The Final Fantasy series is known for great story, and you can’t have a great story without a diverse variety of compelling and deep characters. As such, a great place to start the celebration is by looking at my at my favorite characters throughout the series.
There are many great allies, enemies, and even NPCs in the Final Fantasy worlds. So in order to do this right, I shall section off my list into three different groups: The playable characters, the villains, and the story characters. Let’s begin with those characters that you get to control yourself.
Ten – Celes Chere (Final Fantasy VI)
Final Fantasy VI is known for switching out the character you perceive as the lead quite frequently. Celes sorta takes that role over in the second half for awhile. But it’s not before a few solid events. Her character grows tired of being a part of the Gestahlian Empire where she served as a genetically-modified super solider of sorts. Which makes her involvement in the Opera scene that much more interesting. She’s a tough character capable of playing the act of vulnerable and beautiful.
Put perhaps the scene that drove me to love Celes the most comes when she awakens from a year long coma under the care of Cid. She finds herself in a world slowly sinking into darkness and despair. Eventually, Cid falls ill and Celes, who has fondness for him for saving her, tries to help. Depending on what happens, Cid will either live or die. The first time I played, he died. And the scene after blew my mind. Celes attempts to kill herself, which is one of the most shocking and sad scenes in any Final Fantasy game. Of course, she survives, and ends up bringing everyone back together to save the world.
Nine – Red XIII aka Nanaki (Final Fantasy VII)
Nanaki is a big lion, wolf… dog thing. And the only character in FFVII I found even the slightest bit interesting. Part of it is the fact he is the most mysterious character of the bunch. This is in part because of the utter lack of screen time he’s had compared to other characters.
Which is a shame, because Nanaki is the most interesting of them all. A vastly intelligent, kind creature torn between his animal nature and his human-level intellect, he is never really sure how to project himself. He can go from being the wise, fact-giving scholar of the group one second to tearing the throat out of a baddie the next. Putting it bluntly: Red XIII is a genius AND bad ass. My favorite FFVII character, and he’s the least used. Go figure.
Eight – Rinoa Heartilly (Final Fantasy VIII)
I think it says a lot when your female lead starts the game with more confidence than your male lead. From the very start I knew Rinoa was going to be a compelling female lead in the sense that she wasn’t going to be another damsel in distress or princess that needed saving. She was working for a resistance group and ready to kick some ass.
But one of the things that amazes me is the layers of sadness and fear that she covers up. She’s really put through some horrible events throughout the game, and in that way she becomes an almost tragic character. Her ties to the main story are fascinating, and the things she has to recover from lead you from one story piece to the next. She’s fragile, but not in a over exaggerated faulty kind of way. Her weaknesses at times feel authentic, and forgiveable.
Not to mention, I think she’s easily the most beautiful female character in the series. She isn’t the empty-headed “hot” character, she’s more of a natural, real beauty and it makes her character far more realistic.
Seven – Zidane Tribal (Final Fantasy IX)
Out of all the pretty-boy leads in a Final Fantasy, I think Zidane is the best. He starts out seeming like he’ll be a fairly uncomplicated, cliche thief character. But his carefree spunk is only matched by his surprisingly virtuous attitude and determination to do good.
He tries to find a way to ease worry through humor and his interactions with Garnet early on help make their relationship seem a bit more authentic than most lead character love stories. However, it’s not until late-game that Zidane’s story gets blown wide open. Without revealing too much, Zidane’s life gets turned upside down with a shocking revelation near the end which paints a whole new outlook on who he is and what he needs to be. He has a bit of an existential breakdown of sorts and the sudden flip in attitude for awhile creates some stirring moments. But he eventually rises above his despair for his newly discovered past, and returns to the hero that he started out being. He’s a character you have to wait awhile for the real pay off, but when it hits, it hits damn hard.
Six – Eiko Carol (Final Fantasy IX)
Eiko may be one of the characters on this list that surprises a few people, but I always had a fondness for her. And it’s not just because she has a best friend moogle named Mog (a relationship which in turn leads to one of the most tear-jerking moments I’ve ever experienced in an RPG!) or because she happens to live in a village full of Moogle buddies. It’s because her personality strikes me as interesting.
She’s very much the temper-prone little girl that you’d expect her to be. But for some reason, her stubbornness and attitude seem to cover up that she’s shockingly self-sufficient and strong. She longs to belong and be loved and appreciated, and it makes her a real easy character to feel for. Despite her self-fantasied rivalry with Garnet over Zidane’s affection, she’s actually really fond of Dagger and stands by her when she’s needed. She’s a useful party member because of her kick-ass summoning ability and great healing skills.
