Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

Digital Polyphony Episode One

A Lifetime of Fantasy

“The plot must be so structured, even without benefit of any visual effects, that the one who is bearing the events unroll shudders with fear and feels pity at what happens.”
-Aristotle



It was a Sunday. I had awoken at the usual sounds of dogs barking and my mother yelling “shut up” to them out the back door next to my room. My toast was burnt but the excessive butter covered any disdaining tastes that might come of it. As I bit into the square stale bread, I was reading an advertisement in th
e newspaper about a videogame sale at a local store; a place I would be hired at in years to come. Being a fan of videogames and anxious to look for the next cartridge to jam into my newly bought Super Nintendo, I quickly grabbed my things and begged my parents to drive me to the store as soon as it opened. For once they listened.

I entered the store not knowing what to expect. Everything was marked down or had a two for one deal. Wide-eyed by the complete bombardment of Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis titles at my disposal, my heart skipped a beat when I spotted a purple and black box on the edge of one of the shelves. It was a game that I had been wanting for a while but seemed completely unable to find. This was a small town I lived in; the Wal-Mart was the centerpiece of shopping and the people there are far from videogame aficionados. It was a time before we could log onto the internet and have anything shipped to in three to six business days. I picked up the purple box. The plastic wrapping glistened in the florescent lights like a newly mined gem, a small white creature stared back at me with an expression of anticipation much like my own. “What are you waiting for?” it seemed to be asking me. It was almost as though he was unsure of me as I was of him. Suddenly I found myself awakened from a trance like state with a cash register “bing” and the starter in my dad’s Oldsmobile. Had I bought it already? I must have, now hurry and get me home because Final Fantasy III awaits.

It came with a map of both worlds, the 82-page manual and a small poster of the box art with merchandise on the back. You could buy a moogle watch for 26 dollars, I really wanted that. You could also buy Final Fantasy II for 69 dollars. Sometimes people forget how expensive games were back then, especially hard-to-find ones. Even the packaging and inserts of Final Fantasy III was epic and fulfilling.

It’s not called that now. Now it’s the appropriate title of “Final Fantasy VI.” Back in the early 1990s few people even understood that North America only received half of the Final Fantasy games from Japan. Some probably didn’t even know that it came from Japan to begin with. It presented something that previous games only touched. It gave depth, drama, enjoyment and memories that were presented in a fashion of care and
delicacy; almost with love like a finely crafted film or ornately detailed painting. It brought forth something unseen before that captivates and carries you away to some new world. On a snowy cliff outside of Narshe it began.

A story beyond what I had experienced before. Hell, it was a game beyond anything I’ve seen. I had played these “role playing games” before and began to
really get into them with Final Fantasy II and Dragon Warrior IV. Final Fantasy VI, though, was different from the norm. It still has the basis of getting a group together and defeating the evil, but you don’t save the world. It has a team working together, but they all take different paths and hold their own stories within them. It has a story that seemed normal for the genre but a villain that was completely separate from any at that point and still to this day; one that had a personality and panache. Final Fantasy VI’s originality, complexity and beauty has seemingly become lost over the years. It’s become overshadowed by many games that are more insincere and superficial than with thoughtfulness and insight: a result of pop-culture and materialism.

It begins with a lone girl who can’t remember who she is or why she is here. Her name is Terra, who is arguably one of the most earnest main characters in the series. I refer to her as the main character not because she appears first but because she encompasses the central theme of the narrative and the game begins and ends with her story. However, there are many protagonists in the game and they all hold up their own parts of it, as good characters should. All are done so well, that the debate of there “not being a main character” still resides today. The plot is about these characters and their changes, struggles and so forth while the characters are the drive of the story itself and its changes, resolutions and conflicts. One cannot exist without the other and Terra encompasses the central ideology of what the game is.


