Barring the Tactics games and their variable number of generic units, this is the second largest cast in the FF series. There are a whopping 14 characters, and, what’s even more impressive, almost all of them have a backstory and at least some development. Each also gets a small introductory sequence when first encountered. Not all of them are mandatory, and it’s entirely possible to finish the game without recruiting (or retrieving, as the team splits up halfway through the game) everyone, but where’s the fun in that? Every character has their own unique ability and role, which also determines the weapons and armour they can use. The game also innovates in letting you pick your team freely past a certain point in the story, which makes for some great variety. Moreover, two of the game’s dungeons (three in the GBA version), including the last one, require you to control multiple parties, thus allowing more characters to see some action. The downside is that you have to keep at least 12 party members in fighting condition, but I find it a small price to pay for the teambuilding freedom it allows.
Terra: The game’s heroine has mint-green hair and blue eyes. The circumstances of her servitude to the Empire are, at first, unknown, but the Narshe fiasco gives her a chance to escape its clutches. She is rescued by Locke, a thief working with the Returners, who subsequently ask for her help. Due to her all-too-recent exploitation by the Empire, she is reluctant at first, but ends up agreeing. Political dilemmas aside, Terra also feels very lonely. She has an unusual lineage, which is revealed over the course of the game and, combined with her amnesia (that queen of plot devices), creates a great void in her life. All she wants is to find someone to care about, and she eventually does, even if it’s not quite what you’d expect. Terra is a great, versatile party member. She’s a very proficient magic-user and one of two characters who learn spells simply by gaining levels. However, she also works as a front-liner, like a Red Mage. She can use swords, flails, daggers, and even heavy armour. Her special ability, Morph/Trance, doubles her magic and strength, which is great. The only problem is that its duration depends on her Magic Points/Ability Points (earned in battle alongside EXP), represented by a depleting green bar. If it empties fully, you’ll have to earn more points to be able to use Morph/Trance again, so save it for when you really need it. Her Desperation Attack is called Riot Blade. Personality-wise, Terra gradually transforms from a bundle of confusion into a confident, caring person, as she comes to terms with her history, and learns to take charge of her life and choices. I find her endearing, and it’s refreshing to finally have a female protagonist, especially one who isn’t automatically paired up with one of her male teammates, but she doesn’t fully break with the usual female character stereotypes. A lot of the beginning of the game is people talking about her without her input and deciding things for her, and the conclusion to her story is still a tired old cliché (which fits with the fact that her name means “earth”). Such a pity.
Locke: The game’s resident thief is a sandy-haired, brown-eyed chap. He has a personal grudge against the Empire, which is why he has allied with the Returners. Said grudge is also the reason he’s been searching the world over for a certain treasure, and why he feels a compulsive, sometimes overbearing, need to protect the women he meets, starting with Terra, whom he rescues and integrates into the Returners. While this may make him appear as a ladies’ man at first, that title rightfully belongs to Edgar. For a thief, Locke is an honourable guy, but he has a guilty conscience, which will take time to resolve, as well as the help of a certain someone named Celes (*wink wink*). On the battlefield, Locke has the best speed in the game, but also good strength. His special ability is Steal, which can be changed into Capture/Mug (adding a bit of damage to the stealing) by equipping the Thief/Brigand’s Glove. Except there isn’t really anything worthwhile to steal (well, maybe Ribbons from Brach(i)osaurs, but that’s a dangerous pastime), unless you want to sell loot for extra cash. He can equip daggers, swords, boomerangs (which allow him to move to the back row) and even some heavy armour. His Desperation Attack is called Mirage Dive. Overall, Locke is a good guy, clever, enthusiastic, resourceful and never shy with a helping hand. But there are more combat-worthy characters available.
Edgar: Firmly cementing the playboy character type in the FF series, the blonde and blue-eyed ruler of the desert kingdom of Figaro is the spiritual successor of FFIV’s Edge, as he has a pronounced appreciation for the opposite sex. He notably finds Terra very much to his taste upon first meeting her, but she seems impervious to his advances. Edgar pays lip service to the Empire, to ensure peace for his kingdom. However, since the Empire is also responsible for his father’s death, he is secretly collaborating with the Returners, which is why Locke brings Terra to Figaro upon their escape from Narshe. But, as their luck would have it, Kefka comes looking for them, which results in an epic escape scene and leaves Edgar a permanent member of the team. Fortunately, he’s one of the game’s physical powerhouses, boasting high strength and defence. He can equip swords, daggers, spears and heavy armour, but his true perk is his special ability, Tools. Edgar is a skilled mechanic who can use a variety of instruments–from a crossbow to a drill or a chainsaw–which inflict either damage or status effects. Most need to be bought at Figaro Castle (at a 50% discount if Edgar’s doing the buying), but they are definitely worth the purchase, especially the drill and chainsaw. Conversely, his magic and speed are nothing to write home about. His Desperation Attack is called Royal Shock. Underneath the flirty veneer, Edgar is a genuinely good, caring, responsible ruler, a loyal friend and an involved member of the team. He also has some family issues which bring out his well-hidden, more sensitive side. All in all, one of my favourites.
