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A recent editorial, "Square at the Pearly Gates," detailed the recent use (or overuse) of angel imagery in Square games. The reason cited was that after Kefka's angelic final boss form, anything less would be anticlimactic. However, I believe that Square has dipped into the angel theme so often for a different reason.
First of all, note that religious symbols have always been used in Square games. White Mage? Ah, you mean Priest. The Holy spell has been around at least since FFIV, under the appellation of White. The trend remarked upon here is simply the increased frequency (and flamboyancy) of these religious signs.
As gamers have so very, very often noticed, Square has progressed from fantasy to science fiction in the majority of its games. We've all heard the complaints about the decline of magic in a few of the more recent installments, but of course these games do have some magic. Square wanted to try out a more modern, science-fictiony, possibly realistic mood, so they used a lot of technology in order to create a world more like ours. They did stick in a few bits of magic, of course, like the Lifestream, and angels...
"But wait a second!" observers cry. "Angels aren't magic. They're religion. Lots of people believe in them."
Well, lots of people believe in magic, too. However, a larger percentage of the population is going to "connect" with angels than with magic. It's going to feel more real to them. So when Square attempted to make a more realistic game, they added lots of angels, which ups the magic component while keeping the realism on a manageable level. It's true we don't often see angels flitting around our heads in real life, but the average person is more likely to accept an angel in the face than an Ice3 spell.
"Put the magic back in FF!" gamers angrily demanded. They never lost it; we just didn't recognize it. Those persistent angels adorning so many recent Square games were the manifestation of the magic that we wanted so much. With the return to fantasy in FFIX, however, Square will no longer be attempting to give its game a science-fiction feel, and the need for angel imagery will dissolve. Gratuitous use of heavenly symbolism in FFIX? I don't expect it.
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