I adore Final Fantasy VI, which some of you may already know from comments I've made over the years. But my fellow editors will likely have better-written prose to sing the praises of my favorite Final Fantasy. Instead, like I did in 2010 when I envisioned FFVI's potential offbeat sequel, let's go somewhere unexpected.
Which means, of course, we're going to talk about the Game Genie. Back in the 8-, 16-, and 32-bit days, "cheat devices" were popular, and while console makers could never endorse things that messed with a game's operation, they were fun to dabble with. Sometimes a game is simply stupid hard and you're more interested in seeing the end than worrying about gamer pride (hello, Ninja Gaiden I-III). Or sometimes you're on your third playthrough of Final Fantasy VI and just want to have some fun. I learned just why these devices were risky when some combination of cheats oddly duplicated some of my weapons, and I found myself with two of the strongest sword in the game. But it came with... side effects. Most notably, my entire cast became palette-swapped. Mog was pink and green, carrying Edgar's colors, which made him look bizarrely-furless, and nobody wants to think about a shaved moogle (or hey, maybe you do; I won't judge). Terra took on Setzer's colors and was largely shades of gray. Just about everyone took on the colors of another character, which made me do a double take every time I went into battle.
It was an amusing little side effect, but I was not upset at my dual-wielding Illuminas. Besides, obviously once I played the game Genie-less, things would go back to normal, right? Thankfully, I kept the swords. But the colors persisted, seemingly permanently altered, but only on that save file. I quickly realized the potential risks in Game Genie-ing, though at least there was no apparent real damage to my game, even if it remains one of the strangest things I've ever seen happen.
Cyan Garamonde's character arc is tragic, adorable, and dramatic at various points in Final Fantasy VI, and it culminates in one of my favorite boss battles in Final Fantasy history. When Cyan's king, comrades, and family die in the poisoning of Doma, it gives Cyan's character a clear motivation and also demonstrates Kefka's sadistic cruelty. When Cyan says farewell to his wife and son on the Phantom Train, it elicits yet more pathos from the samurai. In the World of Ruin, Cyan shows his caring side by writing fake love letters to a young woman in Maranda, pretending to be her missing partner. And finally, when Cyan returns to Doma, a group of demons attempt to devour his soul as he sleeps, with Cyan's inner torment giving them the avenue to do so.
That's a lot of character development for a mere 1/14th of the playable cast of Final Fantasy VI! At the end of the dream, Cyan's memories of his wife and son implore you to save him, and then it all comes to a head in the boss fight against Wrexsoul, the demon invading Cyan's dream. It's one of the trickiest boss fights in the game. Wrexsoul has a few invincible minions attacking the party constantly, and Wrexsoul possesses one of your party members at random. To win, you need to kill and revive your teammates until you flush out Wrexsoul from the possessed hero, then attack him a few times before he possesses a character again. The first time I fought Wrexsoul I tried killing his lieutenants over and over to no avail, only to see him escape when one of my party members died from the minions' attacks, setting me off on the proper way to defeat the dream demon. It's a unique mechanic that is made particularly challenging since you can only bring three warriors into the fight. When Wrexsoul falls and Cyan rejoins, you get a new sword and Cyan learns all of his remaining Sword Tech / Bushido skills. That's not the quest's true reward. Seeing Cyan's self-actualization after all of his suffering is a Final Fantasy memory I'll never forget.
Amongst Final Fantasy VI's huge cast of 14 playable characters, Celes Chere stands out in particular for me. On the surface, she's a beautiful young woman, powerful beyond her years and morally righteous. Playing Final Fantasy VI came at the end of a very rough time for me, where I'd achieved so much and lost even more, so watching her story resonated with me. She starts off as a confident woman, and through the course of the game is continually battered and beaten emotionally. Her feelings of love towards the thief Locke are ignored, she's branded a traitor, and she's put into a position where she tries to win her friends' trust back, but it backfires. The bitter spiral that Celes tumbles down was akin to mine — I lost friends, struggled with my feelings and emotions, and lost all confidence. Celes and I were going through the same process, and I needed her to get me out of this. It's her attempted suicide that really struck a chord with me. After the destruction of the world, Celes has focused all of her attention on her guardian Cid, whose health is failing him. She's trying so hard to ignore the hurt and pain she's experienced over the course of the game. I too tried to ignore everything I'd done wrong, and everything that I lost, but it began to build up.
This scene reminded me of a family member, who in the previous year had passed away. I was so scared at the time, I didn't know what to do. I rushed to be at his side at a critical stage but made the choice to step away, only for his life to slip away. Celes experiences the same pain. This drives her to suicide, and she throws herself from a cliff, a single tear glistening as it falls off her cheek. The first time I saw this I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. The feelings I'd been bottling up inside had almost amounted to that same experience. I understood how Celes was feeling, because I had felt the same way not long before. What had stopped me was that little bit of hope, and Celes finds that too, in the form of a wounded bird with a bandanna wrapped around its neck — Locke's! It showed her a way out of despair and instilled her with a new sense of hope. If the world in Final Fantasy VI still had a chance to be saved, then I could still save myself. I also managed to find hope in the form of a new job, and a new life. I accepted my grief and my losses and moved on, much like Celes. She helped me realise if I didn't change things now, I'd never get another chance.
A year or two after Final Fantasy VI's first US release, I'd reached the World of Ruin when my SNES cartridge disappeared. Being 11 years old, this was a catastrophe of world-ruining proportions for me. My mother the saint, thinking I was probably more depressed over my parents' recent divorce, bought me a second copy. But these were the days before memory cards, so my precious save data was lost to the ages. I was demotivated, and never made it further than the Veldt.
Years later, it turned out my original cart hadn't been lost after all; my grandmother had tidied it away in the back of my closet somewhere. I was happy to pick up my save again and finally finish what I'd started, but this story isn't about that.
When I was in the 8th grade, I made a friend in gym class who, like me, was big into RPGs. He told me about how he'd always wanted to play FFVI but had missed out. It was 1998, so the game had been long out of print, was expensive at that point, and the Anthology port for PS1 was still a year off. It turned out that I had two copies, so I mentioned that and he was eager to trade me his copy of FFIV for it. It wasn't a good deal, but I didn't really care about that at the time. So we made the trade, and we were both satisfied. Or so I thought.
The next day, my friend scowled at me in gym class. "Dude, what the hell is your problem?"
I was taken aback, "What do you mean?"
"I loaded your old save. You named Celes 'Celery'. Why would you do that?"
I shrugged, "Because it was funny."
"It's not funny. It's a serious story, and you're not worthy of it." He looked like he was about to cry.
We never spoke again.
Celery-chan is serious business.