Shadow: This menacing, masked mercenary (alliteration ahoy!) travels the world with his dog, Interceptor, and finds no job too dirty. The team first encounters him in a tavern in Figaro, but is basically told to shove off. Throughout the first part of the story, Shadow remains on the sidelines, and you can sometimes recruit him for a fee. However, he may leave whenever he feels like it, so enlist him at your own risk. Provided you show enough interest in his company, though (I’ll refrain from spoilers), he can join the team permanently in the second part of the game, thoroughly disgusted by the Empire’s actions. This also allows you to explore his past: if he is included in the active party, resting at an inn may trigger one of four dream sequences involving him. It’s pretty depressing stuff, but it explains why he became a seemingly emotionless sellsword. He hasn’t lost all capacity for empathy, however, as he does support the party’s cause. As a Ninja, Shadow is a good, versatile character with high speed and strength, and even decent magic, but low defence. He also has an interesting asset in Interceptor. Justifying its name, the dog has a chance of blocking a physical attack aimed at its master, minimising or outright nullifying any damage taken, and may counterattack with one of two very damaging moves. Shadow’s special ability is Throw, enabling him to toss any weapon from the inventory, but also shuriken and elemental skeans, which are multi-target. He can equip daggers and light armour, and his Desperation Attack is called Shadow Fang. If you like your tormented mystery-men, Shadow’s your guy. And…let’s just say he’s not a complete stranger to everyone in the party.
Sabin: Edgar’s twin brother is a blonde and blue-eyed muscleman. When their father died, Sabin was disgusted by the squabbles over the throne and tried to convince Edgar to run away from it all. However, the latter wouldn’t shirk his duty and played a harmless trick to allow Sabin his freedom. Sabin then met an accomplished martial arts teacher called Duncan and asked to train under him, to eventually participate in protecting Figaro. However, this eventually caused a feud with Duncan’s son, which the party happens to witness as they cross Mt Kolts on their way to the Returners’ hideout. Once the situation is dealt with, Sabin offers his help, overjoyed at seeing his brother again. Physical prowess seems to run in the family, as Sabin is a Monk. This equates to very high strength, but low defence and magic, which makes Sabin a tad misleading: you’d expect a physical powerhouse, and…you’d be both right and wrong. When triggered, his special ability, Blitz, prompts you to input a certain combination of keys to trigger one of several attacks. He learns these as he levels up, except the best one, which is obtained from a short sidequest later in the game. Most are single target attacks, but half (four out of eight) are considered as magic. Which means that a lot of Sabin’s damage potential is wasted unless you work on that magic stat of his. He can equip claws and light armour, and his Desperation Attack is called Tiger Break. Personality-wise, Sabin’s not exactly the most interesting guy. He’s cheerful, enthusiastic, gets along with everyone and is very fond of his brother, but that’s about it. They chose not to tackle the repercussions of his feud with Duncan’s son, probably because it would’ve been very problematic, but the resulting status quo is actually harmful to Sabin as a character. However, his combat skills are reliable enough to warrant regular use, even if they need work to reach full potential.
