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.
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