Characters I Love

The following posts were originally published on Trevor Trove between August 6-8, 2016

Terra Branford (Final Fantasy VI)

I was talking to my friend Frank last night about one of the reasons I love Final Fantasy VI so much and why I consider it my favorite game: the characters. As the story unfolds, you are introduced to one of the richest casts of characters that had ever been assembled in gaming. And the game wisely “forces” you into playing as each and every one before allowing you the freedom to select your own party later. Even better, when the (spoilers for the 22-year-old game) world ends, you have to reassemble your party that has been scattered across a broken world.

All of this sparked the idea for a new recurring segment: Characters I Love. As I originally mapped out this idea today I thought I’d tackle it as a three-part series specifically for Final Fantasy VI and write about a handful of characters each day for the next few days. But as it turns out I have a lot to say about these characters. So this first one at least is focusing specifically on arguably the main protagonist of the game: Terra Branford. The game is very much about the entire ensemble of party members but Terra is the first one we meet and our entry point into this world so I view her as the game’s “main” character among a series of standouts.

Terra grew up a puppet controlled by the Empire. As a child to an Esper father and human mother, she was born with extraordinary magic power which Emperor Gestahl Kefka Palazzo exploited by controlling her with a slave crown. (Well, extraordinary magic power might be a stretch since she only knows Fire at the start of the game but that’s still more than most people in this world). When we meet her, she’s on a seemingly routine mission, investigating reports of a mysterious discovery in the mines of Narshe, accompanied by her handlers Biggs and Wedge.

The discovery turns out to be the Esper Valigarmanda (or Tritoch if you go back to the original Super Nintendo localization). It recognizes Terra’s Esper side and free her from the slave crown, however this leaves her with a case of amnesia – a convenient plot device as we the player wind up learning about her as she learns about herself.

She is discovered and aided by the Returners – the rebellion effort against the Empire – and her journey begins. Throughout the adventure, she longs to find out who she is. Once she discovers that she is a child of human and Esper, her focus shifts toward what that means and if she will ever know “love.” With so much of the history in Final Fantasy VI centered around the 1000-year War of the Magi, Terra is the physical embodiment of peace between humans and Espers but all she has ever known is the destruction and war humans cause.

After the world ends, she finds her way to the village of Mobliz. In the aftermath of the destruction, the people of Mobliz openly defied Kefka and he mercilessly destroyed the town with his “Light of Judgment” weapon, killing all of the parents of the village. Terra finds a town of orphans and is compelled to stay and care for them. When your party catches up with her, she has lost the will to fight having put so much focus on protecting the children by hiding. Eventually, she embraces that what she has been feeling for the children in her care is the “love” she has long sought and determines the best thing she can do for them is fight for a better world for them.

As the final battle wages on, Kefka taunts the party by asking him why they fight as he has become so powerful. Terra cites “love.” Once Kefka and the Warring Triad are defeated, magic starts disappearing from the world. Terra has been resigned to her fate and prepared for the possibility that she would disappear as well, but the connection to her friends and the children of Mobliz allow her human side to prevail and survive. The game ends with her standing at the head of the airship, ponytail undone, and hair blowing in the breeze. Looking ahead to the hope this devastated world now has before it.

Terra stands out as an an icon among icons in the world of Final Fantasy characters. If you ascribe to the belief that she is the “main” character as I do, she was the first female lead of the franchise and remains to this day one of a select few alongside Yuna (from arguably X but definitely X-2), Ashe (from XII if you follow the idea that Vaan was more or less a studio note to say “no the main character should be a guy”), and Lightning and Serah (from the XIII trilogy).

The poetic irony that Terra the half-human, half-Esper is one of the most “human” characters in the game is a beautifully explored recurring theme. She’s constantly questioning her own purpose and the world around her. She loses control (even destroying a home in Kohlingen in her Esper form). She is surprised by the love she feels for the children of Mobliz and the power that love gives her. She has so much love emanating from her for those childrens and her friends that she is willing to potential sacrifice her own life in the escape from Kefka’s Tower in the games final scenes.

Terra Branford – the girl between worlds – is a character I love.

Locke Cole (Final Fantasy VI)

Continuing the Characters I Love series I began yesterday with Terra, I wanted to take some time to appreciate one of my absolute favorite characters from any of the Final Fantasy games with her compatriot Locke Cole, who I would pretty much always rename TREVOR back when Final Fantasy games let you do that.

