“Hee, hee! Nothing can beat the sweet music of hundreds of voices screaming in unison!” Kefka
In Square Enix’s most iconic game, Final Fantasy VII, everyone takes the main villain, Sephiroth, seriously the moment they meet him. Sephiroth is crazy, murderous, and on a mission to attain as much power and kill as many people as possible. He has just killed some of the powerful Shinra executives in the world. Throughout the game, Sephiroth is meant to be taken seriously and simply isn’t playing around.
Kefka Palazzo in Final Fantasy VI, however, is a more insidious villain than Sephiroth, and I’d argue he’s the best villain in video game history. There are a lot of comparisons between Kefka and Joker, and Kefka is clearly a very Joker-esque villain. He is a fool, a clown, someone you just laugh at throughout the game, someone you don’t seriously at all.
Xenoflux Raiden on YouTube makes a clear distinction between an antagonist and a villain. An antagonist opposes someone for interfering with their own goals, while a villains are people that do things that will cause the heroes harm. Sephiroth is an antagonist. Kefka is a villain. This is not to say that Sephiroth is not a good antagonist, but that Kefka transcends even Sephiroth.
However, behind Kefka’s clownish and buffoon-like exterior, he is extremely intelligent, very malicious, and the reason he become so powerful and survives is because Terra and her party do not take him seriously at the beginning, despite the fact that he uses a slave crown on Terra to take advantage of her magic.
The most dangerous villains are the ones closest to you. Throughout the game, Kefka is someone you constantly interact with, as opposed to some villains who are distant and unreachable besides at key scenes and ending stages.
Kefka is not very competent at the beginning. He can barely use magic. He is very evil and nihilistic, and the maniacal, loud, short-tempered clown that we hate but find somewhat redeeming because he’s funny, and his humor allows him to ascend.
“The first time you meet Sephiroth, he kills several floors of people in a skyscraper and then the president of a company. The first time you meet Kefka, however, he is little more than a joke — an ineffective ambassador that no one takes seriously. Yes, he sets a castle on fire. But after his plan fails, he is such a non-threat, you leave him stranded in the desert — paying little attention to his impotent threats of revenge as you ride away.”
Kefka’s design looks like he simply doesn’t belong in Final Fantasy. Every other villain looks like a knight or someone with very qualified sword skills. Kefka wears a lot of makeup, is incredibly short, and dresses like a jester. Of course, these are physical attributes we don’t see when we’re actually playing Final Fantasy VI, a game first released on the Super Nintendo (SNES) where we only see him as a sprite.
The very first time we meet Kefka, he orders two soldiers to wipe off sand on his shoes — in the desert. He sets a castle on fire because he thought someone was lying. He tries to poison a river to kill the entire castle. He burns down an entire town. To become a god, Kefka does whatever it takes, and he literally destroys the entire world, splits it in half, and makes it a “World of Ruin”. By the end of the game, Kefka legitimately becomes a malevolent god bent on total destruction.
There’s a reason why the initial antagonist of Final Fantasy VI isn’t actually the main villain. Emperor Gestahl, the ruler of the Gestahilan Empire, at first, appears like a ruthless, ambitious leader who the party tries to escape from. He is a military imperialist who uses Kefka as his court mage, but also enables Kefka by pardoning him for his atrocities. Gestahl controls the most powerful empire in the world with a lot of magic power, but Kefka outsmarts him at almost every turn, even turning Gestahl’s hand when Kefka murders a general.
At the core of Kefka’s nihilism, destructiveness and evil is the fact that he was the subject of a Magitek experiment before the process was perfected. The process gave him powers of magic, but destroyed his sanity. He is a complete psychopath who loves to see people suffer, and derives joy in causing death and destruction. He murders his own men all the time with no remorse. To test Terra’s magic powers at the beginning by burning 50 of Kefka’s own soldiers alive.
In fact, take a look at the image of Kefka’s final boss form. He becomes a tower with a crucified man and several religious symbols and angels, all resembling a Michelangelo painting. His God of Magic form resembles Lucifer. He is literally the devil incarnated, and he acts like it.
At the beginning of the game, Kefka is just a normal person. He doesn’t have a good command of magic. The party makes quick disposal of him. He always has evil intent, but not the wherewithal to execute it. And yet his conniving manners get him to a god-like status towards the end. Kefka could have been stopped at numerous times throughout the game — and yet he wasn’t until the world was already destroyed.
Kefka is also the best video villain ever because not only do we not take him seriously, but we don’t take him seriously and then he wins. He leaves us hopeless and beaten and kills people at will from his tower at the end. Kefka does not inspire any tragedy — he’s just a villain we hate with unimaginable rage. While we feel sympathy for Sephiroth’s backstory, Kefka perhaps lacks the good side of the nuance — instead, Kefka’s nuance ranges between evil to extremely evil.
“He transcends from a villain you hate into a villain you love to hate,” Eisenbeis writes.
It is frustrating to look back at the false sense of security Kefka lulled us into in the beginning of the game. He is pure evil and probably didn’t deserve to live from the very beginning, and yet the party keeps him alive because he appears so normal and weak. Yet not far into the game, Kefka, right before he poisons a river, says:
“Nothing can beat the music of hundreds of voices screaming in unison!”
Kefka, like Joker, is evil in its purest form, the kind that we don’t take seriously until it bites us in the back. All he wants to do is to see people suffer, to see people destroyed, to see people die, to bring out the absolute worst depths of our dark sides out, like Joker did with Harvey Dent. In a sense, Kefka is like Donald Trump when he ran for President, someone that a lot of people didn’t take seriously and treated as a joke until he became a serious contender.
Kefka teaches us that the people we discard as jokes, that lull us into a false sense of security— those are the most dangerous people. To close, I will leave you with Kefka’s most iconic quote, uttered during the final battle:
“Life… dreams… hope… Where do they come from? And where do they go…? Such meaningless things… I’ll destroy them all!” Kefka
Originally published on SUPERJUMP on June 7, 2020.