Final Fantasy Tactics and Character Arc

StoryScan: Critical hit

Intro

StoryScan: Critical Hit highlights specific aspects of a individual game narratives that are exceptionally well done. In this essay, we’re covering Final Fantasy Tactics (Square-Enix, 1997), the tactics RPG known for its nuanced characters and complex storyline. This essay will cover content up through the end of the gam. Players who have not completed the game may want to set this article aside until later, as it contains substantial spoilers for the main storyline.

Translation note: Final Fantasy Tactics has two substantially different English translations: the 1997 translation for the original Sony Playstation release and the 2007 translation for the Sony Playstation Portable re-release, Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. This article will primarily use the 2007 translation, and any name changes from the original translation will be noted in parentheses

FFT Box Art
Final Fantasty Tactics has been praised for decades for its complex characters and nuanced themes.

Final Fantasy Tactics, the 1997 tactics RPG from Squaresoft, has been regarded as a classic since its release almost 25 years ago. Set in the pseudo-medieval world of Ivalice, Final Fantasy Tactics tells the story of two teen boys, Ramza and Delita, and the diverging paths they take as they navigate a world torn apart by war. The game’s complex narrative boasts hundreds of supporting characters, each with their own loyalties and alliances, and uses them to explore themes of class warfare, religious control, family loyalty, and historical accuracy. These characters and themes resonated with both audiences and critics, resulting in a 2007 remake, Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. This remake added additional characters and scenes, along with a completely overhauled translation that clarified the original’s inconsistencies. Together, the original release and War of the Lions have been the fodder for countless essays and videos breaking down their characters and themes, both of which make it a potential “Greatest Game of All Time.”⁠1⁠

Thanks to its well-developed cast and intriguing themes, The narrative of Final Fantasy Tactics offers several avenues of explanation. Indeed, many of its side characters have fully-developed character arcs of their own, opening the door for studies of their strong points and weaknesses. However, a few characters stand out above the others: one of those is Delita Heiral (known as Hyral in the 1997 version), the deuteragonist/minor antagonist. Delita’s fraught relationship with Ramza has been captivating audiences for decades, as has his misguided attempt to reach the top of a broken social hierarchy. While his actions were not always laudable, they came together to create a fully realized negative character arc. This negative arc, in which Delita abandons his initial beliefs, is what author K.M. Weiland calls a Corruption Arc. In Weiland’s words, “[The Corruption Arc] is perhaps the most moving of all the arcs, since it features a character who is good—or at least has a great potential for goodness—but who throws away that chance and consciously chooses darkness.“⁠2

The Corruption Arc

The Truth

As a lowborn boy adopted by nobles, Delita (bottom middle) is allowed to fight alongside nobility like Ramza (bottom right).

Like Weiland’s archetypal corrupted character, Delita begins his journey as a good person, but ultimately walks a dark path. He was born to a poor farming family, but when his parents passed away, he and his sister, Tietra (Teta), were adopted by the lord who owned their lands, Barbaneth Beoulve (Balbanes). Delita and his sister quickly befriended Barbaneth’s youngest children, Ramza and Alma, and accompanied them through their education. This compassion led Delita to believe that he could trust the nobility despite his low birth, and that people deserve trust and love regardless of their social class—but even as a child, he knows this isn’t always the case.

Delita’s faith in others, regardless of their social class, is what Weiland refers to as ‘The Truth.’⁠3 It is the manifestation of what the character needs, which in Delita’s case is to love and be loved without concern for rank and status. When the teenaged Delita’s story begins, he has the love of his sister and his adopted family, so he has no outward reason to turn away from the truth. All is not as it seems, however. Delita has already begun to see the cracks in the facade of his perfect life. Barbaneth’s eldest children, Dycedarg and Zalbaag (Zalbag), see him as an inferior and a nuisance and merely tolerate him for their father’s sake. His younger sister faces similar issues, as the other girls at her school have been making fun of her for her ignoble birth. These injustices might seem minor compared to what others in Ivalice face, but to Delita, they are the first signs that all is not well in his world. They are ‘the seed of the Lie,’ as Weiland calls it, ‘latent in the Corruption Arc character—even though the Truth is already right in front of him.”⁠2

The Rejection

Argath, the son of disgraced nobles, tests Delita’s faith in his noble benefactors.

In the Rejection phase, Delita’s faith in the truth is repeatedly tested, and each test chips away at his resolve. This is the quintessential second act of the Corruption Arc: the series of events that turn the character towards the lie that eventually defines them. According to Weiland, “In the Negative Change Arc’s Second Act, the character will make a series of decisions…which will cement his enslavement to the Lie.“⁠⁠4⁠ These decisions do not come out of nowhere; they’re based in the seed of doubt, which has finally been given encouragement to grow. 

