Family is a central part of anyone’s life. For better or worse, your family has a profound effect on you and changes your life in one way or another.
Because of the emotionally deep connection everyone has to family, videogame designers over the years have featured many in-game family relationships in their games to help the player relate to what is happening on-screen.
Whether these in-game family relationships exist in name alone (Mario & Luigi) or offer something much more complex and emotional (Mother 3), the power and impact of family in videogames cannot be ignored.
And while I love many of these videogame family relationships, one in particular stands out as being one of my unquestionable favorites. It appears in Super Nintendo masterpiece Final Fantasy VI, and the way the relationship is revealed is still, to this day, one of the most emotional, beautiful, and surprisingly subtle videogame moments of all time.
It makes me feel like a broken record (or broken typewriter?) to keep featuring Final Fantasy VI on the Memory Card. This is its fifth appearance (!), but, honestly, I could easily write many more. The game is my favorite role-playing game of all time and has too many memorable moments to count.
You can click here, here, here, and (deep breath!) here to read all about the other moments and related backstories. For this Memory Card, I will just be focusing on the events leading up to this week’s specific moment.
In Final Fantasy VI, you can play as many different characters. Some are old; some are young. Some are men; some are women. Heck, some of them are not even human!
While a giant cast of characters can sometimes make a game feel full to the point of being overwhelming, every character in Final Fantasy VI is so well-rounded and interesting that they all feel vital to the game’s overall experience.
At the start of Final Fantasy VI, you are put in the role of arguably the game’s central main character, Terra, a young woman with a very mysterious past that is the prisoner of the evil Empire and being used as a weapon to find and capture Espers (magical creatures that are being used in horrible experiments).
After encountering a powerful Esper during the game’s opening, extremely memorable sequence, Terra loses her memory and the true, epic story of Final Fantasy VI begins.
What follows is one of the most engrossing, beautiful and well-designed role-playing adventures ever conceived -- one full of numerous moments that will make you gasp just as much as they will make you cry.
As the story of Final Fantasy VI starts to unfold, Terra is united with a large variety of characters, each more interesting that the last.
At one point early on, Terra is separated from her friends and the game splits off into three separate storylines. While all three must be played eventually, the player has the choice of which stories to experience first.
One of these storylines follows a troubled young brother of a king by the name of Sabin. Sabin is tossed from a raft during a raging river battle and must journey across many lands to once again find his friends.
Along the way he runs into a mysterious ninja by the name of Shadow.
While very intimidating due to his all-black attire and lack of communication skills, Shadow is one of the bravest and most trustworthy characters in the game -- even if he has a tendency to disappear at a moment’s notice.
Always standing by Shadow’s side is his pet dog, Interceptor, a loyal, strong pup (and my pick for the best videogame puppy EVER!) that possesses the same hidden sweetness of his owner. They both have tough exteriors but would do anything to protect the people that they love.
Together, Shadow and Interceptor travel the world, taking on dangerous jobs here and there to get by, never really settling down in one spot.
When Sabin first meets him, Shadow is hesitant to join him, but eventually does for reasons only Shadow will ever know (read: gil!).
Eventually, Sabin, Shadow, Interceptor, and some other new companions reunite with Terra and her friends.
At this point, Shadow again disappears, not joining back with the party until much later in the game, when the allies make their way to the small village of Thamasa.
It is here in this seemingly unsuspecting village when this week’s Memory Card moment starts to reveal itself.
Before heading to a place called Crescent Island to learn more about the Espers, Terra and the thief Locke team up with Shadow to travel to the tucked-away town of Thamasa, in the hopes the villagers there can help them with their quest.
While there, the party meets an old man named Strago and his assumed adopted grandchild Relm, a young girl who is very skilled at drawing.
Immediately upon entering the village, Interceptor forms a special bond with Relm. While the scary-looking dog usually growls and barks at strangers, he immediately takes a liking to Relm, even going so far as to letting her pet him.
