Sunday, May 17, 2015

Top 10 Final Battles: #8: Final Fantasy 6

A Final Fantasy finale on this list was inevitable.  It was never a question of "if", it was a question of "which one."  The Final Fantasy franchise has built itself a reputation for a number of different traditions, one of which is ending with an intimidating and difficult final battle with a villain invoking a freakish transformation using godlike power.  Just like the games themselves, everyone has a favorite, and this one is mine: the final battle of Final Fantasy 6.


The way the final confrontation of Final Fantasy 6 is placed in the game is interesting.  After the first half of the story, the world is left in ruin by the manic magic clown Kefka, who absorbed the power of the legendary gods of magic, the Warring Triad.  Once you find Setzer and his airship, you can fly to the evil tower Kefka made in the middle of the world at any time.  However, because the enemies there are extremely powerful and because you must divide up your party members once there, it's best to prepare by traveling the ruined land to find your friends and level up.  Ideally you should go in with every party member in the game, but you can skip a few.  Technically speaking you can go in as soon as you get the airship, but you'll heinously get your ass beaten into dust unless you hack the game somehow.

Inside the tower you have to fight the warring triad themselves, the Goddess, Fiend and Demon.  They're surprisingly easy to take down for being the source of all magic in the world, but that's only because Kefka already took most of their power.  He's at the top (naturally) where he has full freedom to shoot his giant death lazer across the world at will, as witnessed personally by two of the characters early on in the second half.

All the teams meet up at the very top after traversing their own separate obstacles along 3 paths.  With the best equipment and strongest spells, they should be all ready to fight the power-mad clown for the peace of the world.

On top of what seems to be a huge, floating throne of trash, Kefka greets the crowd of people who have come busting into his house shooting up the place the way most villains do: intimidation.  Covering himself in a pyramid of power (likely representing the Triad), Kefka uses his power to toss party members around, declaring how they are all like insects to him and that he will destroy everything in the world.  His power has led to arrogance.

Being completely insane, Kefka pushes the nihilism angle of villain motivation.  He believes that everything in the world will eventually end so he might as well end it now.  There's something very back-to-basics about it.  It's such a stock villain motivation yet it's one we rarely see because we try to avoid such cliches.  Now that it's so rare it feels more original here.

Terra's rebuttal is that the overall result of one's life isn't important; the daily experiences in it are what truly bring joy.  Even with Kefka's attempts to spread despair through his destruction of the world, everyone in the party still has something to live for, and each and every one you currently have (except Gogo and Umaro because they're not important) gets a line of dialogue to declare it.

Kefka does not like this clash of ideals.  The hope-filled words of the heroes only upset him, and he throws a destructive fit, raking his frickin' lazer beam across the world.

He uses his powers to raise himself high into the sky.  If this weren't a Final Fantasy game, this would probably where he'd break into a villain song.  Judging by the Leitmotif used, it'd probably be something along the lines of I.M. Meen.  He already has the labyrinth down.

The final battle at last begins after you organize your now-regrouped party members, including the order at which they'll come out.  You'll need to focus your very best stuff on the ones you choose to fight because it is quite a gauntlet.

Instead of fighting you himself right away with that power he just showed off, Kefka has you ascend the giant abominable tower of doom!

This tower is one of the key reasons this final battle is so high on the list.  I've simply never seen anything like it.  It's expected for final bosses to be huge, but this is literally a giant monument.  Each of its 3 sections dwarfs the main cast, all the creepy bodies coming out of it are in Kefka's image, pipes full of steam (or magic discharge) pour out like in Kefka's tower and the attention to detail of it all is exquisite.

It's also one huge reference to Dante Alighieri's epic poem The Divine Comedy, which is not actually a comedy, but the title of the work being referenced was likely meant to cleverly play into Kefka being a clown with divine power.

Each section is like its own smaller multi-segmented boss, leading up to the strongest one as you go higher with each one's defeat.  Thankfully the game allows you to utilize most, if not all, of the party you have, as when you move on to the next section of the tower, any dead allies are removed and replaced, if you have any more to spare.

Phase 1

It starts with the demon on the bottom, composed of two hands and its head.  The hands deal powerful physical damage while the head can cast spells like Protect, Dread Gaze and Reverse Polarity, which switches the rows in your party's formation.  The head starts out rather lax at first, but starts getting aggressive as it takes damage, which you would think means you should get the hands out of the way before picking a fight with it, but killing it last makes it self-destruct with the very powerful spell Quake.

Phase 2

The second phase one-ups the first with four different targets, all but one of which casts powerful spells and all of which throw out one final attack to wear you down after you kill them.  Either these things are unstable or Kefka is really spiteful.

What am I looking at?