Delita’s seed of doubt gets its encouragement from Argath Thadalfus (Algus Sadalfas), a squire in the house of Limberry. When Delita and Ramza first meet Argath, he’s fighting a group of lowborn rebels known as the Corpse Brigade. By helping Argath, Delita and Ramza learn that Argath’s patron, Marquis Messam Elmdore de Limberry (Marquis Mesdoram Elmdor), is being held hostage by the Corpse Brigade and needs help from Ramza’s noble family. As the heir of a once-proud house that has fallen into disgrace, Argath is determined to restore his family’s honor and believes rescuing the Marquis is his best chance to do so. It’s an admirable goal at first glance, but the more time Delita and Ramza spend with Argath, the more his true colors come through. He’s obsessed with rank and class, believing lowborn people to be utterly irredeemable and unworthy of his compassion. These beliefs run counter to Delita’s, which puts them in direct conflict early on.

Delita and Argath’s rival philosophies are put to the test when they accompany Ramza into battle against Milleuda (Miluda), sister to the leader of the Corpse Brigade. When Ramza and company defeat Milleuda’s men, she begs them to see the world from the perspective of the underclass, asking: “Do you know what it means to hunger? To sup for months on naught but broth of bean? Why must we be made to starve that you might grow fat? You call us thieves, but it is you who steal from us the right to live!” Argath is unmoved by her plight, remarking that her low birth makes her no more than ‘chattel,’ an idea he believes was decreed by the heavens themselves. He then demands that Ramza and Delita execute her for her crimes against the nobility. It’s the first real test of Delita’s commitment to the truth—his belief in the value of all life, regardless of class—and he isn’t yet ready to abandon it. “Try as I might,” he says to Ramza, “I cannot think of her as my enemy.” It’s a moment of mercy that disgusts Argath: a moment neither of them will be quick to forget. 

FFT: Tietra
Delita’s willingness to trust others is pushed to the breaking point when his sister, Tietra, is kidnapped and killed.
Delita’s faith in the truth is tested yet again when he returns home to learn Tietra has been kidnapped by the last remnants of the Corpse Brigade. Delita is desperate to go after them and bring his sister home, but Dycedarg tells him to stay where he is and let Zalbaag handle her rescue. Although Dycedarg promises that Tietra’s well-being is the top priority, Delita’s faith in the promises of nobility has already been shaken, and he wants to pursue his sister by himself. Rather than argue with him, Argath eggs him on, saying that Dycedarg’s word isn’t to be trusted. “I wouldn’t go out of -my- way to rescue some common maid,” he adds, provoking Delita into a fight. Ramza manages to pull the two apart before they can kill each other, but the damage has already been done; Delita is more determined than ever to find his sister by himself. He no longer believes his noble benefactors are as trustworthy as they appear; he is starting to reject the truth. 

Delita completes his rejection at the end of the story’s first act, when he and Ramza finally track Tietra to Ziekden Fortress (Fort Zeakden). The Corpse Brigade has taken over the fort, and one of its members is using Tietra as a human shield to block the entrance. Both Argath and Zalbaag are already on the scene, along with soldiers from Ramza’s family. Delita is elated to see his sister again, but his joy is cut short when Zalbaag orders Argath to fire on Tietra. She falls, clearing the path to the fortress and breaking Delita’s heart. Delita charges at Argath and defeats him in combat, but it’s too late for Tietra. She dies in Delita’s arms just as the explosives rigged around Ziekden Fortress go off, swallowing him in a ball of fire. Although Delita survives the fire, the part of him that believed in the truth died in the flames. The man who comes out is fully committed to a new belief: the only person he can trust is himself.

The Lie

FFT: Delita on the bridge
Months after Tietra’s death, Ramza reunites with Delita after he kidnaps Ovelia, one of two potential heirs to the throne.

The first sections of Delita’s arc have taken him down a dark path; the final section shows where that path ultimately leads. According to Weiland, his is consistent with all Negative arcs, as: “The Negative Change Arc is about destroying self and probably others as well…The result is a story that’s horrifyingly resonant in its recognizableness.”⁠5 That recognizable quality is what makes Delita’s arc so powerful. After the tragedy of his sister’s death, orchestrated by men he once called family, Delita’s turn towards darkness is not only relatable but justifiable. It’s the acts he commits on that turn that are harder to justify—both to his friends and to himself. 