Role (Playing) Call

The most important factor of a story are the characters. They are the ones you fall in love with or hate, admire and follow or loath and despise. They keep
you going in the story with their conflicts and dreams and work together (or against) to achieve a goal. That is Final Fantasy VI’s greatest strength. It spends time with these characters. All of them live within their world and are believable in doing so. We discover their internal and external conflicts, backstory, self-revelations, desires and resolutions as the game progresses rather than being force-fed some contrived and indifferent characters such as those found in Final Fantasy VIII or Final Fantasy X. We grow and learn with them because we are given time to do so, resulting in a natural state of understanding them and in turn believing that they are real. That’s a type of magic that few games can touch upon.

Unlike some RPG stories, we have characters that don’t run together. I mean this in two different ways. One, that the characters are often separated and are seemingly rarely together as a whole, however the game is still able to keep them together thanks to their presentations in the story. Two, that each character has enough self-concept and characterization where they are individuals and work together rather than being forced together simply on the basis of being similar. A good example of being forced together is the now infamous orphanage plotline in Final Fantasy VIII. Instead of making individuals and separate characters, we are given a cast where each person is like the person standing next to them. There is no character or personality in any of them because they’ve become diluted. Everyone seemed to act alike, talk alike, think alike. Final Fantasy VI is done well enough where we hear “Edgar” or “Sabin” and we automatically know who they are, what they’ve done, where they come from, how they act and even what their dreams might be. Can we sit and say we know what dreams Zell or Wakka had? Most likely not. It’s a fair comparison because neither Edgar or Sabin are the central character either but are supporting just as Wakka or Zell. A good indication of how to determine if a character is supporting or a protagonist is whether or not their absence in the story would alter the perception of the game. This says more for Edgar and Sabin as characters themselves more than anything. They may not be the primary protagonist, but are pretty damn close in terms of depth and development and the game would miss them dearly. The other aforementioned characters are as forgettable as a Gene Shalit movie review.

Final Fantasy VI doesn’t necessarily have a main protagonist outside the previous mention of Terra and her importance to the central theme, but allows us to identify with each on their own merits, placing whichever we relate to most into that central position. This is where this pointless argument of there not being a central character comes in, and those who say there is none are wrong. Terra’s role in the story is what makes her the protagonist as her story and past shows, but each has something about them to make the game unique in the idea that they all work equally together. Each character is defined and done well enough to be different than the rest with their own backstories and personalities; they don’t blend but work together in a believable fashion. They are all brought together from a similar cause, not a similar personality or background.

The idea of creating one good character comes from basic storytelling techniques, something seemingly lost in later installments. Most of the primary characters are given a backstory, the beginnings of a character. Internal needs alongside the inciting incidents as to why they become a part of the story.
We then have the external goal leading to opposition. Self revelations come into play once the world of ruin is created and all this leads to the resolution, whether internal or external. This isn’t meant to be a lesson on story and character creation, but an understanding of what Final Fantasy VI does extremely well and what other RPGs sometimes forget. What made Final Fantasy X atrocious were the lack of any of these character traits. We’re tossed a group of people within the first few hours and follow them around rather than spending time in understanding them, accepting them and, most importantly, believing them. Final Fantasy VI is a game that takes time with its primary characters, therefore making an engaging narrative in the process. It’s a tightly structured and often complex makeup of individual character studies and their respective stories combined with an epic tale of despair and the will of the good rising from the chaos of evil. The meticulous balance between the macro and micro levels of plight has yet to be repeated in the genre.

After taking such time with the characters, we are still given multiple variations of dramatic conflicts, usually for each character themselves as well as the overall story. Each central character, meaning that Gogo or Umaru do not apply, has their own conflict. It might be intrapersonal, such as Cyan (which I will discuss later). It might be interpersonal between characters, such as Kefka betraying the emperor. Conflict can be social or situational, such as abandoned children or the world of ruin itself. Final Fantasy VI has all these while still retaining the most popular form of conflict, relational, with the antagonist. Final Fantasy VI is entirely about conflict. Internal, external and so on and it comes in various degrees from various places. It’s drama, simple and true. We don’t need mathematical complexities, redundant plot twists that result in contradictions or holes and we don’t need a love story bashed over our heads repeatedly. We love these characters, care about them and what happens. When you establish a relationship like that, you create something wonderful.

