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.
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