Characters, Music, Meaning and the Design Process
The Short Version This section assess the center around which the game was created: characters. Each character has a job class, all of which are discussed. These classes, however, are often defined by superficial or irrelevant characteristics, because of the diminution of character classes. This is explained for each character, below. Additionally, a synopsis of the personal motivations, thematic concerns, and role as actor in the plot is provided. These character elements constitute a large measure of the plot, especially as it unfolds atypically in the second half of the game. The character themes of composer Uematsu, are also closely examined (with links to audio) for each personage. These musical themes are often wrought with incredible skill and great subtlety, and so embellish and elucidate themes relevant to the character's place in the game as a whole.
Having established that they wanted to make a game that was centered around a large playable roster, the FF6 team was faced with a problem. How do you make an worthy, lean product and still do all those characters justice? To give each character a reasonable amount of time in the spotlight, the structure of the World of Ruin became fairly non-linear. Obviously there are a few events in the beginning that have to happen in sequence, but after acquiring a new airship, there is no mandated order. As many television shows remind us, if you don't have a strong plot, you can get away with it by having strong characters.
The FF6 team wasn't just writing a drama, however, they were making a game. So the two unavoidable concerns were: how do we make everyone useful, and how do we make everyone interesting? They couldn't, of course, but by making some fairly revolutionary design decisions they came very close. The biggest decision was to diminish the differences between character classes. Cyan is a heavily armored melee fighter, and Strago a frail, gimmicky magic user, but with their best items, they have almost the same durability. Terra and Celes are magic users, but they also can equip heavy armor and all of the game's most powerful weapons. The point of this was to make it so that players didn't have to change their strategies markedly when the roster shifted, as it often does. Play can continue more or less as normal.
Of course the other decision has already been discussed--that the game is centered around characters rather than a linear plot, particularly in the second half. That being the case, there's a lot to deduce from each character's design choices.
With many of the character design summaries, I have included some discussion of the music by composer Nobuo Uematsu. I did this because, obviously, music and its usage are part of the design. But less obvious is how Uematsu's score is able to brilliantly embellish themes and nuances intended in the game's script. I think the reason for this is that videogame composers often have a much different schedule and requirements than their TV or film counterparts. TV and film require the music to be written after the final cut is made, at which point the composer must hurriedly write music that matches the on-screen action. Videogames require some of that kind of music for cinema scenes too, but most of the music in a game is not like that. Most game music is a background track that has to play for an unspecified amount of time, because there's no telling how long a player will be in an area, or doing some kind of accompanied activity. Thus, game composers have a lot more time to think about the meaning of the scenario they're writing for. Character music is particularly in this regard, which I hope to illuminate below.
Terra is, statistically, more incined to be a caster. Her weapon and armor selection, however, defeats this; she's able to equip heavy armor and most of the best weapons. Her biggest advantage--perhaps the biggest advantage in the game--is her ability to use the Morph command, which effectively doubles her damage output for several turns. Inasmuch as she's a total beast in Esper form, she's the character you want with you in tough fights. But I'd argue that the Morph command is the only overpowered ability in the game.
Although Terra is often considered the main character, she doesn't speak nearly the most words, ranking 5th behind Kefka. She does, however, speak the second-most words in the World of Ruin, right behind Celes. Certainly, she becomes a much more rounded character than the "magicl plot-cupon girl" she is in the beginning. Inasmuch as she embodies the themes of hope and resolve in spite of disaster and loss, she does so in the second half.
Terra's musical theme is a variation on the main theme of the game (also called Terra), also in the same key, A minor. (Careful though, the intro hook starts in D major.)
The chatty thief, Locke's weapon selection saves him from being a poor choice. The advantages you might expect from a thief--stealing items, high evasion, fast battle speed--aren't terribly good. That's probably just part of the diminution of character classes, however. The Steal ability is only useful if you're using it all the time. Outside of the final dungeon, there aren't too many enemies who are in any way marked for theft. In other words, it's fairly random which enemies have good loot. It comes down to the neophyte player stealing early and often, and finding out that it can result in good gear.
