Franchise Parallels: final Fantasy (Video Games) & Gundam (anime)


I haven’t played enough of the games to make an exhaustive analysis or comparison, so I really am asking for guidance rather than telling you about my observations here. The Final Fantasy franchise of games features a struggle against authority by teenage protagonists, that is somehow connected to a world-threatening evil that is bigger than the initial conflict. Somewhere along the way, the protagonists come of age.

The Gundam franshise of media can be (haphazardly) summed up as personal conflicts of protagonists and their antagonists set against a backdrop of war for the future of mankind and its evolution as a species on the precipice of space colonization as a response global ecological disaster. I present these recurring themes/narratives here not as a basis for contrast but just to present the idea that both franchises rely on telling a similar story over and over.

I’m not here to say that this is a problem, but rather to look at some ways this method of retelling plays out.

gundam zeta star wars mashup char solo kamille skywaker fa organna

Again, I can’t be exhaustive because I haven’t played enough of the games. Also I willfully avoid watching several Alternate Universe Gundam shows so I am not the best evaluator. But you might be! And I will appreciate any observations you can share here.

What I am particularly fond of is the use of the recurring character in ways distinct to both franchises. In Final Fantasy, this is the authority figure ‘Cid,’ and in Gundam this is the unmistakable Char (clones). In the games I’ve played, there’s always a more powerful side character named Cid (or someone who has ‘Cid’ as part of his name), but never powerful enough to usurp the main protagonist or become the solution to the conflict.

My favorite version is Orlandu of Final Fantasy Tactics. Dude is awesome, and shoots lightning bolts like nobody’s business. My least favorite version is (btw, I haven’t met a Cid that I didn’t like so I’m not hating here) is Final Fantasy XII’s just because he isn’t older but is instead a combination of an older Cid, a bishonen, and the personality of Irvine from Final Fantasy VIII.

In Gundam you have a ‘romantic’ antagonist Char, whose antagonism of the lead character(s) is almost incidental… like they would be friends (or slash fiction partners) if not for the pesky war and eventual ideological differences.

My favorite version is quarter-life crisis Char in Mobile Suit Z Gundam: (appropriately named LOL) Quattro Bajeena. Sleeveless uniform, sunglasses IN SPACE, a mobile suit in GOLD PAINT, and fighting on the side of the angels… what’s not to like? My least favorite version (among those I actually care about) is a tie: Chronicle Asher with his Kycilla Zabi mask (to AVOID AIDS, CANCER, AND SWINE FLU ON EARTH) from Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, and Mr. Bushido from Mobile Suit Gundam 00 because I can’t stop laughing at him (again I like all of them really, so I’m not hating on them here).

While each iteration of the characters in the respective franchises bring with them certain attempts at nuance and distinction from the others, Final Fantasy I think does almost the opposite wherein the different Cids have lesser similarities from each other, and their ultimate commonality is bearing the name Cid.

Final Fantasy Cid characters

Gundam on the other hand, relies on the mask to establish the similarity. The mask is the calling card, and other aspects of the original Char Aznable character are optional, though a case may be made for Zechs Marquise (not even his real name just like Char!) of Mobile Report Gundam Wing just spamming everything about Char.

Preferences to the original versions of the characters notwithstanding, do tell me about your favorite and why?

Also, what other parallels, if any, can you see in these franchises?

Are there any other franchises that you think make for better comparisons?

Haven’t seen any Gundam at all? WHY ARE YOU READING THIS POST?!? Read this instead: Find your Gateway Gundam!

