Rounding out my first trio of "Characters I Love" features, we have General Celes Chere of Final Fantasy VI. The game is unique in that it not only starts off the first act with a strong female character in Terra, but it kicks off its second act with a strong female character as well: Locke's better half in one of, if not the, best video game romances of all time. Not to mention the namesake for my favorite piece of video game music.
As discussed last night, Celes is introduced in Final Fantasy VI while being tortured and interrogated. Why she was arrested is never clearly identified but given the timing of other events in the story, it might be safe to assume she knew of Kefka's plan to poison the people of Doma and spoke out against these atrocities.
Prior to this incident, she has a long history with the Empire .Celes was an unwitting experiment of Cid Del Norte Marquez, the Empire's chief geneticist. At the age of two, she was infused with magic from the Espers in one of his experiments. She was his second test subject, following Kefka Palazzo as the first. Cid refined the process before experimenting on Celes, fortunately sparing her from the damage that twisted Kefka's mind. Still full of remorse for experimenting on the poor girl, Cid raised her like his own daughter.
Her magic was put to use as a Magitek Knight (much like Terra) and she worked her way up to the rank of general by the age of eighteen. As a general, she took over the town of Maranda on behalf of the empire before eventually becoming disillusioned enough to wind up in a South Figaro cell and found by Locke.
Celes is not immediately swayed by Locke to be his ally out of anything more than convenience against a common enemy. Even as she helps the Returners fend off Kefka's attack on Narshe, many are unconvinced as to where her loyalties lie. But after the party discovers Terra in her Esper form in Zozo, Celes volunteers to lead an infiltration mission to the capital city of Vector.
To do so, they will need the airship belonging to Setzer Gabbiani. Coincidentally, Setzer is in love with the local opera star Maria, who coincidentally again, just happens to look like Celes. So a plan is put into place for Celes to take Maria's plan in the opera, so that when Setzer's plan (which he shamelessly announced in advance) to kidnap Maria occurs, he will actually kidnap Celes.
This whole "Opera House" sequence is one of the most memorable sequences from any game I played growing up. Moments like this standout as groundbreaking moments of experiences I didn't get in the books I read or the tv and movies I watched. It could even possibly be what planted the seed for my passion for the arts. My sister even recently found a copy of the "script" of the Opera that I had written down when first playing it so I wouldn't screw up the prompts and say the wrong lines as I led Celes through her blocking. She thought it was a love letter I had written a girl.
Things go mostly accordingly to plan, until Locke and the party discovers that Ultros has crashed the party with a plot of his own to ruin the opera. They have to interfere, leading to a battle onstage and an impromptu scene between Locke and Celes before Setzer swoops in. Once on board, Setzer quickly discovers what happened but is enamored by Celes' beauty anyway. And...with Edgar's two-headed coin, sneakily makes a bet with Setzer. Heads: they borrow his airship, tails: she marries him. With the ship theirs to command, they proceed to Vector and the Magitek Research Facility.
It's here that Celes is reunited with Cid and, in order, to afford her companions the opportunity to escape with their lives, casts a spell spiriting her, Kefka, and his soldiers away affording Locke and the others the chance to escape.
Celes reunites with the party as they seek the Espers that escaped from the Esper World to Thamasa. She and Locke are briefly reunited but when Locke apologizes for doubting her motives, Celes disregards him and leaves to focus on the task at hand. She rejoins the party fully after Emperor Gestahl and Kefka's true motives are revealed as they kill General Leo and raise the Floating Continent.
Celes' loyalty is called into question one final time as the party confronts Gestahl and Kefka on the Floating Continent. Whether you bring her along or not, she arrives to try and plea with Gestahl to see reason. When he instead gives her the option to abandon her allies and rule alongside them, she stabs Kefka instead, throwing him into a rage. Kefka moves the Warring Triad out of their equilibrium, effectively causing the end of the world.
Celes awakes from a coma a year later in the World of Ruin. Cid has taken care of her all this time and explains that as far as he knows, they're the only ones left. Everyone else who had washed up on this island with them has died, either through natural causes or suicide.
It's here where the darkness of the game really rears its head. Cid falls ill and Celes is tasked with bringing him fish to return him to health. Depending on how well the player performs this tasks, one of two outcomes will occur. One, Celes will successfully restore him to health, where he will reveal that he has hidden a raft in the basement and encourage her to go find her friends. Or the much more dramatic second option, Cid will perish, leading Celes to a suicide attempt by jumping off a cliff into the sea. She survives and is washed ashore alongside a bird wrapped in one of Locke's bandanas. With a renewed reason to live, she finds a note left by Cid informing her of the raft and she returns to the mainland and sets out to find her friends.
The strength Celes possesses and the harsh realities and despair she faces - feeling alone in a broken world - make her one of the most powerful characters I've ever enjoyed playing as in a video game.