‘All World’s a Stage’—Final Fantasy VI’s Various Influences

From Les Miserables to Star Wars, the well is deep

Each new installment of the franchise introduced generations of gamers to the wide-reaching plots, with stunning visuals, and complex characters. While not as prominent as fan favorites FF7 and FFX, much of this model’s success can be attributed to Final Fantasy V. A landmark synthesis of these elements, FF6 features some deep theatrical and cultural…


Final Fantasy (FF) is certainly one of the most absurdly popular video game series in existence, with hardly a dud in its entire lineup of over 15 games. Each new installment introduced a generation of gamers to the wide-reaching plots, the stunning visuals, and the complex characters that have kept the series alive for more than 30 years. And while it may not be as well remembered as the fan favorites like Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X, much of this success can be attributed to the model put forth by Final Fantasy VI. While it wasn’t the first in the series to earn acclaim for its storytelling and character analysis (which actually went as far back as Final Fantasy II) it certainly set a standard that would characterize the series transition to PlayStation, where it would become the legend it is now.

Locke, the Benevolent Thief

Let’s start with the closest thing the game has to a dashing male lead, Locke Cole. A self-described “treasure hunter,” he’s a sympathetic thief who spends much of the game mourning his lost love, Rachel. This brings to mind another sympathetic thief, Jean Valjean of Les Miserables. Their lives of crime both start with their family. Locke was trained by his father, also a thief, until his death, and Valjean is caught stealing bread for his sister and her children. Locke is treated like a leper in his hometown of Kohlingren, who see him as no more than a common criminal. This is a theme presented quite frequently in Les Mis, particularly when relating to Jean Valjean’s character arc.

Upon release from jail, Valjean is given a yellow passport, to indicate that he is an ex-convict, branding him publicly and leading the police to treat him with suspicion and derision upon finding him with the church’s silver. This leads to the more compelling similarity between Locke and Valjean—their quests for redemption.

When Valjean is brought before the unnamed bishop for having stolen the silverware from the church, the bishop responds by saying, “… that it had been given to him by a kind old fellow of a priest with whom he had passed the night? I see how the matter stands. And you have brought him back here? It is a mistake” [ 1 ].

Some may claim Locke’s comparison to Jean Val Jean, as the rogue with a heart of gold may seem cliché. To this we reply, “You misspelled seminal.”

Valjean is emotionally struck by this bishop who chooses to look past his history and treat him as a person—something which is highlighted when contrasted with how Inspector Javert refers to him by his prisoner number, 24601. As a result, Valjean vows to change his ways and act in a manner that would make the bishop proud.

Locke also holds a special place in his heart for the only person who treated him well in Kohlingren, Rachel, who becomes his girlfriend despite his thieving. Both the game and Les Miserables touch on the theme that treating someone a certain way may lead to them becoming and embodying that treatment.

When Jean Valjean is able to hide his status as a convict, he is able to become an upstanding member of society. This also factors into Locke’s backstory, with the town’s treatment of him negating the positive influence Rachel had on him. Her father, acting as the game’s version of Javert, opposes their relationship. In trying to prove him wrong, Locke ends up causing an accident that costs Rachel her memory.

From that point forward, he, like Valjean, makes a vow in response to these events which creates what is actually his most memorable character trait (even over his status as a thief); his unabashed crusade to protect women.

This is what leads him to cross paths with Terra, the character who brings him into the story and sets him on his path to redemption. This connection could be compared to Valjean’s relationship with Cosette, and to a lesser extent, Fantine.

While Jean Valjean has no particular rule about helping women, he is seen and remembered for constantly helping women in need and taking in Fantine’s daughter despite having no personal responsibility for her. This steers Valjean to become a member of the very class whose oppression led to his poverty in the first place—a fact that is emphasized in the novel and play due to the focus on the French Revolution in the later acts.

