Final Fantasy VI: Espers

Although the worlds in the Final Fantasy series have a lot of elements in common, those elements differ from game to game in their significance to the plot. Take the spells Meteor and Holy. Usually these are just direct-damage spells that the heroes can learn over the course of the game: Meteor is one of the strongest Black spells and Holy is one of the few White spells that kills things. But in FF7, Meteor is a potential extinction-level event and Holy is the only hope for stopping it. This forms the basis of the chief conflict for most of the game. The spells are turned into pure plot events, not part of the game mechanics at all: each is cast only once, in a noninteractive scene.

Similarly, while the bulk of the roster of summonable creatures is repeated from game to game, a particular summonable can be a significant character with its own backstory and cutscenes in one game, and a mere fireball substitute in the next. FF6 takes the former approach a step farther than the other games, though. I’ve mentioned before that one of the basic Final Fantasy plot devices consists of escalating the situation at the end of act 1 by bringing in a new enemy, a threat that dwarfs the previous conflict. The first enemy, for all its power, is ultimately human. The second is the genie that the first lets out of the bottle. The Shinra Corporation gives way to Sephiroth and Jenova, the empire of Galbadia to Ultimecia waiting at the end of time for everything to join her, the empire of Baron to Zemus in his lunar tomb. In FF6, the human enemy is once again an Empire. 1The Empire doesn’t seem to have a name other than “The Empire” in the version I’m playing. Apparently the GBA port calls it the “Gestahlian Empire”, after its leader, Emperor Gestahl. And the inhuman enemy, the alien threat from without? It’s the summonables. The Espers.

Or so it seems briefly, anyway. The plot is a mass of switchbacks, the player’s sympathy thrown this way and that. First the Empire is the bad guys, secretly keeping a number of Espers captive to drain them of magical power to fuel their Magitek, and ultimately killing them to turn them into “Magicite”. When the remaining free Espers find out, they go on a rampage, destroying most of the Empire as well as countless innocent bystanders. The contrite emperor declares that his war of conquest is over and pleads the heroes for help in making peace with the Espers — Terra, the party’s main mage, is uniquely suited for this, being half-Esper. Then, once you find the Espers and arrange a meeting, it turns out to all be a trick to lure the Espers into the open so Kefka can kill them en masse and sieze the resulting Magicite. Emperor Gestahl shows up personally to declare that this was his plan all along, and that Terra was released from the Empire deliberately in the hope that she’d make contact with the hidden Espers. That turns out to be Kefka magically altering his appearance to taunt you, but then it turns out that he actually is acting on the Emperor’s orders anyway. Somewhere in there, one of the playable characters, a renegade Imperial general named Celes, is accused of being an infiltrator in your party, still secretly loyal to the Empire. I didn’t pay any attention to this calumny at first, but what with all the other betrayals, I’m starting to wonder.

Now, Magicite is the source of magic in this game. Each individual Magicite crystal not only gives its wielder the ability to summon the Esper it came from, it also, over time, teaches you spells. It is in fact the only source of normal spells in the game. Thus, although in theory the death of an Esper is supposed to be a bad thing, you basically wind up hoping it’ll happen more. In that way, it’s kind of like FF5, where the shards of the crystals you were supposed to be protecting yielded new Jobs. The Magicite fragments even look a lot like FF5‘s crystals.

In fact, there’s a lot about the whole situation that reminds me of other games in the series. As in FF5, things become summonable by dying, and it’s even more explicit this time. Like FF4, the summonables have a hidden underground home where they live their lives far from the prying eyes of humans. I mentioned in a previous post how the discovery of an Esper buried in a mine reminded me of FF7‘s Jenova, and that’s an impression greatly strengthened now that I know that the Empire was using captive Espers in secret experiments to create magic-capable soldiers. Equipping a crystal in order to gain spells is a little reminiscent of FF7‘s Materia, but the way I keep shuffling them around between characters, not for the sake of the summon ability but for the ancillary benefits, mainly reminds me of FF8‘s Junction system.

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1. The Empire doesn’t seem to have a name other than “The Empire” in the version I’m playing. Apparently the GBA port calls it the “Gestahlian Empire”, after its leader, Emperor Gestahl.

2 Comments so far

  1. Mark on 29 Nov 2008

    Oh, you’re playing the SNES version, eh? I found the GBA version preferable for the translation. But whatever floats your metaphor.

    I don’t want to spoil you on anything, but there’s one bit that trips people up (a little bit of gameplay and story incongruity that works differently from the rest of the game): in an event that’s coming up – you’ll know it when you see it – be sure to wait until the last possible second.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 30 Nov 2008

    Actually I’m playing the Playstation port. Wikipedia says the localization is basically the same as the SNES version, though, apart from some changes to monster and item names. (The Playstation version spells “phoenix” correctly).

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