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NOTE: I’m confining my discussion to the time frame from Final Fantasy I-Final Fantasy XII. Also…every character is as they apply to in a game. For example, if I was to say Cecil, it would be concerning him in whatever game I put next to him, not him in both FFIV and FFIV: The After Years. Second…this is side characters. So no main protagonists or main antagonists.

10. Seymour (Final Fantasy X) – Technically, Sin/Jecht/the-whole-Yu-Yevon-system is the “main antagonist” in Final Fantasy X, so this guy counts. He annoys the Hell out of me and dresses funny, and his voice is enough to make you just want to choke him repeatedly. But he deserves credit for being probably the craziest villain since Kefka. Having gone completely insane and corrupt, he believes the only true state of life is death, and that he actually would do the world a favor by killing everyone. The fact that he just keeps coming back no matter how many times you kill him makes him also quite a bit nastier, as does the fact that we’re treated to a brief scene in which he was once just a lonely, crying child, and that his mother’s sacrifice was ironically what twisted him into a devil-in-the-flesh. Cautionary tale to all parents, maybe?

9. Rubicante (Final Fantasy IV) – Probably the first villain to ever “break the mold” in a Final Fantasy game. Although Rubicante is definitely a dyed-in-the-wool archfiend of evil, he’s more honorable and chivalrous than many other “good guy” knights seen in the series. He’s disgusted by the fact that Dr. Lugae didn’t just let his former victims, the King and Queen of Eblan, rest in peace but reanimated them as monsters. When he sees a decent opponent, he spares them on the chance they’ll get strong enough to give him a “decent challenge”, and even heals up his enemies to full power before a battle so that both sides can go “all out”. Unlike his master Zemes, he seems more interested in the perfect fight rather the destruction of the world, and doesn’t even care if his side loses so long as he gets a good match out of it. He also dies gracefully, not hurling curses or begging his master for another chance. Why can’t all villains be this affably evil?

8. Rydia (Final Fantasy IV) – Rydia has one of the most complicated and amazing back stories of any character in the series, and one you’re privileged enough to see “unfold” before you. After her mom’s death, she ends up paired with her inadvertant killer and develops a friendship with him, becoming a valuable staple both to Cecil’s well being and safety as well as giving him a sense of what it means to fight for a “noble goal”. Rydia may just be the individual who pushes Cecil to realize a knight is defined by what he does, not who he works under. After overcoming her personal demons to master her power, she ends up being the glue and “uplifting voice” in the group. Then, while trying to return to Baron by boat, Leviathan purposely wrecks the ship she’s on and swallows her only to spit her out in the Illusionary World, where she’s adopted by the King and Queen of Eidolons and trained for the equivalent of a few years to become one of the greatest black mages/summoners in the world, right before she’s sent back to rescue Cecil and company from Golbez just in time. Tell me…what part of that story isn’t badass?

7. Faris Scherwiz/Sarisa Tycoon (Final Fantasy V) – Again, I’m kind of “cheating” with this one, but I’m going to consider that Butz/Bartz was the main character and the other new Dawn Warriors were side characters. While Galuf gets credit for “going out” in the most “manly” fashion ever done in a Final Fantasy game (kind of the movie equivalent of being stabbed through the heart, reaching out, grabbing the hilt, pushing himself the rest of the way onto the blade, and then, once close enough, reaching out to seize the head of his killer and snap his neck), Faris is the best of the group. Initially, she appears to simply be the toughest girl in the series to date, although she’s similar to Leila (they’re both pirate captains, even), with a sharp attitude and a never-say-die mentality. What makes her even more amazing, however, is that in flashbacks it is revealed she has not only a soft side, but a warm and kind nature much like her younger sister. (I couldn’t help but get a case of the Feels when she pushed her bed closer to Lenna’s so she could sleep next to her…and they were kids and sisters so get your minds out of the gutter.) She clearly “loves the animals” too, in a way, as evidenced by her relationship with Syldra. Being raised as a ruthless pirate, she has a free spirit that longs for the sea…but is also willing to put that aside (at least some of the time) when she realizes her sister and kingdom need her.

6. Barret Wallace (Final Fantasy VII) – Final Fantasy VII gets a lot of Hell for being cliche and overdone, but a lot of people don’t realize just how much is underlying the plot in that game, preferring to turn their attention spans off after Cloud, Aerith, and Sephiroth. Barret is one of many characters shoved off to one side as just some stereotype not to think too much about. What people forget a lot of, and should remember in the post-9/11 world, is that Barret, and AVALANCHE for that matter, is a mass-murdering terrorist. He killed thousands of people destroying Mako Reactor #1. He claims he did it for the Planet, but the fact of the matter is he wanted revenge on the Shinra Corporation for taking his hand, his wife, his friend, his town, and his livelihood. Over the course of the game, he, like many of the characters, is forced to gradually look in a mirror and see they aren’t as righteous or saintly as they thought. The climax moment is on the Highwind before going into Midgar, when Cait Sith basically mocks his entire philosophy: “So long as Marlene is alright, who cares?” He exposes him as a hypocrite, placing his adoptive daughter’s life and welfare above that of all the innocent people he murdered. It’s really intense when you think about it, as is how the cast of Final Fantasy VII gradually evolves from being self-interested, amoral terrorists into “true heroes”. It’s too bad that angle was downplayed in the game.

