Imagine yourself as the disgraced Dark Knight, Cecil. Under orders from your king, you unknowingly firebomb an entire village. You lose your best friend. Now you travel with a small girl, a survivor of the aforementioned fire, and you discover the woman you love is dying. You set off to find a cure for her, but your only ally, is a fledgling mage. Then you meet Tellah, an old Sage capable of recalling powerful spells, and you wonder if your luck is about to change for the better…or the worse.
In Final Fantasy IV, it’s easy to dismiss Tellah as the hot-headed and senile old man he claims to be. Tellah is on his own quest to rescue his daughter, Anna, from the hateful bard who whisked her away. Possessed of a handful of basic spells, Tellah can’t navigate the Underground Waterway on his own, and so he requires help. One might easily see this weakness as a flaw in his character, but his passion could be seen as a far greater flaw.
When Tellah finally catches up with Anna and the “spoony” bard who took her away, they find her mortally wounded following an attack from Cecil’s former military unit. The bard reveals himself as uninjured, and Tellah lashes out at him. Tellah’s anger only subsides when Anna regains consciousness enough to tell her father that a man named Golbez led the attack. Even Cecil cannot stop the enraged Tellah from swearing vengeance and fleeing the city.
Tellah’s passion leads him far from Cecil and his friends. Not only does he swear revenge, he seeks out the ultimate black magic, Meteor, so he can crush Golbez once and for all. He travels to Mount Ordeals in the hopes of permanently recalling his spells and the long-forgotten Meteor, and it’s here that he’s reunited with Cecil who hopes to recall something of himself as well. Together, they climb the mountain, and in a mirror-lined room at the top, a light calls out to Cecil and transforms him into a Paladin. This same light allows Tellah to recall his old spells.
During this part of the story, we learn a little more about Tellah’s past. In Mysidia, a town occupied by Mages both Black and White, Tellah stands unique, a Great Sage capable of casting both magic types.
In Final Fantasy, knowledge isn’t the only requirement for casting magic. Strength is needed as well, and Tellah sorely lacks in the strength department. Not only do his physical stats actually decrease as he gains levels, but his magic power doesn’t increase either, keeping the powerful Meteor’s high MP cost outside his reach during normal gameplay. When the Elder of Mysidia warns Tellah casting Meteor will destroy him, but Tellah brushes him off, still consumed by his need for revenge.
Tellah continues to travel with Cecil, knowing a meeting with Golbez will inevitably come. The old Sage, capable of casting both White and Black magic, doesn’t possess the magic power to properly buff during battles or to consistently cast offensive spells. He can help heal, and he his Black magic sometimes speeds battles along. His usefulness, like the old man trope, is missing during battle, but never in the story itself.
Driven to revenge, propelled by his love for his daughter, Tellah finally gets the chance to confront Golbez at the top of the Tower of Zot. He attacks using the most powerful spells in his arsenal, but not Meteor, perhaps because he truly doesn’t wish to end his life for his need to destroy. Regardless, Golbez taunts Tellah as his spells prove weak at best. Exhausted, Tellah puts the last of his life energy into casting Meteor. Fire rains from the heavens, and Golbez is weakened considerably, but not destroyed. Tellah’s story is almost at an end, and during his final moments, he shows regret for acting out in anger and being consumed by his need for revenge. Tellah dies, as some characters must (as all characters must), and the Final Fantasy IV continues without him, but without forgetting him.
Whether a player enjoys Tellah’s company or not depends on the player. A player who focuses less on story, and more on the mechanics of the game, might miss out on the intricacies of Tellah’s character. He spends most of Final Fantasy IV either seeking revenge or seeking a means to that end. Whatever love he carries for his friends or family is lost in his desire to hurt those who have hurt him. In the end, his vengeance does nothing but end his own life. He fails, but his sacrifice inspires his friends to continue the fight, and perhaps, sends a general message about life itself.
It’s hard to say if Tellah had stayed along for the journey if he could’ve been useful. In The After Years, the sequel to Final Fantasy IV, Tellah’s sacrifice and memory serves Edward to find happiness and provides a goal for Palom to become a Sage. Sadly, memories are all he has left to give.
