Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Berserk for Etymology

I’d like to think that I’ve made the point here that video games, if experienced by a mind destined for dorkery, can teach you a thing or two. Just today, I realized that I’d learned one thing without realizing it.

If there’s one thing you could say sets Final Fantasy V apart from the entries in the series that directly proceed and follow it, that thing would probably be the fact that it wasn’t translated for English-speaking audiences until years after it hit shelves in Japan. If there were a second thing, it would probably be the fact that it features this weird homoerotic subplot in which two male leads seem to have crushes on a third male character, a pirate. That tension only gets resolved when the pirate reveals himself to be female, at which point the lusty feelings are never mentioned again. And that is a little unusual, if you think about it, for a video game.

But if there were a third thing, and your conversation partner hasn’t left the table because they don’t give a shit about Final Fantasy, it would be that the player is given a great deal of control over his or her heroes. With the mere change of a costume, their role in the game shifts. Princess Lenna, the main heroine? She can be your bruiser if you elect to have her play the part of the night. Butz, the hero? (Yes, Butz.) He can be a sissy healer and wave a magic health wand over everyone else. In that sense, it’s quite egalitarian.

The classes your little people can claim are largely based on stock types that had existed in the Final Fantasy series for years, but one class was new in Final Fantasy V: the Berserker. This type of character provides an interesting challenge. Though they’re ferocious in a fight and can take and receive damage like a pro, the player has no control over them. See, they’re berserk. They call their own shots, so they’re basically like an enemy character who just happens to be on your side.

They also wear animal skins — adorably pixelated little animal skins. See?


This is all information I learned back in high school, when Final Fantasy V received its first official English translation. Years later, that job title Berserker was rattling around in my head when I decided to look it up and find out exactly what it means to go berserk.

The goods, via Etymonline: Though the term Berseker was introduced to English by Sir Walter Scott, it comes from an Old Norse word berserkr, meaning “raging warrior of superhuman strength.” And while the history of that word isn’t precisely known, it’s presumed that it comes from the root ber, “bear,” and serkr, “shirt.” Bearshirt — or someone wearing a bear’s skin as clothes.

Thus, ol’ Final Fantasy V and later sequels weren’t too off the mark when the clothed their big-headed berserkers in animal skins.

And that is neat.

6 comments:

  1. Yes, it is neat :) BTW, the "second thing" you mentioned in this post is one of the many reasons I've loved this game since I first played the Japanese original (w/o knowing a lick of Japanese) shortly after it first came out. It really threw me for a loop at first, as I wasn't sure what the hell was going on. It wasn't until later that I realized Faris is/was a woman. Drat. Anyway, great post as always!

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    1. Well, now that you mention it, I'm not sure Butz and Galuf realized either.

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  2. I'm just happy to see a post about Final Fantasy, as opposed to the tease from the previous topic. :)

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    1. I could turn this blog into a Final Fantasy retro culture journal so fast, but I'd lose the sizable portion of my audience who didn't grow up knowing that fire : ice :: bolt : water.

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  3. There's also the game Berzerk, which features robots instead of people in animal suits.

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    1. This I didn't know, but it doesn't surprise me, since the word has thoroughly permeated the English-speaking world.

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