Locke's constant (and often over-wrought) chatter annoyed me, although I recognize that he enjoys general goodwill from the fandom. He's far and away the most talkative character, especially in the WoB. More than a decade later, though, I realize that this is an intentional effect. For all Locke's bravado and bluster, when he finally revives his deceased girlfriend, he's completely unable to speak a word to her. Brought to life by an Esper, she lives long enough to tell him she loves him, and to forgive himself for not saving her, and then dies. Stunned, he says only her name three times. Ask yourself, if your love had 60 seconds to live, would you be eloquent?
All during this scene, composer Nobuo Uematsu plays one of his best tracks, "Forever Rachel," which quotes Locke's theme, but changes it from G major to G minor. To this day I'm still amazed how uncanny (and moving!) it is to hear this back to back with Locke's theme.
Edgar the engineer and Sabin the monk are very popular among new players of FF6 for an obvious reason: they have MP-free attacks that can hit all enemies on screen or hit one enemy with damage that ignores armor. I wouldn't describe them as the best characters in the game, especially in the WoR. Then again, part of the thesis of this section is that the character classes don't matter that much, and I maintain that opinion. Edgar and Sabin are easy to use, but they're not significantly stronger than their counterparts anywhere else.
The creations of eventual Xenogears co-creator Kaori Tanaka, the twin brothers Figaro share a musical theme. Have a listen to it, because it's another shining example of Uematsu's cleverness. There's a big rallantando at the end of the first section (0:22) which sounds like it's about to lead us into a B section--but no! Instead the whole thing repeats again, once for each brother. (When it does transition to the B section, there's no rallantando. Uematsu, you sly dog!)
If you've already viewed their flashback in the WoB, neither Edgar nor Sabin speak many words in the WoR. Chances are that you will view the flashback too, as it only requires bringing both of them to the castle at the same time, and it's very likely you'll be doing that anyway during the search for Terra quest. (Figaro is part of the path there, and you'll probably include them in your party since both have MP-free attacks that hit multiple targets for a lot of damage.) You might say they're the most well-adjusted characters, but who's counting?
Celes is an interesting case, although you might not notice it at first. She's virtually identical to Terra, being a heavily armored mage, although her special ability quickly becomes useless due to a huge design flaw. "Runic" causes the next magic spell or lore to be nullified. Unfortunately, it's almost always the player casting those spells, not the enemy, so Celes will frequently absorb that Cure 3 you really needed for someone else. Still, her weapon selection is great, and she makes a terrific fighting healer.
Celes suffers from a lack of characterization in the first half. This turns around a little bit in the second half, when she speaks the most words of anyone. I wouldn't call her a brilliant, rounded character, but one of the slyest and most clever scenes in the game involves Celes: the opera. Ignoring the contrived coincidence that Celes resembles a famous singer--and that she can actually sing--take a look at the symbolism. The plot of the opera involves a woman, Maria, who is torn between two warring factions. She's officially a subject of a distant ruler, but her heart belongs to a rebel. Does this sound familiar? The opera (which, if you've heard the orchestrated version, is lovely) foreshadows Celes' departure from the party and return to the Empire, but will also clue observant players in to her conflicted feelings and ambiguous allegiance.
The opera also gives us the only real insight we have into her character in the first half: she's acting. Celes lacks characterization because she lacks character; she's lived for the purpose of being a super-soldier all her life. I personally love how Uematsu highlights this with the score. Her scene in the opera is in D major, and her personal theme (which we hear for the first time after the opera) is one half-step higher: E flat, not even a full degree removed. I attribute the decision to start with Celes in the WoR to her lack of characterization. Because the Empire--the only identity she had--is gone, she's free to be whatever character they need her to be. Raised in the military all her life, she awakens on an island with her first father figure, "Granddad" Cid, and is born anew.
Want to read more? The rest of this section can be found in the print and eBook versions. In fact, the print version of this book has been significantly expanded and revised.