Locke is the second playable member of the party introduced in Final Fantasy VI. The self-proclaimed “adventurer” or “treasure hunter” is the archetypal roguish thief with the heart of gold. A member of the Returners, he is called upon to help Terra when she is freed from the Empire’s control and escort her to the Returner base as a potential ally.

Years before we meet him, Locke met and fell in love with a girl in Kohlingen named Rachel. Her father refused to support the relationship, viewing Locke as little more than a common thief but Rachel loved him. In an effort to prove himself as something more, Locke took Rachel exploring Mt. Kolts one day to seek out what would be her engagement but tragedy struck when a bridge collapsed. Rachel pushed Locke to safety and fell, nearly killing herself. Locke rushed her home and worked to nurse her back to health but the fall left her with a case of amnesia and she had no recollection of their time together.

This experience is a key moment of Locke’s past and the basis for his immediate desire to help and protect Terra as she struggles with her own amnesia. Blamed by the townspeople for Rachel’s condition, Locke was effectively run out of town and became a solitary “treasure hunter.” Eventually, he learned that Kohlingen suffered an attack from the Empire which claimed Rachel as a casualty. But not before Rachel’s memories returned and she declared her love for the absent Locke one last time.

Locke’s guilt over her suffering and eventually death have stuck with him and his hatred for the Empire in this attack led him to join the Returners. Desperate to bring Rachel back to life, he had an herbologist preserve her body while he searched the world for the legendary treasure that can revive the dead.

By the time we meet Locke in the present day, he has developed a convincing mask of charm to hide the pain underneath. Locke guards Terra with his life and doesn’t question or judge her actions. When his ally King Edgar of Figaro is surprised Terra’s innate magical abilities, Locke is accepting and insists she still needs their help. As the party eventually arrives at the Returner headquarters, a plan is put in place to return to Narshe and convince them to join the Returners movement. But Banon, the leader of the Returners, needs Locke to infiltrate South Figaro which has recently been taken into Imperial control.

Working with his allies in South Figaro, Locke infiltrates and learns that the Empire plans to attack Narshe. It is here that he discovers the Imperial General Celes Chere being interrogated. Again, driven by his guilt over Rachel, he immediately rescues her and vows to protect her as the two escape and head to Narshe.

After the party reconnects in Narshe and fends off an attack from the empire Terra loses control to her Esper-side and tears off into the sky. Once she is found, the Esper Ramuh asks the team to infiltrate the Imperial capital Vector and save the Espers that are imprisoned within. Celes leads the team and Locke offers to accompany her. The team acquires the aid of Setzer Gabbiani and his airship through some mild deception (which I will cover in more detail when I write about Celes herself). But as the party starts to escape the Magitek Research Facility, Locke and Celes are separated when he questions her loyalty and she casts a spell allowing the rest of the party to escape while she remains behind.

Locke is later an integral member of the team, traveling to the Crescent Island, where Locke and Celes (working on behalf of the Empire in a makeshift alliance against the Espers) are reunited but unable to discuss what happened. After negotiating peace with the Espers, Locke and Celes reconcile but their reunion is short-lived before Kefka initiates his secret plan to destroy the world.

In the World of Ruin, Locke, now filled with the regret of being unable to save Celes or Terra (as he believes them both to have perished the day the world died), returns to his quest to find the legendary treasure that can bring Rachel back. This leads him to the Phoenix Cave which has re-emerged in the world where he finds a somewhat damaged magicite for the Esper Phoenix. The magic works to restore Rachel but due to the damage the effects will only last a few moments. But the two reconnect long enough for Rachel to forgive Locke and insist he stop carrying the guilt and burden of what happened to her because the time they had together were the happies times of her life. She insists he move on and “give his love to the one who now dwells in his heart” before she passes on again.

The weight lifted, Locke returns to the party and helps the team in their quest to defeat Kefka. After the battle as they flee, Celes drops Locke’s signature bandana that had given her hope in trying times, nearly falling in the process. Locke grabs her and, in a moment reminiscent to when Rachel fell, exclaims “I will not let go…I promise!” He pulls her up and the two escape to the airship where they fly off into future together with their friends.

Celes Chere (Final Fantasy VI)

Rounding out my first trio of “Characters I Love” features, we have General Celes Chere of Final Fantasy VI. The game is unique in that it not only starts off the first act with a strong female character in Terra, but it kicks off its second act with a strong female character as well: Locke’s better half in one of, if not the, best video game romances of all time. Not to mention the namesake for my favorite piece of video game music.

