I know we see a lot of Final Fantasy characters pop up in this series, but this time we’ll be mixing it up a bit by taking a trip back to the series’ 16-bit era. Final Fantasy VI has an amazing cast, but in this particular Building Character entry we’re going to focus on general and opera star Celes Chere.
Final Fantasy VI was released on the SNES in 1994, although it was originally released in North America under the title Final Fantasy III. It’s been ported to quite a few other platforms since then, and is considered by some (including myself) to be the best game in the Final Fantasy series. So if you’ve yet to check it out, I would strongly encourage you to do so. I would also encourage you to proceed with caution, because this article will contain spoilers.
Final Fantasy VI chronicles the story of the Returners, a group of rebels who stand against the Empire’s conquest of the world. As generic as this plot may sound, once you throw in espers, Magitek, a nihilistic and psychopathic villain, and a cast of fourteen amazing playable characters then you get something truly noteworthy and original. On top of that, it’s blessed with one of the best scores ever to grace a video game, which lends tremendously to the story and character building.
When we first encounter Celes she has been imprisoned and is awaiting execution for her betrayal of the Empire. A Magitek knight, and one of the Empire’s top generals, Celes found she could no longer ignore the Empire’s ruthless conquest, and accepts that she will be executed for her transgression. As soon as we meet Celes it’s clear that she has a strong sense of right and wrong, as she would willingly throw away her position and her life rather than fight for a cause whose actions she cannot condone. She doesn’t allow her time with the Empire to corrupt her morals, and remains both strong-willed and freethinking. She is also independent and proud, and as a result is almost unwilling to allow Locke to rescue her. After he promises to protect her however, she gives in and decides to trust him.
After Celes comes to join the Returners, we get to know her on a deeper level. Although she retains a strong sense of pride we get to see Celes lighten up a bit through her relationship with the rest of the party, especially Locke. Although willing to open up to others, Celes retains her strong sense of pride and her unwillingness to yield her moral code. In this respect Celes seems almost perfect. She’s beautiful, proud, just, and a strong warrior. She seems to know exactly who she is and her confidence seems unwavering.
As the game progresses, however, we get to see the more human side of Celes. It becomes clear that despite her insisting that love has no place in her life she has developed strong feelings for Locke, and she is quite vulnerable in relation to him. She worries that Locke views her only as a replacement for Rachel, his previous love interest, and is hurt when Locke questions her loyalty to the Returners. Although she tries to hide it, her dependence on Locke and her trust in him are obvious, bringing some humanity to her previous appearance as an unyielding, emotionless soldier.
All that aside, nothing helps to better connect the player to Celes than what is potentially one of the game’s best scenes, her performance in the opera. In this scene, despite her protests, Celes is forced to step out of the role in which she is comfortable and fill the shoes of a famous and beloved opera star in front of a huge audience simply because she looks like her. Although she insists that she is “not some opera floozy” she performs beautifully. Despite the graphical limitations of the SNES the scene is surprisingly moving. You can tell just from the few pixels that make up her sprite that Celes looks beautiful in her dress, and the scene where Locke comes to see her before the performance and is almost too embarrassed by her beauty to speak drives the point home. Even though Celes is playing a role and her words are from a script, one can’t help but feel that there is something deeply personal about what she’s singing.
Celes’ struggle against the tyranny of the Empire and her attempts to come to terms with the more human aspects of herself really come to a peak after the destruction of the World of Balance. She finds herself in a ruined world alone with Cid, whom she deeply cares for. As far as she knows she has lost all of her friends, and her life as she knows it. If the player fails to save Cid, Celes, deprived of hope, attempts to take her own life. After throwing herself from a cliff, she awakens on a beach to find a wounded bird wrapped in a bandana that resembles Locke’s. She takes this as a sign that Locke must be alive. This is hope enough for her to continue living, and she picks herself up and sets out to find her friends in the World of Ruin. This is another instance where we get to see both Celes’ vulnerable side, and her unbelievable strength of heart and will. Although she gives up on life, she is able to find hope in something as small as a bandana, which allows her to forge onward even though at the time she is completely alone.
All of these things are the reasons I find Celes to be such a compelling and worthwhile character. She’s not only an amazing general with a strong sense of justice, but she’s also a very human character who must not only struggle with right and wrong, but with the image she wants to project and her desire to be loved and needed. Throughout the game we have the privilege of seeing her overcome these struggles and grow immensely as a character. I think it’s easy to make a strong character, but to make one who is believably human is a real struggle, and I think that Final Fantasy VI succeeds with flying colors.
If you haven’t, I’d strongly encourage you to check out Final Fantasy VI. It does an amazing job developing not only Celes, but the rest of the cast as well, and it helped to pave the way for the many other plot and character focused games that would follow in its footsteps.