?Each new Final Fantasy game sticks to certain rules. One of those rules is “Change enough to piss off half the fans who liked the previous game,” but Final Fantasies still have many common sights. There’ll be a band of heroes striving to overthrow some dark and mystic force. There’ll be an airship or two. There’ll be a weird mixture of technology and medieval trappings. There’ll be a tragic sacrifice. There’ll be chicken-ostrich Chocobos and all-important crystals. And there’ll be at least one highly appealing character who the story neglects.
Final Fantasy games like to irritate you by introducing exceptionally cool characters, perhaps even sticking them in the player-controlled party for a while. Then they’re yanked away by some plot device or an untimely demise. And you’ll never get them back. You’ll just spend the rest of the game wishing you could play as a nerd revolutionary or a besuited corporate thug instead of some annoying robot cat riding a stuffed moogle.
We’re here today to recognize these underused and often underappreciated supporting characters from the Final Fantasy series. We’re also here to spoil a bunch of story twists along the way, so be warned.
10) LeBlanc from Final Fantasy X-2
It’s best to see Final Fantasy X-2 as one enormous joke on anyone who took Final Fantasy X too seriously. The original Final Fantasy X ends on a somber note, with chickeny-haired jock Tidus and willowy summoner Yuna separated forever. And then Final Fantasy X-2 comes along and blows everything up. Yuna trades her priestess robes for shorts and pistols, the gentle tropical-fantasy theme of Final Fantasy X is replaced by glitzy J-pop, and the whole story exists just to undo Final Fantasy X‘s ending. It also keeps the game’s controllable party to three members: Yuna, Rikku, and the goth islander Paine. All of them can switch to a wide assortment of costumes and specialized jobs, but it’s strange that there’s no one else to join them.
The most obvious candidate is LeBlanc, the pink-clad rival of Yuna’s girl group. She’s the same sort of duplicitous and vain thief who’s shown up in all sorts of anime since Time Bokan, but she also seems like she’s just waiting to fight alongside the heroes. That never happens, and LeBlanc is there mostly for show. And for a massage minigame that’s only one of Final Fantasy X-2‘s many ridiculous moments.
Of course, the character that everyone wanted to play in Final Fantasy X was Jecht, Tidus’ jerkass father. That was difficult for the game to manage, seeing as how Jecht was a giant sea slug throughout Final Fantasy X. Perhaps X-2 could’ve revived him, but the game’s silly enough as it is.
9) Nora from Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XIII is a wonderful, wonderful game (just ask Rob), but it has its weaknesses. For example, the first act makes some missteps when it introduces a ragtag bunch of revolutionaries fighting a military regime in the floating city of Cocoon. The rebels are led by an insufferable tough-guy moron named Snow, who attempts to rally some of the oppressed denizens of Cocoon. Among the citizens who take up arms and fight beside snow is a woman named Nora, who’s joining the cause mostly to protect her son. She dies, though not before inflicting the line “moms are tough” multiple times on the audience.
Despite that, Nora is a lot more interesting in concept than most of the game’s actual characters. Final Fantasies typically focus on young and untested heroes, so it’d be a refreshing break to feature a nearly middle-aged woman forced by necessity to join a violent rebellion. Instead, the player gets Snow, who inexplicably survives the same bridge collapse that kills Nora. The player also recruits Nora’s son Hope, who never really escapes the embarrassing baggage of his name. At least players can relate to the main character, Lightning. That’s because she tries to ditch Hope and punches Snow in the face whenever she gets the chance.
8) Golbez from Final Fantasy IV
The Final Fantasy series is likened to Star Wars a lot: there’s rebellion against an empire, there’s sweeping pathos/bathos, and there’s usually a cameo appearance by two guys named Biggs and Wedge. But games can get away with things that movies can’t. For example, Star Wars couldn’t turn Darth Vader instantly good and have him fighting alongside the rebels at the drop of a hat, could it? But Final Fantasy IV could’ve pulled that off with its Vader stand-in, Golbez. Too bad it didn’t.
Here’s the deal: the dark-armored Golbez is the main antagonist for much of Final Fantasy IV, terrorizing heroic knight Cecil with powerful magic and oppressive theme music. Then it’s revealed that Golbez is (surprise) Cecil’s twin brother. Plot-twisted over to the side of good, Golbez and the blob-like sorcerer FuSoYa head off to confront the game’s real last-minute boss: a moon-dwelling monstrosity named Zeromus.
