My experiment with Final Fantasy VII wrapped up after Rocket Town. Slow battle animations, glitches with the Vita emulation, and a general disinterest in Materia derailed what could prove to be my last campaign with Cloud and friends for a very long time.
Not true for its predecessor, Final Fantasy VI. After dropping VII, I slipped a copy of its vastly superior predecessor into my DS Lite and found that my worries of the game losing its spark had been greatly misplaced. Like Final Fantasy VII, this game is a bit on the easy side, but that doesn’t offset it from still being the masterpiece that got me into RPGs in the first place.
Final Fantasy VI is appropriately paced, covering far more adventure in 15 hours than Final Fantasy VII covered, and its the gut-wrenching story and the unique edge each character brings into battle that sets it apart from other classics from the genre. I could rant about these qualities until my fingers bled, and I’ll probably do so once I get around to the rebalanced “Brave New World” fan mod that’s floating around the net.
However, we all know the true secret to Final Fantasy VI’s success: the personalities that drive its story. Final Fantasy VI is widely regarded as having one of the most complex and entertaining rosters of characters in RPG history, defined both by their unique backstories and the impeccable use of 16-bit sprites to create their broad range of emotions. Those knock-off sprites in the Steam version simply can’t stand up to the pixelated glory of Final Fantasy VI’s real graphics.
Ranking these characters is like ranking your best friends, something you’re not really inclined to do so often. However, I’ll do my best to find a consistency between their personality and usefulness in battle.
Feral child of the Veldt, Gau is easily the character I’ve used the least over the many times I’ve played this game. In my other save file, where all of my characters are maxed out at level 99, Gau is the only one I didn’t bother shooting the moon with. I’ll give Square Enix some credit for trying to come up with something new for him. Never before in any JRPG could a character mimic the AI behavior of enemy monsters, but no Final Fantasy has really done that since, either.
Building Gau takes an exceptionally long time, and it ultimately proves to be fruitless since you can’t control him in battle once he taps into his Rage skill.
Still, he’s a solid personality with one of the darker backstories in the game. Final Fantasy VI pulls no punches with Gau. His mother died in childbirth and his father went insane, abandoning him to the wilds after thinking he was a demon. And yet, Gau perseveres and frows into a friendly, innocent youth with a wild side. His sidequest, which reacquaints him with his long-lost father, is all the development he really needs.
13. Setzer Gabianni
Gambler of the Skies, Setzer is the character who owns the game’s first airship, the Blackjack, and the cast first bumps into him while seeking passage on it. With Setzer, Square created the Slot ability, which is totally unreliable and rarely lands on the ability you are looking for. Setzer also reintroduced the Gil Toss skill from Final Fantasy V, which does huge damage at the steep price of the money in your wallet.
In Final Fantasy VI, the skill is far less useful given how adept Setzer and anyone else can become with magic.
Setzer’s sole redeeming quality in battle is his fun arsenal of dice and weapons, but even those have their limitations thanks to random effectiveness. The best way to utilize him is to give him the Master’s Scroll and equip him with Fixed Dice for massive damage or instant death with his darts. Either way, Setzer lives up to his role as a gambler, but in an RPG where planning is half the battle, such a character isn’t really that useful, especially when the rewards aren’t worth the risk.
Setzer is at least an interesting character, and the backstory with his long lost love Darril provides another gut punch. His introduction is also one of the game’s highlights, capping off the most iconic scene in the whole game.
Slam-dancing Moogle, Mog is another of Final Fantasy VI’s unreliable characters. Seeking out each of his Dance skills never proves too difficult, but once he starts dancing, you’ll never be able to control him in battle again… unless you knock him out and revive him. Dances cause him to use random skills based on the surrounding environment, and more often than not, it won’t be the skill you’re looking for.
However, he’s useful in the sense that he is one of only two characters in the game, along with Edgar, who can use spears. This allows him to fill a weird niche where the Dragon Boots transform him into a supreme attacker. In a Final Fantasy game dominated by magic attacks though, physical abilities often come up short.
Mog doesn’t have much background, but we still love him since he was the face of the game back in the 1990s. His cute Moogle mug was slapped on the box, and everyone who had a casual knowledge of the game at least knew who Mog was.
Yeti of the Narshe Mines, I have a soft spot for Umaro that not a lot of veteran fans have. They don’t like his unpredictability, and as I’ve pointed out with the previous characters, I can agree with that. Umaro is the most unpredictable of them all since you’ll never once be able to control his actions or develop his strength statistic with an Esper.
However, Umaro comes with an added caveat that those other uncontrollable characters do not. I have a soft spot for secret characters in RPGs that bend and break the game’s rules, and Umaro fits that role perfectly. He busts Final Fantasy VI wide open with his unique skills, and the times when he actually does what you want can turn the tide of battle.