Stealthy, quick, and dressed about as cool as can be, Ninjas, specifically the Ninja Job Class, have been around since the first Final Fantasy. Originally, the Ninja class evolved out of the Thief class, which makes sense because both rely on their speed and cunning. What’s interesting about this class change is it happens again in Final Fantasy VI to a man named Clyde, a man who will later be know as Shadow, a ninja assassin for hire.
Shadow appears early on in the story of Final Fantasy VI by quietly intimidating Edgar, Terra, and Locke with his dog, Interceptor. Rumors abound about Shadow, as noted by Edgar’s declaration that he’d “slit his mama’s throat for a nickel”. Shadow reappears after Sabin washes up north of the Veldt. He offers his services as an assassin for free, but as many know, sometimes Shadow stays with you for a while, and sometimes he wanders off along the way.
The next time Shadow pops up in the story, he offers his services for the steep price of 3000 gil, which might be a bargain except he still sticks around only for as long as he feels like it. This game of ninja and mouse continues for a while, right up until the point when he is hired by the Empire to accompany Terra to the village of Thamasa, conveniently revealing the first clues about Shadow’s past.
On the way to Thamasa, Shadow witnesses an encounter between Terra and General Leo which leaves her contemplating what she feels. Shadow offers no real advice, only that she must find the answers for herself. As she walks away, he warns her some people have killed their emotions. Himself, perhaps? Later, when the group arrives in Thamasa, they meet the old Blue Mage, Strago, and his daughter Relm, who somehow manages to tame the bloodthirsty Interceptor, leaving Shadow confused. Of course, these little tidbits of personality surrounding Shadow comes to nothing. Before you know it, he’s wandered off again.
Shadow doesn’t make another appearance until the party reaches the Floating Continent. Once they land, they find Shadow in a heap. He tells them the Empire tried to get rid of him, and the party should go on without him. They don’t. They take Shadow along, and together they navigate the Floating Continent, right up until the fight against Atma Weapon. After they win the fight, Shadow departs, declaring himself unworthy to continue fighting because he’d sided with the Empire.
What happens next becomes a pivotal moment in Shadow’s character development. When Kefka disrupts the balance between the Warring Triad, Shadow launches himself into the fray. He rescues Celes and traps Kefka between the statues, selflessly giving the party time to escape. A timer begins to countdown, indicating how long before the Floating Continent falls apart, and one can leap to the safety of the airship or wait until the timer is almost expired. If you leap to safety, Shadow’s story ends, and he becomes the only character you cannot gain access to later in the game (he ded). However, a patient player will see Shadow reunite with the party.
After the events on the Floating Continent, the world falls into ruin. The party scatters, and it’s up to Celes to reunite everyone again. Once Shadow is recruited again (this time permanently), his past stands fully revealed in a series of dream sequences that plays out randomly when Shadow sleeps at certain inns.
Two thieves, Clyde and Baram, steal 1 million gil from a train. As they flee the scene, Baram wants to change their name to something more appropriate. “Shadow”, Baram explains, would be the great train robbers of the century. They don’t get away unscathed. During their escape, Baram receives a mortal wound. Bleeding to death, he urges Clyde to make a run for it, but not before one last request. Clyde needs to use his knife to end Baram’s life before the authorities reach him. Clearly conflicted, Clyde refuses to kill, and he flees despite Baram’s angry cries to finish him off.
Clyde turns up in Thamasa where a local woman and her dog (presumably Interceptor) help him back to his feet. In the final scene of the dream sequence, Clyde leaves Thamasa behind, telling Interceptor to stay with the girl. This would indicate how Interceptor took a liking to Relm when he saw her earlier in the game. The hound hesitates at his master’s words, but ultimately refuses, and he follows after Clyde.
In the Gameboy Advance version of Final Fantasy VI, the text “girl” is changed to “daughter”.
The most obvious, and perhaps most poignant, connection between Shadow and his daughter, Relm, is the Memento Ring, an accessory blessed with a departed mother’s love. Relm comes equipped with the Memento Ring, however one other person can equip the ring: Shadow, the Thief turned Ninja, the man once known as Clyde.
Shadow’s story seemingly ends at Kefka’s Tower. After the party defeats Kefka and the Triad, they begin their descent from the tower. During this descent, Shadow wanders off yet again. Interceptor tracks him down, but Shadow pushes him away, telling him to take care. As he climbs to a nearby ledge, Shadow calls out to the ghost of Baram, telling him to come find him. When the rest of the party reunites on the airship, Shadow isn’t among them.
