Thursday, August 1, 2013

Final Fantasy VI - Meet the Cast

And now for something completely different.  Let's talk about the characters in Final Fantasy VI. 

I've been doing a lot of Final Fantasy research and writing in recent weeks, due to my association with the wonderful CoN is working on a new FF VI section which will be finally up to date with the GBA version of the game. As of this posting, the new FF VI section on CoN is in its final proofreading stages. My contribution to the new section is on the Characters page - I break down the cast of playable and non-playable characters for the uninformed masses (or, you know, 20-year veterans). I had fun doing it.

So I'll also do it for my blog, but in a less professional manner. First, I'll describe in detail the fourteen playable characters of Final Fantasy VI, trying to keep spoilers to minimum and confined to the first half of the game. (Final Fantasy VI has a distinct "first half" and "second half," so much so that some players insist that the game doesn't *really* get going until the second half).  At the end of each character description, I'll grade the character's personality, story role, and overall appeal using a version of my old comics rating system:

STAR = Great character. Truly memorable. One of the game's highlights.
ASSET = Good character. Welcome addition to the cast. Maybe not a favorite.
BENCH = Average character. One-note or not very interesting.
CUT = Bad character. So lame that you wish he/she wasn't there.

Spoilers: I really like the cast of FF VI. I mean, there's just one cut and a few benches out of fourteen characters. If I were also including a few non-playable characters of Final Fantasy VI (looking at Kefka, Leo, and Cid) they'd get stars and glues. Final Fantasy VI has great characters. Hey, I'm biased; what can I say? After those fourteen profiles will follow a shorter section, where I rank the characters based on combat prowess. More info on that later. One last thing: I'm using the super-deformed art from FF VI's Ultimania guide for the character portraits in this post. They resemble the in-game characters, while the Amano art and profile art don't quite give a proper indication of what they look like when you play. So without further ado, here are the characters of Final Fantasy VI:


The Playable Cast of Final Fantasy VI

Terra Branford

Terra is one of the main characters of Final Fantasy VI; probably the principal "main character" if Dissidia is to be believed.  She begins as an Imperial slave with a natural ability to use magic - curious, since magic allegedly disappeared from the planet a thousand years prior to Final Fantasy VI's beginning.  Eventually Terra is freed from the Slave Crown that makes her an obedient soldier and connects with a resistance group called the Returners, who seek to overthrow the evil Empire.

For most of the game's first half, Terra is the de facto main character.  She has no idea who she is, where she came from, or why she can use magic. That inner struggle is what motivates Terra until she learns about her parents, and eventually Terra makes a few personal connections that motivate her to fight on (avoiding spoilers...).  Look, Terra has a fascinating character arc and is a powerhouse in combat to boot.  She's one of my favorite main characters, male or female, in RPG history. STAR

Locke Cole

Locke is a thief treasure hunter who also has connections to the anti-Imperial resistance movement The Returners. He rescues Terra in Narshe very early in the game and rescues Celes in South Figaro shortly thereafter; he can never turn a blind eye to a lady in need.  Locke hails from the town of Kohlingen, but rarely visits.  Locke might seem like an untrustworthy rogue at first, but he's a skilled thief, a master of disguise, and a great friend. 

Locke is another guy with "main character" buzz in the game's first half, since he's a mandatory party member for extended stretches, but it's mostly because he refuses to abandon Celes and/or Terra when they have important work to do.  In the game's second half we see more of Locke's motivations come to light, and his character rounds out by discovering his past and watching his relationship with Celes develop.  Locke's not one of my favorites, but he's an important part of Celes's character and has a few good story moments. ASSET

Edgar Roni Figaro

Edgar is the young king of Figaro, and is a brilliant inventor in addition to a skilled combatant. Figaro has secretly been collaborating with the Returners, and is a close friend of Locke, a Returners liason.  A ladies' man, Edgar hits on most women he meets, including Terra and (almost) Relm.  Edgar's younger brother Sabin left the kingdom to train as a monk following the deaths of their parents to illness.  

Edgar is your third major party member and a powerhouse in combat. For most of the story, but he's a reliable presence in combat and generally has entertaining dialog. His rejoining in the second half of the game and his sequences reconnecting with Sabin are what makes him likeable and memorable. The Sabin stuff is great optional backstory definitely worth checking out. ASSET

Sabin Rene Figaro

Sabin joins you at Mt. Kolts on the way to the Returners hideout. Sabin's a martial artist who has been training for the ten years prior to the start of Final Fantasy VI, and (based on Edgar's comments) has since transformed from a skinny teenager to a muscular dude. Sabin is separated from the team shortly after joining, and during this sidetrack meets Shadow, Cyan, and Gau. Selfless, courageous, and a little brash, Sabin is another one of those "reliable presence" guys that is with you for most of the game.