Celes: Ugh. This blue-eyed blonde used to be an Imperial general. She’s also the only party member whose sprite has a different outfit (green bodysuit and white cape) from her CG model and Amano art (yellow trousers, jacket, and boots). Fanservice rearing its ugly head once again. Anyway, ‘profiting’ from the Empire’s research into Espers, Celes, like Kefka, has been genetically augmented, thus enabling her to use magic. Unlike Kefka, however, she didn’t lose her marbles. As a general (yep, people can become generals at 18 in JRPGs), she was aware of Terra’s captivity and eventually rebelled. While trying to stall the Imperial army to allow the Returners to rally in Narshe, Locke finds her imprisoned for treason in Figaro. His “must protect all the women” instincts kick in, he rescues her and invites her to join the Returners as well. After facing some initial distrust, especially from Cyan, Celes proves her loyalty, engages Locke in sentimental confusion and even rallies the team in the second part of the game. And yet, I instinctively dislike her. She’s designed as a foil to Terra, in the symbolism of their names (Terra = earth, Celes = sky), their abilities, their relationship with Locke and their personalities (inquisitive and generous vs controlled and secretive). In my eyes, she never manages to quite shake the unpleasant veneer that goes with her role, and although she starts off a strong, no-nonsense female character, that gradually goes down the drain as the game progresses. She’s very similar to Terra in combat and can equip the same gear, except that she has better strength and worse magic, and learns Ice spells rather than Fire ones. Her Desperation Attack is called Spinning Edge. Her special ability, Runic, absorbs the next magic spell used in battle to replenish her MP. This could be useful against caster enemies, but it will also absorb the party’s own spells, which is problematic if emergency healing is needed. Moreover, it ties Celes up for the duration of the fight, making it all but useless.
Cyan: A proud, middle-aged Samurai with black hair and black eyes, Cyan is a retainer to the king of Doma. Unfortunately, their country becomes the Empire’s next target, once it’s done with Figaro. General Leo, the most humane officer left in Emperor Gestahl’s service after Celes’ defection, is summoned back to Vector, and Kefka decides to take matters into his own hands. Read: he poisons Doma’s water supply. Everyone except Cyan dies, including the king, and Cyan’s wife and son. Enraged by this catastrophe, Cyan decides to single-handedly take down the enemy base near the castle. Sabin, who has become separated from the team and has picked up Shadow along the way, happens to be passing by, looking for a harbour to get to Narshe. Seeing this foolhardy attempt at revenge, the two men decide to lend a hand. Cyan is very grateful and, since he has nothing left, decides to join forces with the Returners. He has high strength and defence, and can equip katana and heavy armour, which technically makes him a good melee fighter. However…he’s slower than an elderly snail on weed. Not only does he have naturally low speed, his special ability, SwdTech/Bushido, is very poorly designed. Triggering it starts a leisurely-paced 1 to 8 meter. Each number corresponds to a different attack, gained either by levelling up or through a sidequest in the second part of the game. As expected, the better attacks correspond to the upper digits, meaning a longer charge time, which completely cripples him. His Desperation Attack is called Back Blade/Tsubame Gaeshi. Cyan’s uselessness in combat is a shame, because he’s a decent character: brave, honourable and stoic. His story is very poignant, but he also serves as comic relief due to his old-fashioned morality, his antiquated speech patterns (Gau notably dubs him “Mr Thou”) and his ineptitude with machinery. Pity.
Gau: After a reckless jump from a waterfall while escaping the Imperial forces, Sabin and Cyan (Shadow has buggered off by that point) wash ashore on the Veldt, which is migratory monster ground (i.e. you’ll find most previously encountered monsters there). A strange boy with brown eyes and messy green/brown hair finds them, then runs away. However, they can lure him back by purchasing some meat. Gau’s mother died in childbirth, which drove his father mad. Thinking his son was a demon, he threw him out, and Gau grew up in the wild. He’s a lively, if primitive, boy with a tendency for practical jokes, and joins the team out of curiosity. He doesn’t have an Attack command (and thus, no Desperation Attack), and can equip light armour, but no weapons. He has high, balanced stats, but his main perk is his Rage ability, which has amazing potential, but suffers from extreme versatility. While on the Veldt, Gau can use the Leap command to temporarily join a group of monsters. When he returns, he’ll have learned the attacks and attributes of the group he left with and the group he returned with, which are registered as Rages. When a Rage is selected, Gau gains that enemy’s traits, becomes A.I.-controlled for the rest of the battle and performs either a normal attack or a special ability. There are some excellent Rages (e.g. Stray Cat or Nightshade) in the lot, but there are over 250 (!) of them in total, and the list has no discernible order to it. Besides, there’s no telling which ability will be learned from a given Rage (it could be something you’ve never even seen that enemy use). In short, you’ll probably never bother learning them all, and even if you do, you’ll stick to a tried-and-true handful. Still, Gau is quite fun, as a character, even though he doesn’t have a lot of input in the storyline, although you can bring him to his father for a humorous, yet very poignant scene in the second part of the game.