Everyone who saw the explosion at Ziekden Fortress assumed Delita perished in the flames, so Ramza is shocked when he resurfaces months later to kidnap Princess Ovelia Atkascha, one of two potential heirs to the throne. At the time of the kidnapping, Ramza was acting as Ovelia’s bodyguard, so her kidnapping is doubly personal. To bring her back—and to find Delita—Ramza and his allies chase the kidnapping party to Zeirchele Falls, where they find Delita and Ovelia on the bridge. Before Ramza can ascertain what Delita wants, a scuffle breaks out between two parties intent on killing Ovelia, and Ramza must team up with Delita to defend her. When the dust settles, Delita claims he’s come to rescue the princess of his own accord, but his loyalties are more complex than they seem. 

In the months since his disappearance, Delita has taken a role with the Order of the Southern Sky, the faction opposed to Ramza’s family in the simmering preamble to war. He also claims to be loyal to the Church of Glabados, a third faction vying for control over Ivalice. If Delita still believed the truth—that he could trust others, regardless of rank—either of these factions could provide a potential home for him, but Delita no longer trusts anyone else but himself. He is fully committed to the lie, which means he’s planning to double-cross everyone who stands in the way of his ultimate goal: the Ivalician crown. By defending Ovelia until the war’s end, then taking her hand in marriage, Delita will be free to take the throne for himself. Becoming king will allow him to protect his loved ones like he couldn’t with Tietra, but it will also require him to compromise every last shred of integrity he has. The old Delita would never consider betraying the trust of others, but that Delita died in Ziekden Fortress. The man who emerged has no use for trust, because trust can’t protect others; only power can. 

When Delita claims he’s willing to sacrifice himself for Ovelia, it becomes another truth for him to betray.

True to his word, Delita carves his way through the warring factions, using Ovelia as leverage at each step. Along the way, something funny happens: he begins to develop feelings for Ovelia. He confesses as much to Ramza during a clandestine meeting at a church, when Ramza asks if Delita is using her. In reply, Delita admits: “I cannot say. I am sure only of this. To save her life, I would gladly give my own.” It’s a noble sentiment, one of many Delita has held—and like all his other sentiments, his arc puts it to the test. 

At the story’s end, when Delita has vanquished all of his enemies, he marries Princess Ovelia and becomes King of Ivalice as planned. It’s everything he’s dreamed of since he first lost Tietra on the bridge at Ziekden Fortress, but it doesn’t turn out the way he hoped. Although he loves Ovelia, she’s grown to hate him over time, as she’s seen him betray both his ideals and his friends. When he tries to offer her flowers for her birthday, she takes out a knife and stabs him, shouting: “How could you? You…you used them, and all the others! And someday you’ll cast me aside, just as you did [Ramza]!” Reeling from the blow, Delita rips the dagger from his own body, then plunges it through Ovelia’s chest. As Ovelia dies, he staggers away from her body and collapses, then looks to the sky and says: “Did you get your end in all of this, Ramza? I…I got this.” Too late, Delita realizes what his corruption has cost him; too late, he sees the lie for what it is.

Closing

In March of 2014, the creator of Final Fantasy Tactics, Yasumi Matsuno, shared some of his own thoughts on Final Fantasy Tactics’ ending on Twitter.6 In the tweet, he explained that Ramza and Delita existed in parallel: while Ramza gave up his status to keep his loved ones, Delita pursued status and lost his loved ones as a result. This observation distills Delita’s arc down to its essentials: the pursuit of an external want that comes at the cost of an internal need. For Delita, gaining power was but a means to an end, yet the compromises he made to gain that power cost him the end he wanted. It’s the same realization he comes to when he kneels over his wife’s body—that what he lost was worth more than what he gained. It’s a brutal conclusion to a moving arc, one that has seen few rivals in the decades since it was written. Anyone interested in writing their own Corruption Arc, whether in video games or any other art form, should look to Final Fantasy Tactics as an example of the arc at its absolute best.

footnotes

1 “List of Video Games Considered the Best.” Wikipedia, 2021. 

2-5 Weiland, K.M.. Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 7). PenForASword Publishing. Kindle Edition.

@YasumiMatsuno. “続)すべてを手に入れて(広義の意味で友情を含む)愛を失ったディリータと、すべて(家柄や地位等)を失ったが愛を手に入れたラムザ。この対照的な二人の生き方が物語のテーマの1つでもあった。 だが、ディリータ篇を実装できなかったこともあり、少々わかりにくいオチであった事は否めない。(続)” Twitter.com, March 18, 2014

* Reference Footage: PJWillow. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions – All Cutscenes and Dialogue – Part 1. YouTube, 2016. 

** Additional Reference Footage: PJWillow. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions – All Cutscenes and Dialogue – Part 2. YouTube, 2016. 

*** Additional Reference Footage: Full Fantasy Peasant. Final Boss Ultima & WTF ENDING!!! – Final Fantasy Tactics War Of The Lions | Pt 24. YouTube, 2018.