Y’know, the matter of who the protagonist of Final Fantasy 6 is inspires a little debate here and there. Most people, I think, agree that Terra is FF6’s protagonist, but some say it’s Celes, and a few people, who I can only assume have a sexist perspective that only men can be video game heroes or something, even argue that it’s Locke. And then there’s the camp that say that FF6 has no protagonist at all. Among this camp is SquareEnix itself, whose official stance on the matter is that the entire cast of FF6 is meant to get equal development and importance. Well, that’s fine and good if you respect the creator’s word as the 1 and only reliable source about a work, and if that’s how you feel, then good news for you: you get to finish reading today’s rant early! Seriously, that’s all for today. See you next time.
For those of you still here, it may be that you remember that Bioware stands by the idea that the ending of Mass Effect 3 actually is not a horrendous pile of lazy, arrogant, stupid, nonsensical bullshit. Or it may be that you are relatively familiar with SquareEnix. Either way, you’re familiar either with the fact that a game’s developer does not always know a goddamn thing about the art of their own creation, and/or with the fact that anything SquareEnix does or says has, at best, a 50-50 chance of actually being right. And it’s in this mindset that I say that FF6 has 2 protagonists, no more, and no fewer. Terra and Celes share the role of protagonist in this game.
I really can’t see calling either one the game’s protagonist without the other. I mean, think about it. The first quarter of the game’s plot revolves around Terra, from the first events of Narshe up until the battle to protect the Narshe Esper. She is at the center of almost all game events, and the plot is clearly following her. Everything is about Espers, Terra, and their connection to the Empire. Yes, there is a point during this segment of the game where the party is split in 3, and 2 scenarios (those of Locke and Sabin) occur completely absent of Terra, but when you look at those stories, they’re still revolving around a plot idea that Terra is the central figure of: getting to Narshe so that Terra can speak to the Esper there. The first quarter of the game follows Terra almost exclusively, and the plot is entirely focused on her.
In the second quarter of the game, Terra flies off, and the rest of the party go after her. True, at this point any of the party can go find her, but you can’t say that this is a moment of protagonist equality between the rest of the cast. Their goal is clearly stated: to find Terra. She may not be present, but she’s still the plot’s center. Think about Chrono Trigger, during the period of the game after Crono is killed and the rest of the team must find a way to revive him. There’s still no doubt in anyone’s mind that Crono is the protagonist, even if he’s not present with the party for this period of the game, right? The implied major focus of the plot at that point is still based around his presence in the party. If such a period of the game doesn’t make all the protagonists in CT equal, surely it does not for FF6 (especially considering that you actually CAN decide in CT not to bother saving Crono and just do the rest of the game without him...you jerk).
Once the rest of the team finds her, it is then, finally, that the first real segment of the game comes in which the party and plot focus is not on Terra: the trip to the Empire to free the Espers.* For this quest, Celes and Locke are required to be present, with the last 2 spaces on the team being optional for who you want to be there. Of them the story has been focused on Celes--she’s leading the way because she knows the Empire, while Locke is only there as support, to act as her protector. The events in the Empire are focused on Celes’s character and dictated by her actions until the party’s escape. Now, this little quest by itself doesn’t prove anything; you can find plenty of other times in RPGs where a particular mandatory quest in the game focuses on a character other than the protagonist--but as we see later on, it IS a test run for later in the game, when Celes takes over the role of protagonist.
Anyway, after that point, Terra rejoins the party, and she’s once again the focus of the plot events. You may be able to choose not to have her in the party here and there, but for every remaining major event of Final Fantasy 6’s second quarter (roughly ending at the lifting of the floating continent), save the dinner with the Emperor, Terra is the focus. She’s necessary to continue the plot at the cave entrance to the Esper land, and she and Locke are necessary for the trip to Thamasa (and Locke is, again, only in a support role, not the focal point of the events going on around him) and all the Esper- and Kefka-related nonsense therein. Up to the floating continent, the game is once more a story in which Terra is the central figure, the key dynamic force, and the individual we’re forced to follow and watch.
So at the halfway mark, what’re the results? Well, Terra has been the key focus of the plot events and the plans of both the good and evil members of the cast, and the character who has had the longest and most frequent mandatory presence. Her presence is also the key dynamic force of the game; it’s through her actions that most of the game’s major events occur. Celes has been a mandatory character only for 1 quest, though she was, during that quest, the key figure in its events. Locke has been a required presence often, but nearly always as a support figure, more or less never outshining Terra or Celes during his times of importance. And everyone else is more or less incidental--some are required at some points of the game (like Sabin and Setzer), but inarguably in no greater a way than any secondary party member would be.
Let’s look at the third quarter of the game now. The floating continent throws a wrench in the works: Terra is entirely optional, and actually has no more connection to the events of this pivotal point of the game than any other character. In fact, until the end of the dungeon, no single member of the team seems to be leading at this moment. But that changes soon enough, much too quickly to really enter into our calculations here. By the end of the dungeon, Celes is suddenly inserted into the team if she’s not there, and the climactic events of the floating continent are focused only on her, where her loyalties lie. I mean, the scene is kind of more about Kefka and Gestahl, but of the party members, Celes is the only important character involved; all other party members are just collateral.
And of course, after the floating continent is done...the game shifts its focus to Celes. Once Celes wakes up in the World of Ruin, she is the one we’re following for the rest of the third quarter. It’s her journey to find her friends, her reactions to the harsh new world, her hope and efforts. Everything in the plot is now about her and what she does and intends. Terra is actually relegated to minor importance at this point in the game, purposefully taking herself out of the picture while she sorts herself out. It is, in fact, much like the time before, when Celes led the team to the Empire--Terra is unable to continue as protagonist, so Celes steps up to the plate. Celes goes to find survivors based on her hope, Celes finds and leaves Terra, Celes finds and rerecruits Edgar, and she and Edgar find and rerecuit Setzer, and gain the airship. That’s a whole quarter of the game in which Celes is the one leading the audience and the story along, where everything is focused on her.
