Final Fantasy has long been at the forefront of storytelling in RPGs, and there are quite literally dozens of moments from across the franchise that fans can likely recall on a whim. While Final Fantasy VII tends to get the most attention, one of the most groundbreaking narrative twists in gaming actually came years before with the series’ last 2D entry. Halfway through Final Fantasy VI, however, the game delivers one of the most jaw-dropping twists in franchise history. Since October 11 was the 28th anniversary of the FF6’s release in North America, there’s never been a better time to reflect on how this twist forever changed the franchise.
Final Fantasy 6’s narrative starts out much like any other JRPG, traveling the world and putting together a party of misfits, in order to fight the Ghestalian Empire. Over dozens of hours players have gotten to intimately know these characters, and as the end of the game seemingly approaches the party heads to the floating continent to stop Emperor Gestalt from unleashing the Warring Triad.
However, this is where Final Fantasy 6 plays its wildest trump card. Kefka Palazzo, a source of comic relief who literally dresses like a clown, suddenly reveals he’s been pulling the strings the whole time. He assassinates Gestals, who’s been propped up as the main villain from the start.
As the player and party both grapple with the realization they’ve been deceived, Kefka quite literally brings about a cataclysmic end to the world. In a mind-boggling twist, the heroes lose. Towns and cities are destroyed, people erased, and the face of the planet itself is warped and twisted.
JRPGs have always been about the forces of good triumphing over evil, and Final Fantasy itself had been the epitome of that idea. The twist in Final Fantasy 6 goes against everything the Final Fantasy series had done that far, but the game wasn’t content to simply end there. After Kefka’s cataclysmic event, the game opens with Celes, who’s now living in a tiny shack trying to keep Cid alive.
After doing what you thought was the final boss battle, your next task is to simply catch some fish for Cid. If you fail, Cid will. If that happens, Celes throws herself off a cliff in an attempt to end it all. Within one hour Final Fantasy 6 goes from a rollicking adventure to a grim reflection on failure and the end of the world.
The final section of the game sees you traveling across the destroyed world, seeing towns brought to ruin, and recruiting your scattered party members for one final strike at Kefka. What’s really remarkable about the twist, however, is that Final Fantasy 6 always restores some measure of hope — especially in providing a means for our heroes to move forward even after they’ve hit rock bottom.
It’s not unreasonable to say that the twist of Final Fantasy 6 set the stage for future entries. Because Final Fantasy 6 was so narratively ambitious, it let the development teams behind Final Fantasy go even further, like with Aerith’s fate in Final Fantasy 7 or the late-game twist with Tidus in Final Fantasy 10. It’s truly a testament to Final Fantasy 6’s narrative ambitions that 28 years later, its twist still stands out as one of the very best moments in video game history.