On the surface, Shadow may appear as another cool-looking Final Fantasy stereotype, but that would be far from accurate. He’s the only party member who literally comes and goes as he pleases, and he’s the only one who can die in game. His acts of heroism are unmatched. He took on crazy Kefka while the clown absorbed the power of the Triad.
Death plays a huge part of Final Fantasy VI. Terra, a Magitek Soldier, presumably killed many under Kefka’s control. Cyan lost his family and his kingdom. Locke struggles to find a cure for his comatose girlfriend, only to lose her in the end. Despite the rumors about Shadow, there’s no strong evidence he was even an assassin. Sure, he has the skills, but as his dream sequence showed us, he has an aversion to killing. Perhaps the saddest part of Shadow’s story is despite all the good he accomplished throughout the game, he never felt worthy of it, and as a result, he fell along with the rest of Kefka’s Tower.
In the early days of Final Fantasy, Garland appeared as the very first antagonist. When the fabled Warriors of Light appeared outside the gates of Cornelia, they learned of the missing Princess Sarah, kidnapped by the knight, Garland. It’s unclear if Garland is regarded as a once-knight because of his new status as a kidnapper, or if he committed some atrocity in his past. Regardless, at the request of the King of Cornelia, the Light Warriors set out to find Garland and rescue the Princess.
The Dawn of Souls version of Final Fantasy gives us a little more information about Garland, indicating he’s the finest swordsman in the land, and he’s already thwarted one attempt by the kingdom to recover the Princess. Please note Dawn of Souls also puts a twist on matters. The King bars passage from Cornelia unless the Warriors get the Princess back.
The Warriors of Light find Garland in the dilapidated Chaos Shrine to the north of Cornelia. Inside, Garland stands before the kidnapped Princess Sarah, threatening the Light Warriors:
The Light Warriors fight. Garland falls. The Princess is rescued, and while the Warriors of Light begin their journey across the newly built bridge leading away from Cornelia, Garland’s blood leaks out onto the pixilated floor of the Chaos Shrine.
Except that’s far from the end of Garland. While the Light Warriors travel the world in search of a way to restore their crystals to their former glory, the Four Fiends of Chaos revive Garland and send him 2000 years in the past. There, in the unbroken Temple of Chaos, Garland absorbs the power of the Four Fiends and becomes the powerful Chaos. With his newfound power, Chaos sends the Fiends into the future where they will one day send him back to the past, creating a paradox that only the Light Warriors can solve.
After the crystals are lit once again, the Light Warriors travel back to the broken Chaos Shrine and find the means to travel into the past. There, they meet their old foe Garland, now possessed with the power of Chaos. Once more, they do battle, and the Light Warriors win, supposedly breaking the Time-Loop. None of this tells us anything more about Garland’s character except perhaps his penchant for destruction and his wish for immortality. Too many questions remain about the Time-Loop to answer whether it will continue or not, of course, the epilogue clearly states Garland will be waiting for the Warriors when they return to their proper time.
The Final Fantasy game, Dissidia sheds a little more light on Garland’s character. Portrayed as a brutish warrior, relying on strength alone to overcome his enemies, Garland remains a constant ally of Chaos. He is a playable character, a villain whose only desire is to see the war between Chaos and Cosmos continue. In-game reports mention Garland has been freed from the Time-Loop, so perhaps he is truly in two places as once: Chaos is the Garland who will be, and Garland is what Chaos once was.
In the lore of Final Fantasy, the original Garland remains shrouded in mystery. He’s the first boss you ever face, and in the same game, he’s the final boss. It’s sort of poetic. His past is the one piece of his history we know nothing about, and so he may very well be a sympathetic villain. Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to ever find that out, and so Garland’s true character may have to reside in our imaginations.
FUN FACT: The word GARLAND refers to a round wreath of branches, flowers, or leaves that was once worn as a crown. Not only does this reference the Time-Loop Garland falls into, but it could also reference a claim to his kingship.
Video Games, Comics, Movies, and Books. I'll talk about it all, and I'll tell you why it's so awesome!