Refia is an interesting character in Final Fantasy canon, because she didn’t exist in the original version of the game she’s from — in fact, none of the protagonists from the 3D remake of Final Fantasy III did.
Indeed, the original Famicom version of Final Fantasy III instead features a player-named party of indeterminately gendered “Onion Kids” — thereby kicking off the series’ occasional, inexplicable obsession with the vegetable in the process. Refia didn’t show up until Matrix Software brought out the Nintendo DS version of Final Fantasy III in 2006 — which was also the first time the game came West.
Well, just because she wasn’t there from the very beginning doesn’t make her any less worthwhile as a character! So let’s take a moment to celebrate Refia’s contribution to one of the most well-known RPG series in the world.
Along with adding character names to the four protagonists of Final Fantasy III, Matrix Software’s remake also adds backstories to each of them that you gradually discover over the course of the game’s opening hours. The Famicom original simply gave you the full party of four characters from the beginning of the game; in the modern versions, however, you start with male protagonist Luneth and acquire the other three over the course of some of the game’s initial quests.
Refia is the third character you encounter. She’s introduced as the adoptive daughter of a blacksmith named Takka in the town of Kazus, but she has little desire to follow in her father’s footsteps. In fact, such is her reluctance to learn his trade that she has run away from home on more than one occasion, and it’s during one of these “excursions” that Luneth and his friend Arc encounter her for the first time. As it happens, she was fortunate to be out of town, since during the opening of Final Fantasy III’s story, the whole place has been cursed by an evil djinn, turning everyone into incorporeal ghosts.
Refia demonstrates that she’s not completely cold-hearted towards her father by the fact that she obviously feels a great deal of guilt about still having her body while he has become a transparent two-dimensional stick figure. Her guilt is so potent that she actually refuses to enter the town of Kazus while it remains cursed. Her words that she “doesn’t want to see her father right now” are a little ambiguous; she could mean that she doesn’t want to see him because of the guilt she feels over abandoning him, or she could mean that she doesn’t want to get chewed out by him for her misbehaviour.
As it happens, much of Refia’s anxiety over her relationship with her adoptive father is all in her head. While he is keen for her to learn his trade and be able to take over when he’s too old to carry on, when she makes it abundantly clear that she’d rather join the fledgling Warriors of the Light crew and go on adventures, he doesn’t resist at all. In fact, he helps out the party by giving them helpful information and upgrading an airship with a mythril ram strong enough to break the boulder that confines you to the starting zone of the world map.
Part of Takka’s willingness to help out is due to his friendship with Cid, who is initially introduced as a talented engineer, but which the game later reveals has considerable significance to the lives of all four protagonists. Takka is aware of this significance right from the outset — though we, the audience, don’t learn this until a little later — and thus he understands that Refia wishing to help Cid out is more important than his own desires.
Despite being the only permanent female character in the party, at no point is Refia positioned as a love interest for any of the male protagonists. This is perhaps partly due to the fact that there is no real canonical “main protagonist” in Final Fantasy III, and as such players can choose to treat any of the four — including Refia — as the party “leader”. Instead, despite her rebellious, outspoken streak, Refia often acts as something of a maternal figure towards the rest of the group, scolding them for indiscretions and sometimes acting as a voice of reason if any of the others start to get a bit hot-headed.
This isn’t to say she doesn’t have any weaknesses. She’s particularly squicked out by toads, and thus is enormously uncomfortable — to the degree of showing a certain amount of anger — any time it becomes apparent that the party will need to cast Toad on themselves in order to progress. She never lets this fear get the better of her, however; she understands that when you’re in the service of the greater good — or the Light, in this case — sometimes you have to step a bit out of your comfort zone in order to get things done.
The addition of names, personalities and backstories to the four protagonists of Final Fantasy III was a good decision by Matrix Software. Final Fantasy II, in its original Famicom incarnation, had already shown that the series had grand ambitions in terms of interactive storytelling — and while Final Fantasy III’s mechanical depth was a step up from its divisive predecessor, it was hard not to feel like the return to anonymous, mute protagonists was a bit of a step backwards.
Notably, Matrix Software’s take on Final Fantasy III doesn’t overdo things in terms of bringing life to these characters or prescribing what they “should” be like. We learn enough in the opening to get a good feel for who Refia is and how she fits into the party, but as you progress through the game the narrative as a whole becomes less about the protagonists and more about their quest. It’s a gradual transition from a clear definition of their characters and personalities to the player taking full ownership of them — and it coincides with the game giving the player increased amounts of control and flexibility over how they build their party from a mechanical perspective, too.
All that aside, Refia is a great addition to the series’ extensive lineup of cool female leads. And in my own playthrough of Final Fantasy III for the Final Fantasy Marathon video series, she has pride of place in the party’s top slot.
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