It can be argued that the most sincere main character in role playing games is that of Terra, a soft-spoken and kind hearted woman who is forced to do harm by various elements around her. The Empire wants her on their side, her heritage tells her she doesn’t belong with others, and she has a power within her that she fears may hurt those around her. In the end, Terra finds herself. For someone to find their purpose in life is an element that can be listed for many of the characters in the game and perpetuates itself to our own lives.

Terra wished to be loved and accepted because she in turn loves all around her. She gives and gives however is never given anything back by those who take. She refuses to rejoin the party in the latter half of the game because she found her purpose elsewhere. To love others. She doesn’t want to fight or be used. Nobody does. It was recently brought up to me how Terra can be considered a Christ-like figure, a Messiah so to speak. Besides the obvious name of her mother, Madonna, she is very much like a messiah, one that will bring peace and become a savior for mankind. Terra’s actions and care shows how much she wants peace and how much she loves all living things, particularly children. The now infamous scene of her breaking down at the orphanage still brings goosebumps on my skin because you truly feel her agony and struggle and her true desire to help. She gives so much yet receives so little.

I’ve always loved Locke. His small summary in his introduction speaks wonders for the character. Much like Terra (and pretty much all the characters) Locke has a past that haunts him. I’m only going to say this once, but Locke’s love for Celes is the best in the series. His romanticism is more convincing than anything other male leads dish out. It works because it isn’t the main focus. Sometimes a love story can be too much and shown too much that in the end it leaves us with very little. He feels guilty for his failure with his past love, Rachel, and that has an effect on how he approaches Celes. He sees a second chance. Locke’s story is about redemption and atonement.

Freedom. You’ll see that all the characters wish for it in some form and no better one is represented here than Sabin and Edgar. Both are similar in that their pasts are the same, however the game shows the different paths we can choose to obtain our dreams. Edgar, despite his allegiance to the Empire, knows it’s all a farce and is finding a way to help others overcome the Empire that killed his father. Sabin, on the other hand, chooses a different path for the same goal. He doesn’t share the throne with Edgar and wanted nothing to do with the Kingdom his father built.

Edgar is humorous and care free. His love and obsession for machinery no doubt reflects in his love and obsession of women. Truth is, he probably doesn’t see much of a difference between the two. Sabin is the more serious brother and trains vigorously knowing one day his skills will come in handy. You see how one’s path can alter who they are; both started out more or less the same as teenagers but had a different reaction to their father‘s death leading to two very different individuals. The events in the game, though, bring these two brothers together once more. They find that they may act and look different, but they’re still the same. They yearn for the same goals and dreams but simply had different ways to go about them. The story shows that despite families growing apart, nothing will fully break the bond and a second chance can mend any broken fence.

Another favorite character is that of Cyan. Cyan is the embodiment of cognitive dissonance. This means he is in a struggle between two opposing forces. One being his past and the other his future. He is forced to choose between these two factors (cognitions) and understand his own discomfort with both (dissonance). His past is that of his wife and child and the deaths of those he swore to protect. He is forced to choose between letting them go and moving on with feeling doubt in accepting his own place; accepting the fact that there was nothing he could do despite all of his ability-almost an admission of weakness. Once confronted, literally, by his past he chooses that letting them go isn’t the same as forgetting them and he can do more by moving towards the future rather than dwelling in the past.


One of the most popular characters in the series, Shadow’s purpose is as mysterious as his name. To fully understand Shadow, you have to wo
rk for it and unravel his past yourself. How much do you care for your fellow human? Do you stay and wait? Do you want to know what has made him into what he is today? If you truly like Shadow and want him to be your friend, you have the choice. It’s a matter of accepting that there is such a person and whether or not you’ll accept him as a part of your group. He’s a loner, dare you open your door to him? You’ll find the answer for the better is an astounding “yes.” Everyone has a past. As his past haunts him, he becomes a lone wolf in his attempt to block it out. However, you don’t find this out until he is fully with you. You open the door to understanding him just as you would in real-life had you met such a person. It’s a matter of taking the time.

