Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Favorite Video Game Music, #29: Shadow

#29: Shadow
Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI took the concept of Loads and Loads of Characters to new and unmatched heights, offering fourteen (14!) playable characters in all, of which only two (Gogo and Umaro) are gimmick characters. All of the other 12 have impressively rich back-stories, most of which are tied in some way to someone else's: Locke/Celes/Terra, Edgar/Sabin, Strago/Relm/Shadow. Only Cyan, Setzer, and Gau were strangers to everyone else in your final party (Mog was known to Locke), though everyone except Strago/Relm were long separated from their friends or family at the time the game picks them up.

OK. Got all that?

Anyway, Final Fantasy VI also was the first RPG I remember that offered a distinct theme song for every (important) character. Final Fantasy V did, sort of, but those pieces always doubled as the area music for their homes. In FF6 that happens only in Edgar/Sabin and Strago's case, I believe. Anyway, many of the character themes were terrific pieces, and it became standard after Final Fantasy VI to have theme songs for every character. Chrono Trigger does, FFVI does, even EarthBound does.

Shadow is one of the great badasses in gaming history. This being a Square game after all, naturally he has a mildly emo backstory and ended up standing as the only playable character in 20th century gaming that ever killed himself. But crazy rumors persist nearly 20 years later of bizarre things you can do to get a different "Shadow survives" ending. That should clue you in to what a badass he is. He is a decidedly unrighteous killing machine, and his theme for the events of the game is "Shadow develops a conscience. A little one."

This is Shadow's theme music. It is one of the all-time greats for being appropriate for the character it's attached to, and maybe the #1 track of all time for how much it demands you whistle along, no matter how hard you try not to.

Tangential story: One of my all-time favorite things to do in FF6--this really amused me to no end--was to power-level Shadow, Gau, Umaro and Gogo and take those four, and only those four, into the Very Definitely Final Dungeon. Properly leveled and equipped, they could handle it with Umaro and Shadow in one group and Gau and Gogo each going it alone. (The Gambler God setup is your friend.)

Why, you ask, would anyone do such a thing? Because of the dialogue in your confrontation with Kefka. It's non-character specific; the dialogue is always the same, and the game picks from a hierarchy of preferred characters in your group to deliver it (it goes Terra-Locke-Celes-Edgar and on from there, if I recall.) It just so happens that, of your 14 playable characters, two are effectively mute (Gogo and Umaro), one speaks English very poorly (Gau) and one is extremely taciturn and is about the last person on Earth you would expect would deliver a monologue about the joy each day can bring (Shadow).

So you guessed it--if you bring a party of only those four guys, Shadow gets the speaking role. The dialogue looks like this:

Kefka: I will exterminate everyone, and everything!
Shadow: People will keep rebuilding the things you take from them.
Kefka: Then I'll destroy those too. Why do people rebuild things they know are going to be destroyed? Why do people cling to life when they know they can't live forever? Think how meaningless each of your lives is!
Shadow: It's not the net result of one's life that's important! It's the day-to-day concerns, the personal victories, and the celebration of life... and love!
(Kefka does some badass stuff with the mountains and tosses Shadow around a bit)
Shadow: It's enough if people are able to experience the joy that each day can bring!
(fast forward)
Kefka: I will destroy everything... I will create a monument to non-existence!
Shadow: Life will go on! There will always be people, and dreams!
Kefka: No! I will hunt them down! I will destroy it all! Destroy! Destroy! Destroy!!
Gau: We will not allow you to harm another living thing.

(Now, on that last line, bear in mind that like three days ago Sabin was screaming at Gau not to say "Uaooo" when he means "yes". This is high comedy.)

So it's not necessarily character-specific, but it's obvious that this dialogue was written for Terra or Locke. So it was worth a million laughs to tweak things to make Shadow deliver them. The absurdity is endlessly entertaining.

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