ill and stepped down from a producer role. It rips off Star Wars with less shame than any other story I've seen, and tries to hide its tracks by making its events as convoluted as possible. 90% of the recorded dialogue is heavy breathing. Its battle-system allowed zero input from the player, but the level grind demands were fucking atrocious. Basically you did nothing, and had to do nothing for a long damn time.

And you spent that time with a bunch of insufferable transvestites. There is one major protagonist who has some small charm, but he's surrounded by shitheads. It's the Left 4 Dead 2 of JRPGs. So hopefully now you can understand why this character showcase is for a minor background presence. Sometimes a character manages to leave a strong impression even when they don't have a lot of lines or even a substantial screen presence.

There are 5 heavily armoured antagonists called the "Judge Magisters".

They command a lot of the stormtroopers you fight along the way, and have access to magic powers that are well beyond the regular boss encounters. A fight with these guys is serious business. It's like an elite squad of Darth Vaders, each with different skills and personalities(well, as far as FFXII goes...).

Today we'll be talking about the one on the left, with the horns: "Zargabaath"...Yes, I know.

*sigh* They couldn't just name me FRANK...

To understand him, it's important to understand his peers. On one side are the two older judges, schemers and brutes. They're all sworn with upholding the Empire's commands, but Judges "Ghis" and "Bergan" are more ruthless and seem to have ulterior motivations. On the other side are Judges "Drace" and "Gabranth". Drace is the lone female of the group, and Gabranth is the youngest. They seem to know that something is rotten in the Empire, and are even aware they may be contributing to that.

Zargabaath is in the middle. One side tries to empower itself to overthrow the Empire for its own needs. The other side works in secret to overthrow the Empire because of obvious tyrannical overtones. Z acts as the quiet mediator. He knows he's caught in the eye of the storm here. He didn't get to the highest rank of a military service that regularly employs powerful magic by taking stupid risks, or drawing attention to himself. It's unclear which side he stands for, but he does give Drace the benefit of a warning.

At this point you're not really thinking too hard about this guy. But after the deaths of several high-ranking antagonists, he says and does a few things that really tell you a lot about this guy. Little instances that paint a picture of the person underneath all of that pointy armour.

When one of the judges is caught in a bureaucratic loophole(one that makes her a traitor for defending her Empire), she is put to death. Zargabaath knows he can't interfere, and that doing so would only get him killed too. But he still pleads for mercy, from an obviously corrupt man who now has command over him. It's all he can do. Apparently he does care enough not to see this person killed. There isn't a lot to FFXII's story, but it felt like they were at least trying here.

Later, the Empire invades a neutral religious landmark, killing a lot of innocent people to do it. Zargabaath is forced to lead the assault, although he doesn't take part in battle himself. He simply watches in the sky, and mourns the process that led him to this. It's all he can do. And in one line, he expresses his remorse with surprising conviction.

"The Empire's debts grow legion..."
So that's two times where he has feebly allowed injustice. Eventually, when the heroes stage a last strike against the Empire's floating fortress "Bahamut", Z is the only Judge Magister left who can lead the defense. That's more and more lives lost to a cause that's looking more inexcusable to him by the day. And all he can do is go with it. To do as he is told.

(Interestingly, you only fight him in a japan-only re-release where he's a secret boss. And even then he's a support character for one of the more aggressive judges. Even in battle he's afraid to bloody his hands even more.)

To reach a position of such power and to be so helpless. For all of his abilities and rank, he is a coward. It's not easy to sympathize with his inaction, but I get the feeling that this is not a villain. This is a man with a conflict of conscience.

And a bad case of helmet-hair.

After the Big Bad is defeated and the ending cutscene starts playing, a cease-fire is called. The two sides, Empire and Rebellion stop shooting. But the floating fortress is about to fall on a heavily-populated city. The death toll would be worse than anything their world has seen. At this point, Zargabaath realizes there is something he CAN do.

He alerts every nearby ship, friend and foe alike, to wait for him to crash his own flagship into Bahamut, and then to fire at the wreckage(3:18). He does this in hopes of pushing the falling fortress out into a nearby desert. Even though it will mean the death of himself and the hundreds of souls onboard.

That got to me. He is the one giving the orders now. He isn't sitting back and letting Snidely Whiplash tie women and children to train tracks anymore. He's making a big, crazy gesture that is sure to get himself killed. It goes against everything he's trained for, every iota of self-preservation that got him this far. And he's doing it, because he finally feels like he can do the right thing for once. For once, his actions will actually save lives.

At the last minute, a solution occurs that prevents this from being necessary, so the city is saved without the need for a heroic sacrifice. But that was undeniably a very brave gesture from someone who didn't seem capable of it. He allowed evil to exist because he felt unable to stop it. Maybe he was afraid the person above him in rank was too powerful, figuratively and literally for him to put up any resistance. He seems closed off from being able to do good. Every action he's made(or hasn't) has been out of loyalty for his empire, but here he is willing to die for a country and people that are of no strategic concern. He finally feels free to pay a kindness to the world he damaged.

Evil succeeds only when good men do nothing. Zargabaath does something important in the 11th hour. In the last moments of the game, he stood up.

...and then sat back down for the group's album cover.

Even though he's never seen or mentioned again, not even in the DS sequel, and even though he only occupies a very small amount of screen time in a 100-hour game, he comes across as a lot more compelling and human than some of the jerks you spend level-grinding. It helps that he's voiced by Simon Templeman of "Legacy of Kain" fame. Together with the writers and localizers, they managed to squeeze a lot of character out of such a small role.

His name is stupid. His hair is stupid. His game is really stupid. But Zargabaath is a great character.

Pictures courtesy of



No comments:

Post a Comment