Kefka: A Video Game Villain Legend

If you were to ask anyone about Final Fantasy VI, one of the first things they would discuss would be Kefka, the game’s antagonist. He’s a stand out in a game with plenty of memorable moments. Some even argue that Kefka is the greatest villain in the entire series and possibly all of gaming. And it isn’t simply because he spouts a series of insane and amusing lines throughout the game; it goes much deeper than that. Kefka is a kind of villain who is able to make a connection to you on a much higher level than most villains in gaming, which is remarkable considering when Final Fantasy VI came out. Kefka didn’t have fully rendered cutscenes, voice acting, and all of the things that help a character stand out from the rest. This clown just had many other clever tricks that were used to make sure you would always remember him.

FF6KefkaArt

He also had this. Whatever it is.

First impressions are important, and writer Yoshinori Kitase, the man who wrote Final Fantasy VI, knew that. In an article on 1up.com, Yoshinori mentioned that the only things he had to work with for Kefka was his concept artwork and an outline for the story. When writing Kefka’s initial scene outside of Figaro Castle, Yoshiniro thought he should add something interesting to spice up what he thought was an otherwise boring and normal scene. So he had Kefka point out that there was sand on his boots, prompting one of his guards to frantically clean off his footwear to show that Kefka is a bit crazy. From there, Yoshinori said Kefka’s personality came right to him.

However, this scene deserves a deeper analyzation than that. Sure, we have Kefka showing that he’s nutty, but they establish far more in this short thirty-second scene. They really wanted you to connect with Kefka, so they amped up the crazy. So they made our favorite clown yell about how stupid his emperor’s orders are and how stupid Edgar Figaro is for having a castle in the desert, all while making him leap up and down in anger. And then after his men clean off his shoes, he laughs and calls them pathetic. They don’t just make him say “Ahahahaha!” or any text-based laugh you could think of; they give him a little 16-bit sound byte for a laugh. Kefka’s laugh is rather iconic to most players, and they wanted to make sure that you would remember Kefka’s boisterous laugh. It’s a trigger to help you connect to the sinister clown, because you need to associate that laugh with Kefka, because it is distinctly unique and helps define him. Tell me, how many laughs do you remember from your video games? Not many. They wanted to make sure that this laugh was special just for Kefka.

Also established in this very first scene is Kefka’s very own theme music. This is another trigger that they use to help you connect with Kefka. You know that it’s all about Kefka when you hear his theme music play. It also helps establish the kind of character he is. It has a foreboding intro and a whimsical kind of tune. Then it breaks into a sinister march of madness. This song was brilliantly created with Kefka’s character in mind and sets a perfect mood any time he’s on screen.

So with this first scene, you are given insight into his personality, his unique laugh, and his theme music. This gives us an idea for what we’re in for, but you know what? We’re not even close to ready for what we’re in for as far as Kefka’s concerned. We have a scene after this initial one where Kefka demands Terra’s presence, knowing she is in Figaro Castle. Edgar, the ruler of Figaro, claims she’s not there. The jester simply tells Edgar that he would not like to be him if he figures out that he’s lying. It’s a pretty foreboding comment. But what could Kefka possibly mean by that? We find out later when Kefka just sets fire to Edgar’s entire castle. When the ruler asks Kefka what the meaning of this is, he simply demands the girl. Edgar says he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and the clown just tells him to enjoy the barbeque! So at the beginning of our story, we also learn that Kefka is absolutely not going to even take any crap from anybody and will not hesitate in destroying anything or anyone to get what he wants. In short, Kefka is a damned menace.

figaroburning

This is probably one of Kefka’s weakest crimes. I give it a 4/10.

Now, I could go on and on about the brilliance of the localization for Kefka’s dialogue, and how they make sure that Kefka’s sprite is constantly moving to show a more erratic nature of his character, but I think we can all understand why that adds so much to the character. What’s more important to discuss is how Kefka is written after this. If you haven’t played Final Fantasy VI yet, then I advise that you don’t read further. We’re heading into spoiler territory now.