Sabin and Edgar are you two best attacking characters for most of the game, and are also connected in a story sense.  Having them in the party together for sequences in Figaro and the Opera House sheds a great deal of additional light on their relationship, but in general they're both good characters despite the lack a dramatic arc. When Sabin has a brief run as main character in his journey through Doma and the Veldt he has some solid dialog and comedy beats. Good stuff. ASSET


Shadow comes and goes in your party in the game's first half, and has a sequence of big moments right at the game's midpoint.  You can recruit Shadow at multiple points throughout the game, but he's almost always optional and seems like a secret.  At every point he does join, though, he has an aloofness that defines his personality.  By sleeping at various inns while Shadow is in your party, you can view some of his dreams. 

In combat, Shadow is above-average physically and is pretty good for the whole game.  His bad-ass, stoic nature ("he'd slit his mama's throat for a nickel!") and awesome theme music have Shadow come across as way cool, and it totally works.  Shadow's fleeting availability and sub-100% chance of recruitment in the game's second half add to his mystique further.  Seeing his background flesh out in dream sequences and piecing together his connection with certain other characters is a treat if you can manage to do so.  STAR

Celes Chere

Celes joins the team after Locke rescues her from Imperial captivity in South Figaro, meeting with the larger group in Narshe soon after.  Celes is a former general of the empire and a powerful magic user, having received Magitek implants as a baby.  The group hesitates to trust Celes, but she dedicates her full ability to helping Locke and Terra and thwarting the empire.  In the second half of Final Fantasy VI, Celes takes a starring role and ends up being the ray of hope that the world needs.  

Celes is great with both spells and attacks, similar to Terra.  At first she seems frigid or even dismissive of the other party members, but eventually warms up.  Celes stars in the Opera House and Solitary Isle sequences - two of the most memorable, impactful scenes of Final Fantasy VI - and her relationship with Locke and her contrasting character arc to that of Terra are terrific to see unfold. STAR

Cyan Garamonde

Poor Cyan has the most tragic character arc in Final Fantasy VI.  He witnesses his beloved kingdom of Doma fall to the empire's tactics (Kefka poisons the castle water supply), including his king, wife, and son.  Right after Cyan and Sabin team up, they accidentally catch a ride on the Ghost Train, where Cyan sees his wife and son for one final time as they pass on to the afterlife.  Later, when Sabin, Cyan, and Gau meet up in Narshe, Cyan is deeply distrustful of Celes. 

Later on, we see different sides of Cyan (who fights like a samurai, using powerful sword techniques). He writes love letters to a young woman who lost her beloved in the war, he's incompetent with machinery to the point of comedy, and is so troubled by the loss of his kingdom and family that an evil spirit seizes control of Cyan's soul in the game's second half.  Cyan's one of my favorites. STAR


Gau joins the team when Sabin is separated from the main group, in the Veldt outside of Mobliz. Gau has lived on the wild Veldt for as long as he can remember, but is willing to travel with Cyan and Sabin with a gift of dried meat and a short conversation.  Gau finds Sabin's martial arts and Cyan's accent delightful.  In the game's second half, Gau is recruited in the same manner - go to the Veldt, find him after a random battle, and then he joins up. 

Gau has very little story role, but he's easy to recruit and with you for much of the game.  His dialog is usually unintelligible howls or shouting his own name.  However, Gau's unique fighting style (mimicking monsters that you've met on the Veldt) makes him a good deal more interesting.  Gau's second big moment (the first is meeting him for the first time) comes in the second half, in an optional sequence when he meets his father.  Gau's two scenes are pretty good, but there are only two of them and he has very little to work with other than that.  BENCH

Setzer Gabbiani

No, that isn't Sephiroth.  Setzer is an international playboy gambler pilot (yes, really) who is infatuated with the opera star Maria.  When Celes and Locke trick him into kidnapping Celes instead of Maria (...really), Setzer bets Celes's freedom in a coin toss (!!!), loses, and decides to lend his services to the team.  He's... a rather easygoing fellow.  Eventually, Setzer joins the team permanently following the assault on the Imperial continent and provides his airship(s) for the party to use.

