View Full Version : Lowtown, Or How No One Takes Poverty Seeriously in JRPGs

Forsaken Lover
07-14-2017, 09:36 AM
FFXII is a good game with a good story but this is something that holds true for every Final Fantasy with the notable exception of VII. VII features the Slums and gave them quite a prominent position in the story. Shinra's ruthless exploitation is a consistent theme throughout Disk 1 at least.

Then, in XII, we have the royal capital and this place underground where all the undesirables of society gather. Old men and insurgents and bandits and failed merchants congregate. It is dark and bleak and this is the music they went for.

Old Archades is a bit "better" but it still features dancing moogles and a pretty whimsical sidequest with equally whimsical music.

Why don't FFs deal with this kind of systemic oppression and hopelessness more often? Not the kind forced on people by a evil god that you can just whack and make go away but something far more insidious?

07-14-2017, 07:17 PM
Can't really speak for Old Archades, but Lowtown never really struck me as all that destitute. If anything, it felt more like a shopping center, something akin to Moroccan souks that had to double as an overcrowded residential area once the Imperials moved in.

I checked the Lore entry for it after typing the above entry, and yeah, that's almost exactly what it is:

Lowtown lies, as its name would suggest, beneath the city streets of Rabanastre. Great pillars standing throughout Lowtown support the soaring edifices above. Prior to the war with Archadia, many merchants used Lowtown as a place to store foodstuffs and wares for sale. With the defeat and occupation by Archadia, many of the former residents of upper Rabanastre were relocated here, leading to its gradual transforming into a residential area. No natural light shines on Lowtown, save where there are passages to the streets above, making it perpetually gloomy. Many orphans from the war have adopted Lowtown as their new home.

Midgar's slums are built to keep the poor oppressed, what with its foundation under the city proper and routine security checks, but Lowtown is just a residential block for the people who lost their homes in the occupation.

EDIT: I checked the Old Archades sidequest, and while the quest is whimsical enough, it still involves a Seeq selling moogles and people fighting over money. I also think the music for Old Archades is pretty gloomy, myself. Not as overwhelmingly oppressive as the Sector 7 slums, or seedy like Sector 5 and Wall Market, but it's not a happy tune by any means. On the subject of Wall Market, tell me that isn't the most whimsical depiction of prostitution you've seen :P

Wolf Kanno
07-15-2017, 11:31 PM
Most games don't tackle the theme because it's complicated and nuanced, so most people just go simple is better, which frankly I feel even FFVII kind of picked the low hanging fruit on this one as well. They are heavy handed at first, but the whole thing gets quickly forgotten and underplayed once the plot starts to take off around Junon.

Thinking on the subject of games that deal with the subject, I may give it to Tactics for doing the best job, though its more telling than showing, so it may not meet the requirements of this topic put forth by the OP. Ramza's story begins with him being tasked to put down a peasant rebellion, led by disfranchised soldiers who were never compensated for their work in the war. The first chapter largely deals with class warfare between the lords and the peasant folks, and serves as backdrop to have Ramza deabte his own since of justice versus his duties as a privileged lord. It ends badly for the peasants, but is largely resolved in the in-between times of Chapter 1 and 2. Even still, the subject still comes up about the plight of the people thanks to throwaways statements made by the various lords plotting against each other, as well as listening to gossip in the taverns. You learn that the war is causing a refugee crisis, is placing a huge crunch on a food crisis caused by famine, and ultimately the Glabados Church and Delita both count on the mass discontent growing with the poor population to enact their own political plans. Still, this is all background information and you rarely get to see the downtrodden masses as much as you do in the first chapter, but I commend the game for trying to keep that plot point going throughout the piece. What I enjoy better is that Tactics presents a more or less realistic take on the subject matter of war causing economical strain on the masses, and how governments exploit the poor classes for their own ends.

I've heard Ogre Battle 64 and Front Mission 2 also delve into the topics and serve as a central focus for their stories, but I've never played either of them.

Mr. Carnelian
07-16-2017, 01:30 PM
The underlying point is sound, but I'm not sure that Lowtown is the best example. Like Edge7 points out, it felt to me more like a soukh than a slum.

To be honest, I'm not sure that any game genre tackles real-world issues like poverty terribly well. I can't really think of any examples where the underlying causes of the systematic oppression of the poor was addressed.

07-16-2017, 09:01 PM
While I don't think this game does it as well as other works of fiction, I also don't feel like it's handled particularly poorly either.

I remember reading that people from Old Archades are free to pursue employment in the city proper, but end up overwhelmed due to the competitive, demanding nature of Archadian business. I might be reading too deep into that, but I thought that might've been a commentary on Archadia's neglect of the old town and failing to instill an education system to give the impoverished the necessary skills to succeed. Again, that could just be me imprinting my own views on society and government onto the game's writing, but I think there are little incidental details here and there (and really that's the biggest strength FFXII's writing has in lieu of a strong central narrative) that contribute to a subtly nuanced understanding. I like that the game forces you to talk to NPCs from both districts to show the class divide. The subquest in Old Archedes is a bit tonally off-putting, but I still think there's a decent bit of subtext there. I'm personally fine with that, I don't necessarily want every depiction of the poor and homeless to be Les Mis.

In contrast, I think an example of this trope handled poorly lies in FFVI. Zozo, where all of Jidoor's poor and impoverished flocked to [somehow] build their own strikingly modern town (with skyscrapers and everythang (https://youtu.be/rc0XEw4m-3w?t=275)). It's a town comprised of liars, cheats, and thieves. At least Old Archades became that way explicitly due to governmental neglect (http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Old_Archades), and there's an attempt to make some NPCs empathetic that is simply not present in Zozo.

As Wolf Kanno said, it's a topic arguably done best in Final Fantasy Tactics; I wish the game kept its focus on the War of the Lions and it's effect on the common people rather than its eventual trajectory, but I guess that's what Tactics Ogre is for? I don't know, I've never actually played it, but it's on the list.