Thanks to Jason_Wanderer and leskya for the inspiration!
FFXIII, for example, deals with ideas of fate and limitless capabilities; that “fate” isn’t really a one-and-done thing, anything can be changed.
And leskya wrote about the theme of fate in FFXV and FFXIII.
Fate is a big part in Final Fantasy, but why?
There’s a phrase in Japanese culture called “shouganai” (full term: Shikata ga nai) which roughly translate to “it cannot be helped” or “nothing can be done about it”. The concept of “shouganai” relates to their idea of “fatalism” (the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable), illustrated in one of Kotaku’s more famous articles “Japan: It’s Not Funny Anymore”:
One of these Japanese franchise cafes was called Saint Marc’s. The Saint Marc corporation was founded in 1989 by a couple of young people who didn’t know they wanted to have a cafe. Eventually, they had a cafe.
Well, eventually, they made a croissant with a little bit of chocolate in it. They called it the “Chocolate Croissant.”
Not two years later, Saint Marc’s Cafe had changed the name of all their locations to “Chokokuro Cafe”. “Chokokuro” is a little abbreviation, like “Pokemon” is to “Pocket Monsters.” “Chokokuro” is short for “Chokoreeto Kurowasan.” (In Japanese, as in French, the “t” in “Croissant” is silent.)
A Japanese friend who works in marketing told me this is the “Japanese resolve.” A company sees its fate and resigns itself to it. I think it sounds more like someone just giving up and settling for what they have.
A Japanese resolve is a form of fatalism. What does this have to do with Final Fantasy? Take a look at one of its most famous (and infamous) titles: Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XIII.
In Final Fantasy X, Sin represents a cycle of destruction on Spira.
To defeat Sin, summoners would journey through a series of temples, gathering powerful Aeons at each one in preparation for obtaining the Final Aeon in Zanarkand and combating Sin. For hundreds of years, this cycle continued—summoners would go on a pilgrimage to hone their abilities as they traveled to the ruins of Zanarkand and met Yunalesca, who would transform one of their guardians into a new Final Aeon. The summoner would give his or her life to destroy Sin with the Final Summoning, and Yu Yevon’s spirit would possess the Final Aeon and turn it into a new Sin.
Final Fantasy XIII, on the other hand:
The main themes of Final Fantasy XIII are challenging fate and the concept of willpower. The main cast has an unjust fate (Focus) forced upon them and seek a way to escape it and do what they believe is right. Ultimately free will triumphs over fate, as the party rejects their Focus and follows their true desire, to save Cocoon. The themes are present with the characters of Serah and Cid Raines, who similarly defy their fate, and with the interactions of Hope and his father, who tells Hope he must find his own path in life. The fal’Cie are on the other side of this coin, unable to follow their heart’s desire as their fate is predetermined by their creator.
In Final Fantasy XIII, brand resigns one to completing one’s focus. If one completes their focus, the branded l’Cie enter crystal statis. If not, the branded turn into a Cieth. Either way is undesirable for the human. Listen to the main theme of Final Fantasy XII, “The Promise” (aka “Serah’s Theme”)
Fate will not leave you, hate will not heal you
This is Serah’s theme, and it refers to her fate as a L’Cie. But Lightning and friends set out to change her fate.
So why do Final Fantasy games challenge the concept of shouganai? Because Japan itself is challenging a partial departure from Eastern principles (in a limited sense). Japan was one of the very first Eastern countries to willingly (sometimes unwillingly) adopt Western techniques and practices. Why might Japan want to do this?
Well, Japan leans more towards the fatalistic (仕方がない) as the West which tends to value free will. The world is moving much more globally. Japan is resolving to their fate within their place of the world. Ironically, to adopt more Western principles such as capitalism, democracy, entertainment, etc.
Also, Japan’s attempt to become more Western is actually a product of their enlightenment about Buddhist free will. Their desire to follow this teaching more ardently. It’s also no surprise that Shintoism, a Japanese religion, values assimilation. Perfectly in line with the fate of the world connecting globally. However, Japan may challenge their fate of Western powers and globalism, to become more isolationist in the future…