Similarly, Locke is initially reluctant to align himself with Terra due to her affiliation with the Empire (which he blames for Rachel’s eventual death), but his vow compels him to protect her anyway. Valjean, by comparison, is not really conflicted by his connection with the French bourgeoisie. The link between Valjean’s relationship with Cosette and Locke’s relationship with Terra might even have been stronger at some point as the original designs portrayed Locke as a much older companion to the (then male) Terra Branford. This could have led to further exploration and parallels of the father-daughter dynamic of Valjean and Cosette, or had Terra serve as a mentor figure to a Locke much more like Valjean with Cosette’s love interest, Marius. However, as we’ll see below, Terra herself is based on a very different character.

Two Brothers

Les Miserables is hardly the only bit of French culture to find its way into Final Fantasy VI. Edgar and Sabin find their inspiration in an old French mystery that has inspired things as broad as Sanji’s backstory in One Piece to an episode of DuckTales. It’s one of the truly unsolved mysteries of the world, up there with the identity of Jack the Ripper, namely, the famous Man in the Iron Mask, and Alexandre Dumas’ interpretation in his novel The Vicomte of Bragelonne [ 2 ].

The two aforementioned shows use the titular iron mask as a clear signifier to the reference, but Final Fantasy VI marks one of the few examples where the reference is made without the mask. The story is inspired by Marcel Pagnol’s widely accepted theory of the identity of the famous prisoner. He posited that he was the twin brother of Louis XIV, born seconds after the future king and shipped off to Jersey Island under the name James de la Cloche.

While there are opponents to this conspiracy who point out that royal births at the time were often public, there is some evidence that it may be true. Examples such as the long line of twins in the king’s bloodline, and Louis XIII rushing the entire court to the chapel of Château de Saint-Germain for a celebratory hymn, rather than waiting several days as was the custom [ 3 ]. This would have given the queen time to give birth to a second, unseen twin. If such a twin were to exist, this could have caused great strife for King Louis XIV. There was disagreement at the time over whether the twin who was born first was the elder, or the twin who was birthed last, as the belief at the time was that the first child born would have been conceived first.

The two Figaro brothers, much like the twins in Dumas’ Man in the Iron Mask, reviving themes of royal siblings, each viable for the crown.

This issue also exists in the Final Fantasy backstory of Edgar and Sabin, twins with equal claim to the throne of Figaro Castle. Upon their father’s death, they are left to decide among themselves who will rule their subjects. Sabin recommends that they simply run away, but Edgar, not wishing their kingdom to fall to ruin, rigs a coin toss so that he will inherit the kingdom. “If it’s heads, you win… We’ll choose whatever path we want, without any regrets…” [ 4 ].

While this mimics the shady actions of Dumas’ villainous version of King Louis XIV, Edgar’s actions are considerably more benevolent. He arranged things so that Sabin could go on to live the life he wanted without bearing the burden of guilt for having abandoned his brother. Edgar does not hide the existence of his brother, but instead turns it into part of his motivation against the Gestahlian Empire that murdered his father, putting in motion the events that would drive Sabin away. This eventually leads to the twins’ reunion in the game’s story. While the inspiration certainly comes from The Man in the Iron Mask, Yoshitaka Amano twisted the characters so that neither was a villain, and they instead act as brothers, with each other’s best interests at heart.

Setzer, the Long-Lost Maverick

Another strong contender for a Final Fantasy VI character based on a character from another universe is Setzer, who bears a certain resemblance to the Maverick family from their similarly named TV show. The Mavericks were made up of brothers Bret (played by James Garner), Bart (played by Jack Kelly), Brent (played by Robert Colbert), and their cousin Beau (played by Roger Moore), but were ultimately interchangeable. This was by design.

Bart Maverick was introduced so that the studio could continue to air episodes regularly despite them taking a full week to film. By having another actor playing the character, episodes could be filmed simultaneously. When James Garner left the show, Roger Moore’s Beau and Robert Colbert’s Brent were introduced specifically to serve as similar roles, with the actors’ reported resemblance to James Garner serving as a major factor in the casting [ 5 ].

