Welcome, fellow party members, to the newest installment of our “Our Favorite Characters” column. This time, we’re traveling to the steampunk world of Final Fantasy VI, to take a look at Terra Branford. While the creators of Final Fantasy VI have stressed that this game is much more of an ensemble piece, with no distinct main character, many can agree that if there were to be one central hero, Terra is the best fit for that title.
Now, you may ask yourself, “isn’t Final Fantasy VI an SNES title?” You’d be correct! However, if you may recall, Final Fantasy VI did end up on the PS1 in the late 90s. Don’t play the PS1 port of Final Fantasy VI if you can avoid it. It’s a bad port. But that’s not we’re here to talk about.
For a number of reasons, Terra is essentially the central character of Final Fantasy VI. For starters, it’s she who graces the original (Japanese) box art. Terra’s theme is the game’s overworld theme. She’s the character we begin our adventure with. She was chosen to represent Final Fantasy VI when Dissidia Final Fantasy was first released. Terra is, for all intents and purposes, the hero of Final Fantasy VI. In a way, she’s sort of the inverse of the typical video game hero. Introspective and insecure, she isn’t the brash and/or sullen hero typical of Final Fantasy. And that’s what makes her stand out so much.
A Tool For Evil
When we first meet Terra, she’s little more than a tool for the Gestahlian Empire. One of the few people in the Empire who is able to wield magic, she’s forced at a young age to do Gestahl’s (or more accurately, Kefka’s) bidding. At the beginning of the game, she’s using the Magitek Armor with (the ill-fated) Biggs and Wedge to retrieve a petrified Esper. That event sets off a journey of self-discovery for Terra. One where she literally discovers who (and what) she is, but also one where she learns where her true strength lies.
She initially begins her adventure with severe amnesia, not knowing who she is or where she came from; all she remembers is serving the empire. For a large chunk of the beginning act, Terra struggles with breaking away from the control once forced upon her. It’s at a critical point in the adventure when she learns her true background: she is half-Esper, born of a human mother and Esper father.
Terra is emblematic of the evils of the Empire. Before he gets offed midway through, Gestahl is very much the big bad of Final Fantasy VI. Though we never go deep into his background, we know that he is a power-hungry, greedy bastard who simply wants as much power as he can get. He’ll do anything to spread his reach, including capturing and exploiting the magic-imbued Espers. While he’s ultimately a tool in Kefka’s grand plan, he’s far from a sympathetic creature. His abuse of unwitting pawns exemplifies that, and Terra is unfortunately a victim of his greed.
Terra’s journey in Final Fantasy VI is one of self-discovery. Though she begins her journey confused and somewhat timid, the discovery of her lineage sparks a turning point. She becomes a much more assertive and confident character, becoming a central figure in the resistance.
While at the beginning she basically joins Locke because she has no other option, she quickly becomes a vital member of the Returners. Though an existential crisis or two leads her to depart the party at some points, for the most part she sticks with her found family as they try to save the world (twice). She may not be the most violent member, but she is one of the most loyal. And her loyalty is what helps the resistance ultimately succeed.
It’s fascinating to watch Terra come to terms with who and what she is. Terra never has a mental breakdown like Cloud in Final Fantasy VII. Her self-discovery is much more inward. She regularly questions whether she has a place in this world; not quite human, and not quite an Esper. She’s not sure if she can ever be loved, or love in return. She eventually does find that, yes, she is capable of love, though it takes the literal end of the world for her to come to terms with that.
The Power of Love
Love is a big theme in Terra’s arc. Now, there isn’t any sort of romantic subplot for her here. It’s not romantic love she longs for (though that is undoubtedly part of it), but rather the mere feeling of love. She longs to feel human emotions, to be accepted by others. Her entire life up to this point has literally been out of her control; though once she is able to take charge of her destiny, she’s unsure of what she should do.
Fitting, then, that it takes the cataclysmic events of the midpoint for Terra to learn that she can love and be loved. After the party is scattered across the World of Ruin, Terra finds herself in the village of Mobliz, where all the adults have perished; Terra takes it upon herself to act as the children’s guardian. The care she feels for the children, and the care they feel in return, is the love Terra has been longing this whole time.
Her love is so strong, in fact, that she initially refuses to rejoin the party. Of course, that doesn’t last long, but for a moment, Terra doesn’t want to sacrifice this newfound love she has. When the village is attacked, Terra uses this love to protect the children she cares so deeply about, transforming into her Esper form in the process. Though at first her appearance startles the children, they quickly realize it is the same Terra who has been looking over her. They don’t love her any less.
In the end, it’s love that motivates her to keep fighting. I’ve already talked about how Terra’s resolve to protect those she cares about makes her such a strong character. While many protagonists are motivated by love in a sense, Terra’s true strength lies in compassion.
A Force to be Reckoned With
In may forms of media, compassion is often synonymous with weakness, when in reality it couldn’t be further from the truth. Though she’s one of, if not the most compassionate characters in Final Fantasy VI, she’s also one of the strongest. The only native magic user in the group, she has a power no one else has.
While many Final Fantasy protagonists are physical attackers, Terra’s strength lies with magic, though she certainly knows her way around a weapon, too. Again, Terra’s far from a violent character, though if you happen to cross her, you best be careful. Whether you know her as Terra or Tina, whether her hair is blonde or green, I think we can all agree that Terra not only stands out among Final Fantasy characters, but video game characters as a whole.