The first function Chocobos (Final Fantasy II) had was to act as a mode of transport on world maps and gradually these large adorable avian creatures would fulfill many different ‘animal’ roles in the Final Fantasy universe. The chocobo's dynamism is legendary, they can be domestic or wild, fierce or cute, stubborn or friendly. The one constant is their big heart. Whether they are hiding in forests, racing, chirping or heading into battle, chocobos do so with unbridled enthusiasm and pure spirit.
It was in Final Fantasy X (2001) that chocobos took on a deeper role in worldbuilding, themselves reflecting the themes of the game, most notably that of sacrifice. In the game, the summoner Yuna goes on a pilgrimage to defeat Sin, a mysterious entity capable of untold destruction which repeats in cycles. Summoners like Yuna are made to sacrifice themselves in order to bring some respite to the destruction before Sin appears once more. The futility of this battle against Sin is symbolised by a battle in which the yellow coloured Final Fantasy mascots take centre stage. When Sin launches his attack on the Djose shore, the chocobo knights are the first to charge following the initial bombardment from the ‘forbidden machina’. One assumes that the death toll among the riders pictured below was the highest and this is confirmed later in the game when we hear that the chocobo knights were decimated and new chocobos are needed to fill the ranks. Only one chocobo survived the slaughter and he makes a sad chirping sound as if to say that he will soldier on. This makes for a both light-hearted and a gut wrenching moment, making us recall the complete tragedy of what has transpired. Bodies litter the shore and the belief and hard work of many are crushed. One wonders if the pyreflies (representing souls who have passed) also include those of chocobos. Perhaps they are invisible to humans or it is possible that other creatures simply return to the earth. We know human souls can become fiends if left unaccounted for, but can we assume that animal ones do not and are pure to begin with?
Like the chocobos in Spira, many animals have been used throughout the history of human warfare. Chief among them are horses which have played a decisive role in the domination of empires. The Mongolian Empire, which formed the biggest land empire stretching from Korea to Western Russia, was made possible by horses and the bonds that formed between rider and animal. The horses were not only essential for these long treks but also provided constant sustenance with their milk and meat.
Clasko, a chocobo knight in Final Fantasy X, stands out due to his strong bond with chocobos. We constantly see Clasko being unhappy in his role as a knight and being ordered about by the higher-ups. His plight represents an interesting dilemma as a character that does not fit into the utilitarian and pious culture of Spira, based around fighting and keeping Sin at bay. Clasko desires something which would be normal to aspire to in times of peace but which in the ever turbulent cycle of death and destruction seems selfish and unhelpful. The game, as if trying to balance this out, constantly shows Clasko struggling, wanting to help the people of Spira in any way possible but also just wanting to get away from it all and spend time with chocobos on some green meadow far away. Even though one strongly feels for Clasko, his characterisation is one dominated by the needs of the many and the needs of the many are easily manipulated by institutions such as the church of Yevon. Clasko’s desire to do ‘good’ may come from an honest place but his actions as a knight of Yevon will bring about further sacrifices to both animals and humans.
The current war in Ukraine has perhaps highlighted the plight of animals in war more than any other as countless pictures emerge of refugees clutching their pets and risking lives to get them to safety. People from all over the world have also been donating money to their cause. More than ever, we have been confronted with the reality of what war does to animals and perhaps this can serve as a sobering reflection of what war does to humans. We have normalised war for so long that we have lost sight of its true character, which is not one of heroic deeds or necessity but a systematic outlet for hatred and fear which legitimises itself over and over again. Could the animals who died in Ukrainian zoos and homes differentiate between attackers and defenders, between noble goals and barbarism? Perhaps animals can help us truly open our eyes to war’s indiscriminate nature. Sin was created by the people of Zanarkand out of fear and brought about a cycle of lasting destruction which affected countless souls. However, this cycle was of a spiral nature (hence the name Spira), alluding to the fact that it has a beginning and an end. Hopefully war, like Sin, can be ‘defeated’ but in our world rather than a summoners pilgrimage, it may be up to people like Clasko, who desire to use their bonds with animals to nurture life rather than push them to sacrifice their brave animal hearts in battles over and over...