Setzer: My favourite character in the game, Setzer is a professional gambler with long silver hair, purple eyes and pale, scarred skin. He is the proud owner of an airship, the Blackjack, which the party would like to use to infiltrate Vector, the capital of the Empire. They hear that Setzer plans to kidnap Maria, an opera singer, in the middle of a performance and that, as their luck would have it, Celes looks exactly like her. They thus devise a plan to replace Maria with Celes to get onboard the airship. Never mind how a general can sing well enough to pass for a professional opera artist (I like to think that the real Maria sings offstage while Celes lipsyncs), the plan actually succeeds. With Edgar’s assistance, Celes then cons Setzer into collaborating. He’s quick to realise the trick, but is entertained by this turn of events and agrees to help. He’s the first gambler-type character in the series, using cards, dice or darts as weapons (all long range, allowing him to move to the back row), as well as daggers. He can also equip heavy armour, and has good strength and speed, but poor magic. His special ability, Slot(s), spins a slot machine to determine his next attack. This ranges from a free summon of Bahamut, to a bombing raid by the Blackjack, to a chocobo stampede, etc. Any ‘losing’ combination results in a small amount of healing and free status restoration for the party. If you’re very lucky, one of the combinations is an insta-kill for the enemies. If you’re very unlucky, it’s an insta-kill for the party, but both are extremely rare. With the Coin Toss/Heiji’s Jitte relic, Slot(s) turns into GP Rain/Gil Toss, which damages the enemy with money, but requires a fat wallet to use regularly. Setzer’s Desperation Attack is called Red Card. All in all, he’s original and fun to use, if not the best damage dealer. Personality-wise, he’s flamboyant and carefree, but the second part of the game reveals it as a form of compensation for a personal tragedy, thus adding depth and sensitivity to his character.
Mog: The very first playable moogle in the series. This small white creature with little pink wings and a yellow pompom on his head lives in the Narshe mines with his moogle pals, and is first seen helping Locke and Terra escape. Later on, if the party drops by Narshe again, they’ll find that a thief named Lone Wolf has escaped from the Figaro jail, robbed a house and taken Mog hostage. You can either choose to retrieve the loot (which is nothing extraordinary) or rescue Mog, who then explains that he had a dream about helping the party. In combat, Mog is another oddball. He can equip spears, daggers and light armour, and is a mix between a Geomancer and a Dancer, resulting in high magic (better than Celes or Strago), but low strength and speed. He’s also surprisingly sturdy, with both good defence and the best magic defence in the game. Moreover, he can use the Snow Muffler, which is the best defensive armour in the game. Mog’s special ability, Dance, consists of eight movesets, learned by fighting in different environments (forests, caves, etc.). Once a Dance is learned, you can pick it in any environment, but it only has a 50% chance of success if it’s not its ‘native’ one. If it does succeed, Mog becomes A.I.-controlled for the rest of the fight, much like Gau, and randomly performs one of four moves (offensive or curative). This can be very useful at first, but sadly, doesn’t last, and Mog’s best assets in the second part of the game are his magic and defence. However, he is required to obtain Umaro, and he’s the only character able to use the Moogle/Molulu’s Charm, which prevents enemy encounters. His Desperation Attack is called Moogle Rush. Other than that, Mog is a cute, energetic, cheerful little guy, who doesn’t care about political intrigue and is simply happy to help those who rescued him.
Strago: This short, crabby old man with blue eyes and white hair in a Mohawk lives in Thamasa, which is home to the descendants of the Magi. Reluctant to cause any more bloodshed over their powers, they retreated to this backwater village and have lived in seclusion ever since the War. Thamasa is located near the entrance to the Esper world, and the party travels there after vengeful Espers attack Vector. Agreeing to a truce with the Returners, Gestahl sends the team to try to pacify the Espers. At first, Strago attempts to deny his knowledge of Espers and magic, but, after a mishap involving his granddaughter, Relm, he changes his mind and tags along out of gratitude. Strago is the resident Blue Mage, but, unlike all other Blue Mages in the series, he’s useless in melee, having low strength and the lowest speed in the game. His magic is decent, but he’s still outclassed by all three female characters and Mog. He can use rods, flails, daggers, robes and animal costumes, which are unique to him and Relm. His special ability is called Lore, and he learns spells by witnessing them in battle. It doesn’t matter who the spell hits, or even if it’s used by Gau instead, as part of a Rage. Some are good, like Aqua Rake, Pearl Wind/White Wind or Big Guard/Mighty Guard, but the rest are usually more trouble than they’re worth, and several can only be obtained in the final dungeon, which kinda defeats the point. Strago’s Desperation Attack is called Sabre Soul. Personality-wise, he’s an impulsive, stubborn old geezer with a propensity for getting into trouble, but he has a good heart and is very fond of Relm, despite her horrible temper. Still, there are more useful characters available. Also, I have to wonder what Amano was thinking when he designed his outfit…
