Darkness and Starlight – My Eternal Love for Final Fantasy VI

It was the Christmas of 1994 and Wee Little Me was preparing to open his presents, hoping beyond hope that one particular gift was there among all the glittery wrapped packages. It wasn’t that tough to figure out that it was – if you were a nerdy kid in the ’90s you could probably tell the shape of a SNES cartridge, even wrapped up.  I tore into that package, each piece of wrapping paper shed revealed more and more of that treasured box art until it was displayed in all of it’s purple-silhouetted, Moogle-emblazoned, Nintendo-licensed glory. Final_Fantasy_III_(NA)_(SNES) My writing and storytelling is informed by decades of consuming science fiction and fantasy novels, video games and comics, but nothing captured and fueled my imagination quite like Final Fantasy VI did (it was released as III in the US at the time, like the box above says, but it was really the sixth game in the series. Weird distribution issues at the time or something, I guess). The diversity of characters, the intricacy of the plot, the epic scope of it all (the gameplay was excellent too, especially innovative for the times) was beyond anything I had ever seen at that point in my life, and it still remains my favorite game to this day. (Some will say Final Fantasy VII is the best game in the series (or of all time). They’re wrong and they should feel bad for being so wrong). So in today’s post I thought I’d share with you a few reasons why Final Fantasy VI is so important to me as writer and how it’s influenced my stories (and life in general) so much. Spoiler warning for a 20 year old (OMG HAS IT REALLY BEEN THAT LONG) game, I guess?

MAGIC-SLINGING, SWORD-SWINGING SUPERWOMEN

Final Fantasy VI has enormous cast full of diverse and compelling personalities, fourteen playable characters in all, but the two “main” characters were and still stood out the most to me.

TerraThe game opens with Terra Branford leading squad of Imperial soldier into the town of Narshe, seeking to capture a magical creature known as an Esper. Terra does not do this of her own free will – she is enslaved my the Empire, a magic wielding warrior, brainwashed to serve the Empire’s nefarious ends. Terra has a strange reaction to the Esper, freeing her mind from Imperial programming and setting her on a quest to discover her true nature (she turns out to be half human/half Esper) and save the other Espers from the Empire’s clutches.

What drew me to Terra was not only is she a sword wielding, fire hurling badass, but she’s also a wayward soul, being from both in the human and Esper worlds, but truly belonging to neither. This spoke to me, myself and so many of you I’m sure have had times where you felt astray, unsure of who they are the path they should take.  I like to put this uncertainty into my characters as well, the hero’s journey should not be only to defeat whatever villain is set against them, but it should be a journey of self discovery.

Celes

Celes Chere is much like Terra, she works in service to the Empire, but instead of enslaved soldier, she’s an honored general. She becomes disillusioned with the Empire after learning the true depths of depravity it has delved to in making many of its conquests. She battles against her former compatriots, to take down the Empire and expose their vicious crimes.

In the second half of the game, a great cataclysm separates Celes from the rest of the party and for a time, she becomes the main character. She’s alone in a desolate hellscape, but instead of laying down and dying, she takes up the task of gathering the heroes together again and setting the world back the way it was. Again, like Terra, Celes battles not only there enemies in front of her, but her own conflict within. Having spent her entire life being groomed for and in service to the Empire, she’s also astray, trying to find a new purpose. Her strength to battle onward against impossible odds showed me what a true hero could be, and I’ve tried to inject that never-say-die attitude in my most heroic characters too.

What so great is that even though they’re so different, Terra Branford and Celes Chere are two side of the same coin – both were weapons of the Empire, one against her will and one of her own volition. The story of how they fought against forces controlling them, keeping them from becoming who they really are and finally overcoming and them is really quite inspiring.

They were Strong Female Characters before people asked Joss Whedon about them at every single con he attends. Both took hold of their own destinies and carried the weight of the story on their shoulders during different parts of the game. Both eschewed the roles that had been given to them and cut their own paths both together and alone.

THAT OTHER SUPER EVIL CLOWN

KefkaEverybody’s talking about Jared Leto’s Joker right now (I love it, for the record) but let us not forget about another hateful harlequin that inflicted more death and destruction then Mistah Jay could ever hope.

I take a great deal of pride in creating villains that have depth of character, are actually competent in their schemes and a real threat to the the heroes. The main antagonist of FFVI, Kefka Palazzo, informed a great many of those features.

He’s not even the main villain when the game begins, the Emperor is, but over the course of the first half, he manipulates both your characters and the other members of the Empire’s inner circle, eventually grabbing the power the Emperor seeks for himself. He’s equal parts Joker and Iago, an agent of chaos who uses intricate plotting and deception to incite hysteria. He’s smart villain who while sneaking around always feels like a threat and eminently hateable becuase of all his despicable actions (like poisoning the water supply for a whole city). Each move he makes is one step closer to his ultimate goal – absolute power and total global ruin – and guess what?

He actually succeeds.

Manipulating both his enemies and allies, Kefka becomes a god and actually destroys the world halfway through the game. The heroes are soundly defeated and you, the player, are left to pick up the pieces. It was the ultimate cliffhanger – were this the end of a book, I would have begged my parents to bring me to the local Friar Tuck (now that’s a dated reference) to pick up the next volume.

What made Kefka’s villainy so great to me and something that’s been impressed upon my writing, is the fact that his machinations set the heroes up against impossible odds. He destroyed the world and scattered them across its scorched remains. As a kid playing the game back then, it seemed like an impossible task for me and Celes to bascially start all over again. The hopelessness his actions instilled into me and the characters made the journey of gathering the team back together and finally defeating him all the more satisfying.

STEAMPUNK MAY BE COOL, BUT MAGITECH IS MILES DAVIS

FFVIAmano

Just look at that cityscape. Yoshitaka Amano is incredible, isn’t he?

One of the most important things that stuck with me about Final Fantasy VI was the aesthetics of the world. It was a mash-up of old school fantasy settings (which the series had pretty much only been up to this point), but also infused different types of technologies into it. At the very start of the game, Terra and her crew are riding into Narshe in Magitech armor, which are basically huge, plodding magic-powered Iron Man suits. The Empire’s capital of Vector is a sprawling industrial monstorsity of factories and laboratories where the Espers are drained of their magic and made part of the Empire’s engines of  war.

This blew me away as a kid, having never seen this kind of fusion of magic and technology (except of course when I would throw caution to the wind and mix and match my medieval and space LEGO sets, but that was a rare occasion). The amalgamation of classic fantasy & futuristic tech is something I’ve carried with me into my writing too. The capital city of Rooksfell in FATES in designed much like Vector and in RADIANCE OF BLACK, there’s spirit-powered automatons, designed much like the Magitech armors.

The whole magic and machine is probably a bit overused at this point in the genre, but I don’t really care, I still love it and will use it from now until an evil clown destroys Planet Earth.

So there you have it, a few reasons why Final Fantasy VI has been such a huge influence in my writing. What about you guys? What work of fiction had the biggest impact on your writing and why?

Also, Terra’s Theme is the best video game song ever too.

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