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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20 Responses to Franchise Parallels: final Fantasy (Video Games) & Gundam (anime)

  1. Matt Wells says:

    I’ve actually never played a single Final Fantasy game. Ever. I’m more of a Dragon Quest man myself, and I’ve only watched about three or four full Gundam series, so I’m hardly qualified to comment on any similarities between franchises. Regardless, I feel the need to vent my worthless observations. And since the sentence at the end seemed to be an invitation to discuss Char clones…

    I really find the permutations of the Char archetype to be more interesting than just a straight-up “cover” of Char, particuarly throughout mecha anime outside Gundam. For example, Stardust Memory takes the Char character and turns it into Cima, Red MS, follows own treacherous agenda at the expense of her allies and for personal reasons. The closest 08th MS Team manages is Aina’s brother, and he lacks a mask, any real piloting ability and no rivalry with the main character. He’s got a rather murderous sister complex, follows his own agenda and murders his superiors without batting an eyelid, but he’s no Char, just as his series departs from usual Gundam conventions.

    My favourites are probably Harry Ord, who’s more of a Quattro clone, and Schwarz Bruder. What I liked about G Gundam was how it split the Char role between Schwarz and Master Asia; Schwarz was the aloof big brother, wore the mask and proved a mentor to the heroes, Master Asia provided the rivalry, ideological conflict and a tendency to betray his allies (Domon and Wong). Special mention for Ypsilon in Votoms for fitting the basic Char mould, but in a rather inverse manner. Ypsilon is easily controlled by his emotions and manipulated by his superiors; where Chirico fights to survive, Ypsilon fights for the glory of battle. Their fight to determine the true Perfect Soldier is more a battle of philosophy than ideology. Talent vs. Raw Ability, Chirico is Char as hero, Ypsilon is (sort of) Amuro as villain.

    As far as franchise comparisons go, I’ve always kicked around the idea of drawing the parallels between Ideon and Evangelion. While I’ve yet to see either of them, a cursory glance reveals an interesting parallel between both the series and their directors: both were made by men at the height of depression and mental illness, both feature astonishingly dark themes and violence. Both were made by creators coming off enormous hits they felt were compromised by executive meddling, both were cut short (intentionally or not) in their broadcast run, only to be finished by two theatrical films, one a compilation, the other a “True” ending.

    Both only made their money back in merchandise, and both shows are so depressing they make you want to put a gun on your mouth. And given the heavy influence of Gundam (and other shows of that era) on the original Gainax staff, I feel its a valid comparison. Another comparison you could make a post out of: the reaction of the old men of Robot Anime to Evangelion. How Brian Powerd was Tomino’s Eva, how Gasaraki was Takahasi doing Eva, how Betterman was the Sunrise Brave series’ crew doing Eva. Their themes and approach all have the feel of a bunch of grumpy old men told to add endless symbolism by the producers to cash in on the Eva atmosphere and style.

    Great post and sorry I wasn’t able to keep on topic with your question. If a FF6 remake gets released for the 3DS, I might be able to help you out.

    • Thanks for the observations. These will all inform my viewing (in a good way) when I watch (or finish watching) the shows you mentioned.

      I haven’t seen an in-depth comparison between Eva and Ideon, though most sources seem to take for granted the connection within the tradition. Go for it, I’ll publish it here.

      • Matt Wells says:

        What, write for your blog?! I’d be honoured if you’d accept what I could write on the subject, but it would take time and require me to properly watch both Ideon and Eva. I’ve got Summer vacation coming up, so the time needed to marathon both shows shouldn’t be an issue.

        If you don’t mind waiting a while, I could take a real shot at it, and send the results to you for approval. I’ll get working on it as soon as I sort out my housing for next year, so within a week or two. Thank you! Though frankly I’d be more interested in hearing your thoughts on either series.

  2. kadian1364 says:

    On Final Fantasy:
    This was a 13-part editorial video series of on everything Final Fantasy: games, side stories, and spinoffs, all leading up to the release of FFXIII(?) a couple of years ago. It’s a treasure trove of development information, thematic commonalities, chronological tie-ins, and other good stuff every proper nerd should know. Cid’s role is noted in every game.

    As for Gundam, you’re going to have to find someone else about it.

    • VucubCaquix says:

      Dangit! I was about to link that series as well. A little slow on the up and up today I am.

    • Thanks, this is a valuable resource. I’ll have to marathon this one of these days.

