I was talking to my friend Frank last night about one of the reasons I love Final Fantasy VI so much and why I consider it my favorite game: the characters. As the story unfolds, you are introduced to one of the richest casts of characters that had ever been assembled in gaming. And the game wisely "forces" you into playing as each and every one before allowing you the freedom to select your own party later. Even better, when the (spoilers for the 22-year-old game) world ends, you have to reassemble your party that has been scattered across a broken world.
All of this sparked the idea for a new recurring segment: Characters I Love. As I originally mapped out this idea today I thought I'd tackle it as a three-part series specifically for Final Fantasy VI and write about a handful of characters each day for the next few days. But as it turns out I have a lot to say about these characters. So this first one at least is focusing specifically on arguably the main protagonist of the game: Terra Branford. The game is very much about the entire ensemble of party members but Terra is the first one we meet and our entry point into this world so I view her as the game's "main" character among a series of standouts.
Terra grew up a puppet controlled by the Empire. As a child to an Esper father and human mother, she was born with extraordinary magic power which Emperor Gestahl Kefka Palazzo exploited by controlling her with a slave crown. (Well, extraordinary magic power might be a stretch since she only knows Fire at the start of the game but that’s still more than most people in this world). When we meet her, she’s on a seemingly routine mission, investigating reports of a mysterious discovery in the mines of Narshe, accompanied by her handlers Biggs and Wedge.
The discovery turns out to be the Esper Valigarmanda (or Tritoch if you go back to the original Super Nintendo localization). It recognizes Terra’s Esper side and free her from the slave crown, however this leaves her with a case of amnesia – a convenient plot device as we the player wind up learning about her as she learns about herself.
She is discovered and aided by the Returners – the rebellion effort against the Empire – and her journey begins. Throughout the adventure, she longs to find out who she is. Once she discovers that she is a child of human and Esper, her focus shifts toward what that means and if she will ever know “love.” With so much of the history in Final Fantasy VI centered around the 1000-year War of the Magi, Terra is the physical embodiment of peace between humans and Espers but all she has ever known is the destruction and war humans cause.
After the world ends, she finds her way to the village of Mobliz. In the aftermath of the destruction, the people of Mobliz openly defied Kefka and he mercilessly destroyed the town with his “Light of Judgment” weapon, killing all of the parents of the village. Terra finds a town of orphans and is compelled to stay and care for them. When your party catches up with her, she has lost the will to fight having put so much focus on protecting the children by hiding. Eventually, she embraces that what she has been feeling for the children in her care is the “love” she has long sought and determines the best thing she can do for them is fight for a better world for them.
As the final battle wages on, Kefka taunts the party by asking him why they fight as he has become so powerful. Terra cites “love.” Once Kefka and the Warring Triad are defeated, magic starts disappearing from the world. Terra has been resigned to her fate and prepared for the possibility that she would disappear as well, but the connection to her friends and the children of Mobliz allow her human side to prevail and survive. The game ends with her standing at the head of the airship, ponytail undone, and hair blowing in the breeze. Looking ahead to the hope this devastated world now has before it.
Terra stands out as an an icon among icons in the world of Final Fantasy characters. If you ascribe to the belief that she is the "main" character as I do, she was the first female lead of the franchise and remains to this day one of a select few alongside Yuna (from arguably X but definitely X-2), Ashe (from XII if you follow the idea that Vaan was more or less a studio note to say "no the main character should be a guy"), and Lightning and Serah (from the XIII trilogy).
The poetic irony that Terra the half-human, half-Esper is one of the most "human" characters in the game is a beautifully explored recurring theme. She's constantly questioning her own purpose and the world around her. She loses control (even destroying a home in Kohlingen in her Esper form). She is surprised by the love she feels for the children of Mobliz and the power that love gives her. She has so much love emanating from her for those childrens and her friends that she is willing to potential sacrifice her own life in the escape from Kefka's Tower in the games final scenes.
Terra Branford - the girl between worlds - is a character I love.