Still here? Good.

We have an idea for how deadly Kefka is, but his first foray into evil ended up in his failure by the sharp Edgar Figaro. At this point, you just think he’s a nutty underboss. After all, he’s got that goofy clown look and he didn’t exactly seem too impressive when we first saw him. That’s exactly the point though; we’re meant to think that maybe Kefka is just some dopey second-in-command to the real villain. But he is far from it, and it becomes very apparent when we come to the scene in Doma.

The Gestahl Empire (which Kefka belongs to) is currently at war with the Doma Empire, and they are currently sieging Doma Castle. We hear that General Leo is in charge of Gestahl’s army though, not Kefka. And that while Kefka is being rude to his soldiers, we see General Leo is quite the opposite. See, General Leo is a good man. In fact, he’s such a good man that he doesn’t want to see anybody die in this battle and is trying to take the castle peacefully. However, he’s summoned back to see his emperor and must leave the battle up to Kefka. While Leo pleads to Kefka to save lives, the jester calls him a loser and says he’ll take control of the situation. So Leo, who wanted to end the fight peacefully, leaves and what is the very first thing Kefka does when Leo leaves? He poisons the river around Doma Castle, killing everybody inside the castle, including his own men who were taken prisoner (who he says deserves it for being captured). What’s even worse? Kefka seems to love every second of the genocide he’s committing.

leocaring

Caring means you’re a loser. Winners commit genocide.

A few things are shown here. Kefka is certainly the most evil bastard you have ever seen, and he is purposefully being compared to the sugary sweet good guy, General Leo to make this point. Because even though Kefka burned a castle, he’s got jokes. We’re amused by him. And even though he’s still got jokes, he just committed mass murder in a rather underhanded way that disallowed Doma to even fight back, and he loves it. Kefka’s not a joke any longer. He’s a very real monster, and we just failed to stop him from killing an entire castle full of people. And we really tried to stop him too! That must mean he’s… formidable then?  He’s a capable terror who will win through deceit and murder, and not just some court jester. And the best part about this is that we really didn’t see it coming. Because normally, when a villain tries something big like that and we know about it, we stop it; because we’re the good guys, and we win. That’s kind of what we do. Except we get the feeling now that winning against Kefka won’t exactly be an absolute.

So now we know just how ruthless Kefka is, so when he advances on the neutral city of Narshe, chock full of civilians, and tells everyone to kill anyone who gets in their way of him finding the mystical creature, an Esper. At this point, we’re expecting an epic battle, and for the most part, we get it. We manage to beat up Kefka, who retreats swearing revenge. So despite our failure, we are able to prevent another tragedy here! We beat down Kefka, and now we realize that he isn’t so all-powerful! We have a chance, right?

Sort of.

Kefka is trying to get all of the super magic Espers so he can drain their power and become an even more powerful being. If we could barely beat him last time and he’s getting more powerful, that’s bad. We get that. And after we learn that we need to release all of the Espers to help fight against the Empire, Kefka proceeds to follow them, only to get walloped by the insane Espers. And even better, Emperor Gestahl seems to have had a change of heart after his Empire is demolished by the angry Espers and Kefka is jailed for reasons of being insane and genocidal!

kefkajail

I can’t believe it either, man. Those are really supposed to be toilets and sinks.

Now the Empire wants to work with our heroes to tell the Espers not to destroy the world, because good or evil, we all like the world. So we embark on an adventure to find the Espers and when we find them, we convince them to live with everyone in peace.  Then we get what looks like a happy ending with our party making jokes while peaceful music plays! All is well!

But then we get the laugh. Kefka is back, even though he was jailed before! And he brought the Empire army with him! He has magic-powered mechs that proceed to beat everybody down! We quickly learn this is all a plot by the Emperor and Kefka. And then the peaceful town you’re in is completely torched by Kefka ruthlessly. The only one left standing to oppose Kefka is our good guy and fellow member of the Empire, Leo. So we control Leo to take down Kefka!

kefkaleo

Leo, dude. You might want to walk away from this one.