However, while Bret and Bart were designed to have the same personalities and mannerisms, the actors’ individual strengths began to diverge the two characters. James Garner was a better comedian, while Jack Kelly shone in dramatic stories, and so scripts were written to reflect this. All of the Mavericks were known for certain recurring traits. They all excelled as card players, lived their lives as traveling gamblers, were self-described cowards, and were constantly getting into trouble over money or women.

Although Setzer’s last name is Gabbiani, he may as well be another of the Mavericks. His abilities in the game are all gambling-based and his primary characteristic is as a compulsive risk taker, eager to put his life on the line in favor of a grand payoff. This is at odds with the Mavericks, who were famously reluctant to risk their lives. Although they always did the right thing in the end and often surprised themselves with acts of great bravery, their first instinct was always to avoid any personal danger.

The Mavericks were also ladies’ men, which matches Setzer’s characterization as well. His backstory features two great romances of his life. First, Darill, his lost love who perished due to her own risk-taking nature, a fact shown to have had a deep effect on Setzer. Second, Maria, the opera singer he was infatuated with and even tried to kidnap during his introduction. This eventually leads to his kidnapping of Celes, who he finds even more attractive than Maria, and agrees to a deal for her to become his “woman” (in Japanese, the word used implies a woman who exchanges physical favors for gifts, sort of a sugar daddy relationship).

The deal, of course, brings back Edgar’s trick coin though and Setzer ends up joining the Returners. In the original translation for the North American Super Nintendo release, Setzer was inclined to remain neutral rather than directly oppose the Empire, as he had made profits from their rule. This may have been an attempt to bring him closer to the Mavericks, writing him as a coward reluctant to put himself at risk. However, it was corrected for subsequent releases, which have him joining the Returners specifically because the Empire has been bad for business—as per the Japanese release.

Sir Garamonde of the Round Table

Moving on to British mythology, Cyan Garamonde, the most loyal knight of Doma, can be seen as an analogue for Sir Bedivere of the King Arthur legends. Sir Bedivere was often referred to as the most loyal knight of any of the Knights of the Round Table, and is also one of the oldest knights, appearing alongside Sir Kay in the legends as King Arthur’s closest friends and longest-lasting companions.

Bedivere is even sometimes used to replace Lancelot—who, most scholars agree, is almost certainly fictitious. While there is allegedly some historical basis for Arthur and his Knights in history, including Bedivere, a number of authors using him in Lancelot’s place as the knight with whom Guinevere has her affair. Nevertheless, Bedivere is most recognizable for his traditional role as one of the sole survivors of the Battle of Camlann [ 6 ].

Sources for this include Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, which is generally treated as the definitive telling of King Arthur’s death. In that story, while Arthur does initially survive the battle itself, he goes on to die shortly afterwards [ 7 ]. It’s here where Bedivere starts to most closely resemble Cyan, as he is also the sole survivor of a battle where his king dies. However, while Bedivere’s king is able to die in a blaze of glory, fighting Mordred’s army, Cyan’s king is deprived of this, with Kefka poisoning the local river to kill everyone in the town.

Unlike Bedivere, who only loses his oldest friends and comrades-at-arms, Cyan loses everyone he ever cared for, including his wife and child. Following the death of King Arthur, Sir Bedivere becomes a hermit, and this is how he lives out the rest of his days.

This was a common feature in the myths surrounding the Knights of the Round Table, as Lancelot is also often said to have become a hermit after Arthur’s death, as penance for his betrayal of the king. Cyan does not immediately become a hermit, as the deaths of his king and the denizens of his village is the event that spurs him to join the party, but near the end of the story, following the End of the World, he spends a year on Mt. Zozo, writing letters to Lola until he is discovered by the party.

Gau the Wild Child

Gau harkens back to a common archetype in classical literature known as the “wild child,” a human child raised by animals in the wild, away from civilization. While the colloquialism of being “raised by apes” often refers to Tarzan, the trope predates him by nearly 20 years with Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book short stories.

Indeed, Mowgli himself is likely inspired by the Greek myth of Romulus and Remus, who were also raised by a wolf, but as Gau has no brother and is not directly connected with wolves, we can assume that the reference does not go back that far. The first question, then, is whether Gau is based on Tarzan or Mowgli.

