Every week, my place of employ USGamer asks its community a question to take with them into the weekend. The staff members kick off discussion by offering their own answers first. The question for Friday, April 15 was “Who’s your favourite gaming sidekick?”
I had to think on that one for a bit. There are a lot of interesting game sidekicks out there, obviously, and I wanted to give a super-cool answer. I think I came up with one: Interceptor,* Shadow’s killer Doberman from Final Fantasy VI.
I don’t think my selection is hard to justify. Interceptor is capable of absorbing damage for Shadow, who is already one of the game’s most hype bad-asses. Once Interceptor takes the hit, the damn dog just flies at Shadow’s attacker like a black-and-tan bullet and rips their dumb monster face right off.
He even runs through the air to reach airborne enemies. Yeah, he misses every single time, but if an angry canine doggie-paddles across the sky to try and reach your jugular, it doesn’t matter if it connects or not. You’re going to shit your pants in fear and confusion, and you are well within your rights to do so.
But there’s another, non-lethal reason I love Interceptor. He’s a cog, a pen, a page — an extension of Shadow who helps deliver one of the game’s deepest secrets.
Shadow is the father of another party member, the young artist Relm. Sorry to be one of those fans, but there’s no room for debate on this one. In fact, Square was set to reveal the fact in-game, but then it wisely, wisely decided that’d be a case of telling-too-much.
As a storyteller with a big fat gob, I honestly salute Square for trusting its readers / players by showing restraint. I mean, “Shadow is Relm’s father!!” isn’t heavy detective work for kids today, who chow down on conspiracy theories about Gravity Falls and Five Nights at Freddy‘s like they’re McNuggets. But for a 1994 SNES RPG, runaway fathers with vaguely-defined connections to their peers is a big deal.
Shadow’s past is revealed through a series of flashbacks / dreams that occur when you sleep at an inn, or trigger certain story events. Interceptor doesn’t feature in any of the early ones, including the “debut dream.” Speaking of shitting your pants, that’s one hell of a way to kick things off. I mean, the follow-up dreams are all still kind of dark and creepy — particularly Clyde’s partner-in-crime, Baram, asking Clyde to kill him so he won’t be captured and tortured — but that droning sound in the background and the cryptic text is completely unnecessary, Square.
When Shadow’s subconscious becomes more lucid, we get a better idea of what’s going on with this effed-up past. Shadow was once Clyde, a notorious train-robber. He and Baram eventually botched a job, causing Baram to become mortally wounded (or close enough to it).
Somehow, someway, a wounded Clyde stumbled into the isolated village of Thamasa. There are a few question marks here. Was he wounded in the same incident as Baram? If so, it seems unlikely he travelled from probably-Doma to faraway Thamasa while struggling to keep his guts from slopping out, or whatever. My guess is that Clyde ran afoul of the law somewhere else while on the run; if Baram really was tortured, he probably spilled a lot of information that made it all the easier for the authorities to sniff out Clyde.
I know, this tale keeps getting sunnier and sunnier. But it doesn’t really matter how Clyde wound up in Thamasa. The point is, he got there and was discovered by Interceptor and his first owner — the young woman Clyde almost certainly knocks up at some point between the fourth and fifth dream sequences.
(Incidentally, I highly doubt Interceptor’s first name was actually Interceptor. Unless Clyde’s wife** / Relm’s mother actually is that bad-ass. Otherwise, I’m going to go ahead and say Interceptor’s first name was Whoopsie.)
Shadow’s fifth dream isn’t triggered by conventional means, and it’s interesting for a few reasons. First, it’s easy to miss because lots of people don’t know they can save Shadow’s life by waiting for him when the Floating Continent and the world in general is about to crap the bed. When that’s done, you can round up Shadow along with the rest of your companions. He’s lying in the Veldt cave, about to be mauled by a behemoth. Go. Run to him.
Once he’s rescued, you see his fifth dream, wherein he leaves his Thamasa home and tells Whoopsie he can’t stay. Whoopsie follows Shadow, abandons his name in the same manner as his new master, and becomes Interceptor.
Conversely, many players who did wait for Shadow have no idea Relm dreams up a similar batch of cryptic hooha when you rescue her from the Veldt cave in Shadow’s stead. In Relm’s vision, she asks where her father’s gone, and if he’s ever coming back. Strago seemingly has no answer, and he is now +1 spunky granddaughter.
(By the way: When you first visit Thamasa, a gossipy old prune will tell you outright that Relm is not Strago’s biological granddaughter. Oh, RPG NPCs.)
The shared dream between Shadow and Relm could be considered completely separate events if not for one thread: Interceptor. He runs out the door in Relm’s dream, and catches up to Clyde in Shadow’s dream, who tells the pooch to “stay with [his] daughter.”***
When I first played Final Fantasy VI, all of this soared over my head. I neglected to wait for Shadow, so I found Relm as a consolation prize. I brushed off her dream as tragic backstory fodder and assumed she simply had a generic absentee father. “Boo hoo, where’s daddy?” hardly registered as significant in the World of Ruin. Deal with it, kid. The world’s baked.
The truth gradually unfurled through the latter half of the ’90s with the help of Geocities fan pages and text-based message boards, and I was obviously blown away. But even as I get older and have no problem acknowledging Final Fantasy VI’s gameplay flaws, I still find myself impressed at some of the mechanics it utilizes to tell its story. Interceptor’s out-the-door moment is so quick, so easily missed, but if you pay attention, you realize how clearly the crazy dog glues Shadow’s past together.
More of this brand of subtlety, Square!
Please. Something tells me we’re going to need it with Final Fantasy XV.
* In Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations of Interceptor, the Doberman’s ears are cropped, but not his tail. Usually both are done at birth, when they’re done at all (it’s a procedure that’s falling out of favour for obvious reasons). Just dumb, useless info from a dog nerd.
** Unmarried couples making babies happens often in Final Fantasy VI, which was honestly shocking content in the ’90s. Terra’s a magical half-breed bastard for starters, to say nothing of the Ancient Queen who secretly wanted to boff Odin behind her husband’s back. But people really seem to forego marriage before breeding in the World of Ruin, and who the hell can blame them?
In fact, Final Fantasy VI has an interesting side-theme that involves people coming together (AAAAAAAAAAY LMAO) to rebuild on a subconscious level. Duane and Katarin’s pregnancy struggle in the ruins of Mobliz is the most obvious example, but how come nobody gives a shout-out to the chap and the lady in South Figaro who are blatantly fucking for the good of humanity in the town’s trees? It’s crystal-clear what they’re up to, even in the “sanitized” SNES translation.
All that said, I’m pretty confident Clyde and his woman were married. Only Shadow and Relm can equip the Memento Rings — both of which are found in Thamasa — which leads me to believe they’re actually wedding rings. The item description even indicates the rings belonged to someone who’s obviously special to both Shadow and Relm.
*** In the SNES translation, Clyde tells Interceptor to stay with “the girl.” In the Game Boy Advance version of the game, which received a re-translation, he says “my daughter.” That clarifies things, I think.
Really, give the GBA script a read-over if you can. It honours Woolsey’s original work, but fills in a lot of missing story details. I go into more detail about the “complete” Final Fantasy Advance translations over at USGamer.
BONUS OBSERVATION THAT JUST HIT ME: Ever notice how Clyde’s sprite and Relm’s sprite have similar hair colours?
Yeah, Ramona Quimby: Final Fantasy VI Edition was definitely fathered by a train robber. I love video games!
(Thanks to PhinalPhantasm for the sprites)