Celes Chere has a conscious. It says to her that what she is doing is wrong, but she fears going against those whom she serves. I find it interesting that the two strongest female leads in the series are extremely similar. Neither really have known emotion or love and both have been used (or abused) by superior authority. What does this say with how we treat people? If we do nothing but take from them, that they will end up cold and disassociated to those around them. Celes finds herself in one of Final Fantasy’s best scene, the opera. In this scenario, we see Celes fully grow out of her shell. She becomes someone with passion and at the same time has passion given back to her. This passion plays out even more once she is alone and realizes she doesn’t want to be. She grew attached to people, something she didn’t have in the Empire (which is all she’s ever known). She learns to love.

Celes is a popular favorite. She’s a good fighter, a deep character and evolves into a loving person. One of FFVI’s best moments is her and Cid in the middle of nowhere and its up to you to do your best to save him. In other words, you feel what Celes feels- that says a lot of her character and how the game surrounds you. If Cid dies, Celes feels all hope is lost and wishes to not die a slow death. The game begins all over again with Celes as the focus, again to show how she’s grown to care for those around her.

Lastly, we come to a fan favorite in Setzer. In a way, Setzer is what the rest of the cast wishes to be: a free spirit. Even though he too is haunted by a past that chains him, his life is that of someone who is not bound by anything and he can live as he wishes to live. However, much like Cyan and Shadow, the freedom only goes far and he is still unfree of his past. He is haunted by his friend’s death during an airship race and blames himself. Every person who plays the game admires Setzer, his airship and his essence. Well, that’s what all the other characters admire of him as well, because they yearn to be free.

Despite their individuality, the characters still relate to each other extremely well. But notice what all of them have in common, the theme of freedom and the desire to live our own lives. Some desire it, others have it while some may never receive it. Individual freedom is a major theme in the game and one of the reasons why we spend time with the individuals themselves. The game tackles issues for all the characters that are addressed in a mature manner and, more importantly, a respectable one. Final Fantasy VI shows us how each character desires and achieves freedom in the, whether it be from oppression, their own feelings or their past. Square treats the characters as actual, living human beings. Their reactions to loss and love and inner thoughts and emotions have become a standard for what we desire from our characters in RPGs today.


Evil For Evil's Sake

The antagonist of Kefka can sometimes be overly-praised by some and overly-criticized by others. Let me first begin with the time period we’re working with. RPG villains were cut primarily of the same cloth and were often indistinct of each other. Golbez wasn’t much different from X-Death who wasn’t much different from Chaos who wasn’t much different from that other guy who wasn’t different from a lot of other RPG villains out there. They talked the same, acted the same and had the same intentions. Often they were overtly silent unless revealing their diabolical plans and would conveniently wait to hold off those plans so that the group of travel-weary heroes can come and defeat them at the last minute. More importantly, though, is that they never had personality. It was believed that if you throw on a dark cape, have whispers of a shadow amongst villagers and make their eyes glow, that it’s more than enough.

Then we are given a masochist, of sorts. A little sprite pops in the screen, jumps from one side to the other shouting out one-liners like a comedian knowing he’s about to get booed off stage. The fact is this: Kefka made being a villain fun. He gave it pizaaz and spirit and breathed life into an overlooked part of the videogame universe. Square’s approach to a memorable and extroverted character as a villain changed the definition of what we expect from an RPG villain. All writers of RPG plots began to put a better focus on characters as a whole after Final Fantasy VI, but the antagonist role specifically. Now we demand someone who is able to capture our attention, whether it be through a deep past, a personal journey or distasteful actions. Instead of going into obscurity in some temple/castle/cave, he is always around getting his gloves dirty with everything around him. He’s an involved villain that makes the whole thing work.