As discussed last night, Celes is introduced in Final Fantasy VI while being tortured and interrogated. Why she was arrested is never clearly identified but given the timing of other events in the story, it might be safe to assume she knew of Kefka’s plan to poison the people of Doma and spoke out against these atrocities.

Prior to this incident, she has a long history with the Empire .Celes was an unwitting experiment of Cid Del Norte Marquez, the Empire’s chief geneticist. At the age of two, she was infused with magic from the Espers in one of his experiments. She was his second test subject, following Kefka Palazzo as the first. Cid refined the process before experimenting on Celes, fortunately sparing her from the damage that twisted Kefka’s mind. Still full of remorse for experimenting on the poor girl, Cid raised her like his own daughter.

Her magic was put to use as a Magitek Knight (much like Terra) and she worked her way up to the rank of general by the age of eighteen. As a general, she took over the town of Maranda on behalf of the empire before eventually becoming disillusioned enough to wind up in a South Figaro cell and found by Locke.

Celes is not immediately swayed by Locke to be his ally out of anything more than convenience against a common enemy. Even as she helps the Returners fend off Kefka’s attack on Narshe, many are unconvinced as to where her loyalties lie. But after the party discovers Terra in her Esper form in Zozo, Celes volunteers to lead an infiltration mission to the capital city of Vector.

To do so, they will need the airship belonging to Setzer Gabbiani. Coincidentally, Setzer is in love with the local opera star Maria, who coincidentally again, just happens to look like Celes. So a plan is put into place for Celes to take Maria’s plan in the opera, so that when Setzer’s plan (which he shamelessly announced in advance) to kidnap Maria occurs, he will actually kidnap Celes.

This whole “Opera House” sequence is one of the most memorable sequences from any game I played growing up. Moments like this standout as groundbreaking moments of experiences I didn’t get in the books I read or the tv and movies I watched. It could even possibly be what planted the seed for my passion for the arts. My sister even recently found a copy of the “script” of the Opera that I had written down when first playing it so I wouldn’t screw up the prompts and say the wrong lines as I led Celes through her blocking. She thought it was a love letter I had written a girl.

Things go mostly accordingly to plan, until Locke and the party discovers that Ultros has crashed the party with a plot of his own to ruin the opera. They have to interfere, leading to a battle onstage and an impromptu scene between Locke and Celes before Setzer swoops in. Once on board, Setzer quickly discovers what happened but is enamored by Celes’ beauty anyway. And…with Edgar’s two-headed coin, sneakily makes a bet with Setzer. Heads: they borrow his airship, tails: she marries him. With the ship theirs to command, they proceed to Vector and the Magitek Research Facility.

It’s here that Celes is reunited with Cid and, in order, to afford her companions the opportunity to escape with their lives, casts a spell spiriting her, Kefka, and his soldiers away affording Locke and the others the chance to escape.

Celes reunites with the party as they seek the Espers that escaped from the Esper World to Thamasa. She and Locke are briefly reunited but when Locke apologizes for doubting her motives, Celes disregards him and leaves to focus on the task at hand. She rejoins the party fully after Emperor Gestahl and Kefka’s true motives are revealed as they kill General Leo and raise the Floating Continent.

Celes’ loyalty is called into question one final time as the party confronts Gestahl and Kefka on the Floating Continent. Whether you bring her along or not, she arrives to try and plea with Gestahl to see reason. When he instead gives her the option to abandon her allies and rule alongside them, she stabs Kefka instead, throwing him into a rage. Kefka moves the Warring Triad out of their equilibrium, effectively causing the end of the world.

Celes awakes from a coma a year later in the World of Ruin. Cid has taken care of her all this time and explains that as far as he knows, they’re the only ones left. Everyone else who had washed up on this island with them has died, either through natural causes or suicide.

It’s here where the darkness of the game really rears its head. Cid falls ill and Celes is tasked with bringing him fish to return him to health. Depending on how well the player performs this tasks, one of two outcomes will occur. One, Celes will successfully restore him to health, where he will reveal that he has hidden a raft in the basement and encourage her to go find her friends. Or the much more dramatic second option, Cid will perish, leading Celes to a suicide attempt by jumping off a cliff into the sea. She survives and is washed ashore alongside a bird wrapped in one of Locke’s bandanas. With a renewed reason to live, she finds a note left by Cid informing her of the raft and she returns to the mainland and sets out to find her friends.

The strength Celes possesses and the harsh realities and despair she faces – feeling alone in a broken world – make her one of the most powerful characters I’ve ever enjoyed playing as in a video game.

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