I dug out an old hard drive that had been sitting untouched for years this weekend. There were a few nifty things on it. I think my favorite find was my old Megaman 2 hack, which I need to play with a bit more before I post it up here (I understand the editor lets you mess with enemy placement now, which was impossible using the version I had access to in 2000-whatever it was). One of the other things I found was a series of short write-ups I did on Final Fantasy VI. I don’t know that these were ever published anywhere. Here’s an example of what was in there. Maybe I’ll clean this up a bit when I eventually finish the FFVI retrospective I have half-done on my computer:
(Note: Since this was written somewhere around 2000/2001, it uses quotes from the SNES Woolsey translation. When I get around to incorporating this article into the retrospective I’ll probably update to the more accurate FFVI Advance translation from the GBA rerelease. Until then, it’s as-is.)
POWER: THE THEME OF FINAL FANTASY VI
Many of the the games in the Final Fantasy series have had clearly recognizable themes—FFVII has “Life,” FFVIII “Love,” FFIX “Existence” and FFT has “Truth.” But what about the older games in the series? Were they lacking in such unified themes? FFVI seems to have a strong theme as well: “Power.” But what exactly does it mean to make a game about power, and what does FFVI say about the subject? Let’s look at some lines from the text to explore the theme.
Power as a Negative Force
Several times throughout the game, power is shown to be a motivation for evil. For example, Celes gives her thoughts about power on the Floating Continent.
CELES: Power only breeds war… I wish I’d never been… born.
Or as Terra says at General Leo’s funeral.
TERRA: People only seem to want power. Do they really want to be like me?
Or the entire reason for the ancient War of the Magi, and the reason the Espers fled afterward.
RAMUH: It took place long ago. Espers fought humans who were infused with magical powers extracted from Espers… Fearing our magical powers would once again become a target, we fashioned a new realm, and moved there.
Or, similarly, the discussion that takes place shortly before Kefka invades Narshe to capture the Esper.
ELDER: I understand all of it… Except… How can WE be encouraging bloodshed?
ARVIS: I never said that!
ELDER: Something like it.
BANON: He’s right, you know.
BANON: Our blood will spill because of you. Emperor Gestahl’s racing to acquire Magitek power. He’s set his sights on the Esper that was found here! The increased use of Magitek power’ll surely lead to global destruction…
ELDER: The War of the Magi… The mythical battle that set mankind back a thousand years. Can this really be happening? People will never learn…
However, these statements should not be taken as evidence that FFVI is anti-Power; rather, these statements are often made by those frustrated by a mindless pursuit of power or its misuse.
Power as a Neutral Force
As the story advances, most of the characters seem to adopt this view. Power is neither good nor evil; rather, it is the will of the person who wields such power that is good or evil. For example, compare General Leo and Kefka. Both men are top officials in the Empire, and both are involved in the siege on Doma. Early on in the scenario, Leo has full command of the situation.
LEO: Patience! If we attack now, we’ll have to sacrifice too many lives.
SOLDIER: But, General! I’m ready to lay my life down at any time for the Empire!
LEO: You’re from Maranda, right?
SOLDIER: Y…yes, Sir. Why?
LEO: And your family lives there? Fall in battle, and I’ll have to deliver the bad news… What shall I say to them? You have a life to go back to someday. Don’t throw it all away for nothing. Emperor Gestahl wouldn’t want that.
As you can see, Leo uses his power responsibly, fighting for a cause he believes in yet refusing to throw away lives. Later in the scenario, however, Leo is forced to leave, and the nefarious Kefka takes command of the operation, leading to the Doma tragedy.
KEFKA: Is the poison ready?
SOLDIER: But, General Leo said…
KEFKA: He’s no longer here! I’m in charge now. Pour it!
SOLDIER: Some of our people are prisoners inside the castle! If we poison the river…
KEFKA: Do it! Take ’em all out!
