He owes allegiance to no one, and will do anything for money. He comes and goes like the wind…
Shadow is Final Fantasy VI’s anti-hero. That’s pretty cool, sure, everyone loves a good anti-hero. He’s a loner and an assassin and a mercenary and he doesn’t give a shit about anything except money. Great. For most of the first half of the game he leaves the party whenever he wants, randomly. That’s neat. However, Square decided to turn it up a notch and make him look like a totally awesome ninja, too. Around 1994 that basically seals the deal for kid Mike. At the time (and probably to this day) I’m not really sure how to make a cooler character. Shadow is described by Edgar as follows:
“He’d slit his mama’s throat for a nickel!”
I’m sure he would Edgar, I’m sure he would. Basically, Shadow is the most awesome, ever. He looks cool, he’s an asshole. Ladies love him, guys want to be him. He has a dog named Interceptor that will fucking kill you (but he looks so cute).
So, that’s all well and good, your team has access to a badass ninja. But that’s not ultimately what makes me love the character. What makes me love the character is the choice the game forces the player to make. Situation:
- Kefka, the crazy clown, is going to destroy the world be moving these statues around (it’s that easy).
- Your party just got beat up by Atma Weapon.
- Shadow comes in and saves the day, sacrificing himself in the process.
(Around the eight minute mark)
So, the Floating Continent is collapsing around you and you have to run for it. You get back to where you can jump to safety and you’re faced with a choice:
- Leave Shadow and save yourself.
- Wait for Shadow.
It’s critical to me that, at this point, this très délicate moment (been reading Lolita, sorry), they (the story tellers) have let you (the player) know that Shadow isn’t a total fucking asshole. He cares about you.
Now, I understand it’s programmed in so that Shadow will always appear with five seconds remaining as long as you wait for him. As a kid I didn’t understand this and I think if the player doesn’t know it works like that (or you think it’s random) it’s a terrific choice to force the player to make. Not only do you have to make a moral choice, the good of the few, the good of the many type of thing, but you have to make the rational choice of moving on in the game or risking having to reload (since time has run out) and knowing the last save point happened a long time ago (before the Atma Weapon battle).
To this day I find it incredibly stressful waiting for him. I’m not only risking losing my whole party for this assassin, I’m also risking having to reload my last save if time runs out. I’m torn because deep down Shadow is a really nice guy and moments earlier he tried to save my party (and maybe the entire world) from destruction….but, you never know if he’d sell you out for some gold (gil, whatever). It’s a really cool setup, what do you choose to do? Risk it all for this guy that you don’t know too much about or save yourself?
I can’t remember any other game doing anything like this.
On top of all of that, he’s secretly the father of another character. Woah, super heavy!
He’s also a very versatile character in battle. Some characters I’ve just never, ever felt are good enough for one of the four available slots in the main party, or who just aren’t cool enough to hang with the popular kids (Cyan, sorry man) (aside, just realized something; they should have made Cyan Sanjuro, would have used him no matter what). Shadow always finds a place. Throw is a great special, but even better is Interceptor randomly counter attacking when Shadow evades. Not only do you avoid all damage, you deal it back to the enemy.
I’ve been replaying Final Fantasy III (VI) on the SNES and have decided to document 100 different ways how VI is better than any of the Final Fantasys released in recent years. I think I can come up with 100. If not, I’ll just unceremoniously end this segment.