Setzer starts out as basically a prop character that provides your team with an airship, but is appealing and funny with his roguish personality and commitment to the team.  Setzer is a decent physical character in combat, but his slots, dice, and coin toss abilities are unique and support his gambler persona.  Setzer gets some surprising character development in the game's second half, with an early segment of the main quest leading to his re-recruitment, a new airship, and a few interesting flashbacks.  Setzer's a good character, but maybe doesn't stand out the way a few others do.  ASSET


Mog is the leader of a colony of Moogles living in the Caves of Narshe. He and his Moogle buddies assist Locke in smuggling Terra out of Narshe in the game's first hour, and Mog is an optional recruit a little later after Terra returns, found during a confrontation with Lone Wolf at the top of the Narshe cliffs.  In the game's second half, Mog is the last survivor of his Moogle brethren and upon locating him your Moogle pal will rejoin the party without incident.  

Look, Mog is a Moogle, and Moogles are Final Fantasy mainstays.  That's about 90% of his character right there.  Mog is pretty effective in combat (spears, dances, balanced stats, really high defense) and has a fun, unique look, but he lacks strong dialog (Kupopo!) or a real character arc; there's a twinge of tragedy when you understand that Mog is the last of his race and his unique Moogle Charm accessory is a memento from his lady friend Molulu, but that's about as deep as Mog gets.  BENCH

Strago Magus

Strago is an elderly gentleman from Thamasa and a descendant of the Mage Warriors who fought against Espers in the war a thousand years prior to the events of Final Fantasy VI.  He might be a cantankerous old man, but he adamantly protects Thamasa's secrets and dotes on his young granddaughter Relm.  As a younger man, he was an accomplished monster hunter who sought to defeat the elusive Hidon. 

Strago joins late in the first half of Final Fantasy VI; he's a good magic user who has access to Lore, which works similarly to Blue Magic in Final Fantasy V.  Look, I know I'm ranking him better than a number of other characters, but I like Strago.  Lore is an interesting skillset, and elderly characters are relatively uncommon in Japanese RPGs.  Strago is also a valuable source of exposition in the part of the game where he's a mandatory party member, and has a nice mini-arc in the second half with Hidon.  ASSET

Relm Arrowny

The Terra, Locke, and Shadow encounter Relm during the visit to Thamasa, while making inquiries to Strago.  Relm finds herself in peril shortly thereafter, and the party rescues her, then have her join soon after.  Relm is the last character to join in the game's first half.  In the second half, you can find Relm in Owzer's house in Jidoor, where she's been commissioned to restore a painting. 

Relm is a feisty young lady who is not above making threats with her paintbrush - she can use her talents with art and magic to make anything she paints come to life.  In addition, Relm has a higher base Magic stat than any other character.  Sadly, Relm is mostly a plot point.  She has a fair amount of her personality show through, but mostly her character serves as backstory and support for Strago and Shadow.  Still, the painting gimmick is unique and her sassy personality is pretty entertaining.  ASSET


Umaro is a Sasquatch that lives in the Narshe caves; he's an associate of Mog.  If you look closely, you can occasionally see him staring out a cave opening above the north end of the residential area of Narshe in the game's first half.  However, Umaro can only be recruited in the second half of Final Fantasy VI.  He attacks the party when they try to take his treasure (a piece of Magicite), but if Mog is in the group he will join immediately afterwords.  

Umaro is uncontrollable by the player, similar to a Berserker in Final Fantasy V.  His attacks are pretty strong and he has a few unique accessories, but the player can't change his armor or weapons or control him in combat.  That lack of personality in combat doesn't really show up in the rest of the game, either - Umaro just grunts and howls outside of his recruitment dialog.  Other than the novelty of having a yeti as a party member, Umaro isn't very interesting at all. CUT


Gogo is a mysterious being swathed in bizarre robes, with the power to mimic the abilities of nearly any party member.  Fans have speculated for a long time that Gogo is Setzer's ex-love Daryl, Shadow's ex-comrade Baram, or even an amnesiac Emperor Gestahl!  Either way, you can recruit Gogo only in the game's second half, by getting swallowed by a monster called a Zone Eater and navigating a dungeon with music suited to a pizzeria. 

Gogo is essentially the exact same Gogo from Final Fantasy V: a mimic that can copy the abilities of other classes.  Gogo's skillset includes every special ability in the game other than Terra's Morph and the power to summon Espers.  Gogo's stats can't change and his/her equipment selection isn't very good, but being able to combine normally-unique abilities like Blitz, Lore, Rage, and Tools into a single character is great.  Gogo's character is a blank slate with funny clothes (no dialog at all except at recruitment) but that interesting selection of abilities and all the fan speculation about Gogo's true identity makes Gogo more interesting than on paper. BENCH

  Final Fantasy VI Character Rankings

Now let's throw away those interesting character designs and personalities and go straight into the game part of the game! Here I'll rank FF VI's fourteen characters by their in-game effectiveness and usefulness.  The major criteria I'm using for these rankings are physical and magical power, survivability, character availability, the ability to play multiple roles in combat, and general ease of use. I won't be considering glitch setups like Wind God Gau, Psycho Cyan, or item multiplication via Sketch. Hopefully the explanations after each ranking will be enough. Oh, and I mostly use the SNES nomenclature for skill and equipment names, but occasionally indicate a double name with a /. So without further ado, let's get ranking!