Unlike Mowgli and Tarzan, Gau raises himself, so there are no apes or wolves in his backstory. The primary parallel, then, is his age. Gau is a young boy, his age is indeterminate, but he is certainly prepubescent. While some versions, notably the 1995 live-action film, have portrayed Mowgli as an adult, the traditional stories tend to focus on his adventures as a boy [ 8 ].

Alternately, Tarzan, with the exception of Burroughs’ prequel, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, tend to feature him as an adult. Their personalities are wildly different as well. Tarzan, based on Burroughs’ personal beliefs on race and royalty, was originally sophisticated and gracious in spite of his upbringing. His lack of understanding of the English language and human culture, including the famous “Me Tarzan, you Jane” line, were creations of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for its film, Tarzan the Ape Man, starring Johnny Weissmuller.

The film continues to influence the majority of Tarzan adaptations, but Edgar Rice Burroughs disliked the portrayal, which was a far cry from his articulate, loincloth-wearing gentleman [ 9 ]. Nonetheless, there is a distinct comparison to be made to how Gau speaks. “…ooh…Gau…high place…not good…don’t like…,” serves as a good example of Gau’s lack of command of human speech and how it resembles Tarzan’s [ 4 ].

Comparably, Mowgli, in his original design, is much closer to the barely literate Gau. There is very little material featuring Mowgli interacting with humans, which is at odds with Gau, who is only seen interacting with humans in Final Fantasy VI. Assuming the characters are related, Gau is also removed from Mowgli’s Indian heritage, which is strange, given that even the earliest adaptations would cast Indian actors, such as Sabu Dastagir, the first actor to play the character in 1942’s The Jungle Book.

The Disney film in 1967 also made sure to make Mowgli’s Indian heritage explicit. What’s interesting is that while the character is logically assumed to be Indian, the stories are not themselves Indian, and so when adapted for a Japanese game set in a fantasy world, it would seem that they felt no fealty to the character’s significance to Indian audiences.

However, in spite of this, no attempts are made to bridge this transformation. Gau is designed as having pale skin and green hair, among a cast made up entirely of similarly colored characters, and when his parents appear, they have the same European features as the main cast. Granted, given the stylized look of all the characters, it’s hard to say whether they are meant to be Caucasian or Asian, but what is for certain is that they are not meant to be “brown.”

The succeeding game in the Final Fantasy series would go on to reference a real-world culture, and, by extension, race, in the country of Wutai, homeland of Yuffie Kisaragi, which is based heavily on East Asian culture. It’s unlikely that this was done as a response to the whitewashing of Mowgli for Gau, as Final Fantasy VII was designed and written by Tetsuya Nomura with minimal influence from Yoshitaka Amano.

Shadow and Interceptor

Shadow has a comparatively recent introduction in Final Fantasy VI, but it cannot be denied that he is inspired by Han Solo from the original Star Wars trilogy, particularly the first film. It should come as no surprise that there is a character inspired by Star Wars. After all, the franchise has regularly made references to the minor characters of Biggs Darklighter and Wedge Antilles, and the recurring name Cid was originally described as being attributed to characters who are wise mentors, “like Yoda from the Star Wars series” [ 10 ]. Within VI itself, there is a fairly heavy-handed reference to Han Solo from Setzer. “Nonsense! I’ll win the Falcon from you when I beat you in a race around the world!” [ 4 ]. This is likely a wink to Solo winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando [ 11 ].

Shadow and his dog Interceptor’s connection to Bogart’s performance in Casablanca may seem tenuous, but we assure you, these roots go deep.

The most telling similarity is the presence of Interceptor, Shadow’s dog and the only character he openly shows affection toward. Shadow’s relationship certainly has similarities to that of Han and Chewie, such as when Shadow says, “Leave us. The dog eats strangers …” [ 4 ], harkening to Han’s frequent threats to other characters to allow Chewie to inflict violence on them.

Allegedly, George Lucas was inspired to create Chewbacca while riding in his car with his dog, Indiana, who would sit in the passenger seat and occasionally be mistaken for a human, so it’s fitting that the analogue for him would return in the form of a dog [ 12 ]. But Shadow himself has more than a few similarities with Han Solo.