That night, while staying in a local inn, Terra and Locke are awakened by a huge fire in a nearby house. Looking for help from Shadow, they realize that he and Interceptor are nowhere to be found! Not having time to look for them, Terra and Locke run for the burning building.
As they approach, they learn that Relm is trapped inside! Scared, but determined to help, Terra and Locke run inside the giant fire to save her.
The fight through the inferno is tough, but eventually Terra and Locke reach Relm. To their surprise, Interceptor is also their trying to save her -- although the loyal pup is unsuccessful. Terra and Locke jump into action, but before they have a chance to do anything, the building around them starts to collapse.
Right before they are crushed by the burning rubble, Shadow appears and saves everyone at the last minute.
Barely escaping with their lives, the party makes their way outside just as the building falls to the ground around them.
Thanking him for saving their lives, Shadow says nothing except for the fact that he only went into the burning house to save his dog Interceptor.
Relm glances over. She senses something else was behind his rescue mission.
Without even a heartfelt goodbye, Shadow again disappears into the smoke-filled night sky.
It isn’t until much later in the game when Shadow once again appears.
In a moment previously covered on the Memory Card, Shadow shows up wounded on a Floating Continent. By waiting for him before escaping, players are able to rescue Shadow and save him from dying.
By doing this, Shadow can eventually join the party at a later point. If he is not saved, however, he is killed and never again returns to the game.
This choice is very important to what happens in this week’s Memory Card, as both scenarios yield very different results. Let’s start by covering what happens if Shadow is saved.
After the world is destroyed following the events of the Floating Continent, the party is split up. Only by visiting different parts of the world map can each individual be brought back together.
Once Shadow rejoins the party, he becomes a member forever, never choosing to leave again.
At this point (and even earlier in the game), when the party stays at certain inns, different members will have dreams about various past moments in their lives.
Shadow has several dreams in the game, depending on where the party stays.
The first few dreams reveal that Shadow once went by the name of Clyde and was a notorious train robber.
You see, Clyde formed a thieves group called “Shadow” with his best friend and cohort Baram. During one of their most notorious train heists, Baram was killed, and Clyde fled to ... where else? The small village of Thamasa.
There he met a beautiful young woman who he fathered a child with.
Ashamed of the person he was -- and not wanting his child to be like him -- Clyde abandoned his lover and young child in Thamasa, and became the mysterious, cloaked ninja Shadow.
At this point things start to come together.
As the dreams go on, more information is revealed about Shadow’s past life.
In his final dream in the game, the day Clyde (a.k.a. Shadow) leaves his family is shown. Interceptor -- revealed to be the family dog -- runs out of Clyde’s house and chooses to go with his master, although Clyde keeps telling him to stay with “the girl” (translation: his daughter).
Interceptor looks back at the house, but still decides to leave with his master.
It is at this point when the player knows there is a special connection between Shadow and someone in the village of Thamasa. It is pretty obvious who that person is, but not really confirmed.
In a brilliant twist, if the player actually allows Shadow to die on the Floating Continent (so sad!), his final dream is replaced by Relm’s.
In her dream, the same moment of Clyde leaving his family with Interceptor is shown once again. But this time it is shown from the perspective of inside the house.
Here, it is revealed that Clyde’s child is actually Relm. Relm’s mother is nowhere to be found, assumed to have died over the years. In her place is Strago, tasked with taking care of Relm.
Relm sees Interceptor approach her. She immediately knows what has happened and begs for her father to come back. She just wants to be with her “daddy.”
Trying to do what he can, Interceptor runs out the front door and after Shadow. (This is why we see Interceptor run out of the house into Shadow’s final dream in the alternate scenario. So Rashomon!)
As the final dream fades out, Relm is left still not knowing that Shadow is her dad. Since Shadow never once takes off the ninja gear covering his face, Relm never makes the connection he is her real father.