Now we see just how powerful Leo is. He’s stronger than our entire party! He has more powerful attacks and everything Kefka throws at him does very little damage to him! Leo is a powerhouse and we plow right through our fight with Kefka! But when it seems like we’ve won, Kefka disappears into the shadows, only for the Emperor to appear and tell Leo his true intentions so Leo would oppose what he stood for. Except our villainous clown was simply pretending to be Emperor Gestahl the whole time, and the only reason that Leo seemed so powerful was because he was fighting a shadow clone of Kefka! He surprises Leo with an attack and then murders him in cold blood, saying he’s just exterminating a traitor.

Leo, our symbol of the absolute good in the war, was slain by Kefka, the symbol of absolute evil. And Leo was our final hope to beat Kefka. There is nothing left to stop him… but all of the Espers that remain. The entire Esper army comes at Kefka and his squad, only for the clown to destroy all of them and take their power! And now Kefka and the Emperor are going to find the three greatest Espers of them all. By the time we catch up to them, they’ve already almost finished the ritual to take their power.

kefkascrewed

This is what it looks like to be completely screwed.

However, when Kefka begins to take the power for himself, Emperor Gestahl decides it’s time to take Kefka out once and for all. Now, we’ve seen how strong Kefka is. Our party has been taken out and can’t fight back. How powerful is Gestahl going to be to be able to do that? He uses the most powerful magic attacks that we haven’t even seen yet in the game, but Kefka is using the power of the three Espers to block everything. He then commands the statues to take out the Emperor, which they do. And once that happens, Kefka proceeds to kick Gestahl off of the floating mountain we’re on and begins to take all of the power for himself. Only one of our party members disrupts Kefka’s and we’re left with Kefka screaming about his failed plot! However, everything is about to explode and we run away.

And then the whole world is turned into ruin.

That’s right, Kefka’s plan was to gain ultimate power and destroy the world, and he made it a reality. How often do you get a megalomaniacal crazy villain who claims he wants to destroy the world, and then it actually happens? So now the world is in ruins and our entire party has been split up, so they’re all screwed. When this all happens and you’re forced to see the entire planet being blown up, it is awe-inspiring. This simply never happens in games! We’re supposed to be the good guys and the winners! We don’t let the whole damn planet be destroyed! And yet, with our best efforts, we have done just that. There is little life left on the planet, and everyone seems to have lost hope when we see them. After all, why shouldn’t they have? Everything is terrible now.

worldofruin

At least I can watch the sun rise over the three trees left in the world.

And as for Kefka, he is now a god; and I don’t say that with any sort of exaggeration at all. He has a religion that worships him. He has created his own tower to gaze down upon the ruined world. He hears and sees everything, and people fear that he will smite them down if they should say anything about him. Kefka is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-inspiring to what remains of this world!

At this point, you are absolutely helpless, but eventually everyone gains their hope back and declares that they need to defeat Kefka still. Now you feel determined just like them to take out Kefka. And you know what the best part about this is? You don’t know what Kefka is. You don’t know what he’s become. You don’t even see Kefka again until the end of the game. All you know is that he’s there and he needs to be taken out so the world can rebuild and not live under his tyrannical rule.

Then when you do get to the end of the game, you are required to scale his giant tower full of impossible monsters and a totally erratic floating landscape. And when you find Kefka, he looks… well, perfectly normal and laughs. We realize quickly that he’s attained an incredible amount of power though. But our heroes are still brave and tell him that no matter what Kefka does, people will rebuild it all, and he can’t destroy their hope and love for each other. Here is where we really get an idea for how twisted Kefka has become. He is a god now, and he has everything. So he tells us:

“Why do people insist on creating things that will inevitably be destroyed? Why do people cling to life, knowing that they must someday die? …Knowing that none of it will have meant anything once they do?”

At this point, we can tell that Kefka, even though he’s been insane the whole time, is completely lost now. And after each of our party members give a dramatic speech about everything they have even though Kefka has destroyed the world, the clown is completely unfazed. He simply belittles them by saying they sound like chapters from a self-help book, and then he says he will destroy everything right now!

kefkaselfhelp

To be fair, they were really laying it on thick.

