There’s No Place Like St. Ivalice

There’s a meme that’s been going around for years and years, and it’s one that annoys the hell out of me. Back when I edited TV Tropes steam used to come out of my ears whenever I saw someone propagating it. (These days, that’s my default state when reading TV Tropes, heh.) So, even though I know that the railings of one man aren’t enough to stop the internet when it’s decided what to believe, I thought I’d make my best argument as to why it’s invalid, so here we go:

Marche Is NOT the Villain of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

He just isn’t. The game doesn’t support it, the greater universe the game exists in doesn’t support it, other stories using similar conceits don’t support it.

The Story: The premise of FFTA is that, at the beginning of the game, Marche, his friends Mewt and Ritz, and his little brother Doned read out of a magical book called the Grimoire. The next morning, they wake up to find that they have been transported to a fantasy world called Ivalice, strangely reminiscient of the ones from the Final Fantasy games that the children had earlier mentioned. (Yes, the Final Fantasy series apparently exists in the world the children come from. Don’t think too hard about it.) Mewt, Ritz, and Doned are quite happy in Ivalice, but Marche wants to go home, and begins working to do so. He discovers that if he defeats all the Totema, Ivalice will vanish and he and his friends will be returned to their original existence. He does so, over the objections of his friends, and they are indeed returned at the end.

Q: You guys, Marche is totally committing genocide! He’s completely destroying the plane of existence on which Ivalice rests, killing all the inhabitants thereof by negating their existence! He’s really the bad guy!

A: He isn’t. Ivalice isn’t real. The game explicitly says that it’s a dreamworld — that the children created it as a hodgepodge of the real world, their imaginations, and the Final Fantasy games. The sequence in which Ivalice appears features the residents of the real-world location of St. Ivalice being physically transformed into the creatures that occupy the fantasy world of Ivalice. Marche isn’t killing anyone any more than you kill the inhabitants of your dreams whenever you wake up.

At any rate, no one in the game acts as though Marche is doing anything wrong when he begins defeating the Totemas. His party members, Ivalice natives to a man, help him unconditionally, as do many NPCs. Judgemaster Cid, once he regains his memories, certainly doesn’t act that way — and he has every reason to want to stay in Ivalice if it is indeed a real world. The only people who oppose Marche in his quest are his friends (who have their own selfish reasons for wanting to stay, but see below) and the final boss, Li-Grim, which is explicitly acknowledged as being created by the Grimoire when Ivalice was first created and would likewise be destroyed if it vanished.

Q: But it’s a lot more vivid and real than a dream! Marche talks to people and interacts with them — that surely makes Ivalice more than just a waking dream?

A: Not necessarily. This position is not consistent with any piece of fiction that uses the “vivid dream” device. When Superman rips off the Black Mercy, we cheer, even though doing so means sacrificing his happy dream life in which he has a wife, son, and intact homeworld. Dorothy wishing “to go home to Kansas, to live in poverty with [her] dirt-farming, teetotaling aunt and uncle” is the happy ending of that film. There’s nothing in FFTA to suggest that we should be considering it any differently.

But okay, let’s set that aside. FFTA has direct sequels, which feature characters from FFTA. How can we seriously make the argument that Marche committed genocide when Montblanc and Ezel are still kicking around in Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics A2?

Q: All right, so Marche isn’t committing genocide… but he did force his friends to go back to their shitty lives in the real world against their will. That makes him kind of a dickhead, right?

A: Not really. Mewt and Ritz, in particular, have entirely overblown problems. They’re the kind of problems, in fact that a middle schooler would dramatize as being the end of the world, but aren’t really that big a deal. (Mewt is bullied! Ritz has white hair, which she doesn’t like! Oooh!) People deal with worse problems every day with courage and fortitude, so allowing Ritz and Mewt to dodge their issues by saying “Well, their lives suck” is a cop-out. It’s not like Marche is forcing them back into a concentration camp. Again, I point to Cid, who is the town drunk in the real world, but the Lord Judgemaster in Ivalice. As soon as he remembers who he really is, he starts helping Marche fix the situation. He understands that however appealing Ivalice might seem, it’s still just a dream.