14. Umaro

Umaro is a unique character and can be an okay teammate, but he has almost zero versatility and the lack of control is annoying. The permanent Snow Muffler (best armor in the game) doesn't make up for a lack of equipment manipulation, even if his Dragon's Den item in the Advance version is awesome. Still, Umaro has excellent Strength and Stamina and above-average Speed and Magic (even with lack of Espers) and provides an okay source of physical damage, especially with a creative selection of relics. Still, he won't do as much damage as your other physical characters and the lack of freedom really kills your Yeti pal.

13. Cyan

This pains me, having Cyan so low. Cyan is one of my favorite characters from a story and personality perspective, but he's in the toilet from a gameplay perspective. His only good stat is Strength (worst Magic in the game and only Strago has worse Speed), he can't equip Illumina or Atma Weapon (the two best weapons in the game; they're big swords) without a Merit Award (a relic that lets characters equip any item), and SwdTech's time delays are awful. Sure, his weapons are okay and he can use heavy armor, but katanas aren't better than what half the cast can use. Cyan's probably your best option for an Imp build, since he's lacking at just about everything other than attacking and using Dispatch / Fang.

12. Strago

Strago's Magic stat is decent, ranked fourth overall among the cast, but it's his only good one. Strago's equipment selection is terrible until near the end of the game (worse than Relm's thanks to a lack of female-exclusive equipment), and Lore is only really good for a few particular points; otherwise it's outclassed by regular Magic. It also sucks that Strago learns Lore like Blue Magic in other FF games - Lore requires some research, time investment, and occasionally some complicated monster baiting to get the best ones. Too bad. I wish there was a better character to use Lore than Strago or Gogo, because it definitely has a few good spells.

11. Setzer

Setzer's stats are all in the middle of the pack, he can equip heavy armor and shields, and his gambler weapons range from uneven to surprisingly good. The Slots skill isn't very good at all by the midgame, but GP Rain / Gil Toss can deal pretty good damage if you don't mind spending money and giving up a relic slot. By the endgame Setzer's a capable attacker and tank (back row weapons help a bit), but he's not a very good magic user and lacks an edge to make him better than Edgar, Sabin, Locke, or Shadow.

10. Gogo

The worst stats in the game, made YET WORSE by the lack of Espers to increase them. Equipment choices are subpar as well.  However, Gogo's singular ability to use almost every skillset is tons of fun. Gogo can fix his/her damage problems with skills like Bum Rush or Drill and can use Big Guard or White Wind just as well as Strago can. What Gogo lacks in power, Gogo makes up in versatility. Others would rank Gogo as a top-3 character, but I can't get past those bad stats and equips. It really hurts that Gogo (and Umaro, by the way) aren't allowed to equip the Merit Award in the GBA version of FF VI. I typically give Gogo Blitz, Magic, and Lore to provide a second Bum Rush and to work as a backup magic user. Incredible variety, but seriously lacking once the full cast has some levels to work with.

9. Shadow

Here's where I found it really difficult to rank the cast, because I'm done ranking the characters that almost always stay on the airship. Shadow's got great Speed, very good Strength, and decent everything else. Throw is really solid but not as good as Blitz, and Locke's regular attacks are eventually better than Shadow's (Locke can use swords and the Valiant Knife; Shadow can't). Still, Shadow is a better character than Locke for the first 70% of the game, but isn't available quite as often. The lack of good armor selection for Shadow hurts a bit until you get the Genji set at game's end, and Locke or Sabin are better choices for a Merit Award if you want to give a fast character the Atma Weapon. The Stunner is an excellent weapon for the endgame, and combining it with a Striker or his Dragon's Den weapon makes Shadow a very good Genji Glove + Offering attacker. Great physical character, non-shit magic user, but not good enough for top 8. 

8. Mog

Mog's resume: good Magic, average Strength, good Speed, spears, and Snow Muffler. Solid combination. Dance is okay, but lacks the versatility, consistency, and success rate of Rage. Really it's that Snow Muffler and solid base that makes Mog really good - by the endgame Mog is your best tank and a solid all-rounder if you can grab a Snow Muffler for him. He'll deal less damage than Edgar if you go the Dragoon route with both of them, but Mog will max his defensive stats more easily than any other character and be nigh-unkillable with those defenses and being up in the air all the time.

