Of all the villains I have been exposed to in video games, literature, and movies. Final Fantasy 6’s Kefka Palazzo stands out above them all. For those who don’t have a clue about this villain, Kefka is the Joker of the Final Fantasy video game series. Kefka was a general of an empire that sought world domination. His mind snaps when he undergoes an experiment to create the ultimate soldier. Eventually, he takes control of the empire by killing the emperor and challenges the gods of the game. In the process, he destroys the planet and becomes a god himself.
He is a pretty standard villain over all. What makes Kefka interesting and strangely likable is his personality. While Marvel’s Joker is chaotic, insane, and deadly, Kefka becomes the god of chaos. What sets Kefka apart from being just a copy of the Joker is the questions he asks and the omnipotence he achieves. Kefka is insane yet strangely reasoned. In the art, he is depicted as feminine faced but with the physique of Zeus. He dresses like a clown, but he has piercing intelligence. In the game, when your character fight through his twisted version of Dante’s Divine Comedy, he descends from the heaven he created as both an angel and a demon, as a man and as a god. He views himself as the savior of everyone even as he burns them from the fabric of existence. He messes with the mind in every way possible.
Kefka is a tragic figure. He is an anti-buddha or an anti-savior. He asks the same questions everyone eventually asks themselves, but he draws the complete opposite conclusion of minds like the Buddha and Jesus:
“Why do people insist on creating things that will be inevitably destroyed?”
“Why do people cling to life, knowing that they must someday die? Knowing that none of it will have meant anything once they do?”
He concludes the fact everything must end voids everything of meaning. Whereas the minds of Buddha and Jesus conclude the opposite. He loses all hope and becomes a nihilist. Kefka even sees himself as a twisted savior. As a god he gained immortality, yet he seeks to destroy everything to free it from its meaninglessness. That effort would leave him alone with no way to end his meaningless existence for eternity.
These questions are what makes Kefka a strangely likable character. He explores a path that we too wonder about. Life sometimes does seem devoid of meaning. Kefka takes logic to its extreme dark conclusion and seeks to save everyone from the meaningless he finds.
In all the Final Fantasy games, the heroes represent humanity’s last hope. The characters are deeply flawed in the stories and face impossible odds, yet somehow they vanquish them. Imagine the scenerio in Final Fantasy 6. Twelve people arise to challenge a god bent on absolute destruction. He is beyond reasoning. He has lost all hope. Armies and tanks mean nothing to him. They are little more than gnats, yet the 12 managed to climb Kefka’s tower of debris from the previous world. They manage to fight through a twisted tower of human flesh writhing in hell, purgatory, and the angels in the grand hall of heaven. The final confrontation is strangely sad. Kefka is impaled on his own tower of torment suspended between the welded gates of heaven and hell. There he almost pleadingly asks them:
And did you all find your “somethings” in this broken world that just won’t die?
The heroes proceed to tell him what they found in one final effort to change his mind. He laughs:
Life…dreams…hope…Where do they come from? And where do they go? Such meaningless things…I’ll destroy them all!“
The 12’s only recourse is to kill the nihilistic god. They cannot accept the meaning of life he offers: nothing but destruction.
While it is unlikely the game’s writers intended the character of Kefka to have such symbolism, many stories tap into unconscious archetypes. The Final Fantasy stories all have the archetypes found in the Odyssey and other works of literature. Admittedly video game are not very deep compared to literature, but it is another medium to explore the human mind.
Kefka examines the dark side of losing hope. Without hope humans become monsters and seek only to die themselves. Villains like Kefka and the Joker explore the tormented midnight of the human soul. They live in a world of insanity and chaos. They are beyond reason, having reasoned themselves to meaninglessness and destruction.
Kefka left an impact on me from the first time I came across his terrifying evil. His questions are so unsettling because I have asked them myself. Kefka offers a glimpse into the tormented midnight of the human unconscious and a small example of what happens when hope is lost.