Cecil and his companions pick their way through lunar caverns and arrive at Zeromus’ lair just in time to see Golbez and FuSoYa get themselves wrecked. And so the game never lets Golbez join the party, even though he has an in-battle sprite like the rest of the characters. He’s not even playable in later versions of Final Fantasy IV, which lets Cecil take a customized party into the last dungeon. Yes, he can’t bring Golbez, but can bring the worthless bard.
7) Older Laguna, Kiros and Ward from Final Fantasy VIII
Here’s how Final Fantasy VIII works: for most of the game, you control a young douche named Squall and his less douchey friends at Final Fantasy High School. At certain points, you’ll play through strange flashbacks showing the exploits of a soldier named Laguna, the knife-fighting expert Kiros and the harpoon-chucking Ward. Much later in the game, Laguna and company show up, all a bit older, and their connection to Squall’s side of the story is revealed. And then everyone bands together to take down the game’s bizarrely explained villain.
Well, that’s what SHOULD happen. But Laguna, Kiros, and Ward don’t join up, even though the player’s already controlled them. The game sticks with Squall and his band of magic teenagers, but Laguna, Kiros, and Ward would bring an older perspective and some neat gameplay additions. Alas, Laguna’s not a teenager, and so he’s outside of the Final Fantasy demographic.
6) Jessie from Final Fantasy VII
As we mentioned above, it’s a long-standing Final Fantasy tradition to feature two supporting characters named Biggs and Wedge. It started with Final Fantasy VI, in which Biggs and Wedge are two soldiers vaporized by an ice-encased monster. Final Fantasy VII opens with hero Cloud joining the eco-revolutionary group Avalanche, which includes members named Wedge and Biggs. Astute fans expected the pair to die quickly. And they do.
But there’s a third disposable member of the Avalanche brigade: Jessie, an electronics expert who isn’t part of any Final Fantasy running gag. She flirts with Cloud, helps bomb several corporate power stations, and dies alongside Biggs and Wedge in a shootout with the all-controlling Shinra Electric Company’s security forces. Cloud lives, as does his childhood friend Tifa and the painfully stereotyped resistance leader Barret. But Jessie buys it, and in her dying breaths she points out two things: 1) Avalanche members are terrorists who probably deserve to be killed and 2) Cloud’s an asshole, but women like him anyway.
Unlike Biggs and Wedge, Jessie’s name didn’t appear in Final Fantasy VIII or X or XII (she appears in Kingdom Hearts II, which is almost more of an insult than being forgotten). It would’ve been thoughtful of Final Fantasy VII to let her in the player’s controllable party, perhaps delaying her inevitable demise a little. Then again, the game already had another sacrificial woman lined up with Aerith. And it already had more than enough female characters to flirt with Cloud for no good reason.
5) Orran from Final Fantasy Tactics
Is Final Fantasy Tactics the best Final Fantasy game? Probably. Even if you disagree, you must admit that Tactics is easily the most depressing. Yasumi Matsuno, who’d later direct half of Final Fantasy XII before freaking out, took his own Tactics Ogre strategy-RPG, stripped it of all possible hope and joy, and remade it into Final Fantasy Tactics. Here’s how it works: Ramza, the player’s avatar, is a young noble caught up in a web of royal plottings and ancient horrors. He tries to stay above it all, while his low-born friend Delita plays the royal corruption for all it’s worth. In the end, Delita is crowned king while Ramza and his allies face an undead Final Fantasy version of Jesus. Do they survive? The game leaves that entirely up to the player’s interpretation, but Ramza’s forgotten by history either way.
One of Ramza’s friends lives, just because he never joins the main party. Orran Durai is rescued by Ramza in a battle where player only gets a glimpse of Orran’s abilities. He’s an Astrologer who can use the enemy-halting Celestial Stasis, a move the player can’t find anywhere else in the game. Orran’s also related to T.G. Cid, who’s so overpowered as to suck all the challenge from the main quest of Final Fantasy Tactics once you’ve recruited him. But Orran stays an observer, and he’s survives to the end of the game. He goes on to write Ramza’s story, telling the truth about his quest and Evil Zombie Jesus.
Then the church declares Orran a heretic and burns him at the stake. And that’s the best Final Fantasy ever, ladies and gentlemen.
4) Gilgamesh from Final Fantasy V
In a Final Fantasy game, the best villain is often not even the REAL villain. Kefka and Sephiroth aside, most players remember Final Fantasy IV‘s Golbez more than the evil Zeromus, and Final Fantasy IX featured the bafflingly androgynous Kuja more than its out-of-nowhere final boss. Final Fantasy V‘s top mustache-twirler is Exedeath, and like a lot of evil management types, his real skill is in hiring better people. So his sidekick, Gilgamesh, steals the villainous spotlight in Final Fantasy V.