Backstory? He’s a yeti, and he collects bones. That’s about it. No character needed, just a lot of muscle!
10. Cyan Garamonde
Alas for poor Cyan. As we said before, physical fighters don’t have too much place in Final Fantasy VI, and Cyan is as physical as they come. He’s slow, his Bushido skills take too long to charge up, and their payoff isn’t as impressive as a well-timed Ultima blast or a Sabin Blitz. Cyan does have a unique role in his ability to equip armor and take a lot of hits, and there is one build out there which takes advantage of his Tempest Sword’s wind magic, but ultimately, he’s not the most effective fighter in the game.
Which is a shame because he is among the upper tier in terms of character development. Final Fantasy VI’s story sees Cyan lose his kingdom and his family, cope with their loss, help another woman cope with her loss, and then face his greatest fear of his family suffering in the afterlife.
Of all the characters in Final Fantasy VI, Cyan has the most complete story arc and the adoration fans have for him overshines his limitations in battle.
Master Mime, Gogo is Final Fantasy VI’s other major secret character, and like Umaro, he breaks the game wide open. He (or indeed she) has the ability to use any ability in the game. Whether it’s Edgar’s Tools or Sabin’s Blitzes or Celes’ Runic, Gogo can assign any one of them into his battle menu, making him (or her) the most customizable character in the game.
What is the problem with that? Well, Gogo takes a major hit because of those weak statistics. His magic, strength, and any stat used to determine damage is dwarfed by the main characters in the game, and he can’t equip Espers to boost that power either. Even though Sabin’s Phantom Rush is available to him, Gogo only uses it at half of its normal strength… defeating the point of the game’s strongest attack.
Backstory, again, there is not much, but Gogo is the most fun character to speculate about. Some think she is Darril, and others think that he is Emperor Geshtal. I like to think that, along with Gilgamesh, Gogo one of the few characters in Final Fantasy lore that can hop between universes, and that this character is the same as the boss fight Gogo in Final Fantasy V.
8. Celes Chere
Traitorous General, Celes has always been just… okay in my book. Her Runic ability can pin down magic users, but it also has the downside of pinning down your own spells, as well. I never found too much use for it at any point in the game. Outside of that, she lines up alongside Terra as a jack-of-all-trades with high attack and magic capabilities, and she also has the ability to naturally learn spells, not that it really matters.
Her main benefit comes from the large arsenal of armor and weapons she can use, but as far as character design goes, she comes up short of Terra, the game’s leading female.
As for her character though, Celes takes center stage in the game’s most iconic scene, the Jidoor Opera House, and she has a budding romance with Locke that never seems to go anywhere. She also struggles as she watches her empire succumb to evil temptations, and she is the catalyst for getting the group back together after Kefka destroys the world. In terms of character, Celes is often seen as one of the game’s most important.
7. Edgar Figaro
The King of Machines, Edgar shines in the first half of the game with his Auto Crossbow, Flash, Drill, and Chainsaw, but once his Tools start to be replaced by the awesome power of magic, he falls a few spots into the mid-range. Like Mog, his spears help him stand out from others with a fun Dragon Boots build, but all around, he is far more effective of a fighter earlier in the quest than later.
However, he remains a core addition to the team throughout the game. He is the second official character Celes can recruit when getting the team back together, and he steals the show with his pick-up lines and debonnaire attitude towards ladies. There is a bit of depth there when he has cutscenes with Sabin, but not to extreme depths like Locke or Cyan.
TREASURE HUNTER!! Locke is the second character you meet in Final Fantasy VI, but he’s also most likely the last you’ll recover in the second half of the game. That Phoenix Cave is no joke! By the time you get him back, his teammates will be well beyond his abilities, and he’s likely to fall behind. Again, physical fighters don’t measure up well in Final Fantasy VI, but at least Locke has the speed to offset some of the downsides.
Plus, Stealing items can be useful. It won’t lead to too many overpowered and unique pieces of equipment, but when you need fifteen tents and don’t have the cash to pay for it, Locke is your man! With a Genji Glove, Master Scroll, maxed out strength and speed, and a Haste Buff, Locke will attack or steal three times for each one time his allies can, giving him an edge over Edgar or Cyan.
Again, he’s also got a rough backstory with the loss of the woman he loves, and he carries that with him throughout the quest. His obsession with protecting Terra and Celes shows that the scars of losing his love still haunts him deeply. His motivation for treasure hunting also comes as no surprise upon its reveal.
5. Strago Magus
Beastmaster, this is more of a personal pick than an objective one. Blue Mages and their magic abilities have always been my favorite in any Final Fantasy game, and that is exactly what Strago’s job is. While his Lore ability isn’t half as useful (or should I say game-breaking) as the Enemy Skill Materia in Final Fantasy VII, he does pick up a few fun and unique monster spells throughout the game. White Wind, Aero, Aqua Rake, Mighty Guard, all so much fun to find and utilize.