The last quarter of FF6 is more lax. Once you have the airship, and more than 4 characters, then who goes where and why is loose. You can bring anyone along to find Sabin, Relm, Cyan, Gau, Mog, Gogo, Shadow, Locke, and Terra, and Strago and Umaro only need a specific party member (Relm and Mog, respectively) there for a moment of recruitment. Some of the other sidequests have character requirements, such as Cyan for Cyan’s dream (duh) and Strago and Relm for defeating Hidon, but that stuff is, at most, character sidequest material, so their mandatory presence can’t logically be seen as any shot at a protagonist’s role. However, I do not think this should be seen as evidence of SquareEnix’s statement that everyone is a protagonist. True, for this last section of the game, everyone in the party IS as important as everyone else--but only because they are all essentially unimportant. It’s not that the role of protagonist is being shared, it’s that the role just isn’t there at all. It’s all optional (you can beat the game with only Celes, Setzer, and Edgar, though it’s quite a challenge), there’s little or no party member interaction...the only thing you could really say about this quarter is that finding the rest of the team and getting them all back together is the task that Celes set out to do originally in the World of Ruin, the quest that she took upon herself, so I guess that she’s the one and only person you could really call the protagonist at this point in the game. It’s shaky, since Celes doesn’t actually have to be present for any of these recruitment quests, but it’s either Celes or just plain nobody.
So, on to the finale. Regardless of whether she was brought back onto the team, Terra will join the final battle. This is appropriate--this game began with her, and it ends with her, no matter what. She is here because this final fight is hers; she is the protagonist of this game. Yet at the same time, this final battle is only happening because of Celes. For all of Terra’s essential importance to this moment which all things have led to, it was not Terra’s willpower, her heroic desire, that led here. It was Celes who had faith that she could find her friends, Celes who convinced Edgar and Setzer to help her round everyone up again for one last attempt to save their world. From the narrative view, Celes is the one who has led the second half of the game to this point, just as Terra led the first half of the game (although I’d say Celes is far more proactive about it). The fact that this final battle is happening at all, is all Celes.
So let’s review. For the first half of the game, Terra is, 90% of the time, the central figure of the story and its unfolding events, necessary to move the plot forward, and the character around whom the rest of the party congregates. The only 2 points of the first half of the game where Terra is not the major, important focus of the plot for a moment are the journey to the Empire and the floating continent, and both of those times, Celes has become the central figure. Then, for the second half of the game, Celes leads the plot entirely, until the point where no one in the party leads overall, until the finale, in which the team, thanks to Celes’s intent to reunite them, fights Kefka, and Terra will show up for this final battle and the ending whether or not she was recruited.
I put forth to you once more, looking over the game as a whole, that Terra and Celes are both the protagonists of Final Fantasy 6. To say that Terra is not the protagonist of the game is absurd; she’s its central figure from the start and ultimately the game will wrap around to be about her at its end. Yet at the same time, how can you say that Celes is not the protagonist of the game, as well? Terra is out of the spotlight for half of the entire game, and during this half, it’s Celes who is leading, her will and journey that the plot now focuses on, and her character, that of hope and redemption, that now holds the greatest significance to the story and setting. Even if the last quarter of the game has less of a concrete connection to Celes, she’s still the dynamic force behind the party’s actions at that point.
Additionally, I say that no one else in the game is in the running for the role. The closest is Locke, as he is the character most often required to be present after Terra and Celes, and he has the most connection to the events that transpire, but all the same, Locke is just not the one on whom the game is focused, and while his influence on Celes is certainly a huge factor in her actions in the second half of the game, that’s not the same as actually directing the plot himself. He is, ultimately, just an important secondary character, no more a protagonist to the game than Tear in Tales of the Abyss, Alistair in Dragon Age 1, Alice in Shadow Hearts 1, or Marle in Chrono Trigger.** And after Locke, there are some fairly important characters, but no one you could make a case for being a protagonist. Edgar and Setzer have their important moments in the story, but certainly no more than a plethora of other RPGs’ secondary characters. And as for SquareEnix’s assertion that everyone in the game has equal importance and development, well, that’s just idiotic. Can you really pretend that Gau or Strago had as much importance to the events of Final Fantasy 6 as Terra or Locke? Or that Mog and Relm had as much character depth and development as Celes or Edgar? To say nothing of Umaro and Gogo--they’re 100% optional and unimportant to the plot, and so lacking development and depth that even calling them characters to begin with is kind of a stretch. I have to wonder sometimes whether SquareEnix plays its own games.
Anyway. Terra and Celes are both Final Fantasy 6’s protagonists. Obviously some people have different perspectives on this, but I just haven’t met anyone yet who can make a compelling argument for those views. They’re the only characters whose presence, connection to the plot, and central importance to the events, themes, and characters of the game warrant the title, and to try to claim that 1 or the other is the only protagonist is to discard simple facts of the other’s involvement.
* I suppose you could say that this is still Terra-centric since it’s during this quest that you encounter Terra’s father, who will soon after bring Terra back to the fore of the game’s events, and the whole premise of this quest is that it’s basically something to do while Terra’s pulling herself together, but at that point you’re reaching a bit, I think.
** Actually, Marle’s way closer to a protagonist than Locke is. It’s she who convinces her friends to try to stop Lavos and save the world--the entire heroic quest of Chrono Trigger is actually her idea!