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Favorite Game Characters: Shadow

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When I sat down to replay FFVI this year, I expected something new, as I decided to play through what was, essentially, a text / difficulty hack of the game, but the only thing I really came away with was the thing I least expected: a new a favorite character.

Shadow (Final Fantasy VI)

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So, what changed here? Well, let's start with what didn't change: Shadow is a lot of fun to play with, and he's been tied for my favorite in-battle character for quite a long time. He can steal, Throw hits hard and allows him to exploit elemental weaknesses others cannot, he is largely unaffected by rows, he has the earliest access to Blink and Vanish, and Interceptor is probably the most awesome unique passive in the series (kind of amusing with Cover too). Sure, he doesn't have the reliable damage Sabin or Edgar bring, nor does he have the party saving potential Celes has, but what he does do, he does well, and I've come to appreciate that, especially in natural magic games.

But, while that is all good and well, I've been at that point with Shadow for quite some time and it's never been enough for him to bump Celes out of my top spot for the game. So, where'd the change come in? Turns out, the change came in my appreciation for his story elements, or, perhaps I should say, a combination of his story elements and the idea I see behind them. And I'll just go ahead and say that anything beyond here may freely contain spoilers, so if you haven't played the game, well, you've been informed.

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One of the most enjoyable experiences I've had while replaying old FF games in recent years has been reevaluation -- reevaluation of characters, mechanics, concepts, and whatever else I notice, really. While playing through the game this time I had two particular goals in mind, other than enjoying the experience: to find my favorite scene in the game, and to appreciate elements I may have overlooked in the past. In a way I was fairly fortunate in the first goal, as I had a general idea of what scene I was looking for (even if I didn't end up settling on it): Terra and Leo's scene on the boat. I was even more fortunate in the second, because that scene set me up for something I admire far more.

The conversation itself is quite simple, but there's a fair amount of depth and statement to the ideas presented, particularly that standing by and allowing something terrible to happen is, in itself, a terrible thing as well, and I've always quite liked their talk, short though it may be. Shadow makes a contribution at the end that I've always kind of liked as well, but never gave any real consideration to until this playthrough:

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I always looked at the comment as the obvious, 'don't be like me' that it is, but never much more. And yet, playing the game again, and paying attention to Shadow's dreams and ultimate end, I realized the comment actually holds a lot more weight than I had ever noticed before. Like, a lot more. It's a dangerously cautionary bit of advice about perseverance and not giving way to the trials life throws at you, something the character himself fails to embody. But before I get to that, I want to share another idea:

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There are a lot themes in this game, both overall and per character, but one common to many of the characters is moving on and not letting the past define you. Cyan loses his family, Setzer loses Daryl, Locke loses Rachael, Celes believes she has lost everyone, and even Terra is facing forward in the world and moving on after what the Empire has done to her. These are defining moments for each of the characters, and each of them moves on -- except for one. Shadow never truly comes to terms with his past, with Baram's death, and what his inaction on that day lead to. Not even a new life and daughter are enough for him to forgive himself.

When I began to consider this, I realized that when Shadow tells Terra he has killed his emotions, he isn't just saying something 'badass', his statement comes from his heart and he is admitting something truly terrifying about his character: he, alone in the cast, has given up. He's still running from his past and has chosen to abandon everything and bury his emotions instead of coming to terms with himself. Even Cyan, who is similarly haunted by a nightmare deep inside that eats away at him, finds redemption and the hope of moving on -- Shadow finds nothing. He's abandoned the possibility. He's so eaten alive by the rotten core of what he's done, whether truly terrible or not, that he's effectively jammed. He can no longer progress as a person, and that is the true death of a human.

What really gets me about it, though, is that I can relate to the idea. Everyone has those moments in their past they hate themselves for, those things they look back on and wince on the inside over. But most people get past it and ultimately move on. Shadow is a testament to those who can not. And it's touching to think that he's the only one who doesn't survive the game, because as everything else and everyone else is willing and able to move on to the new world, he alone cannot. It is this expression of that simple, dark reality of the human condition that wins Shadow over for me.

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If I could start again,
A million miles away,
I would keep myself,
I would find a way.
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  1. FFNut's Avatar
    I've never looked at Shadow that deep before. Great read!
  2. Karifean's Avatar
    Completely agreed. Shadow is the one who stood out to me the most when I played this game, and my view of him changed a lot when I learned his backstory. That last screenshot you posted is the one time FF VI actually hit me in the feels.
  3. Rez09's Avatar
    The scene with Cyan and his son fishing got me pretty hard too. ; -;