The Emperor Gesthal is like that of older RPG villains. “Oh wow, he wants to rule the world. Who’d a thunk it? “ I like to see Kefka’s betrayal of Gesthal as a passing of the old into the new. The Emperor (i.e. the past villain types) served his purpose now it’s time for something completely different (to quote Monty Python). Let us not forget that a majority of the game is about the Empire and its
seeking of magical power, it’s the Emperor that is the villain for the most part. Then out of nowhere Kefka changes everything. This is easily one of the biggest plot twists you could ask for. The entire story shifts focus thanks to a little clown with an inferiority complex.

Kefka was also influential not on
ly with personality, but with amoral deeds as well. Kefka didn’t take his time. He knew what he wanted, went for it, and finally achieved it. He destroys everything you know and love and killing him becomes more of an act of redemption for failing rather than an attempt to prevent his actions. He is able to do so much that you feel as though you can’t keep up with him. Poisoning rivers, killing generals, betraying emperors, crashing continents and beaming lights of judgment to people like a magnifying glass to ants makes Kefka larger than life, and we expect nothing less to this day from our antagonists.

Kefka is likely the most influential RPG character to ever color a pixel. Storytelling changed in the world of videogames with Final Fantasy VI, as did our expectations. We can never go back to what it was before Kefka and villains have developed more and more since his inception. Whether you love or hate him, you can’t deny his influence on the genre.


Simple + Complex = Good Stortelling

What Final Fantasy VI is much deeper and complex than it is often credited. The story is tightly structured and presents itself concisely to the player. Final Fantasy VII often could lose focus in its script and be extremely unclear at times. Hence the many questions and misunderstandings people have of it. A story can be complex in many ways, not just metaphors or plot twists. It can also be extremely complex in its makeup.

Let me describe this. We have a full story where a group of characters go up against the villain to defeat him and save the world. However, at the same time we have multiple deviations that leave and come together, numerous side-stories and paths to travel all while staying cohesive to the overall plot itself. Characters come, go, fight and follow their own ways. On top of all this, each character is given great development and depth, meaning the story must deviate to spend time with them as well.

This could be difficult to do, luckily some talented writers and, more importantly, two talented directors were able to keep it in line (Kitase and Itou who went on to direct Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy IX respectively). For a story to be able to balance itself in terms of character depth and individuals coinciding with the primary narrative could have failed miserably. A sense of a bunch of small stories could have emerged and the main focus lost, or focusing too much on one character or just a few and all the others are lost in the background and seem less important. A final problem that could have occurred is simply spending too much time with the plot twists and Kefka and the rest of the cast a footnote. Many RPGs follow a formula where you have the main character, maybe two others that are of any relevance to the story and then the antagonist. Final Fantasy VI breaks this idea completely where each character is of relevence and is useful, not only in battle, but in understanding the themes of the game. This has not been repeated in any game since. Not just the ability to have a well-developed cast, but to keep the game focused on everything at the same time. Xenogears would get lost in its cast and sometimes you forget what you’re fighting for, or Final Fantasy VII would get lost in a force plot twist that the relevance of the rest of the cast is of no concern, which is why many seem to drop out of the story completely by the final battle. Both of those games are fantastic, but lack the clarity
and articulated stability that Final Fantasy VI is able to present.

Final Fantasy VI gives the blueprint of every RPG, how it’s presented, how scenes unfold and what we expect: emotion. Beforehand, scenes often flew by in
RPGs, never giving you time for things to sink in.


“What? A mysterious force in the temple?” Hero jumps to his feet.


The captain of the guards moves with his two frames of animation “Yes, you must go and check it out!” he says. “Prove yourself to the king.”

“Okay”

“Hey, I’m coming with you!” says the annoying bastard son of the village elder.

"Alright,” so our two friends venture off to adventure.

"Crap! The annoying bastard son of the village elder died, I’m banished!”

