Editorial: Character Study: Adelbert Steiner

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.

He's also very funny. I don't mention that.
The man himself.

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.

The answer is 'no', Steiner.
Gotta love the character’s thesis questions at the title screen.

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?

14 comments

  1. CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG

    I do really like Steiner. It’s not often that games successfully pull of character development like FFIX does with Steiner.

  2. One of the greatest comedy characters in gaming. One of the greatest comedy characters period.

  3. Best character in FFIX by a considerable margin, and one of the best-developed characters in any RPG that I’ve ever played.

  4. Yeah, as I get older and begin to appreciate FFIX in different ways, I’m starting to understand that he really is the strongest character in that game. I would also argue that despite his best efforts in the beginning, he plays as much of a role bringing everybody together as Vivi and Zidane do.

  5. Great article! I don’t think Steiner is one of my favorites, but that’s because IX is so full of interesting, well constructed characters. Still, you’ve proven him more deep than I thought. Of course, I’ve only played through IX once, broken up over the course of a decade. Looking forward to more articles in the series!

  6. Having replayed FFIX not too long ago what struck me about it was that nothing happened. Queen Scary Face dies at the end of Disc 1. And the airship crashed or something and Princess Ruby (it’s what I named her the first time I played) was sad, cut her hair (SYMBOLISM!!!!! I think?), and was mute for a while until the clanky knight guy, who has mascara on for some reason, and the badass knight lady do things or something.

    Later in the game the embarrassingly homoerotic villain literally says, “I want you to go somewhere and get something.” And you go to the No Magic Continent with lots of random battles and walk back.

    And holy hell, the walking. Each PSX Final Fantasy did, I think, look prettier than the previous ones. But the battle systems just got slower, and slower, and slower. And I’m not even talking about Knights of the Round type stuff. You didn’t need Summons in a regular playthrough of 7. Guardian Forces in 8, if you could figure out how the hell the game worked, weren’t necessary (but were very long). And in 9 they actually added an accessory that made you sit through them each time to have them not suck and an option to shorten them.

    But the real point is that each game went from the instant with explosive ramping up exciting battle music in FF6 to a slow, poorly hidden loading screen style screen swirls or shatters thing with battles that proceeded at a glacial pace. FF8, a game that seems to have aspired to make the Holocaust look less tragic, seems to particularly embrace this by having more detailed enemy models than 7 along with more detailed animations which it’s going to force you to watch every goddamned frame of.

  7. The next character study will be on how evilpaul’s mind has slowly unraveled over the last few months.

    My first experience with FF9 was a rushjob while I was home for a couple weeks between semesters. I thought Steiner went from a mindless buffoon to a pitiful bufoon over the course of the game. On my 2nd playthrough years later, I took my time with it and appreciated the characters and their development a lot more, and fittingly enjoyed the game as a whole much more. I almost wonder if it’s supposed to take multiple playthroughs to appreciate. Sane people who rave about FF7 seem to have played it only once. People who rave about FF9 seem to have played it multiple times, and enjoyed it more each time.

  8. @7th: I *am* sane. FF7 is amazing and I’ve probably played it more than just about anyone.

  9. @Lusi – Yeah, I was going to contest that point with that example.

    But Glenn WAS right about EvilPaul being insane. Paul, that’s the most inaccurate summation of FFIX I have ever heard. That’s like taking any plot, only picking some elements, then saying that’s all that happens. The first plot point you mention happens after a princess gets kidnapped, after she gets chased by 3 robot magic assassins, after they uncover a conspiracy in a small town where a child first realizes that he was built, not born, and AFTER ENTIRE KINGDOMS GET BLOWN TO BITS.

    And those are just some major points off the top of my head. Before the first point you mention. And that’s just stuff that happens in the physical world, all these events affect the cast in very real ways (for the most part).

    And the villain’s homo-eroticism (which, actually, I don’t see. He dresses flamboyantly and is dramatic, but the only sexual things he implies are actually with Dagger) is embarrassing? For whom? You? I don’t see what’s embarrassing about being a homosexual.

    There are many ways to legitimately criticize FF9 including the story and characters, but I have to say EvilP, your rant made no sense.

    Back to Glenn, although I definitely appreciate FF9 more each time I play it (usually to my surprise), I also was somebody who loved it the first time as well. Maybe because it’s the first Final Fantasy I completed, so I only had expectations from FF7. Which I also loved, but I had no grand sense of Final Fantasy as a series is what I mean.

    Despite excellent character development, the writing itself

  10. @Ethan: Perhaps EvilPaul is confusing his own feelings towards Kuja?

    @Glenn: I appreciate the characters and setting of FFIX more with each successive playthrough, but I appreciate the game itself less, owing to my increasing impatience with the slow battle system.

  11. @SN – Makes complete sense. Playing it on the PSP is a godsend for me. I can multitask while waiting for ATM bars to fill. No idea how I played this on a console so many times.

  12. @SN: What SN said goes for me as well. The battle system in FFIX has not aged well though, at the time, it seemed absolutely delightful. No doubt, I’ve been spoiled by the Lightning-pace (pun!) of Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2.

    It’s interesting to note the way in which FF random (not boss) battles have increased in speed since the PS1 era. FFX moved to speed up the system a bit, but FFX-2 really did a number on that. XII refined it to get rid of the loading screens by and large. Now, I routinely clock Battle Durations of 0 seconds in XIII-2, and I have a fragment skill that just wipes out weak enemies instantly a la Earthbound. No wonder it is hard to go back to the slower games of the past–especially FFIX, which has probably some of the slowest random battles of the series.

  13. @Lusi: I would argue that it is not just the comparison with newer entries which leaves FFIX feeling slow. It has the most latency of any (non-tactics) FF title that I have played – especially when contrasted against some of the speedier ATBs which came before it.

    Speed aside, FFIX had a very good little battle system. It was well balanced, and quite a few enemies actually required a degree of strategy; and that is why it was engaging enough the first time through for me. Once I was familiar with the games enemies however, the speed of the battle system began increasingly to chafe.

    Also, spare a moment to think of the poor PAL gamers who’s copy of FFIX ran about 14% slower than America’s NTSC version.

  14. I appreciated IX the more I played it; by the time of completion I loved it, and want to try a second playthrough to get a better sense from the beginning. The slowest part of the battles came before you started attacking.

    I loved FFVII the first time through, and no less each successive time. There’s just a wide range of how people appreciate it.

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