Hello everyone. It’s time for my first article on the subject of magic, powers, and the systems worlds use for them. It’s pretty hard to directly explain this, which is why I’m going to use an example that most of you are most likely familiar with as my first Demystifying article: Final Fantasy 6. Basically, what I intend to do is go into detail about how the fantasy world tackles the concept of ‘magic’ or magical powers, what I like about it ,what I don’t like, and any really unique aspects it has. So let’s take a stab at Demystifying Final Fantasy 6.
History and Lore
Final Fantasy 6’s world unfortunately has no name. But it’s magic system and it’s history are so interesting that it feels like an ideal place to start this series. In the distant past, there were Goddesses known as the Warring Triad who were beings of immense magical power. While feuding, they used their powers to turn people into enslaved beings of magic known as Espers who were used as weapons in their war.
Eventually, they realized that their war was pointless and actually risked destroying the world. Coming to this conclusion, they sealed themselves in stone, releasing the Espers from their control but asking only that the Espers seal themselves and the Goddesses away from the world of man so that people could be free from magic. The only traces of magic remaining in the world after this were kept secret by a small village of people who are descended from some of the soldiers who were not, themselves, turned into Espers during that war. These were known as Mage-Knights and possess ‘Blue Magic’, a form of magic innate to only the members of that village descended from those soldiers.
After nearly 1000 years, the seal failed briefly and some Espers were captured by the Empire 18 years prior to the game’s beginning. Terra, a half Esper child, is also a result of this, as a woman wandered into the land beyond the seal and fell in love with an Esper. The Empire used these Espers they captured to try to re-discover the destructive magics of that long-ago war.
This is why nobody save Terra and a few of the Empire’s test subjects, can cast magic on their own in the time of the opening of the game. In order to be able to cast magic, people must be imbued with power by an Esper, and the purest way for that to happen is for the remains of an Esper, known as Magicite, to be bonded to a person. This allows that person to gradually draw the power of that Esper into themselves, learning magic from it. Once they have learned that magic, it does not matter if they choose to bond to a different Esper, they know it forever. While drawing power from a deity or lost entity is certainly not a unique approach to magic, the specific element of Espers being people who were transformed into weapons in the distant past makes it truly special.
From a gameplay perspective, this system of options since you get a variety of magicite and have to choose who you want to bond with who. The convenient part is that while a person can only bond to one Esper’s magicite at a time, you can change which magicite he is bonded to at any time.
By using this, you can sort of pick and choose what type of character you want to make based off which espers you bond each character with and which spells you learn in which order. This really helps to make the magic system feel very intricate and fun during the middle portions of the game because during those portions you have all these different characters with different spells and it just feels very satisfying.
The downside is that it, perhaps, is a bit too easy to master everything. Unfortunately, by the time you get near the end of the game, your characters will all likely know nearly every spell, and it just feels a little awkward. Perhaps they were trying to differentiate it from earlier games like Final Fantasy 4 where each character had a very specific set of spells and those were all they could learn – I don’t know. But the ease of complete mastery has always been a bit of a let down since having every character have access to every spell in a system like this just doesn’t quite feel right.
The game, in order to make characters feel unique, also has some other special abilities – however these are more physical disciplines than magic per se. One character has attacks drawn from martial arts, another’s attacks are all specialized sword techniques, and another uses various technological devices such as chainsaws, etc. These abilities are specific to the character, and feel very well suited to a world which has been without any real magic for nearly a millenium and has begun to progress in technology – their current civilization resembles the industrial revolution.
Final Fantasy 6 has something that I don’t see a lot in the magic systems used by video games… coherence. In Final Fantasy 6 all forms of magic, even the diluted ‘blue magic’, has a singular source, it has limitations, and it has consequences that all tie together in a remarkably logical way. This all builds into a system that I truly find just fantastic – not flawless, but still great.