The two men wield the same power (control of the unit sieging Doma) in radically different ways. This scene cuts to the very root of the theme of FFVI—power can be used correctly or incorrectly, with constructive or destructive consequences.
There are several other instances where power is shown to be not good or evil, but simply a deciding factor to be used as whomever holds it sees fit. Early on in the game, Terra’s magic is a tool of the Empire, yet later she becomes a Returner and battles them. This theme is addressed several times. For example, in the Returner Hideout, when the party meets Banon:
BANON: Perhaps you’ve heard this story? Once, when people were pure and innocent, there was a box they were told never to open. But one man went and opened it anyway. He unleashed all the evils of the world: envy… greed… pride… violence… control… All that was left in the box was a single ray of light: Hope.
TERRA: … …
BANON: We now confront those evils… And you are that last ray of light, our only hope…
Edgar expresses that the power of the Espers can help or hinder their cause in Narshe as well.
EDGAR: That Esper is either going to save us… or dig us an early grave…
Power Defined By Its Source
Several times the idea of whether or not power is “righteous” or not is also explored from the angle of where it came from in the first place. For example, Celes’ magical abilities were gained through questionable means.
LOCKE: And those Espers at the facility were grabbed during that expedition! That means Celes’ power came at the expense of an Esper…
(Once again, it is important to remember that FFVI also explores the idea that how power is used is important as well, meaning that despite the dubious source of Celes’ powers, neither she or her powers are evil.)
Power: To Use or Not to Use
Perhaps the biggest question that FFVI raises, however, is when it is right to use power. We see characters use their powers for good and evil; in the prior cases, the characters seem to use their powers for worthy causes, whereas in the latter, characters use their own powers for dubious purposes or fail to use their powers for good when they had the opportunity. For example:
Leo admits that he feels awful because he failed to use his considerable powers as a general of the Empire to help Terra when she was being controlled by the slave crown.
LEO: People are people. Not all of us are like Kefka.
TERRA: What… what’s with you?
LEO: I knew you were being used as a kind of biological weapon… And because I didn’t do anything about it, I’m no different than Kefka…
Yura, the leaders of the Espers who destroy Vector, admits that they were wrong in using their powers to harm the innocent.
YURA: We bolted the moment Terra opened the gate. But once in your world, we lost control of our powers. We completely leveled a city… and took some innocent lives…
Kefka, the villain of the story, desires to use power to “create a monument to nonexistence” by destroying all life. This hideous misuse of power begins on the Floating Continent, when Kefka taps into the power of the Goddess Statues in front of the party and Emperor Gestahl.
KEFKA: Goddesses… you were born only to fight. I implore you… show me your power!
KEFKA: I command you! Give me your power! Arrrgh! Curse!
KEFKA: Listen to me, or you’ll regret it! Give me… POWER!
GESTAHL: Kefka, stop it! Revive those statues, and you’ll destroy the very world we’re trying to possess!
GESTAHL: Kefka! Are you nuts?!
KEFKA: Nuts…?! Emperor! Don’t disturb me! I’m showing them the meaning of power!
While these scenarios paint a grim picture of power, the story later shows that power can also be used in many positive ways. The most poignant of these scenes occurs when Terra discovers that her love for the children of Mobliz allows her to fight. She realizes that a power such as that she possesses can do good in the world and perhaps even cancel the effects of misused power.
TERRA: Thank you… You helped me to understand a part of myself. Now I must go to war. We must all believe we have a future. We must fight for those who aren’t even born yet!
What FFVI Says About Power
So, given all of this, what does FFVI ultimately say about power? The message seems to be this: Power will always be held by certain individuals. Some people will use power for good, some will use it for evil, and some will fear to use it at all—which may itself lead to good or evil. Moreover, when power is used for evil, those who use power for good stand a chance to counteract its influence. Power—where it comes from, how it’s gathered, who uses it and how—are all important parts of our very existence on this planet. Power is neither negative nor positive, yet the actions taken by those who wield it can be good or evil. This is what FFVI drives at.