Not to mention, she has hilarious dialogue throughout. Also, did I mention THE MOOGLES?!
Five – Claire “Lightning” Farron (Final Fantasy XIII)
Putting it simply? Lightning is bad ass. But there is a lot more to her throughout FFXIII. She starts off as a gruff, take-no-prisoners super solider. Pretty much throwing herself against impossible odds for unknown reasons and not caring who’s ass she has to pummel into the dirt to keep going.
Her bluntness makes her come across as a harsh asshole, but ultimately she turns out to be a very caring and kind person deep down. Basically, she goes from telling you to suck it up and quit being a pussy, to telling you she’s got your back, to kicking the crap out of a whole squadron of soldiers by herself. Lightning doesn’t really show sadness until mid-game, but when it cracks through, it doesn’t come through as whiny tear-soaked sob stories. It’s more of a “this is why I’m calloused and cold” kind of deal, and it makes her character more understandable.
I’ve heard her called the “Female Cloud” before, which I think is absolute nonsense. Lighting would whip the snot out of Cloud and leave him begging for mercy.
Four – Auron (Final Fantasy X)
Again, putting it simply? Auron is a bad ass. As soon as you see him for the first time in FFX, you know he’s going to be awesome. Of course, you aren’t expecting him to have a stellar personality and backstory.
He very much so starts off as the gruff, weathered warrior who feels more at home stomping enemies into the ground without a second thought. But you seem to sense something more to him. He’s calm, quiet, and fairly understanding in a “well, it’ll be fine if we keep moving” sort of way. He’s a power-house with moves so bad ass that one special attack animation actually has the rest of the party flee in terror for fear of getting caught up in the slaughter that’s about to take place. However, the real shock (and ultimately, the biggest bad-ass moment in bad-ass gaming moments ever) comes when you learn his back story. If you haven’t played FFX, I won’t spoil the moment. For those of you know have, you know damn well what I mean. The dude is relentless.
Three – Ffamran mied Bunansa aka Balthier (Final Fantasy XII)
The leading man himself! Balthier has the best dialogue of any character I’ve ever seen in an RPG. Listening to him talk was compelling regardless of what he was saying because they made his character so damn slick. He’s a smooth-talking pirate with a surprising buried past. His relationship with Fran is one of my favorite one-two punches in gaming.
Balthier’s odd sense of heroism makes him kind of an anti-hero of sorts until you learn about his real intentions and true identity. But the thing I can never get over is just how damn casual he is. He has a real cool-under-pressure demeanor and never seems to let things get to him. A leading man has to be tough, right?
Two – Oerba Dia Vanille (Final Fantasy XIII)
Surprised? It’s always depressed me how much mindless hate fans throw at Vanille. It’s so easy to write her off as an obnoxious, upbeat tag-along that’s just a cheap rip-off of Yuffie or Rikku. The problem is, Vanille is so much more than that. So much more.
It’s almost impossible to write up a summary of her and why I love her character so much without blowing substantial chunks of plot. Her entire overly-bubbly personality is on purpose and covers up a dump-truck load of guilt and sadness. As Vanille’s story unfolds, you begin to understand her more and more, and it’s absolutely tragic. Never have I felt so terrible for the burden a character has had to carry, but man do I just wanna give Vanille a hug sometimes. The scenes between her and Sazh when some of the truths come out? Breathtaking and eye-moistening. She’s a truly refined and developed character. And quite frankly, fuck the naysayers. She’s fantastic.
One – Vivi Orunitia (Final Fantasy IX)
Vivi is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite video game character of all time. That’s a pretty lofty title for a character you initially believe is going to be a shallow comic-relief character. Vivi’s story has reduced me to tears and left me staggered at what video games can achieve with story development. From innocent, lost child to manufactured killing machine to a individual trying to understand his very existence, Vivi runs the gauntlet of emotional stories.
You’ll laugh at his cute tripping and adjusting of his hat. You’ll cry at his scenes in the Black Mage village involving conversations on the very meaning of life. You will be blown away when he ends up kicking the crap out of stuff with his overly bad ass magic skills. Vivi is one of the finest examples of a character done absolutely flawless. Right up until the end, I was so compelled by every moment Vivi grew as a character. I could write a whole month celebration on him alone. If you haven’t played Final Fantasy IX, Vivi is the one reason I insist you do.