However, both Strago and his grandaughter Relm often take a hit in popularity since they don’t join the game until much later. By the time this cooky old man and his headstrong granddaughter stumble into the plot, we already know all about Terra, Locke, Celes, and the demons that they face within. In terms of story, Strago often feels tacked on, which stinks because he is so much fun to use in battle.
4. Relm Arrowny
A painting savant, Relm benefits from being the strongest magic user in the game. Plop Ultima on her, and the game is over. However, for those who don’t want or need to cheat their way through the game, Relm’s main usage also comes from her strong ability. Sketch starts off solid enough as a sort of weak Lore spin-off, but eventually, she becomes able to completely Control enemies! This pins down the biggest threat on the battlefield and even lets you use its deadliest skills against its teammates!
Relm’s Control skill is also, bar none, the most efficient ways to pick up Lores for Strago.
Again, Relm joins a little too late in the story to have a big impact on it, but at least she leads the way for one of the character development of the game’s most intriguing heroes.
Ninja, that’s all you really need to know. Shadow is the coolest ninja in video game history. None can compare or compete with his deadly expertise. Whether he is slicing down fire monsters with his knives, battling train engines, or even coming closer than anyone to saving the world from Kefka’s wrath, there really isn’t much more this character needs to do to firmly establish himself in the upper echelon of the franchise.
However, he does take it many steps further! Taking him to Inns during the second half of the game reveals his nightmares and an unusual connection he shares with another character in the game. You’ll want to see all of those before Final Fantasy VI wraps itself up.
As for combat, he’s a physical fighter, but he gets benefits over Edgar and Cyan thanks to his speed and his Throw ability. While not overly useful with most weapons, Shadow’s ability to toss elemental swords works wonders of some bosses, and his cheap Shurikens allow for massive damage from the back row throughout the adventure.
2. Terra Bradford
Half-human, half-esper, Terra is the closest that Final Fantasy VI comes to having a “main character.” The game’s major events all surround her mysterious origins, and yeah, the game kicks off with you in control of her. While she might lose the spotlight in the second half once the game starts to take a more open-world direction, her fate intertwines with that of the Espers and fans will want to see how she makes it through alive.
She also undergoes a small character arc as she tackles the strange emotion of “love,” something she never felt during her her youth as a slave of the empire.
In terms of gameplay, Terra rocks! Her Trance ability doubles all damage output, meaning she’ll rain hellfire upon enemies and kill them faster than any other character in the game, and she also has access to the most equipment in the game. As a physical attacker, she’s awesome, and as a magic wielder, she’s even better! The only problem with Terra is that she makes a bad first impression when Edgar, Locke, and Sabin are able to easily outclass her in terms of damage output during the game’s early chapters.
Overlook that and she’ll be second to none of the closing acts… well… second to one, I should say.
1. Sabin Figaro
Renegade Prince, Sabin is my favorite character in Final Fantasy VI. He makes a huge first impression by blowing away Terra, Locke, and Edgar in terms of damage output. Then you spend a huge adventure with him as he tours the globe trying to reunite with his comrades, still managing to outclass Cyan, Gau, and even Shadow in the process. As more characters join the cause and magic starts to take over, Sabin’s Blitz abilities never lose prominence. Not once! Aura Cannon enters the game as the strongest ability, and it remains so until Phantom Rush and Ultima get picked up towards the end.
Oh yeah, Sabin also suplexes a train in what is Final Fantasy VI’s second-most iconic moment.
Most would turn him into a physical fighter given that he has huge muscles and powerful weapons, but actually, Sabin is best served as a mage. His Blitz skills are all determined by his magic stat, not his strength stat. With maximized magic, Phantom Rush will put huge dents in early boss fights, and Razor Gale will clear most random battles of their enemies. This is done for the low cost of zero MP, making Sabin one of the most efficient fighters in the game.
The only major complaint I have for Sabin is that Blitzes are too hard to input on a Nintendo DS d-pad. I flawlessly executed these every time when playing on a Super Nintendo as a kid. On a DS, ugh, my success rate is easily under 50 percent for Razor Gale and Phantom Rush. Maybe I’m just out of practice.
In terms of character development, there are deeper ones than Sabin in the game. Terra, Cyan, Locke, and Shadow all come to mind, but still, Sabin has an air of a kid stuck in a man’s massive body. He wants to smash enemies to pieces and bring the fight to their doorstep, but he also has a soft side for his brother Edgar and the sacrifice he made for the sake of Sabin’s happiness. Not the deepest of characters, but still a solid one that never takes up too much cutscene time.
His final meeting with Master Duncan shows off Final Fantasy’s 16-bit take on Dragon Ball Z style fighting. It’s kind of funny really.