Friday, February 22, 2013

Before there was Aerith Gainsborough, there was Aria Benett

Ask a Final Fantasy to name the most touching moment of the franchise's 25 year history, and most will point to the death of Aerith Gainsborough in Final Fantasy VII without much hesitation.

But few newer fans to the series realize that Aerith's death was - in many ways - the continuation of a proud, dispiriting tradition of character death that began seven years before anyone began arguing on how to best spell Aerith's name.

Want to know where the tradition began?  Read on, but be warned that many a spoiler follows.

You don't meet the young Elia (Aria Benett) in Final Fantasy III until your party leaves the floating continent and lands on the surface world.

No one's entirely clear how she came to live on the shipwreck that you encounter her on, but she establishes herself as a helpful and innocent soul who wants nothing more than to help your nameless protagonists retrieve the Crystal of Water.  She never joins your party properly, but follows dutifully a step or two behind popping into battles randomly to cast Protect or Cura.

Despite her distance from the party proper, however, things don't work out for Elia at the end of the dungeon. In a moment of misguided nobility, she saves your main character's life by diving in front of him to take a full-force blast of magical Kraken energy to the face and quickly shuffles off the mortal coil.

So, if Elia's only with your party for one dungeon (as an NPC) and dies of her own volition - you may be wondering how her death be anywhere near as profound as Aerith's tragic, "Oh no he didn't!" end.

The answer lies in Elia's innocence and - much like Aerith - her musical theme.  Elia is the first Final Fantasy character to have her own designated theme, and it's endured through the years as one of Uematsu's more evocative works.

Despite all of this, it still may be difficult to put Elia's death on equal footing as Aerith's (or Shadow's, or Galuf's, or... half the cast from Final Fantasy IV's) - but at the time  of Elia's passing, the idea of permanently losing a character who had their own rendered sprite was somewhat difficult for players to bear.  Enemies and a bosses died all the time, sure, but for a helpful character to die and players not to see a "Game Over" screen was a new experience.

For this reason, Elia has enjoyed a cult resurgence of popularity on the Cosplay scene especially since her re-rendering in the 2006 3D remake of the game.

Image source: SkyIkao (

It's doubtful that Elia will ever approach the posthumous popularity of Aerith, but the next time you pour a(n energy) drink out for your favorite fallen video game characters... don't forget about the pitiable, innocent plot device that was Elia.