    • Curuniel says:

      I’ll add my support of watching these videos, they are hugely informative and do highlight some of the common threads through the Final Fantasy games, including how they can be played upon or subverted in certain instances. Cid is an odd one…he does play a similar role in each game (although I don’t think I like his recent tendency to turn up as an antagonist), but what exactly makes them similar can be hard to define.

      I do agree that Final Fantasy games retell the same essential story each time. How they do it as ‘the same but different’ is one of the things I like about it.

  3. tomphile says:

    Indeed, I’ve always noticed the commonalities between a lot of the Final Fantasy games. At first, I remember thinking, “Huh, Cid again?”. But then that was before I realized that the series shares many things besides that. And the basic nature vs science plot line is probably the most notable.

    Strangely enough, the nature side usually wins, at least from I remember. In the games where the fate of nature isn’t so important, Final Fantasy Tactics (it’s a spin off though), and Final Fantasy XII, politics play a more important role. Granted, the world of Ivalice tends to lean towards a more politically-infused story whereas the others set in different worlds stay centered on nature.

    Just look at Final Fantasy X. There was the destruction of Zanarkand and the machina, along with the emergence of Sin, an entity that wiped out towns and cities. I think that Square-Enix might be trying to hammer a point into people’s heads that nature is unbelievably tough and that we shouldn’t be attempting to conquer it, but rather, we should learn to coexist. It’s a message that’s repeated often, but not so much in games from what I know.

    There’s also the appearance of Espers in a lot of the Final Fantasy games. I don’t know their significance besides being powerful creatures and protectors of the Earth, but there’s probably something much more meaningful in there.

    Oh, and this might seem trite and obvious, but most of the time, the characters of the story are betrayed or have their world views changed in some way or form. I would bet a lot of money that this would apply to a lot of the Gundam series as well, probably a military faction betraying an ace pilot or two then getting defeated by said pilots.

    Also, there’s always a rebellion against an institution of some kind. To cite a few examples, SHINRA from FFVII, the Empire from FFXII, Cocoon from FFXIII, and the Church of Yevon from FFX, among others. It portrays the officials as being corrupt and delusional and they go about changing the world in a misguided way.

    • Good stuff, and makes me remember things I’ve forgotten since it’s been ages since I played FFX — the last game I gave my all for.

      All these things make up the mythic “DNA” so to speak of the franchises. These things allow for micro-evolutions in every iteration, which may displease some who ask for the groundbreaking and the revolutionary — which is actually next to impossible to pull off consistently.

    • Curuniel says:

      “I think that Square-Enix might be trying to hammer a point into people’s heads that nature is unbelievably tough and that we shouldn’t be attempting to conquer it, but rather, we should learn to coexist.”

      I find this common in Japanese works, be they anime, games…probably literature if I read any. I’ve always seen it as a very Shinto-influenced position. Think Miyazaki. You’re right though, and even in FFXII Dalmasca is aesthetically a lot lighter and closer to nature while Archadia has more technology and heavy armour.

  4. Reid says:

    As far as video games and anime go, I always thought “Zone of the Enders” played out a lot like “Mobile Suit Gundam” in that you have the young protagonist falling into the cockpit (quite literally a cock in Jehuty’s case) and attempting to return the prototype mecha to the “Federation” while pursued by a simpathetic rival (who pilots a red robot) from the “Spacenoid Rebellion”.

    Leo Stenbuck (the kid hero) is a really close approximation of Amuro in appearance as well – both wear purple jackets, are estranged from their fathers and mothers and both have whiney girlfriends (Celvice Klein/Frau Bow). Of course, Nohman (the villain) has no real parallel in MSG since he takes a decidedly hands-on approach to seeing he evil deeds carried out, unlike Gihren or Kycillia Zabi. Also, Anubis, the Orbital Frame piloted by Nohman is kind of like the “bad guy’s Gundam” employed a lot in recent Gundam shows (by that I mean 0083: Stardust Memory and forward).

