Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Targeting the monstrous Flan in Final Fantasy

When was the last time you fought a desert while traversing a cave or jungle?

When playing fantastical video games, it isn’t uncommon to face fearsome dragons or menacing goblins. Zombies or even interpretations of mythological creatures. 

I think it would be fair to say the first creature/object to your mind is not Flans, Puddings or a giant Jelly.

However, the Final Fantasy (FF) video game franchise seems to have a disdainful grudge against these deserts. Is this just a whimsical creative choice that is has stuck through the ages, or is there more to this than meets the eye?
A conventional image of a flan
Over the years, FF has created some staples that is usually present in all of franchise reiterations. A character named Cid, the inclusion of a crystal that has some form of significance and certain monsters that are reincarnated time and time again. The Flan is one of these creatures, found in 14 of the 15 main entries (along with many sequels, prequels and series spin-offs!). A fandom site offers a helpful physiological description of the genus:  

Flan are true to their name, as they are gelatinous, cylindrical creatures, generally possessing large eyes and a mouth that takes up the majority of the front of their body. In many games, they have stubby arms that spurt from the sides of their body.” In most games, their names are synonymous with "Jellies", "Puddings", "Oozes", or similar, while in other games, Flan is its own type of creature.
Image of a Flan from FFXII. Note the brown 'caramel' topping in the design!
In Japanese the monster known as Flan to Westerners is called プリン , which literally translates as ‘Pudding’. Though a Flan is distinctly different to a Jelly, Custard, Mousse, Bavarois or even Tallow – the broad scope of the synonyms and interpretations suggest that the enemy genus is based around any gelatinous sweet or savoury treat. 

In a Dr. Frankenstein-like moment of madness, I thought I would attempt making the feared monster – in the form of a blancmange.

As I followed the instructions it became clear how influential cornflour was in making the dessert. Making an initial paste was difficult due to the fact the addition of milk formed
an oobleck – a non-newtonian fluid which is a suspension of starch in water. The gloopy, viscous mess is fun to play with, but not the most appetising.

An interesting comment was made by my mum “yeah I had this a lot at birthday parties when I was a child, it’s pretty tasteless”.

Presumably, the bright colours under the guise of a specifically vague ‘natural’ flavour was highly appealing in the boom of convenience food and the age of ‘just add water/eggs/milk’ etc. Though these methods, packet mixes are still incredibly popular, there seems to have been a resurgence of authenticity within baking and cooking. What is a great way to influencing the food habits of a widespread generation than to repel people from the idea of garish foods? Put a literal target on them and DESTROY!

The enemy is flesh coloured.
Generally, most iterations of the monster is fairly weak and found early game. Game developers have translated the wobbly structure that these deserts take into the meta of the video game – the amorphous form interpreting into high defence. To beat them, players usually need to use spells over physical attacks, which are usually useless against them.

After tasting it for myself, I can agree with my mum. The texture was velvet-like which was both enjoyable and unpleasant at the same time, as a film of goo seemed to coat not only the spoon but my mouth. Not too surprising when cornflour is the prime ingredient of the mix, along with colouring and alleged ‘flavouring’. 

The ingredients don;t seem to be much of a challenge to even the most novice cook/gamer...

Flavour of any kind was mythic, I was expecting something a lot more pungent and artificial. Instead, a meagre hint of a fruit that I was left longing the real version of is being taunted by a milky cornflour aftertaste. Even though food writer Bee Wilson looks back on these deserts with nostalgic fondness, even she cannot deny the "pallid cornflour taste". She suggests that "they belong to a wholesome world of milk puddings - an era our forage frats-eating offspring would scarcely recognise" - which may well be the case as to me it essentially tasted like jellified sadness and disappointment. However, I believe that it isn't so much of a generational issue, but more of a universal scrutiny of the level of artifice we allow in our deserts. 

This particular brand requires you add 30-45g of sugar according to your taste… but taking away the addition of sugar, this seems to be nutritionally void. Essentially, any nutrients or nourishment comes from the milk – as the other ingredients don’t offer much to the nourishment table. 

This information includes the sugar that is presumed you add..

Knowing that I essentially paid for a box of cornflour and luminous colourings, I attempted to make my own version – using cocoa powder as a flavouring. I followed the instructions on the box to be somewhat consistent. Though I guessed by eye the amount of cornflour I needed it was successful... sort of. This is mainly due to the fact I left the mixture out to cool before putting it in the fridge to set, then forgot about it until the next day.  I think it would’ve been a lot more structurally viable if I had left it in the fridge to set more. So, with that said – why should a consumer bother paying for sachets of radioactive powder, when you can literally do it cheaper with the similar level of effort?

(in my defence... it looked okay before I flipped it!)

Questionable nutrition? Selling coloured cornflour to customers? Not really tasting of... well, anything? Just a few reasons how and why you would pick these particular foodstuffs and turn them into monsters. The players, like children of a video game are faced with these perilous foodstuffs to consume and deal with - whether it be eating or burning them into oblivion to never be seen again. 

Stay tuned for a much briefer analysis of the grotesque demonising of the Flan within Final Fantasy!

References: accessed 18/07/17 accessed 19/07/17