That’s it, folks. Kefka’s committed himself to absolute annihilation, and it’s all up to us to stop him. He gives a completely insane rant about destroying everything and killing everyone. And each time our party yells at him to stop or stands up to him, he just sends a giant death laser across the world. At this point, you realize there’s nothing you can do but fight this monumentally powerful threat.

For the final battle, we battle our way up a rather religious-looking tower of boss enemies. When we get to the top, organs play the deliciously evil sounding entrance to Kefka, who we see is now a rather demonic god-like creature. And we get Kefka’s final monologue here:

              “Life… Dreams… Hope… Where do they come from? And where do they go…? Such meaningless things… I’ll destroy them all!”

And he finishes it off with a final series of his trademark laugh. This entire final fight was very powerful to me, just having to see such a completely insane villain rant about the absolute destruction of the planet. It was wonderful, honestly, that he was built up so powerfully. And when you do finally beat him, you have a true sense of accomplishment. You just beat a monstrous god. You’ve saved the world from Kefka’s inevitable destruction. For the second half of the game, you have gotten powerful enough to take out this impossible threat. You saved the world.

kefkafinal

So that’s what he looks like without the face paint.

And that’s really it. This entire masterfully written story of Final Fantasy VI is why Kefka is my favorite villain of all time, and it is also why I consider him one of the best villains created. There’s just so much to Kefka that people don’t stop and think about. Many times I hear people just declare him a funny villain who is only great because he destroyed the world and that he lacks any depth. Sure, you can say that, but there is a lot more to the character that I haven’t even mentioned yet.

For instance, the main reason I like Kefka is because he is a villain with no redeeming qualities. That isn’t a lack of depth simply because he doesn’t have some long and storied past; in fact, I think that’s one of the most terrifying parts about him. In the game, there’s only one little hint to how Kefka came to be how he is. One villager in Vector says the following about Kefka: “Here’s one for you… That guy Kefka? He was Cid’s first experimental Magitek knight. But the process wasn’t perfect yet. Something snapped in Kefka that day…” This means that he was turned completely mad because of the power that was given to him; the same power that the Empire continued to try mastering. Because we tampered with magic and technology together, we created this monster in Kefka that destroyed the world.

To me, I think that the best evils are the ones where so much is unknown about them. Where a guy like Kefka is just an insane clown that believed in the destruction of things and the power he could achieve so much that he did everything he could to attain it. He doesn’t need some reason in his past to do all of the evil things he does. He wants to destroy everything because that’s just what the hell he wants. How do you combat with that logic? How do you try to rationalize anything about that? You don’t. All you can do is believe in what you know is true and try your hardest to take down this madness.

I think that’s what Yoshinori Kitase had in mind when he created Kefka. When he carefully crafted his ascent to godhood, he considered what could make him more and more sinisterly evil. He thought about how Kefka could keep doing worse and worse things. He wanted to make Kefka such a memorable villain that he couldn’t be forgotten. I believe that he succeeded in that, because I can’t think of a single villain who has had more of an impact on me in the gaming world than Kefka.

kefkadissidia

tl;dr There’s a reason he’s the best thing in Dissidia.

Heroic Biz


2 Comments

  1. Sean June 23, 2013 10:06 pm  Reply

    Very nice write up.

  2. Sophie April 26, 2014 1:38 pm  Reply

    I think you hit the nail on the head with why Kefka struck such chords within our generation of gamers. We certainly did not have that type of villain at the time and to be honest, I haven’t really encountered any since in gaming, comics or films.

    His impact on me was caused by this powerful mix of ennui and rage; he hated existence itself and was bored by it at the same time. I remember that one quote about him being the first magiteck experiment and about something inside him snapping that day – that was the best and most terrifying explanation for me, because then I realised that no, he is not sad/fixable/redeemable he is *genuinely* broken and will never stop.

    Nice piece of writing. Thanks for that!

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