Even if he survives, the moment is never discussed between the two characters. It is only implied and revealed to the player.
A tragic ending, sure ... but one told in such a beautiful and touching way.
You can watch all of Shadow’s dreams (including Relm’s!) right here:
Man, I have my hand hovering over the Caps Lock button right now.
I could easily hit it and just go off on a hyperbole-filled exclamation about how incredibly good Final Fantasy VI is and how it may contain more memorable videogame moments than any other game in existence.
But, no. This moment in particular is so beautiful because of its subtlety that I am going to try my best to honor that.
Please know, though, it is going to take everything in me to hold back. I love this game so much.
There are many reasons the slow reveal of Shadow being Relm’s father is so wonderful.
First off, as just mentioned, the subtle approach absolutely works wonders.
Nowadays, it is very rare to find a videogame that doesn’t flat-out reveal exactly what is happening in the game through exposition or heavy-handed dialogue. It is hard to find a game that forces the player to think and make connections on their own.
But this is exactly what Final Fantasy VI does.
And it doesn’t just do this in one specific scene. It drops subtle hints about Relm being Shadow’s daughter throughout the entire game -- all building up to a fantastic, heartbreaking reveal at the very end.
First there is the introduction of Shadow. His character is easily one of the most dynamic and interesting characters in all of Final Fantasy VI. The minute you meet him (accompanied by that incredible music!) you know there is much more to his character than meets the eye.
As the game goes on -- and Shadow jumps in and out of the story -- the game leaves the player with just enough information to put two and two together and make a connection to him and Relm.
At first, before the player even meets Relm, just Shadow’s lack of communication alone proves that he is hiding something. All the characters in Final Fantasy VI are so robust that the designers would never include a random character that doesn’t say a lot for no reason.
All of this subtly builds up to the moment that the party meets Relm for the first time. Notice that the entire game Shadow is almost an optional character, but when the player enters Thamasa, Shadow becomes a required part of the story. Again, a subtle, but clever and vital choice.
When Relm enters the game, Shadow may not say much, but his connection to Relm is established through, of all characters, Interceptor. Interceptor has growled and barked at everyone up to this point, but he is friendly to Relm.
And Shadow and Relm are definitely not two of the major characters in the game! Establishing something this huge and emotional between two seemingly random characters makes the entire narrative twist even more surprising and impressive.
After all of these subtle hints, the game finally chooses to reveal the truth in the last part of the game. But, in another brilliant move, the actual truth is not revealed unless certain requirements are met.
First off, the player has to get the characters to dream, which doesn’t happen automatically outside of a few choice dreams from certain characters.
By taking the time to explore these dreams, the player is rewarded with more information about Shadow’s past ... and more and more layers are peeled away, revealing the truth about his relationship with Relm.
If Shadow survives on the Floating Continent, all of the dreams make it fairly obvious Relm is his daughter, but never make it official. It isn’t until Shadow is dead when the game shows Relm in Thamasa and, even then, the game establishes that Relm had a father who left her when she was young, but never really says it is Clyde/Shadow.
It wasn’t until an interview with the game’s developers in 1995 when the truth was finally confirmed. The interview reveals that a scene was cut from the game where Strago suspects who Shadow really is. During a private meeting, Shadow takes off his hood and shows Strago that he is actually Clyde, Relm’s father.
Would this scene have been a great addition to the game? Oh, of course! But, in a way, not ever revealing the truth and having the player figure it all out is much more rewarding.
True, it becomes fairly obvious towards the end of the game that Shadow is Relm’s father, but this is only because the game sets everything up so perfectly.
Shadow’s mysterious past. Interceptor’s reaction to Relm. The slow reveal of Shadow’s dreams.
IT IS ALL JUST SO PERFECT!
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
The beautiful, touching, and altogether surprising story of Shadow and Relm is one of the numerous reasons that Final Fantasy VI is not only my favorite role-playing game of all time, but one the greatest videogames ever created.
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