Despite playing a good few hours of Nintendo Land over the past few days both solo and up to and including four players, I remain committed to my newly-formed editorial series focused on video game characters. Tingle, while fascinating on a number of levels, does take a heavy dose of speculation to discuss his character. So this time I want to look at a game with a lot of character building in a genre that – at its best – specializes in character building. I am, of course, talking about Final Fantasy IX. Yes, that glorious RPG with a horrendously slow battle system that is juxtaposed by perfection in almost every other aspect.
Okay, so even a superfan like I am aware that that is an exaggeration, but still. I like the game a lot.
There are many characters I find interesting in the series’ swansong on the original PlayStation, but out of all of them, Dagger and Steiner top that list. I feel like they are the best realized characters in a game chalk full of well-realized characters. I initially planned to write this article about Dagger, but I have decided to surprise even myself by focusing on Rusty.
One of the reasons for my decision is the fact that a character like Steiner is so deliciously rare. Dagger might have layers, but a teen girl with the burden of the fate of a kingdom on her shoulders is not particularly new to RPGs. But what about a marginally successful, mildly out-of-shape middle-aged man? What about a knight set in his ways and who is not secretly anybody’s father or secretly tied to a conspiracy or secretly actually dead? Other than Steiner, there are not a lot of names of main characters with a similar description. The only one that comes to mind is Ganz from Radiata Stories and while endearing, he hardly has the same character depth.
Although Steiner does not appear to have that sort of depth initially, it is a necessary illusion. Steiner is so focused on his loyalty to the queen, that he appears one-dimensional in this way. His responses to Brahne are obedient, but that obedience acts as a blinder when carrying out his tasks. He is brash and unrelenting in carrying out Her Majesty’s wishes. The only other side we see of him at the beginning is a hint of pride at being the leader of the Pluto Knights. But even that is tied to his loyalty to Alexandria.
But it is this element that makes his character study all the more interesting. Over his adventures, he is brought to question himself and his motivations. We realize that his desire to protect Dagger is not purely tied to his duty, although he continues to frame it that way for some time. And from this, it all begins to unravel. Steiner’s focus on his duties was a way for him to find purpose. It was a way for him to have confidence in his actions without having to make his own decisions. He was able to make swift judgments of character and quick decisions because he only had to view it from a single perspective.
But when his loyalty to the Queen is at odds with his loyalty to Dagger, Steiner finally has to face himself and it is incredibly interesting to witness. He slowly allows himself to have different viewpoints on people and situations and allows himself to get close to others in the process. Yet, the game does not make the black and white statement that Steiner’s characteristics were solely negative and he just needed to come around. In fact, his initial traits remain his strongest points at the end of the game. His conviction and loyalty, his pride and strength.
I love that Steiner is not a child nor an adolescent. He has room to grow and certainly does, but he does so as an adult, and when a man so set in his ways is still able to soften in the right ways and show true growth, I find it has more weight than a reluctant teen who found out he had the hero’s spirit in him all along.
Steiner’s change is so radical and yet completely subtle. I love that he is very much the same person at the beginning and the end of the game, but he is obviously in a different place than where he started. His shouting matches with Zidane and his naivety are gone, but his loyal, proud, and endearing nature remain. He is painted as a blind buffoon at the beginning, but throughout the game players realize that it was not just Zidane who was wrong about him. He is a great example of a character who has a lot going on underneath the surface and is often misunderstood because of it. And he does it without being a brooding emo kid.
What do you think LusiAdelberts? Did you have the same experience with Steiner? Who are some unusual characters from gaming that you think deserve more credit?