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Cid and Science in the Final Fantasy Series
Cid Highwind from Final Fantasy Seven
Each game shows Cid and his scientific relationship in a different light. By charting these appearances one can see the degrees of ambivalence the Final Fantasy series expresses toward scientific progress and its influence on human worldviews.
In his first United States appearance (Final Fantasy 2 in USA) he is introduced as an engineer who designed and constructed the airships used by Baron to gain military supremacy. Cid is clearly a man of scientific passions as even a search of the books in his home produces literature on scientific principles. He is demonstrably a moral man too; by the time he becomes a playable character he has escaped from prison for refusing to cooperate and modify the airships to assist Baron’s increasing belligerence. Likewise, other characters explain how Cid has looked after Cecil and Rosa as though they were his own children. Here the science and technology developed by Cid are tools which belong in the hands of good people, such as the adventuring party, and he refuses to let his achievements be used for wicked ends.
Next time, however, the Cid character is slightly more ambivalent. In the game known as Final Fantasy 3 in the United States, Cid is an experimental biologist who conducts his research on the Espers for the good of the despotic Empire. He drains these living creatures of their power to fuel machines to extend and perpetuate the current tyranny, though he seems apolitical. His interest is in the experimentation and use of science to further human knowledge. As his character becomes more involved, though, he understands the horror of his experiments and actively assists the other characters in opposing the Empire and the war machines his research has helped develop. In the World of Ruin, he again shows his true colors by nursing Celes back to health and even providing for her a means to return to the mainland. In this game Cid shows the dangers of myopia; when focused on his research and not its social and moral implications, Cid’s discoveries lead to a frightening era of mechanized violence and oppression.
A similar Cid is represented in Final Fantasy 7. This time, Cid is again an engineer of sorts whose goal is to see his spacecraft built and used. He does not seem to have particular affinity for Shinra, the company that funds him and is slowly destroying the planet. Since they pay his bills, however, he capitulates until his dream is realized. After that he joins seriously with the other protagonists trying to save the planet. Again, Cid realizes science and technology are not ends in and of themselves but are tools meant to aid humanity.
The Cid of Final Fantasy 8 is more of a social engineer who is a designer of the SeeD program which trains young people to fight supernatural threats. His reasons are convoluted and involve a measure of foreknowledge and time travel, but the interesting element to note is his seeming lack of an ethical dilemma. Though he regrets some of his partners in building the SeedGardens, this Cid almost never expresses any regret over creating and overseeing what is essentially a eugenics and training program. One can argue that given his kind of prescience he prepared for a harsh future and made pragmatic choices for the greater good. His decisions, nevertheless, rob people of their memories, encourage reliance on Guardian Forces to supplement human development, and he repeatedly risks the lives of his students without their consent. This “greater good” theory is also a slippery slope since it is the argument of the wicked as well as the righteous. Here Cid is ethically dangerous and attempts to rationalize his choice to make people, willing or not, pawns in his scheme to create a bulwark against other evils.
Final Fantasy 9 sees a return to a more familiar Cid who designs castles and other physical constructs. He is also a king, but unlike the similarly political Cid from the previous game, this Cid makes every effort to protect his citizens, including signing a humiliating treaty of surrender, and assists the player from the beginning. The only mark against Cid this time is the curse his wife placed upon him because of his allegedly wandering fidelity. Aside from this situation, this Cid shows a moral backbone not seen since his first appearance in the series, but he is humanized by having a character flaw, though this flaw does little to have an impact on the game.
In the tenth installment Cid is a renegade and ethnic minority who challenges the prevailing theocracy and again shows a fondness for rebuilding the machines of Spira’s past. While not a playable character, his daughter Rikku acts as his surrogate and displays all the vivaciousness and technical skill for which Cid is famous. The actions of this Cid are also benevolent since he is trying to save Yuna from sacrificing herself, but his methods are questionable—attempted kidnapping and the forced labor he extracts from Tidus among them. Even with these flaws he does not cross into the fatalistic mania of his enemies, nor does he retaliate in kind when the home of his people is demolished by the game’s adversaries.
Cid of Final Fantasy 12 is an antagonist. While one may argue his motivation is abstractly beneficent in helping Venat against the immortal overlords, his behavior is justified in only the most callous sense. He ignores his son, builds war machines, allows Vayne’s patricidal coup, and repeatedly fights the player and with each of these developments he makes these choices consciously knowing they’ll have a negative impact on countless lives including the very people he should be protecting. At no point does he lament the human cost of his obsession revealing him as s fanatic who treats people as only a means to an end. This time the cost is too great; a brilliant man becomes an extremist and manipulator of the variety he professes to despise.
There is, in the Final Fantasy series, a general comment on the dangers of scientific progress. Cid is always brilliant and manages to use his knowledge to create wonders that are the pinnacle of science and technology; his research pushes the boundaries of human understanding. When, however, his experiments and developments are not firmly rooted in humanism that values life and community and makes science the tools of mankind then the destruction wrought by his achievements is of an unimaginable magnitude.
© 2009 Seth Tomko