Compare a simplistic, emotionless plot where you have no time to get attached to anyone to what Final Fantasy VI is able to give us. Simply put, it gives us time. Not rushed, not forced, but a natural feel in the way we venture through it.


Theming Things and Ideological Ideas

One of the factors that is consistent in the Final Fantasy series is the expression of themes. Some games don’t bother, such as Dragon Warrior or Grandia, while others express them very clearly, such as Xenogears and Suikoden II. Expressing these themes or ideas means a certain message or meaning is given within the story, often called the “core narrative.” In the Final Fantasy series, it’s usually more noticeable. Final Fantasy IV, for example, had the theme of redemption represented in Cecil’s search for balance between good and evil (one of my favorite use of thematic elements in the series). Final Fantasy VII had many, most being allegorical to religious context, but the themes of harmony with oneself and the world around is most noticeable. Final Fantasy VIII had love, however its expression within the game was flawed. Final Fantasy IX had numerous as well, mostly regarding the meaning of life and our own purpose of existence.

Final Fantasy VI had the themes of freedom and individuality. Every character, as mentioned earlier, has been effected by the Empire. They yearn to be released from the Empire’s grasp and everything it represents: the corruption, power and persecution. Celes and Edgar wish to be free from the Empire, Locke free and travel the world or Cyan free from his past. The theme of freedom is clear, even once the world is destroyed there are still people struggling to be free, not from the Empire necessarily (nor Kefka and his powers) but from desolation and despair. This theme is what brings the cast together, a contrast to the other major theme in the game but balanced extremely well and much different from other games where a cast is brought together and sometimes you wonder why certain members tag along. This theme is the cohesive unit of the game and why it can veer off and focus on the second theme more, individuality, without losing the main story in the process.

Individuality is the theme often expressed in how the game presents itself. Instead of going along and simply adding members to your party, you often find yourself with each on their own at some point (this later leads credence to great character development). I compare to streams and tributaries off of a large river. The river itself is the single thread holding all the smaller streams together, but all those streams have their own origins or destinations. Sometimes they merge back, sometimes they cross and sometimes we never see where they end up. The game sets us its story so we follow the characters in their search, not only for freedom but for themselves as individuals. Some might put their pasts behind them, others might realize they must come together to help others. Each has a personal story within the overall context of the game. This is unique, and hasn’t been repeated since. Due to this desire to express this theme of individuality and personal freedom, the story must spend time on each. Other games tend to not do that but will instead focus on one to three characters as they face the evil villain and throw in a supporting cast around them as a means to and end. Final Fantasy VI needed a developed cast and a large one at that and we get it because it demanded it. Many other games could get by with a few characters while Final Fantasy VI only benefited from numerous ones.

The subject matter of Final Fantasy VI is quite serious and approaches topics with a level of maturity that most games don’t bother to do. It takes itself seriously without attempting to be pretentious or preachy. We see commentary on suicide, passing of loved ones, deep moral complexities, loss and hope, pregnancy (perhaps even inner-racial), and the reasons for caring and loving your fellow man.

Final Fantasy VI has a common narrative structure- the surface and the core. The core is where the story shines. The surface is a common, epic RPG story with you and a group taking on the Empire. The core gives us the humanistic side of things. It’s warm and affectionate and we get more and more
attached to the characters as their stories and the issues the game deals with become more apparent.


Airs and Atmospheres

Final Fantasy VI lacks the ability to present itself as visually as later games, hence the quote at the beginning from Aristotle. You don’t need fancy graphics,
video and renders to offer the player an immersive experience (immersion being a major point of any RPG) much less a captivating one. Despite the detail, it still offers us great looking locations and a believable fantasy realm. The doom train in particular is very captivating in what it is, the explanation behind it and your travels through it with your party. As is the town of Narshe and Zozo or the beautiful opera house.

