Final Fantasy 6 is one of my favorite games, so we are going to have seven different articles about Final Fantasy 6 over the course of three weeks. This week, there will be articles on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and then the finale next Wednesday (just to be confusing). The Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play will resume on July 17. Now we continue Final Fantasy 6 coverage with…
Let us gaze into the face of madness.
So a while back, I saw this tweet on the ol’ bird app…
So this is a comment where Amano compares Final Fantasy 6’s Kefka to Batman’s Joker. This is significant, as Amano is an artist that has professionally drawn Batman before, and, despite all odds, his Batman did not look like a wispy dude with white hair. As everyone knows, Amano was cursed by a nefarious djinn from the 5th dimension to be an amazing artist that can only draw wispy people with white hair, and it was only in drawing Batman that the spell was broken. So believe me when I say that Amano knows what he is talking about when he references Batman lore.
Now, the Joker has been many things since he first premiered in 1940, from “clown prince of crime” to a gangster that just really likes murdering people. He is a character that has appeared in comics, videogames, television shows, and movies (many of which included an unusually high number of boomboxes). And what has been consistent through these eighty years of Joker? He’s crazy! While Bruce Wayne isn’t out there every night with a psychiatrist in tow (that’s Dr. Strange’s job… or maybe Scarecrow… dang does Bats have a lot of doctor villains…), it is generally accepted that Joker’s superpower is either being completely insane, or some kind of “super sane” that allows him to break the fourth wall and identify Deadpool as a crossover character. Whatever the case, we are all firmly confident that The Joker is the fictional definition of nuts, and it is only the mentally stable billionaire running around all night in a bat suit that can save us from the insanity.
So, since Amano made the comparison, we must ask ourselves: is Kefka Palazzo insane?
Let us begin with his origin story. The scuttlebutt amongst the rabble at Vector is that Kefka had his “mind shattered” when he became the first magitek knight. Long before Celes or the entire army wound up with esper-infusions, Cid used Kefka as his guinea pig, and the process… did not work out correctly. Kefka gained some meager magic (ice and poison seem to be his preferred moves), but was never the same since. Given Kefka was magically powerful, but mentally compromised, he was immediately kicked out of the Vector forces, and damned to wander the world alone and broken.
Oh… No… Wait. That didn’t happen. What happened was that Kefka was promoted to high general of the imperial forces, a position apparently only ever held by three people.
So Kefka made out okay.
This is one of the first and most important points we must note: whatever is “wrong” with Kefka? Gestahl was totally into it. Random NPCs will elaborate on Kefka’s tragic origins, but Gestahl? He never makes so much as a peep about Kefka being anything but an ideal general. His only moment of dissent is during the banquet, when he notes that Kefka has been locked up for his crimes against Doma Castle. But we learn about an hour later that every bit of Kefka’s punishment was a feint, and Gestahl has never not supported the “court mage”. And for further evidence that Kefka has always been supported by Gestahl, look no further than Gestahl seeing his first “experimental” magitek soldier off cackling in the corner, and then telling Cid to make more Kefkas. According to Gestahl’s marginally homicidal machinations, it is only by the grace of a good scientist in a yellow raincoat that the formula saw improvements, and Locke’s future girlfriend didn’t turn out as murderous as ol’ frilly collar.
There can be entire armies of Gestahlian forces skulking around and muttering about how they think their superior officer is nuttier than a squirrel’s breakfast burrito, but the big boss of the organization is handing out promotions for anyone “crazy enough” to laugh about having his shoes shined in the desert.
So screw the official timeline, how are we first introduced to Kefka? Well, he’s right there in Terra’s first flashback, and he is presented not only as the reason she is wearing a “slave collar” (a device so heinous that its name speaks for itself), but also someone who stood around while she committed unwilling murder and screamed for her to “burn up everything”. After that, we see him live and in person for his visit to Figaro Castle where he ultimately decides to… burn up everything. And lest we think all of the soldiers in his service think he’s a maniac, there seem to be more than a few brown hats that are enjoying the Figaro BBQ. So this “he’s crazy” thinking is not unanimous among the Vector citizenry. Sure, there is some dissent here and there, but, in the court of opinion of his ostensible underlings, he is more regarded as a lousy boss than anything else.
