How time flies – Final Fantasy 6 was released 25 years ago this month. Sam Brooks remembers its brilliant antagonist, an evil clown who actually succeeded in destroying the world.
The internet was once a simpler place. Rather than people digging into their trenches on video game difficulty or whatever issue is threatening to burn gaming fandom to the ground, there were harmless arguments about things like who was the best Final Fantasy villain. These arguments could get heated, but all in all it was a much safer, calmer time. Such halcyon days!
The villain debate usually ended up being between Kefka, the villain of Final Fantasy VI, and Sephiroth, the villain of Final Fantasy VII. I’m not here to re-litigate those arguments, because god knows there is no definitive answer, and no answer that actually matters. What I’m here to do is praise Kefka, the villain of a game released 25 years ago, and one of the most memorable antagonists in all of gaming.
In the space of Final Fantasy 6, one of the most depressing RPGs ever, Kefka does these things:
- He walks through a desert and makes his soldiers (because he’s in charge of the military for some reason) dust his boots off.
- He enslaves your protagonist, Terra, with a chintzy looking crown and gets her to burn 50 soldiers alive.
- When someone tries to hide Terra, after she is freed from slavery, he sets an entire castle on fire.
- When laying siege to a castle, he gets frustrated and poisons the water supply, killing everybody in the castle except its leader, a man who is unfortunately called Cyan. Cyan! That’s a colour.
- He tortures espers (kind of like genies, don’t think about it too much) for information on how to become a god, as one does.
- He kills his co-worker – although I’m not quite sure you would call general of an army a co-worker, but go with me here – for no other reason than he’s a pretty good guy and he’s in his way.
- He pushes the Emperor of his country off a Floating Continent, which is kind of understandable, because the Emperor is a genuinely evil guy who relies on his underlings to do his evil for him! That’s what happens when you don’t live in a democratically elected republic, people.
- He becomes a god and destroys the world, and is probably only defeated eventually because this is a video game and that kind of has to happen or people get really mad, and then we wouldn’t have a Final Fantasy VII.
This is all pretty impressive for a guy who looks like this:
You see, because if there’s one thing worse that’s sicker than being a clown, it’s not being a clown and dressing like one.
If you’re a theatre person, you don’t need any convincing that a clown is capable of destroying the world. If someone is willing to put on a solo show that is just them mugging onstage for an hour, you know they’re a megalomaniacal sociopath who has no love or care for anybody else in the world, least of all ticket-holders. Kefka Palazzo? More like Kefka Pagliacci!
What makes Kefka so memorable isn’t entirely his evil deeds. Gaming history is lined with villains who do bad things and succeed at doing it. Ultimecia compressed time (don’t ask), SHODAN killed an entire space station and almost ruled over Earth as some sort of AI god (don’t give the computers ideas), and Ganondorf did whatever it is the villain in Zelda games does (I’ve never finished a Zelda game).
What made Kefka special, at least back in 1994, was being such a huge departure from the villains in previous Final Fantasy games. Until then, we’d had classic villains: your evil wizard Garland, your black armoured ‘The Emperor’, your literal cloud of evil the Cloud of Darkness, your mutated moon-man Zeromus, and your evil tree X-Death.
They were plainly, obviously, evil. We’ve all seen evil wizards and dark knights and we’ve all been afraid of clouds and trees. They’re the things of fairytales, of stories, of fantasies final.
But an evil clown? Go down to the Basement Theatre and you’ll see one a week, mate. He’ll tell you how he went to Gaulier and really found himself, and the art that he’s making now is so much fuller and human than the rest of us.
But, seriously, what made Kefka terrifying was the randomness behind his evil, and the seeming banality of it. This is one of his most defining quotes:
“Life…Dreams…Hope…Where do they come from? And where do they go? None of that junk is enough to fulfill your hearts! Destruction…Destruction is what makes life worth living! Destroy! Destroy! Destroy! Let’s destroy everything!” [sic as all hell re: punctuation, this is a 25 year old game from Japan, you guys. The dude translating this probably had less time than I gave myself to write this piece.]
In retrospect, he does sound a little bit like the guy who has taken half a semester of a philosophy. But unlike that guy, who only has the ability to make you go kitty corner from him at a party, Kefka has literally split the world in half. He unnerves you more than he terrifies you. With the wizard, the knight and the tree, you know the evil is coming, and probably how it’s gonna come at you. With Kefka, you don’t know whether he’s going to poison you, make you stab your best friend, or stab his own ally just to spite you.
You just know you can’t trust that damn jester who looks like he came out of your local community theatre’s abridged version of King Lear.
Also, he had that terrifying 16-bit laugh:
He’s a clown. He’s a bit creepy. He’s a bit silly. He also knows how to nail his makeup.
The thing that makes Kefka a genuinely great villain is that he won. He ripped the world apart, reformed it in his own image, and became a literal god. And he won on his own terms: By being a damn clown.
To quote the man himself, “Bleh! You people make me sick! You sound like lines from a self-help book! If that’s how it’s going to be… I’ll snuff them all out! Every last one of your sickening, happy little reasons for living!”
To 25 more years of being used in pointless internet arguments, you krazy klown Kefka.
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