Gilgamesh pops up numerous times throughout the game, taunting the main characters whose names change depending on which translation you’re playing. As a villain, he’s unpredictable, goofy, and, in his final appearance, honorable. Like some Final Fantasy ne’er-do-wells, he switches sides late in the game and dies without actually joining the player’s party. Oh well. At least he shows up again in later Final Fantasies.
3) Beatrix from Final Fantasy IX
The Final Fantasy series bible, if it exists, mandates that each modern game have at least three playable female characters. One will be troubled and passive, one will be na?ve and spunky, and one will be aloof and practical. Some games in the series break with this convention, but Final Fantasy IX sure doesn’t: it has the demurely rebellious princess Garnet, the upbeat magician-girl Eiko, and the silent dragoon Freya. There’s also Quina Quen, a lumbering, muumuu-wearing chef-beast. No one knows if Quina is male or female, only that he/she/it is the best Final Fantasy character ever.
And then there’s Beatrix, an elite knight from Garnet’s kingdom of Alexandria. As a skilled swordsmaster who serves a corrupt ruler out of loyalty, she’s seemingly the best warrior in the game’s world, with a taciturn, effortlessly lethal edge about her. She tears through the heroes whenever they fight her, and she gets one of the few great pieces in the game’s otherwise standard-issue soundtrack.
Beatrix never joins up as a permanent party member, even though she comes around to the heroes’ side. She’s only briefly under the player’s control when she accompanies bumbling guardsman Steiner into battle. Perhaps the game would be too easy if she was in every fight.
2) Gabranth and Drace from Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII‘s Judge Magisters are terrible teases. They’re essentially the same Darth Vader simulacra as Golbez from Final Fantasy IV, but they’re also a perfect embodiment of Final Fantasy XII‘s subtly appealing medieval-fantasy style. The five Judges are all servants of the Arcadian Empire, and they’re set up as villains when that empire invades the nice little desert kingdom of Dalmasca. But as Final Fantasy XII‘s story knots itself, it becomes apparent that two of the Judge Magisters aren’t all that bad. Judge Drace is essentially on the same side as the main characters, but she’s swept aside and murdered by the game’s true villain and Judge Gabranth.
Gabranth, on the other hand, is a bitter warrior slowly coming to regret all he’s done for the Empire. Disgusted at having framed him own twin brother, Basch, Gabranth joins the heroes. But not until the last dungeon in the game. Oh, and he’s one of the game’s assisting characters, who you can’t directly order. Granted, his entire storyline hinges on a heel-face turn late in the game, but he’d be a nice counterpoint to the game’s regular party, with its rabbit-women, sky pirates, and street orphans.
Oddly, Gabranth became the most heavily promoted character from the game. He appeared in Square’s shameless crossover fighting game Dissidia: Final Fantasy before any other Final Fantasy XII characters did, and he’s shown up in plenty of merchandise. Square Enix even made an action figure of him, skipping the playable characters Fran, Basch, and Penelo. There’s the Darth Vader analogy again: bad guys sell toys.
1) General Leo from Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI has the largest line-up of playable characters in all the series, and it’s still not enough for some fans. Even in the internet-deprived days of 1994, rumors were hatched about players recruiting ancillary characters like the ineffectual swordsperson Siegfried, the presumed-deceased airship pilot Darill, and the resistance leader Banon (who just sorta disappears halfway through the game). But there’s one bit-player that fans wanted more than any other: General Leo.
One of the high-ranking members of an oppressive empire, Leo is another of those honorable sorts who’s somehow on the side of evil. He’s formally introduced when the game’s heroes seemingly make peace with the big bad imperial forces. Leading an expedition to a land teeming with magically active Esper creatures, Leo has a brief-but-meaningful chat with confused half-Esper heroine Terra. Then things go awry, and the whole thing is revealed as a setup. Leo valiantly turns against his empire in a battle with the maniacal, Joker-like Kefka, and Leo doesn’t win.
Yes, Leo is dead, and some players didn’t accept that. One can’t really blame them. The game’s second half is filled with all sorts of secrets, including a mime and a sasquatch that can join up with the heroes. So there was something wistfully plausible about those rumors that you resurrect Leo by using a special elixir or beating 999 imps in battle. But he stays dead, even in the game’s Game Boy Advance remake. We’ll give Square credit for sticking to their guns and not turning Final Fantasy VI into some superhero comic where no one ever dies.