7. Relm

Highest Magic in the game and solid Speed. The Sketch and Control commands aren't very good, but Relm's Magic stat is an awesome starting point. Her equipment selection is weak at first, but by the endgame a Behemoth Suit, a Cat Hood, and a stat-boosting paintbrush or staff makes for an excellent magic user. The best one, in fact. Remember that Magic, though available to 13 out of 14 characters, is the most powerful skill set in the game. Relm's only weaknesses are her frailty, a near-total lack of physical damage options, and the fact that she's the final Esper-using character to join (a very late start to working on a character). But who cares? Best Magic in the game! Let the nuking begin.

6. Locke

Locke was one of the more challenging rankings for this list. Locke's only really good stat is Speed (low Magic, average Strength), and his weapon and armor selection is subpar until the endgame, when he can use the best swords and the Valiant Knife (a gimmicky-but-powerful weapon available only to Locke that works brilliantly with an Offering + Genji Glove combination). Locke's ranged thief weapons are pretty good as you find them, but they're not as good as swords. So Locke's an excellent physical character eventually, but is mediocre for most of the game. Locke helps his case by being a mandatory part of the team for most of the game's first half, giving him ample opportunity for leveling with Esper bonuses. Oh, and he can Steal. That's decent.

5. Sabin

High Strength, Stamina, and Speed and decent weapon selection makes Sabin your best source for physical damage in the early game and mid-game. Maybe the best candidate for a Merit Award if you want to go an attacking tank route with him. Sabin's Blitz moves are also useful and powerful throughout the game. Sabin's also an available part of your team more often than anyone other than Terra or Celes if you recruit him early in the WoR (and you should). Everybody loves Sabin. One unfortunate weakness is that his attacks use Strength while his Blitzes use Magic, confusing his role as a character. I prefer to pump up his Magic for Bum Rush and Air Blade and make him a backup magic user, but players can also work on Sabin's Strength and give him a Merit Award to be an excellent sword user (but wasting a relic slot). Either way, Sabin can do some damage.

4. Gau

If I were going to rank the characters in overall power and versatility, without considering usability, Gau would be #1. Rage gives him incredible variety, he can equip the mighty Snow Muffler, and he has good Magic (tied with Mog for fifth overall) and an awesome exclusive Dragon's Den item to boot. Stray Cat Rage = best physical attacks in the game. Magic Pot Rage = best tank in the game. The list goes on and on.  But collecting good Rages is time-consuming and tedious, and not being able to control him can be frustrating. Gau takes some work to live up to his huge potential, and that keeps him out of the top three.

3. Edgar

Basically a more physical version of Terra and Celes (really), because he can use the same heavy armor and powerful weapons (plus spears) and has good Strength instead of good Magic. The Tools skills can be quite useful, especially Drill and Chainsaw, but those will fall by the wayside at game's end. When you're rolling through the endgame, Edgar is a beast that is one of the best candidates to wield Illumina or Atma Weapon or go Jump-crazy with the Dragon Horn and Dragoon Boots, since he has the right equipment and Strength to do so. Edgar's also part of the party almost as often as Sabin, making him a reliable presence to fall back on.

2. Celes

Stats, equips, and role in battle are nearly identical to that of the next character in this list, but the Runic skill is situational at best while Morph is quite powerful. It's unfortunate about Runic, but luckily Celes's awesome equipment and stats mean that Attack and Magic are the only battle commands Celes ever needs. Celes has the third-highest Magic in the game and can equip heavy armors, female-only equipment, and the strongest sword weapons without using a Merit Award. The Minvera armor is one of the absolute best in the game, and only Celes and Terra can equip it. Celes scores major points for being available for much of FF VI's first half and the entire second half. Terra and Celes are so similar and powerful that it almost seems unfair to have both of them.

1. Terra

Terra has powerful Magic (second only to that of Relm), can equip heavy armor, powerful swords, and feminine equipment, and is with you for a very large portion of the game. Terra can be an elite attacker or elite magic user depending on your preference, and her Morph skill turns her into an unstoppable juggernaut for an extended period (doubles Magic, doubles Strength, and halves all magic damage received). Terra will be one of the best characters in any party you devise, and that's why she's number one on this list. We got two cases of Main Character Syndrome here.


So was that interesting? It was fun writing a big informative opinion list instead of a review, but a review for FF VI Advance is still coming, hopefully in the next few days. And I'm sorry about Cyan and Gogo.  Cyan is just a weak character and I can't get past Gogo's horrible stats.  I'm going to eventually do more Meet the Cast segments, and hopefully I'll have a second one ready in another few weeks. 

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