And again, all of the other inhabitants of St. Ivalice (and perhaps the world) have been transformed by the children’s careless wish, as seen in the opening and ending cutscenes. (This is underlined when the player encounters a trio of zombies with the same names as the three bullies who pick on Mewt at the beginning.) Perpetuating Ivalice is forcing them to live lives not their own, in bodies not their own, with no memory of who they really are, forever. That’s far jerkier than anything Marche does to his friends. Why is Mewt and Ritz’s happiness central to the universe? Why is Marche’s desire any less valid than theirs?

The only wrinkle here, I think, is Doned, who is crippled in the real world, but healthy in Ivalice. Still, Doned leads Marche into an ambush and tries to have him killed, so I think he’s more or less ceded the moral high ground here.

A related argument is that Marche should want to stay in Ivalice because it’s just so much gosh-darn cooler than the boring ol’ real world. What an adolescent position, but okay: Ivalice is a medieval world, ruled by a despotic queen, her spoiled brat of a son, and her league of corrupt Judges. All conflict is resolved by ritualized combat. Everything is completely controlled by powerful Laws, which inhibit free will and can change the properties of the universe. Deadly monsters roam every inch of the world, cities are constantly under attack as rival guilds attempt to expand their territory, and there several places where it’s so lawless that it’s unsafe to tread. Yeah, Ivalice is a regular paradise, all right.

Q: Okay, Mr. Smarty-Pants, if FFTA isn’t about Marche being an asshole to the entire universe, what is it about?

A: FFTA’s theme is very clearly a rant against escapism. Ivalice is a dream world, and Mewt, Ritz, and Doned are using it to avoid having to deal with the realities of their problems in the real world. They would rather dream forever than face a harsh truth. Marche is the only character willing to break the facade and force them to acknowledge reality, but the ending and the sequels show that his friends are happier and better-adjusted for his efforts, even though they fought him tooth and nail at the time. This is a far more obvious theme (and one that’s better-supported in the text) than one in which the player is secretly controlling the villain.

You can argue the wisdom of sticking an anti-escapism moral at the end of a 80-100 hour game, but that’s a question of execution, not intent. Marche is clearly portrayed as being in the right here, both within the game and external to it. The fact that people resist this says more about them than the game, I think.

Q: So why did this theory become so popular, anyway?

A: Your guess is as good as mine, but I personally feel that it’s a reaction to the original FFT. FFT had a very reserved and political plot with shifting factions and lots of gray, and when FFTA ended up being more Narnia than A Song of Ice and Fire, people were disappointed. They were so disappointed, in fact, that they were willing to read into any theory that made the straightforward plucky-kid-fights-evil plot more subversive and mature than it was, so when the “Marche is evil” meme popped up, they jumped on it. That doesn’t make it any more true, though.

Let’s face it: FFTA is “The Wizard of Oz, only there’s moogles”. Trying to read more into it than is there is a wasted effort. If you don’t like it, the original FFT is something like eight bucks at this point.


4 Responses to “There’s No Place Like St. Ivalice”

  1. 1 Nodal March 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Dorothy ends up going back and living in Oz though.

    • 2 bravesword March 9, 2011 at 11:29 am

      Not in the movie, which stands alone perfectly well and is the most familiar and iconic take on the story. I doubt most people even know The Wizard of Oz has sequels.

  2. 3 dontcare November 23, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    If it were just a dream, why didn’t he go die in the jagds and wake up? Seems a lot easier than having to blow up all the world threads. Same thing with the wizard of Oz.

    • 4 Will November 28, 2013 at 9:34 am

      Ivalice is not literally a dream, but the real world transformed according to the dreams of the protagonists. Dying in the Jagds would probably just mean he was dead.

      I agree with most of this, including that the Evil Marche theory makes the game more interesting, but I think Marche was a bit irresponsible in going around destroying the crystals; he had no idea what metaphorical wire he was cutting.

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