How about amongst Kefka’s peers? General Leo is the obvious counterpart to Kefka, as he is not only a general of matching rank to Kefka, but is distinctly in charge of the siege of Doma before Kefka takes over. Does Leo disparage Kefka in Doma? Well, he does not seem to trust him, but he also willingly concedes his beloved troops to the guy in the jester costume. And when Kefka poisons every last soul in Doma to win that war and hear the sweet music of hundreds of voices screaming in unison, what was Leo doing? Who knows! But what’s important is that Leo doesn’t come riding back to rectify the situation. Hell, he (eventually) apologizes to Cyan for what happened, but does he personally punish Kefka in any way? Nope. Ever the consummate soldier, Leo doesn’t approve of Kefka, but doesn’t do a thing to stop him at any point, either.
Well, until Leo finally grows a spine, but that gets him killed immediately. So who is the crazy one here? The mage conquering the world with unspeakable magics, or the knight that finally decided to challenge ultimate power exactly when that power became ultimate. The answer is written on the front of Leo’s grave.
And Celes? It is never 100% confirmed, but the best explanation for Celes being marked as a traitor in South Figaro is that she was a little too loose-lipped with Kefka’s “kill ‘em all and let the Triad sort ‘em out” plan. How did Celes learn of Kefka’s rotten ambitions? Eh, Kefka probably told her during some random Vector function in between recounting how funny he found episodes of Rick and Morty (“And then he says ‘I turned myself into a pickle,’ funniest shit I’ve ever seen, Celes”), but Celes had the damned lack of sense to tell an adult, and she was punished for it. Who would she have told? The only commander of these knuckleheads, Gestahl, of course! And this is further evidence that Kefka has unlimited support for his plotting, and anyone that gets in his way is punished by the highest echelons of power. And when they are finally in the same room/Magitek Factory again, Kefka screws with Celes because he knows he can. He is not trying to trick the Returners into believing their new friend is a traitor, he just wants to pick on his female coworker again. Perfectly sane, terribly dickish behavior. And Kefka’s outburst on the Floating Continent when Celes definitively fights back and makes him bleed? Typical abuser activity of being shocked when their victim is pushed to fight back. Even when the literal fate of the world is on the line, Kefka cannot imagine his prey fighting back against him.
And speaking of the end of the world and Kefka’s prey, the bad general has been laser focused on the espers and Triad for some time. Even before most of the cast knows that the Triad exists, Kefka is ranting to the empty halls of the Magitek Factory that he wants to reawaken the warring gods that once nearly destroyed the world. Then, when he leads a raiding party to the Esper Gate, he claims “Mercy is for wimps” and demands his soldiers slaughter the magical creatures that were just minding their own business. So don’t worry, kiddies, Kefka wants to see the deaths of humans and magical beings equally! He’s ruthless… but all of this is unwritten Vector protocol. After all, Gestahl stomped through those same gates a couple decades back and kidnapped a baby. And that was just on the hunch that the green-haired tyke might work out in helping him conquer the world.
And do we need to address Thamasa? Is that when Kefka’s assault on the espers finally cracks the “genocide” mark? You sure don’t see a lot of espers flying around the World of Ruin…
But it’s the relationship between Gestahl and Kefka that we must return to before the world ends. Your party fights the Vector Air Force on your way onto the Floating Continent, but you know what you don’t fight once you land there? Any Vector soldiers. There are monsters creeping about, and at least one ancient creature of untold destruction, but Gestahl left his army at home for this mission. The only man Gestahl trusted to follow Terra back to the Esper Gate was Kefka (Kefka explains that he is there because, “just like the Emperor said…”), and it was Kefka that was tasked with attacking Thamasa while Gestahl’s “public relations team” was distracted with diplomatic matters. So once again, Gestahl only brings Kefka to the Floating Continent to witness the Warring Triad in action. And, while Gestahl is rewarded for this trust by hitting the ground with all the force of a Link that forgot he had a paraglider, it is a clear statement of how the man that was the whole empire up until that point trusted Kefka implicitly. Kefka betrayed everyone in his immediate area across the whole of Final Fantasy 6 seemingly for Gestahl, so maybe we can forgive the monarch for not expecting to be betrayed just the same as everybody else.
And what does Kefka do after murdering the one guy that had complete faith in him? He feels bad about it forever.
Now, I can hear objections to that statement immediately. After all, what Kefka does after killing Gestahl is purposely unbalance the Warring Triad, and cause destruction across the globe. Continents are torn asunder, families are ripped apart, and I’m pretty sure that one gossipy old lady in Thamasa straight up dies (you know the one). And then, once Kefka has absorbed enough power from the Triad, he creates his new home in the center of universal ruin.
And damned if that thing ain’t an enormous monument to his old boss.
“Hey, Kefka, I’m the voice inside your head that does everything with your omnipotent powers. Think of me as a magical Clippy the Paperclip. What would you like to do today?”
