The main story in Final Fantasy XII could be summed up as the empire is taking over the world and the main party wants revenge. It evolves from there, but the main story isn’t really important for this lesson. Instead of focusing on the main story, I’m going to dive into a couple individual characters from the main party. Looking at the game from the party’s standpoint, a large part of the story deals with the past of each character. More specifically, the events the empire set in motion and how the characters deal with it.
Let’s start with Vaan. His brother was killed by the empire during the invasion. His goal from then on was to take back from the empire whatever he could. Revenge was always on his mind, though oddly enough, it was usually by way of theft. Three of the other characters have similar stories. Ashe was stuck on revenge against the empire for the destruction of Nabudis, the death of her husband (the prince of Nabudis) and father (the king of Dalmasca), and the invasion and occupation of Dalmasca. Basch wanted revenge for the fall of Dalmasca. Balthier was a former judge of the empire, by his father’s doing, yet he wanted no part in what the empire was doing.
Vaan was stuck in the past. He didn’t know how to deal with what had happened with his brother. Ashe and Bosch were stuck on revenge. They didn’t know how to move forward without every path leading to the destruction of the empire. Balthier was haunted by his past as a judge and his father’s transformation. He did everything he could to stay away from the empire, despite what he knew.
They each clung to an event in the past to give them meaning in the present. In each case, it caused more personal harm than it ever helped. I think we, as people, often do the same. It’s easy to dwell on the past because we experienced it. The problem is, we tend to see the past as the trajectory of our future rather than learning from it to make a better future.
There’s a scene where Vaan tells Ashe about what happened and what his views were:
“Hating the empire, getting revenge. It’s all I ever thought about. But I never did anything about it. I mean, I realized there was nothing I could do. It made me feel hollow, alone. And then I’d miss my brother. I’d say stuff like, ‘I’m gonna be a sky pirate,’ or some other stupid thing. Just anything to keep my mind off it. I was just… I was running away.”
This realization is Vaan’s turning point. The experiences leading up to this, with friends at his side, opened his eyes to what he was really feeling and where his life was heading. Immediately following those words, in the same scene, Vaan tells Ashe he’s done running and wants to find purpose and his own answers.
Each of the characters have a similar realization at various points throughout the game. One especially important part is that none of them come to this conclusion alone. It’s through the actions and wisdom of others, along with their own realizations of where the current path leads, that brings them to a point of change. Even Ashe, who holds on to the past and thoughts of revenge for at least 90% of the game, realizes where that would lead her and the personal costs associated with it.
It’s understandable to take time to process events. The death of a loved one, loss of a job or home, a divorce, etc., often leaves a person in a traumatic state. It’s good to take time to deal with the fallout from the event. However, there is a certain point where you need to pick up the pieces of your life and move forward. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in the past, reliving the pain of bygone events while missing out on the possibilities of the future.
History is a good teacher and we should learn from it, but if you cling to the past, especially painful events of your own past, it will drag you down and prevent you from moving forward. Holding on to the past can be destructive. Life is more than past events – don’t be a slave to them. Live in the present. Move toward the future. Let go of the past.