Final Fantasy 12
When Dr. Cid is consumed by the mist I felt it in the pit of my stomach but I just kept playing. I didn’t realize how much it affected me until later. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and didn’t know why at first.
I could write an entire article on this so, TL;DR It wasn’t so much the death, but what that death meant to Balthier and the parallels between his life and mine.
I won’t go too dark, but
CW: alcoholism, emotional abuse (also some FF12 spoilers)
My father has struggled with alcoholism for almost all of his adult life. When I was 11 my older brother got his first job so he stopped going to visit dad on Wednesday and was rarely there on the weekend. Unbeknownst to me, my dad’s alcoholism got a lot worse at this time. Every Wednesday I would sit on the couch waiting for my dad to come pick me up to take me over to his house. He was supposed to come at a specific time, but somedays he would be an hour late, or two hours late, or not show up at all. He never bothered to call. He never explained or apologized.
Sometimes I noticed there was something ‘off’ with him but couldn’t have said what (now I know he was intoxicated.) He’d never done this when it was me and my brother and it was happening more and more. In the back of my mind I knew something wasn’t quite right with my dad, but I blamed myself for his behavior. I was convinced he wasn’t showing up because he wanted nothing to do with me.
That was also the age I started having problems with anxiety. I would have panic attacks before school and by the time I’d calmed myself down I’d missed the bus. I’d usually end up calling one of my grandmothers, but eventually they both stopped coming. I didn’t know what a panic attack was, I assumed that’s just what it meant to be a loser and a bad kid. I got labeled a ‘bad kid.’
For the record, I got good grades and never got in trouble at school except for the morning truancy.
I was also rarely disrespectful to my parents. I would fight with my mom about certain wearing certain clothes (jeans are way to scratchy) or cleaning my room (I didn’t know how to organize things and would get so overwhelmed I’d freeze up).
My paternal grandma eventually told my dad about my truancy. I was living with my at the time. (To my memory, my mom would send me to live with my dad for a little while when she got overwhelmed with me, she remembers it as me asking to be sent there) he came home slapped me and called me an ungrateful bitch. I started struggling with suicidal thoughts, but I also started wondering if ‘he’ had a problem. I was only 12 at this point, but the moment he hit me I knew he’d crossed a line. That day my parents and I went to meet the vice principal who insisted I tell him who was bullying me. (I wasn’t be bullied, school life was fine, but he was so adamant that it had to be bullying I eventually named someone who’d been mean to me in the past and made up a story.) The school’s only response was to threaten to call the cops on my parents. I was stupid enough to believe them and I did NOT want to cause my parents trouble. I my mom I needed help so she took me to a therapist, but after a few weeks of questioning she concluded I was depressed and I should go to the doctor for antidepressants. (Like all the other adults she completely missed I had an anxiety disorder.) She mentioned my dad was an alcoholic, so I started learning about it.
By 14 I couldn’t take it anymore. He was emotionally abusive and/or drunk when I was around him, and that was when he bothered to come around. I tried to stage a one-girl intervention, which ended in me telling him I wasn’t going to have contact with him anymore until he dealt with his alcoholism.
Not too long before playing FF12 I had a brush with death and it got me thinking about mortality, a lot. If my dad died, would I forever regret how little I’d tried to repair that relationship? Alcoholism is a disease. He was sick. But that didn’t mean I had to let him hurt me. I searched within myself and realized if he died tomorrow, I would be sad but I’d done everything I could. Maybe it made me a terrible person, but there it was. All these years later I still feel that way. I’m still not sure if that makes me a little bit of a terrible person.
[spoiler]Before they confront his father, Balthier opens up a little bit to Ashe about his past. He used to be a completely different person. He hints he lived a life he didn’t like to try to please his father. Then his father started a voice he called Venat. Cid started ignoring his son to indulge in his ‘hallucinations.’ Balthier couldn’t take it anymore and ran away from his father and his entire life.
When Balthier watches the mist consume his father he doesn’t have a big reaction. Cid’s last words to his son are derogatory. Even to the end Cid can’t accept Balthier for who he is. He chooses Venat over his son, even if it means death. But Venat was so manipulative, was it even really a choice?
Throughout the game Balthier is disgusted/angry about his father’s decisions. Nobody else seems to see (or they choose not to see) what’s wrong with his father. But also, his father hasn’t seemed to have mistreated anyone but Balthier.
His last words to his father are something along the lines of ‘was it all worth it’ and his father basically says yes, tells him to run if he’s going to keep running and calls him a fool.
Even if he wanted to, Balthier doesn’t have the time to really react to the death. A new disaster happens right after the death, I think it’s within the same cutscene.[/spoiler]
There’s so much of this that resonates with my own life: Having to decide between my dad and my own sanity. Having other people refuse to see how destructive my father’s alcoholism was. Wondering why me? (My dad was awful to my mom, but she didn’t let me see it. My brother didn’t go through the emotional abuse I did.) Not being able to really get away (me and my dad pretend to be father-daughter on holidays for appearances sake but other than that he only contacts me when he’s drunk to tell me I’m ungrateful or a failure.) Questioning reality (Balthier thought his father was hallucinating but Venat was real. I know my dad has a serious problem but some of my family refuses to see it, including my brother who claims that because he wasn’t abused, I must not have been either.) Balthier’s reaction to his dad’s death is a little sad, a little angry, but mostly he seems to have accepted the inevitable. My dad’s not dead, but to me he kind-of his. Emotionally, I’ve completely let go and I’ve made peace with that.
I can’t remember if this was hinted at in the game or comes from a fanfic, but part of the reason Balthier runs is because he fears going crazy like his father. Sure, he hated his life, but it wasn’t about trying to find a happier path, it was about not losing himself.
After a decade of trying to manage mental health issues that had left me homebound as a teenager (I finished hs and an associate degree online) I decided the only way I could get better was to run away and try to become a new person. I decided to go as far away as I could and get a degree in psychology so I could help prevent other kids from going through what I did. I got a choir scholarship to a university in Hawaii, and (with a lot of financial help from my mom) traveled almost 5,000 miles to live with a dorm mate I’d never met (even though up until that point I couldn’t maintain friendships and my fear of leaving the house was so bad I couldn’t even go to the grocery store). I didn’t change my name or even my hobbies but I was trying to be this outgoing person who loved being center stage. It was who I thought I’d be if I wasn’t ‘sick.’ My first try ended in almost dying from an inflamed gallbladder that was misdiagnosed as panic attacks, but I eventually was able to go back and finish that degree. It’s a long story. I want to go on to graduate school, but… that’s probably just a dream now. I work as an unpaid caretaker and the agoraphobia has come back. I don’t know how I could afford graduate school now. But I’m getting too far from the point.
The move happened a few years after playing the game (though I was obsessed with it and read/wrote fanfiction for years). It obviously wasn’t the catalyst for the move, but I wonder how much of an impact identifying with Balthier, who abandoned everything and became something new, had on the decision. Maybe that doesn’t have anything to do with Cid’s death, but Balthier’s relationship with his father was part of the reason I love the character so much.