Relm: Strago’s bratty granddaughter has curly blonde hair and blue eyes. When the team drops by their house to ask about Espers, she ruins Strago’s cover and raises questions about another party member. She then gets into trouble, prompting the team to rescue her. Strago offers to join as thanks, and Relm eventually follows suit. Another innovation in the combat department, she is a Pictomancer, which is a variation on the Beastmaster job. She can use rods, daggers, flails and paintbrushes, as well as robes and the same animal costumes as Strago, and her Desperation Attack is called Star Prism. Her special ability, Sketch, involves painting a picture of a monster, which then springs to life and attacks its model with one of its own attacks. However, it’s a pretty terrible ability: there’s no indication as to which move will trigger, and, on top of that, it’s very glitchy, potentially causing freezes or inventory mishaps. This can be remedied by picking a character who doesn’t know the Mute spell as party leader…or by not using Sketch at all. Equipping the Fake Moustache relic changes Sketch into the only marginally more useful Control, which allows Relm to directly dictate an enemy’s actions. It can help Strago learn Lores, but otherwise, it simply ties her up for no good reason, just like Celes’ Runic. Because, you see, Relm has the best magic stat in the game and good speed to boot, which makes a solid case for using her, even though her personality is well-nigh unbearable. She’s loud, unruly, rude and would really deserve a good yelling-at every once in a while.
Gogo: The most mysterious individual in the game, Gogo is a secret character who can be found in a very bizarre location on Triangle Island in the second part of the game. Hearing about the party’s adventures, Gogo declares that they’re fascinating and decides to tag along. If you’ve noticed the lack of pronouns, that’s because Gogo is dressed from head to toe in a multicoloured robe and hood, which make it impossible to ascertain who or what s/he is. Or even if s/he’s human. S/he is clearly a throwback to the FFV boss fought to obtain the Mime job and introduces her/himself as a master of mimicry, but never speaks again over the course the game. Of course, this has sparked a lot of baseless speculation as to her/his identity. As a Mime, Gogo is versatility incarnate. Her/His Attack command is replaced by Mime, which will make her/him copy whatever the previous party member did, or just attack if s/he gets the first turn. While this is already handy (MP-free magic usage, free items), Gogo also has three free slots in her/his menu. This allows her/him to use any other ability the team knows, except Morph/Trance (for reasons that will be obvious at that point). On top of that, s/he will be able to cast every spell the rest of the party knows. Oddly enough, however, Gogo can’t equip magicite, which means that you can’t improve her/his stats. Those being, frankly, terrible, you might find that Gogo’s raw combat prowess is lacking, especially since s/he can only equip robes, rods, flails or daggers. Still, having an extra helping of Ultima or another Blitz user never hurt anyone, so Gogo is a worthwhile asset and also an ideal candidate for the Coliseum. Her/His Desperation Attack is called X-Meteor/Punishing Meteor.
Umaro: The second secret character in the game is a large white and purple yeti, whom you may spot peeping out of the Narshe mines. In the second part of the game, Mog mentions that he can lend a helping hand. The party can then find a gap in the clifftops which lets them drop down into Umaro’s cave. The yeti’s not exactly pleased with the intrusion and comes stomping out for a fight. However, he ends up getting his butt kicked instead, and Mog orders him to join the team. He’s apparently the only one whom Umaro will answer to (if Mog isn’t in the party when they fight him, he’ll simply let them leave). Another unique character, Umaro is an entirely A.I.-controlled physical powerhouse (and thus has no Desperation Attack), like a Berserker from FFV. He comes with a Bone Club and Snow Muffler, neither of which you can remove. He can’t equip magicite either, but you can change his relics. He has the best strength and defence in the game, for what it’s worth (since, without weapon upgrades or magicite, raw stats will only get him so far). His attacks involve clobbering the enemies or body-slamming them. With the proper relics equipped (Blizzard Orb and Rage Ring/Berserker Ring), he can also breathe icy air or, more amusingly, pick up another party member and throw them for some high damage. This will also cure any characters who are asleep or confused (and he’ll prioritise them). He’s not the best character, but he can come in handy in the Fanatics’/Cultists’ Tower, where the party is normally restricted to using magic; his A.I.-controlled status bypasses this, so he can use melee attacks. However, he’s completely unsuited to any situation which requires micromanagement, such as trying to learn Lores. And don’t expect him to show any involvement in the storyline. Or any personality besides “me smash!”