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The Memory Card .06: The Opera House

7:25 PM on 06.08.2007 // Chad Concelmo

One would think, as video game technology grows more advanced, that it should be easier to emotionally connect a player to what is happening within a virtual world. The more realistic everything looks (and sounds), the more relatable the experience, right?

As a handful of older games prove, this is most definitely not the case. Not only were some past generation games remarkably beautiful, they someone managed to transcend the original function of a video game (mainly to mindlessly entertain) and produce some genuinely iconic moments that still hold up after all these years.

One beautiful, older game in particular that any longtime gamer will fondly remember is Final Fantasy VI (or as most of us remember it from the Super Nintendo, Final Fantasy III). Not only is it my favorite RPG of all time, it contains numerous moments that could easily be considered true, accomplished works of art.

The next inductee to The Memory Card is one of these artistic moments: a very famous scene held dear to many gamers’ hearts that may quite possibly be my favorite video game moment of all time.

The Set-Up

Like most of the Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy VI involves a huge cast of characters working together to thwart a world-threatening plot. But this Final Fantasy upped the stakes on all accounts, with, to this day, the biggest playable cast of characters yet, all interacting and battling in a huge, rich world.

In Final Fantasy VI you start off playing as Terra, a young woman and almost unwilling participant in the Imperial raid of a peaceful town by the evil Empire. In the game (acting as a central plotline), the Empire is a huge organization with one goal in mind: to capture and harness the power of the most magical creatures in the world, the Espers, and use their power to take over the world.

For much of the early part of the game Terra is the main character and most of the primary sequences revolve around her.

One thing about Final Fantasy VI that is so cool (and so different from other games in the series) is that the main characters frequently “pass the baton” to other characters, allowing for new stories and subplots to come into light.

Such a shifting of focus occurs about a quarter of the way through the game, when Terra discovers that she was actually born an Esper. Upon learning this news, horrified and confused, Terra flies away, leaving the game (until later) and displacing control to someone else in the group.

The remaining party, wanting to understand the connection between Terra, the Espers, and the Empire, makes plans to travel to the Magitek Research Facility in capital city Vector, a mysterious factory run by the Empire and home to many secrets (as well as a multitude of captured Espers).

Unfortunately, Vector is located on a southern continent with no access by way of the sea. With all other options unavailable, the party decides they have no choice but to recruit the help of Setzer, a notorious gambler and owner of the only airship in the world.

To make matters even more difficult, Setzer is known to be almost impossible to contact and very unhelpful (to say the least). The party realizes the only way they will be able to enlist the shady captain’s help is to trick him … somehow.

Through the magical world of perfectly timed video game coincidences, one of the members of your party, Celes, an ex-Imperial general, looks almost identical to a world famous opera singer by the name of Maria. And, of course, Setzer just so happens to be planning the kidnapping of Maria at the end of an upcoming opera performance.

So, with a masterful plan to disguise Celes as Maria and let her get kidnapped, gaining access to Setzer and, most importantly, the airship, the party heads to the Opera House, leading to one of the most surprising and wondrous video game moments of all time.

The Moment

After changing clothes to look exactly like Maria, Celes heads backstage to prepare for her debut performance.

Almost more nervous about performing opera in front of a sold-out crowd of people than actually being kidnapped, Celes carefully reads through the lyrics of the songs she must sing. Once she is finished perusing the entire script, her moment in the spotlight finally arrives.

At this point in the game, control leaves the player and an extended cut-scene begins.

The orchestra in the pit below begins playing as Celes steps onto the stage. Using a primitive (but still remarkably beautiful for the time) synthesized voice sound effect, Celes actually “sings” the opera (although unintelligibly) as the music swells in the background.

Instead of just sitting back and watching the entire sequence unfold, however, the player is actually asked to provide the next set of lyrics at several predetermined spots in the aria. Any players who by chance hadn’t memorized the lyrics earlier in the game are unfortunately left to just guess what the next part of the song will be (although the choices are, luckily, fairly obvious).

The extended sequence continues, as Celes flawlessly performs the challenging and dramatic opera.

Even though Celes’s singing is the most memorable part of the entire Opera House sequence, many other great moments occur as well.

Once Celes is finished with her section, the opera continues to a new scene and the control switches back to the other characters in your party. While watching the drama unfold onstage, the party comes into information that not only is Setzer planning on kidnapping “Maria,” but another shady character is actually set to execute her as well (by dropping a giant 4-ton weight on her head during the opera, of course).

Suddenly, a countdown timer begins and it is up to the party to race to the rafters above the stage and stop the baddie from killing Celes.

Right before the assassin goes through with his evil plot, the party manages to intervene, resulting in everyone toppling off the catwalk above and onto the opera stage. This part is particularly clever because once the characters fall onto the stage the theater’s audience immediately starts whispering to themselves as the orchestra comes to a sudden halt. A boss battle then begins between your party and the assassin, visually framed by the stage’s curtain, with the audience watching intently in the background. Once the battle is complete, the audience cheers as if all of the chaos was part of the show.

Once the audience applause dies down, a spotlight falls on Maria/Celes. From out of nowhere Setzer enters, grabs “Maria,” and leaps away into the darkness above (luckily for Celes the rest of the party stows away on the awaiting airship, saving her and recruiting Setzer to join the mission).

After all of this, the orchestra plays one last time as the curtain closes, ending one of the greatest video game moments of all time.

The entire Opera House sequence is pretty darn long with many different sections and missions to fulfill and, as a whole, they are perfectly put together. But the most beautiful (and most commonly remembered) moment has to be the scene where Celes sings for the first time. Turn up your speakers and relive its greatness right here:

The Impact

I knew this scene was something special when I realized, even now, I still know all the lyrics and music to the opera by heart (“Oh my hero …”). Is that sad? Yeah, maybe a little. But the sequence is so beautiful and memorable and amazing and … well, the list goes on and on.

I have probably played Final Fantasy VI more than any other RPG (maybe even more than any other game in general) and watching the above video still gives me chills (when the music crescendos – man, it gets me every time). Talk about a testament to this game’s longevity and lasting impact.

I mean, think about it, Final Fantasy VI was released for the Super Nintendo: a 16-bit system that doesn’t even come close to the power of the current generation systems available now. Yet I am affected more by this cutscene (actually, several in this specific game) than any I have seen in the last ten or so years. Why is that?

Of course the immense quality of the music helps a lot. Written by renowned video game composer Nobuo Uematsu, the music of Final Fantasy VI is, by far, the best score of the entire series. The Opera House sequence, while his shining masterpiece, is only one of several amazing tracks in the game. In fact, one thing about Uematsu’s work in Final Fantasy VI that makes it stand out so much is the fact that every single character has his/her own (amazingly composed) theme, all of them culminating in a 21 minute long opus that plays over the game’s ending (seriously, do you remember how great that ending was?).

As the years go by and I play more and more video games I still have yet to encounter anything like the moment in the Opera House. For people that haven’t played Final Fantasy VI it is still hard to explain what makes the moment so great. Even saying it is a perfect combination of video game music, unique gameplay, and exquisitely drawn sprites does not do the scene justice.

Regardless of this lack of reasoning, super fans of Final Fantasy VI, myself included, can just revel in the fact that the Opera House scene will always be remembered for years to come (there is a special place in my heart for people that worship this scene like I do). It truly is a work of art and easily one of the greatest video game moments of all time.

Now, I am going to watch it just one more time …

The Memory Card Save Files

Chad Concelmo,
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