Final Fantasy VI is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary of its release! It’s hard to believe, but it was first released back in 1994 for the Super Nintendo. It was groundbreaking. There’s no other way to describe it. The music. The story. The gameplay. The characters. All of it challenged the limits of how we understood RPGs, giving us something that felt fresh and different.
So in honor of the 20th anniversary, Press Start to Begin has created a list of the top five heroes of Final Fantasy VI! The goal of this list isn’t to just put down who someone’s favorite character is, but to put down characters that broke the mold of gameplay or storytelling. These characters aided in pushing the RPG genre in a new direction.
5. Terra Branford
Terra was highly unique character, She was a damsel in distress, yet not. While she needed help, she ultimately rescued herself from the chains binding her down. She was not a human nor an esper, a combination of both yet neither. Terra was not a romantic figure, though two characters hit on her.
Her gameplay was not really unique. She could transform into her esper form, letting her do a lot more damage (both physical and magical), but there were other games where characters could transform to become far more powerful.
What was unique was her narrative. Her story.
Terra’s journey was one purely of self-discovery. She set the stage for later RPG heroes (Tidus and Cloud, for example), allowing for an introspective heroic journey. Her journey had two parts. The first part consisted of her reclaiming memories of her past. She suffered from amnesia because the Empire turned her into a powerful weapon. She wasn’t attempting revenge for this. She was only curious on who she was, as well as who her family was. Once she learned, she began the second part of her journey.
She was not sure if she could love or connect with anyone. This eventually caused her to lose her motivation to fight. It was sort of interesting trying to use her in a battle when she had no motivation. All her spells and attacks did pretty much zero damage. And dear lord, she was squashed in moments. It was unexpected.. but it made perfect sense. It wasn’t until she learned that she wanted to protect her friends and adopted family (orphaned children) that she was able to start fighting again.
It was simple and effective. An introspective heroic journey.
Shadow was one of the subtler characters in Final Fantasy VI. He said very little. Sometimes you have to pay him in order to get him to join. Other times, he joined willingly. His dog, Interceptor, would jump in front of random attacks against Shadow… protecting him. He was also one of the very first characters who could live or die permanently based on player action. All this alone makes him pretty unique for his time, as many of these tropes are common in RPGs thanks to him. But that’s not the main reason why he is on this list.
His backstory was only hinted at throughout this game through fragmented dream sequences and his dog, Interceptor, following and protecting another character (a little girl named Relm) without Shadow ordering it.
Most relevant backstory for any character was learned by exposition or flashbacks. The player tended to learn important names and events in the character’s life. The dreams with Shadow teased at that rather than directly saying it. We see Shadow, his real name Clyde, was a train robber. His partner was mortally wounded and asked Clyde to kill him. Clyde couldn’t and ran. Eventually Clyde arrived at Thamasa and collapsed, being found by a woman and her dog. In the end, he left Thamasa with Interceptor chasing him after he told her to stay and look after ‘the girl.’
All this was revealed through dreams. The dog really, really looked like Interceptor. The woman could be Relm’s mother’s. Relm could be the offspring of Shadow and the mysterious woman. Why else would Interceptor protect her as much as Shadow?
There’s a tragic element to this. If the player lets Shadow die, Relm has a dream… a memory from her past. In this dream, Interceptor sat next to her as she cried on the floor. She was crying for her father, wanting him to come back. Interceptor rushed out, clearly chasing after the father. She only remembers this after Shadow is dead… but still, she does not realize that Shadow was her father.
Even if Shadow lives, he does not tell her.
It’s beautifully tragic. And made so much better with the player filling in the missing pieces since so much was implied.
3. Setzer Gabbiani
Setzer earned his place because of his unorthodox attacks. His weapons were dice, darts and cards. He was the one of the first characters with theme weapons, weapons that are designed to fit the character. These theme weapons are unorthodox. Let’s face it.. who attacks with dice or cards? I mean, at that point in time, all the weapons in RPGs were swords, axes, bows and arrows, and other medieval weapons like that.
Not only this, he had a highly unique special attack. The player got to play a slot machine. Depending on the result, it could do an enormous amount of damage to the enemy, heal the party, kill the party, or a number of other possibilities. To make matters far more interesting, the player could modify his special attack so he would use the party’s gold as a weapon. I like to imagine he takes 10,000 gold pieces and dumps it on the enemy’s head. Yep, he weaponized the party’s treasure!
Setzer pushed the boundaries, challenging how we see weapons within RPGs. And it showed that it is possible to be a little bit silly while keeping the tone of the game serious.
2. Sabin Figaro
Sabin’s gameplay was what made him incredibly unique. He had special moves called “Blitz.” In order to use these special moves, you had to play him like he was a character in a fighting game. He had an hadoken attack called the Aura Cannon. He could do a suplex called Meteor Strike. It was absolutely amazing watching Sabin suplex a freaking train! There was never a character quite like him in any of the Final Fantasy game.
Sabin’s importance cannot be understated here. He was one of the first true cross-over characters. He was an RPG character that had the game mechanics of a character from a fighting game. His success opened up the entire RPG genre, showing that the gameplay from one genre could work within another genre. RPG characters do not have to be confined to traditional RPG gameplay! Think about the possibilities! It allows for gameplay that was not seen in RPGs! Mass Effect, Mario RPGs, and so many other popular RPGs with groundbreaking gameplay has their origins with this character.
There are not many characters that challenges the very idea of gameplay within a genre.
1. Celes Chere
If there was one character from Final Fantasy VI that changed pushed the entire RP genre forward, it would be Celes Chere.
In the middle of the game, Kefka destroyed the world. Celes and Cid, a character she considered to be her grandfather, survived it. They both lived on an island together. Cid fell ill and Celes needed to catch fish to feed him and restore his health. Cid’s fate is entirely up to the player. Celes can feed Cid healthy fish and save Cid’s life. Or Celes may make a mistake and Cid will die. There are consequences to Cid living or dying.
If Cid lives, Celes will have a great deal of emotional support and be encouraged to leave the island to search for her friends. Cid shows her the raft he built for her and sees her off. If Cid dies, Celes attempts suicide. She washes up on the shore, surviving the attempt and finds a clue that tells her her friends might still be alive. She goes back to Cid’s body and finds a note that tells her where he hid the raft.
This choice, if Cid lives or dies, sets the tone for the second part of the game. It may be hopeful or full of despair.
Life or death.
Consequences for actions.
We had all of this and more in that small part of Final Fantasy VI.