5. Edgar Roni Figaro and Sabin Rene Figaro (Final Fantasy VI) – Again, a bit of a cheat. I’m considering the big three (Terra, Celes, and Locke) to be the “main characters” for this game…and I can’t say any more about the Celes/Locke relationship that hasn’t been said a million times before (they would be number 1 if I included them, though). This game is rife with side characters, but the ones who probably have the most intriguing story are these two. On the outside, Edgar appears to be a womanizer who can’t take a hint and Sabin a somewhat dim-witted musclehead. Yet their story is pretty compelling, especially how it was resolved if you see all of the details. In spite of how confusing and emotional a time it was when their father died, both brothers ultimately acted in a way to “show their love” for each other. Sabin only partially left Figaro out of his desire to get revenge. It was also because he knew he would be an inferior king compared to Edgar and that he “deserved” to rule a unified kingdom rather than half of a divided one. Edgar, on his part, gave Sabin the illusion that he “won his freedom” in a perfectly fair manner when, in reality, he gave Sabin a bet that he made sure he would win, so he would get to choose his own path. There are lots of examples of brotherly love in the Final Fantasy series, but this gets the best relationship award to me…although Faris and Lenna are a close second.

4. Vivi Ornitier (Final Fantasy IX) – The greatest black mage ever. Essentially, he’s a personification of what everyone in the game is trying for: a place where they belong. Created as a prototype for living biological weapons, literally scraped together from the refuse of extinguished souls and processed into a small humanoid child, Vivi’s shy, quiet, and mild-mannered mannerisms belay his ability to annihilate those who piss him off with extreme magical prejudice. Even stubborn Steiner very quickly gravitates to him, adopting the more dignified title of “Master Vivi” to refer to him. The biggest factor, however, is that while Zidane and the others constantly try to comfort and encourage him, and Kuja mocks him for being a soulless puppet, the fact of the matter is both the group and Kuja himself could end up learning a lot from him. Vivi, who was nothing more than an attempt by Kuja to replicate the same process that created him, eventually proves himself to have far more of a soul and a meaningful life than Kuja ever would. What is ultimately the true difference between a “doll” and a person who “has a place where they belong”? A person finds their place within the lives of others.

3. Kain Highwind (Final Fantasy IV) – One of the most morally ambiguous characters in the entire Final Fantasy series, although I’ll confine my discussion of him to the original Final Fantasy IV rather than The After Years. Much like his namesake, Kain was adopted alongside Cecil by the King of Baron and raised in his image. Yet in spite of reaching the same rank as his biological father and having the acclaim of his men, his people, and the kingdom itself…it wasn’t enough. He coveted the special status Cecil had as well the fact that the noblewoman Rosa favored Cecil over him. Rather than profess his feelings, he nursed hatred for both of them while wearing the mask of being a friend and ally for years, until Golbez finally brought out the darkness in his heart. While other heroes can claim they were controlled or manipulated, Kain outright admits he didn’t even try to fight Golbez’s control over him, enjoying too much the fact that he could beat Cecil and that Rosa would always be at his side…whether she liked it or not. In some versions, he even asks for death as his “just punishment”. He provides a foil for both Cecil and Rosa to show the strength of their own characters in forgiving him, and, once he’s done his first of two Heel Turn Faces, his sardonic attitude and quips make for a fun character to boot. His voice actor in the DS version is far too “deep” and “serious” though…

2. Professor Hojo (Final Fantasy VII) – Screw Rufus. Screw Jenova. Screw Sephiroth. Hojo was the real villain of Final Fantasy VII. On that note, I’d be bold enough to say that Hojo is the greatest villain in the entire Final Fantasy series, including everyone in either version of Dissidia. Kefka was rendered insane by an experiment. Sephiroth was half-alien to begin with. Seymour was once an innocent child who was corrupted by his new power and living on a warped world. Hojo, however, has no “excuse” for his actions. He’s simply a sadistic, pure evil monster who believes the whole purpose of anyone’s life or existence is to further his scientific curiosity. He dismisses all other things besides him as trash and does so with a smug and confident air that no one will ever even try to lay a finger on him. He gets away with murder (literally) due to the Shinra Corporation needing him. In short, he represents the dark side of human scientific innovation…pure callousness and cruelty devoid of morality. How many other characters in the series can get you to hate them and want them dead so much? Not many.

1. Freya Crescent (Final Fantasy IX) – This should probably be Vivi, but…I just like her too much. And what’s not to like? A strong, dignified, fierce noblewoman with priestess connections who fell for the greatest Dragoon in her kingdom, and, in a desire to be by his side, became a Dragoon herself. They win each other’s hearts only for him to vanish in a mysterious disappearance for years and, on his return, it is revealed he has amnesia and no memory of her. It breaks her heart but, unlike many other Final Fantasy characters (*cough*Cloud*cough*Vincent*cough*Zidane*cough*), she remains as devoted and fierce as ever, even as she watches her own kingdom and Cleyra get annihilated and countless innocents die. She ends up having one of the best romantic “resolutions” in a Final Fantasy game ever when it’s revealed that, although Sir Fratley never regains his memory, he falls in love with her a second time. Damn…why didn’t they elaborate more on her plot?! Add to the fact she can hold her own in the ranks of General Beatrix and Captain Steiner, that she gets her ultimate weapon earlier than anyone else, that she gets a combination of the strongest/cheapest move in Dragon’s Crest… Oh, and did I mention she’s a giant, talking, white rat? Just talking about her makes me want to play her theme on the piano…