    ZOE plays with Gundam tropes in other ways, too. For example, the “White Base” of ZEO is a civilian transport ship being used by the counter-resistance and the Jehuty itself is actually a mecha developed by the antagonists, the Mars Rebellion forces. Viola, the “Char Clone” is actually not motivated by any other desire than get revenge against the Earth forces for the death of her would-be lover, so she doesn’t have any grander plans like Char did.

    Jehuty’s female AI, A.DA. is a lot like Gundam Sentinel’s ALICE, in that “she” develops an attachment to her pilots, Leo and Dingo Egret, the latter from ZOE2. Furthermore, in ZOE2, Leo, who has now become a veteran, was forced to abandon Jehuty on Jupiter’s moon Callisto, where it was found by Dingo, the new protagonist. In the meantime, Leo’s new robot (which isn’t even an Orbital Frame – the “Gundams” of the ZOE universe) can transform like Zeta Gundam (it’s a robot version of the Vic Viper fighter from the Gradius Games), which puts it on a level field against Orbital Frames. Also, some of the huge boss characters, especially Zakat from ZOE2, are all GIANT shout-outs to Zeon’s wacky Mobile Armors. Finally, Jehuty eventually gets upgraded into a form where it has bits floating around with it and attacking enemies remotely, just like Gundam’s funnels.

    • Matt Wells says:

      Don’t forget the Divine Crusaders in the SRW franchise! They’re rather blase stand-ins for Zeon; military dictatorships driven by the Space Colonies against a corrupt and weak Earth Federation. They place heavy emphasis on Super Weapons over numbers and tactics, and a number of their best pilots are brainwashed and physically altered, like Cyber-Newtypes. And both franchises have sequels where the remnants of such forces are main antagonists, Neo-Zeon and the Neo-DC army respectively.

      Like Zeon, they were both noble Institutions taken over and corrupted by the ambitions of unscrupulous underlings, and many characters share superficial similarities to 0079 Gundam. Main character Ryusei is Amuro for the Otaku age, a nerd who’s gaming skills reflect his natural piloting abilities as a psychic mutate. His rival-in-arms Rai is a Sayla stand in, having the very Char-esque Elzam Branstein as a brother and main antagonist, whith his own Quattro style identity.

      Ryusei pilots an expy of the original Gundam, with a touch of Zeta transformation and psychic superpowers thrown in. Rai pilots something of a tribute to the Guncannon, and their squadron leader Aya pilots a mecha composite of the GP-03 Dendrobium and Nu Gundam. Though given SRW’s heritage, such homages were doubtless completely intentional.

    • That seems like straight-out adaptation, but maybe not. I see this happening throughout the tradition of robot anime anyway. How each show bears the micro-evolutionary marker from all the way to Uchuu Senkan Yamato. Every show that has a ship carrying the cast and robots is kind of like it, from the White Base to the Macross, to the Gekko-go, to the Arc-Gurren, and so on.

  5. pp says:

    haven’t and would probably never get into Final Fantasy. And also a bit unrelated , the pilot of the 1st gundam picture.. Reminds me of Luke Skywalker in a Star Trek uniform. >..<"

  6. Vendredi says:

    I feel this is more a hallmark of big Japanese-made game franchises, especially in the fantasy genre. Most choose to go with “retellings on a theme” rather than direct sequels. Consider the Legend of Zelda franchise, Breath of Fire franchise, Dragon Quest, and so on and so forth.

    By contrast it feels more often that Western game developers prefer to develop a direct storyline sequel or new IP with a new title rather than remake an old one when it comes to fantasy games, although the game mechanics themselves may stay the same. Consider long-running Western fantasy games like the Elder Scrolls, or the Gold Box series, or most of the offerings from Bioware.

    • You’re probably right, though I can’t really say because I don’t have anywhere as close as an expansive experience in video games as you seem to do. But it makes a lot of sense to me for what it’s worth.

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