A recurring idea through the game is that Shadow is a ruthless mercenary, interested in no more than the money he’s been promised for helping the Returners. This echoes Han Solo’s quote to Princess Leia in Star Wars, “Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution. I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money” [ 13 ]. When describing Shadow, Edgar claims that he would “slit his own mama’s throat for a nickel!” This is an exaggeration borne of the SNES translation. In the original Japanese, Edgar’s assertion is considerably less dramatic, saying he would “kill his best friend for the right price.” Both quotes do, however, show the similarity between Shadow and Solo.

They have no morals, and they don’t care for ethics. Their only interest is money. Like Han after rescuing Leia, Shadow tends to leave as soon as he’s been paid, even in cases where he leaves the rest of the party in trouble. Eventually, though, Shadow begins to soften up to the party, rescuing them all from the burning house in Thamasa. He claims that he was only there for Interceptor, but the indication is clear enough. The cold non-committal exterior exists to hide his true emotions.

This means that Shadow is also indirectly a reference to Casablanca, which inspired the entirety of the Mos Eisley cantina scene in Star Wars and, in particular, the character of Han Solo. Han takes the place of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine, not as the owner of the club, but as the cynical smuggler who can get things done for the right price. That price, in both cases, ends up being 15,000.

The price for a ride to Alderaan aboard the Millennium Falcon is 15,000 credits, and boat passage out of Casablanca is 15,000 francs. The two characters even have the same preferred term of endearment, “kid” [ 14 ]. Jabba the Hutt’s design was even meant to include a fez as a reference to Sydney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari. While, like Gau’s relationship to Romulus and Remus, Shadow is far removed from Rick’s Café and the Casablanca references, but it’s important to note that even the works that inspired Final Fantasy VI were, themselves, inspired by something.

Terra, the Sacrificial Soldier

While the idea behind FF VI was to ensure that there was no singular character to point to as the protagonist, Terra Branford is likely the closest, and this is why she’s been saved for last. Like the characters mentioned at the start of the article, her lineage dates back to French history and can be seen as an analogue for Joan of Arc. An early piece of evidence for this theory is their respective ages; Jeanne d’Arc was 18 when she was captured by the English, and Terra is described as 18 years old in Final Fantasy VI.

Both girls, despite being teenagers, fought in wars, although Joan of Arc did so of her own volition, while Terra was essentially forced to fight for the Gestahlian Empire via Kefka’s slave crown. Another similarity between Terra and Jeanne d’Arc is their spiritual connection. Jeanne described having visions at the age of 16, seeing Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret in her father’s garden, all urging her to drive the English out of France [ 15 ].

Compare this with Terra’s display of her esper powers, which inspired Emperor Gestahl to kidnap her and raise her to be a soldier in his army. Like Jeanne d’Arc, Terra moves quickly through the ranks of the Gestahlian Army, but while one of the most famous things attributed to Jeanne d’Arc were the charges of her cross-dressing, we don’t see Terra do this throughout the game.

Similar to Sabin’s lack of an iron mask, or Gau’s lack of a wolf family, this key element separates her from the source material, obscuring it enough that it may not be immediately obvious. This allows the character to retain the elements that connect to the core theme of their inspiration, and in the case of Terra, this is her sacrifice at the end of the game.

In the same way that Joan of Arc took actions for the sake of France which led to her execution, Terra sacrifices herself to allow the rest of the party to escape Kefka’s collapsing tower. Unlike Jeanne d’Arc, Terra is then given a second chance at life, sent back into the world, now fully human, as a reward for her love of the children back home. In a way, her sacrifice is exactly what saves her.

Conclusion

And with that, we’ve analyzed most of the characters in Final Fantasy VI. The creators certainly tapped into a plethora of sources, referencing everything from French and English classic literature, 1940s westerns, Star Wars, and British and French mythology. It’s almost as though the designers chose to throw every reference they had always wanted to use into the game.