“Well, I’ll create a tower where I can rule the world.”
“Great! Where will it be?”
“How about in the middle of the same continent with Tzen and Albrook?”
“So basically where Vector was?”
“And you have access to all the material on the planet…”
“Let’s build this place out of ruins of the old world.”
“Brilliant! Like what?”
“Well, how about some distinct pieces of the Magitek Factory…”
“And the old Imperial Palace…”
“And… that’s all I can think of.”
“Fine. Alright. And what kind of monsters will be here?”
“Well, the Warring Triad of course.”
“Great! Those guys have nothing to do with Vector!”
“… And the Guardian from Vector… and a color swap of that one guy from the Magitek Factory… And some more giant robots from the Vector army…”
“And I want there to be a random creature called the Vector Lythos.”
“And put the Ultima Buster in my old Vector prison cell. I had some good laughs in that place.”
So yeah, Kefka is nuts. Nuts about how much he misses Vector!
And thus we are left to examine Kefka’s actions after Celes successfully poisons her grandpa. In the World of Ruin, Kefka uses his Light of Judgment on exactly one (1) house in one (1) town, and… that’s it. Every other challenge that your party faces is either the result of Kefka’s initial destruction of the world, or the one other time the Light of Judgment torched a town. Did Kefka not like the price of Dried Meat at Mobliz? We never learn why that town got so obliterated. Thamasa, Doma, or Figaro would have been more relevant targets, but Mobliz takes the brunt. And we do know all the “ancient evil” monsters stalking around the world were released incidentally by the planet being torn open, and not because Kefka decided Doomgaze needed to stretch his wings. There is never even any evidence that Kefka is aware there is an entire Cult of Kefka building a tower in his image! Those fanatics could be the bootleg Ricky Rouses of the New Palazzo Empire!
Kefka doesn’t even say a word in the World of Ruin until the party pours into his deepest apartment (his bedroom? Kitchen? … Floating rock pondering chamber?). Then he admits that he was waiting for everybody to show up, and his latest belief system is heavily based on the kind of nihilism that comes from ultimate power. He is the god of this world now, nothing matters, he can play around with his death laser at will, yada yada yada, everybody should just give up now. Not unlike his confrontation with Celes a year back, though, he launches into a tantrum the minute the party doesn’t immediately capitulate to his convictions. Though, what did he think was going to happen? He created a world that was a monument to suffering kinda by accident, but he deliberately placed himself at the center of literally the world’s longest and most tedious escape room. Anybody that had the guts to make it through three intersecting paths of devious puzzles and deadly monsters was obviously going to have some drive to survive, so of course he was immediately rebuffed when he claimed that there was nothing worth living for in this fallen world. Relm found something worth living for! It was a rainbow paintbrush you stuffed in a chest a couple rooms back! She’s gotta survive to try that out!
So maybe because he truly was a heartless nihilist, or maybe because he didn’t think his plan through to its logical endpoint, Kefka goes out with a whimper. Sure, he built his brand-new three-part statue with pieces of the Blackjack and hookers (that is to say, at least one figure equipped with hooks), but once you actually face Kefka mono a mono, he falls pretty easily and quietly. He says something like “the end comes through chaos” or “the end draws near”, and then he just… ends. No desperate parting words, no final laugh; just a crumble to dust. He’s as empty and weak as his beliefs, and now he’s gone for good (along with all magic, his tower, and at least a couple of Strago’s newest drinking buddies). That’s it for the big bad.
What’s the verdict? We have hard evidence that Kefka displays a lack of emotional maturity, and has the temper of a toddler. Hell, you could even claim his “final form” at the World of Ruin is just a man-child leveling up to his man-teenager (lack of) maturity. He is even doing that “goth phase” nonsense of perverting Christian symbolism for no good reason. And his many sins back in the World of Balance? Well, 90% of those actions were all for the doting support of Emperor Gestahl, with the final 10% disapproval only occurring when Kefka kicked the guy off a continent. Our little boy is growing up and becoming more independent! So this portrays a Kefka that is not crazy, just immature for his age (damn near 40). He seeks approval. He lashes out when he feels threatened. He sees other people as mere playthings. He is homicidally immature, and enabled by the emperor of a country. The real bad guy never sees the true scope of the damage he has wrought on the world…
And Kefka? He is perfectly sane. He is no Joker, he’s just a joke.
… That happened to conquer the world.
So, uh, sorry, Gotham City’s scourge. You have a lot to live up to.
Next time on Final Fantasy 6: Potpourri.
You ever wonder if this soldier is still around to see Kefka rule the world?