The atmosphere is also helped by the best musical score Uemetsu has ever done (as well as great usage of that music in the game). This helps in the immersiveness that the game may not be able to present as well in some areas. His melodies are lyrical and are now associated with the finest works in videogame history. He tells a story through his art, because a story can be told in many different ways. By simply listening to the soundtrack, you begin to understand Final Fantasy VI on an even different level. Songs for towns reflect that feel of that town while a melody for a character reflects that character’s past and emotion.

A world can only be as believable as those in the world believe it to be. Let me explain. To convince someone that a place exists you have to do more than have a well-designed area, you also need those whom we are to identify with have a sense of belonging; as though everything is natural. You never hear them go “Oh wow, look at that!” They know their world and the people that inhabit it (except for those pesky Espers).

The world is dark, gloomy and in search of light as it has become clouded by the Empire’s iron hand. People look for hope, freedom, and you find it even when all sense of that hope literally comes crashing down. You find it in the people of the world. The more you care about them, the more you care about what happens to this newfound place you are to inhabit for the next 50 or so hours. Final Fantasy VI has a world rich in depth, history and conflict.


Final Thoughts

The fact is this: the game is made incredibly well. Everything fits. The characters in the world, the design of locations and dungeons, the incredible use of music and, even though the espers themselves are useless, their place in the story feels almost natural. Speaking of natural, I always considered the emotions of the characters to come effectively as well. You feel for Cyan or Locke and their lost loves because the game doesn’t over-dramatize them and their reactions flow freely. Edgar and Sabin have a great sibling relationship, Setzer’s romanticism is placed well and the events between Locke and Celes comes across convincingly as well as Terra’s desire to understand herself. I can’t think of any other RPG cast that is able to do this.

The game isn’t complex however it does reach depth in the themes of friendship and love. It has enough plot twists to keep you interested and an antagonist that we hadn’t seen before or since his inception into the world of RPGs. That likely has to do with the fear of many developers and writers to take such a risk as Square did with Kefka. Many want some brooding, dark, silent, armor-clad, methodical villain rather than a sadist with an inferiority complex. I think the level of characterization reached a new level in this game, in more ways that one. A major thing with Kefka is that, unlike almost every other villain in the world of role playing, here is someone that achieves something. He doesn’t sit around and wait for a group of heroes to come and get him. He achieves something rather than throwing out trite dialogue such as “it’s almost time” or “I will rule the world once I...” He succeeds and seeing the characters work to overcome him gives their  accomplishment that much more meaning.

We end with the gameplay which combines the ability to stay on the path of the story but implements enough deviations here and there along the way until the final third where it’s entirely non-linear. The gameplay is structured extremely well in this respect and I always have the desire to venture forth, explore, and accomplish whatever lies ahead. Except in the annoying town of Zozo, but that’s beside the point.

The main flaw the game has, at least to some is lack of motivation of Kefka. He embodies evil, does dubious deeds but we’re never fully told why he desires to do these things. His actions, however, go beyond many other villains and his stage presence in scenes is only rivaled by Kuja’s soliloquies. We unfortunately never fully understand Kefka and the game tends to not try and give us a half-assed reason. But I’d rather have no explanation than a half-assed one any day. His actions are able to speak for him more than anything: he is evil and he must be killed.

Final Fantasy VI took time to create and develop itself. We see things unfold in a pace fast enough to enthrall but slow enough to give us time to understand and appreciate. It flows well and is written with a sense of elation balanced with a sense of tranquility. It’s influence in the way RPGs are presented (dialogue, on-screen direction, music interlude and so forth) has resonated not only to the series but to the entire genre. It’s a game full of heart and love, which is more than you can say about many RPGs these days.

It takes our attention and manipulates it with drama, sadness, hope, laughter and happiness. For me, personally, it showed that videogames can offer us ever bit of drama, romance, comedy and emotion that a book, film or piece of music can and maybe, just maybe, it will be spoken in the same breath some day. The Final Fantasy series as a whole carries the torch of this idea as well as showcasing the pinnacle of the genre it resides. While it might stumble here and there at times, it's renowned and loved around the world for good reason and there's no better example of that reasoning and love than Final Fantasy VI.


~JC

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