This is fitting for what was then expected to be Yoshitaka Amano’s last game as head writer and character designer before handing the franchise off to Tetsuya Nomura. However, while the references are very clear, the obvious, dramatic elements of each one is shaved off so as to give the Final Fantasy characters some originality and the opportunity to flourish in their own right without being confined to their inspiration’s shadows. And by working in these references, the game becomes so much richer, tying it to all these classic stories as a successor to their legacy.

Images

  1. “Some may claim Locke’s comparison to Jean Val Jean, as the rogue with a heart of gold may seem cliché. To this we reply, ‘You misspelled seminal.’”
  2. “The two Figaro brothers, much like the twins in Dumas’ Man in the Iron Mask, reviving themes of royal siblings, each viable for the crown.”
  3. “Shadow and his dog Interceptor’s connection to Bogart’s performance in Casablanca may seem tenuous, but we assure you, these roots go deep.”

With a BA in English from the University of Massachusetts and his service in the public library system, Marcelo Gusmão’s considerable experience has served him and this endeavor well. Since joining Steam-Funk Studios in 2018, he’s demonstrated a blend of exacting, finely honed analysis, boundless creativity and skillful interpretation, all framed by a vigorous joie de vivre for all things nerd culture. A key member of SFS’ Intermediate writing and editorial staff, he’s penned several series.

Resources

  1. Hugo, Victor. “XII: The Bishop Works,” Les Misérables. Translated by Isabel F. Hapgood. Web, Standard Books, May 24, 2022, book II, ch. XIII. standardebooks.org/ebooks/victor-hugo/les-miserables/isabel-f-hapgood/text/chapter-1-2-12.
  2. Dumas, Alexandre. The Vicomte de Bragelonne. United Kingdom, Outlook Verlag, 2019, Full Text.
  3. Dumont, Jean. Supplément au Corps Universel Diplomatique du Droit du Gens tome IV. Amsterdam: Chez les Janssons à Waesberge, Wetstein & Smith, & Z. Chatelain, 1739, Vol. IV. p. 176.
  4. Final Fantasy VI. Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Square Enix, 1994.
  5. H&I Staff. “Maverick Replaced James Garner With a Lookalike and Hoped Viewers Didn’t Notice.” Heroes & Icons, H&I National Limited Partnership, 14 Nov. 2019. handitv.com/stories/maverick-replaced-james-garner-with-a-lookalike-and-hoped-viewers-would-not-notice.
  6. Yee, Pamela M. “Bedivere.” The Camelot Project, University of Rochester Libraries. General editors: Alan Lupack and Barbara Tepa Lupack. d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/theme/bedivere. Accessed 9 May 2021.
  7. Mallory, Thomas. “Le Morte d’Arthur”. Produced by Mike Lough, and David Widger. Web, Project Gutenberg, August 3rd 2020. www.gutenberg.org/files/1252/1252-h/1252-h.htm#chap256.
  8. Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Book. Macmillan, 1894, Full Text.
  9. Racoma, Dine. “Tarzan, Ape-Man and Linguist.” The Language Journal, 5 Mar 2012. www.thelanguagejournal.com/2012/03/tarzan-ape-man-and-linguist-100th.html. Accessed 9 May 2021.
  10. Final Fantasy VII: Behind the Scenes Report.” Electronic Gaming Monthly (97): 18–19. August 1997.
  11. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Directed by Irvin Kershner.
  12. Hutchinson, Sean. “15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca.” Mental Floss, Dennis Publishing, 2 May 2019. www.mentalfloss.com/article/56801/15-chewbacca-facts-honor-peter-mayhews-birthday Accessed 9 May 2021.
  13. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Directed by George Lucas. Performances by Carrie Fischer, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford. Lucasfilm, 1977.
  14. Robey, Tim. “10 Films that Influenced Star Wars.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 14 Dec 2015. web.archive.org/web/20160504213809/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/star-wars–a-new-hope/movies-influences-george-lucas.
  15. Lowell, Francis Cabot (1896). Joan of Arc. Houghton Mifflin Co., pp. 28.