Phase 3

At the top of the tower is only two targets, but they're also the toughest.  The visage of a woman stands behind what looks like a sleeping man as she constantly casts White/Pearl Wind to heal them both each turn.  The sleeping guy, meanwhile, is apparently not asleep (though he's vulnerable to the condition) and casts total party kill spells.  Even if you manage to kill the sleeper while the woman is healing him, she can bring him back (with only a fraction of his original HP, thank god).  It's one last endurance before the big man himself comes to finish you off.

What makes fighting the tower particularly good goes beyond the visuals.  It rewards outside the box tactics and reminds me of the days when strategy guides could tell you so much more than "just don't lose."  Allowing the weaker party members to be killed by quake in the first round and be replaced by a new one with full health is a viable tactic, and it's important to know which parts should be taken out first.
Each piece also has specific weaknesses to exploit and make the fight much much easier.
The face in the first phase is weak against fire, the guy kneeling in the back of the second phase can be silenced permanently and the one in the red robe is vulnerable to death.
For once there's only limited contractual boss immunity, and rather than make the boss seem too easy, it makes you feel clever for knowing how to strategize around their various vulnerabilities.

Even better is the way the music is used.  Each phase has a verse of long pipe organ build-up music played on a loop.  When moving on to the next section, it transitions to the next verse by starting it after the previous one finishes.  All that buildup leads up to the greatest Final Fantasy final battle of all time with one of the greatest final boss tracks of all time, making the fight to get there immediately worth it.

Phase 4

The screen scrolls further upward, the dark background makes way for golden, heavenly clouds as scare chord music plays, as if something to dread is coming your way.  Sure enough, from the top of the screen, a giant, purple Kefka in a toga slowly descends on your party to snuff your hopes for good.  That is how you make an entrance.

"What's the matter kids, don't you like clowns?"
And to accompany his presence, Kefka has one of the greatest music tracks of all time.  The tower had all the buildup verses, but Kefka's final form has the climax to the song Dancing Mad.

A mix of hectic madness and slow divinity, Dancing Mad is easily one of the most recognizable music tracks in Final Fantasy's long history, likely due in part because it is also one of the longest.  At four minutes, it's the longest track in the rhythm game Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy and its sequel, Curtain Call, and that's only the last part!

"Don't we make ya laugh?  Aren't we fuckin' funnyyyyyy?"
This further sets the tone of how out of control Kefka is, which is felt through how difficult he is.  As you would expect from the guy who's now the source of all magic, he's one tough S.O.B.  In case you weren't worn out enough getting this far, right off the bat he uses a move that reduces everyone's HP to 1 so you have to take a turn to heal up, and boy are you going to want to be at full health.

Kefka has all the most powerful elemental spells now, as well as Trine, which inflicts blindness and silence on the party so you're practically sitting ducks.  On top of that, his regular physical attack is a super powerful one called Havoc Wing, and it only gets worse from there.

As his health gets lower he starts bringing out even bigger guns, as if it couldn't get any worse.  First he starts using a super-powerful party-decimating spell signified by a laughing head, called Forsaken, which mercifully takes time to charge.

"You'd best come up with an answer cuz this thing is going to explode in a few turns, and if you ain't got a reason why you hate clowns, I'm gonna kill your whole fuckin' party." 
And don't even think of attacking when he's not charging.  He bites back HARD, first with a move that heavily hits one party member, and later with the Ultima spell!  And in case you're barely hanging on to hope, exhausted and down to your last resource with victory nearly in sight, Kefka snuffs that hope out by bringing out Meteor, a spell so powerful the villain of Final Fantasy 7 tried to use it to destroy the world!  It really feels like you're fighting a nihilistic magic clown with the powers of a god.  What other game can claim that?

I've stated this more than once before, but to further emphasize, this is a battle that requires a game plan and all the most powerful allies and equipment you can get in the game before entering the tower, because even with the best stuff, it is long and tests the limits of your mettle.

Unless you're me and had your two best spellcasters deal out Ultima like a deck of cards the whole time.

The final battle with Kefka is done brilliantly.  All the heroes you've gathered through the long journey come full circle by fighting for the hopes they found through the game in a long battle that (most likely) they cannot win without everyone's support.  It's a climax for the fate of the world and character development.

It's also a spectacle to play through.  That the enemies are all static images yet everything still feels action-packed shows you don't need high-end animation to make something exciting, just good visuals and music for a solid atmosphere.
I played Final Fantasy 6 a few years ago on the Wii Virtual Console.  If this impressed me now that we have systems over 10 times as strong, imagine how face-melting it must've been for players that only ever saw 2D games in the SNES era!  I assume it made their heads explode, so that means the people left to remember it are of the same species as that guy from Men in Black.

The Final Fantasy boss on this list has already been identified so don't hold your breath for the other Final Fantasy villains.  The #7 slot will also get an expected franchise name out of the way, so keep posted to see what it is.

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