Before It Was Cool - Dancing Mad
This is an article I wrote to be featured in The Moogle Post, a fantastic online Final Fantasy XIV fan magazine you should check out on mooglemedia.com. You can view it in its final form, complete with a beautiful layout treatment, alongside lots of other great articles in the February 2018 issue of The Moogle Post, right here.
Final Fantasy XIV draws from the history of the Final Fantasy series in tons of amazing ways. Sometimes it’s subtle (the Gestahl minion), and sometimes it’s overt (everything related to Rabanastre), but the development team keeps finding ways to not only reference older FF games but also flesh those references out by combining them with Eorzean lore.
While there are nods to every numbered Final Fantasy game in XIV, and even spin-offs such as Ehrgeiz, Tactics, and Mystic Quest, one previous title seems to impact the direction of our favorite MMO the most: Final Fantasy VI. The very core of our plight hinges on an empire wielding the power of Magitek, for the purposes of wiping out magical beings known as primals (and also to take over the world because that’s what every empire wants to do). Almost every one of those plot details can be traced back to the story of FFVI.
It’s clear that the writers working on FFXIV enjoyed them some FFVI, and, fortunately, so do the fans. Final Fantasy VI is so beloved in fact that I’ve been struggling to even write this piece because I know that game and its fiction are so dear to the players, and I haven’t played it since finishing it over ten years ago. Bear with me. But the reason I’m even risking the ire of fans and redditors the world over is to discuss an important topic upon which we can all agree, our main man, Kefka.
What’s up with the creepy clown at the end of the Patch 4.2 trailer?
Kefka Palazzo is the greatest villain in Final Fantasy history. That’s probably subjective, but if you disagree about that to anyone who’s played FFVI, they might respond by murdering you, so just accept it as a fact. His involvement in the story of Final Fantasy VI completely steals the show, serving as both a wonderfully-foreshadowed plot twist and a memorable-yet-terrifying plot device. It is often said that the opposite of love is not hate – that love and hate are two sides of the same coin. With Kefka, he becomes such a horrible, hate-able dude that the fanbase looped around from hating him to loving him. That Kefka love is also bolstered by the appreciation players, have for just how far Squaresoft was willing to go with an antagonist.
And they went pretty damn far. Kefka enters the story as a mere jester, working for the Gestahlian Empire. He’s a minor character in the early hours of FFVI, as the game spends much more time focusing on the evil of the Empire itself, and its leader, Gestahl. Kefka’s path to becoming the primary antagonist of the game begins with him childishly setting a castle on fire, and a “boss fight” in which he can be defeated with a single hit. Eventually, he gets a bit of power within the Empire and uses that moment to poison an entire city, while laughing at the cries of its dying citizens. So, in case we’re keeping a body count on the Evil-O-Meter, Kefka has racked up more kills halfway through FFVI than Sephiroth from FFVII ever does. His evil makes Final Fantasy’s most popular villain seem… cute.
As for the rest of the game, Kefka goes around literally one-shotting espers (primals in FFXIV) for a while and eventually raises a floating continent to hatch his grand scheme. He plans to throw the Warring Triad (shout outs to Sephirot, Sophia, and Zurvan) out of balance and destroy the world, and then actually fucking does it. After this moment, the rest of Final Fantasy VI plays out on the remaining pieces of land left after Kefka has literally broken the world apart and become the god of magic. He goes from lowly comic relief character to “fires lasers from his fingertips that blow up mountains” strong, just for shiggles.
Too Much Boring and Not Enough Burning
Kefka’s atrocities make him obviously worthy of hate, but understanding why he’s so lovable is much more difficult. The writing of FFVI and how it takes Kefka from insignificant to near omnicide is far beyond where most games were at the time. In 1994, most villains were about as complex as Bowser from Super Mario. Kefka had actual philosophies on the meaning of life, or really lack thereof, with lines like, “Why do people cling to life, knowing that they must someday die… knowing that none of it will have meant anything once they do?” and my personal favorite, “There's a reason ‘oppose’ rhymes with ‘dispose.’ If they get in your way, kill them!”
If all of this reads like Kefka “just wants to watch the world burn,” then you’re getting the right vibe. I think the same personality traits that made Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight such a cultural phenomenon are also responsible for the Kefka love. Both characters resemble deranged clowns. Both turn on their seemingly more evil boss and reveal themselves to be the real threat. Both have little to no back story. Both are disgusted by the idea that things are supposed to have structure and meaning, but also fascinated with the option of simply fucking that structure up to see people writhe in the chaos.
Characters like Kefka and Ledger’s Joker break the mold of what fictional evil is. As people, we like to see the motivations for fictional characters so that we can ground them in our personal feelings on right and wrong. Some of the best heroes are the ones with whom we can relate, who make decisions like the ones we would, or at least choices we can understand. This draws us into a story because, in those tales, we can see parts of people we know, or even ourselves.
When a character is written like Kefka or The Joker, they connect because of how not-human they are. We don’t have a back story to look at and go, “Well this happened to him then, which made him evil, and that’s why Luke Skywalker’s father is now a robot man with telekinesis.” When they rant about how meaningless life is to them, and then back that up with random destruction, we can’t find parallels to those behaviors and the ones of our friends and family. They’re foreign to us, and that makes them a refreshing presence in our stories. I wouldn’t say it’s the only reason FF fans around the world cheered when they heard Kefka’s theme song, Dancing Mad, during that Patch 4.2 trailer, but that “Why so serious?” type of unpredictable evil definitely resonates with people.
Writing this before Patch 4.2 is released, all I can do is assume. Kefka in FFXIV will likely be the last raid boss of the Sigmascape. In FFVI, the final encounter with Kefka is infamous for starting the trend of multi-part JRPG boss fights. Fans liken it to a weird version of The Divine Comedy, in which the stages of the afterlife are Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Kefka’s tower of boss fights has demonic entities at the bottom, tormented people in the center, and angelic beings at the top. In The Divine Comedy, God tells Dante the meaning of life once he ascends to the last stage of Heaven. In Final Fantasy VI, at the top of the tower, Kefka (in full God of Magic form, complete with angel and demon wings), tells the player how meaningless life is. I’m assuming and hoping The Sigmascape – V4.0 will reference that religious theme.
As of this writing, we don’t know what Kefka’s involvement in Patch 4.2 will be, but it’s safe to assume we’re going to fight him. If he replaces Exdeath as the final boss of the new raid tier, we should consider ourselves lucky that he only exists as a simulation within Omega. Eorzea ain’t ready for the type of drama Kefka brings.