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Terra Branford and Finding Autonomy



Terra Branford: “A mysterious young woman, born with the gift of magic, and enslaved by the Gestahlian Empire.”

Terra Branford: “A mysterious young woman, born with the gift of magic, and enslaved by the Gestahlian Empire.”

An autonomous person can make decisions without direction, influence, or coercion from other people. They are free to follow one’s heart to carve their own meaning in life.

In Final Fantasy VI, Terra Branford is unwittingly among each of the core factions of the story, that are in conflict with one another. Born of the love between a human and an esper, and raised among the cruel Empire as a biological weapon, Terra is divided among the war between the Espers, the Empire, and the rebels, that each desire to use her abilities to further their agenda.

Terra’s story is one of finding autonomy and purpose.

Terra begins the story with no free will. She is given no name and is under control of the Empire by a slave crown and quite literally, the player. The two soldiers with her speak uneasily about her presence and yet as if she is not there. As if she is a tool to be used and nothing more. It immediately displays how out of place she is, that she is not in control of her mind, and that she is not affiliated with these two willingly.

“And this woman, this… sorcerer. Why’s she here? I heard she fried 50 of our Magitek Armored Soldiers in under 3 minutes?”

A cold, erratic wind blows as Terra stands still, robbed of all conscious thought.

Terra, Biggs, and Wedge, cross the snow laden and wind-swept tundra of Narshe, carried by a variation of “Terra’s Theme” titled “Omen” from the score composed by Nobuo Uematsu. The repeated motif of her theme uses subtle changes through out the story to transform the melody as Terra transforms in her personal journey. In this opening, the percussion of her theme evokes a militaristic march giving it an ever-present forward momentum. This conflicts in contrast with the main melody that has a repeated falling and rising motif. One that evokes a feeling of aimless wandering. Of being lost.

Terra and the player are unwilling participants in this attack, but are unable to do anything but see it through.

After the mission, when Terra awakes in Narshe, she is free from the slave crown but now suffers from amnesia due to its removal, remembering nothing but her name. While she is now named, she has no identity. She is free but has no autonomy. Without a personal narrative, she can only be a product of her circumstances. The guards of Narshe are hunting for her, due to her mind-controlled actions, so she has no real choice but to go with her rescuer, Locke, and join up with the rebels, The Returners.

Terra and Locke meet with Edgar and Sabin, who journeys with them to the Returner Hideout. Here, they ask for her help in fighting The Empire. Without her memory she only has these people’s word to go on that The Returners are the good side and The Empire the bad side.

“It’s going to be tough to talk you into helping us…” says Edgar. “If we push you too hard, we’re no different than the Empire. So, we want you to make up your own mind.”

Despite these feelings from The Returners, they inform her that without her help, without her magic, they will surely fail and the world will fall to The Empire. It’s hardly a choice within the context.

Terra, reluctant to be used as a weapon, wanders the hideout learning each person’s reason for fighting the Empire and hoping some other answer will present itself. During this sequence, a variation of Terra’s theme plays called “Awakening”. Unlike the opening version, this one lacks the driving march of the percussion and leaves only the melancholic keys of aimless wandering. For here, she is unable to move forward, frozen by the choice presented to her by Bannon.

Yes or No… “What is the right decision?” she and player wonder alike.

But the choice is an illusion. Terra knows she can’t say no, but she doesn’t want to say yes, and this is reinforced through the gameplay.

If the player selects “No”, Terra steps back inside the hideout to wander, lost and aimless, just like the player unsure how to progress the narrative. This is repeated until the player (and Terra) gives in and says “Yes”. If “No” is selected three times, an injured soldier enters, informing them that soldiers of The Empire are on their way (an event that happens anyway, after saying yes) giving her no option but to join up and flee with The Returners.

Just like Terra knew deep down; there was never any choice at all.

After the battle for the frozen Esper, a conduit passes between it and Terra, transforming her into her Esper form. She loses all control she has been gaining back since the beginning and takes off. When her friends find her again, she is unable to speak, recognize them, or control her abilities. She may as well be under control of The Empire and the slave crown again.

The rest of the cast mount a perilous mission to The Empire’s heart, in order to procure the magicite remains of the trapped Espers. When they return, the magicite of her Esper father resonates with her and Terra awakens with her memories returned, giving her identity and free will at last.

Once again, this is reinforced in the gameplay. Terra, from this moment on, has the ability to transform into her Esper form at her own will when in battle, which increases her magic ability. It’s a demonstration of her gaining back her autonomy. It’s quite literally the power of choice, and it strengthens her.

These events leave Terra more self-assured, taking a stronger proactive role with the cast in brokering peace between man and Esper. These memories and emotions come with a price, however, and Terra feels the yearning for purpose. Free but lost.

After Kefka brings about the World of Ruin, Terra is strangely absent. In a story that aims to defy the concept of a main character, Terra is still one of the more prevalent members of the party, and the cast slowly reunites without her. She is eventually found in the tiny village of Mobliz, where an attack from Kefka’s divine light has left it in ruin and killed every adult who died protecting their children. Terra decided to stay and look after the orphans, compelled by a feeling she could not describe.

When the party eventually finds Terra, she refuses their invitation to rejoin and fight against Kefka, having found purpose in caring for the children.

” I don’t know why these kids need me… But they’ve made me feel things I’ve never felt before. The moment I sensed this, I lost my will to fight. I can honestly say I don’t know what’s going on inside me… And the more I try to understand it, the less inclined I am to fight.”

This is the culmination of everything. It’s at this point Terra goes from being a playable character to an NPC, asserting her own will. For the entire story, Terra has been controlled and coerced by the will of others, including the player’s. This time there isn’t a “Yes” or “No” answer to choose. There isn’t even the rise and fall of her theme, haunting her.

Terra makes her own choice now, having full autonomy.

Eventually, Terra chooses to join the final battle, but she does so for the future of the children, making a choice for herself and the purpose she has found.

In the end, Kefka is defeated, and our heroes soar through the sky of the new world. Terra stands at the ship’s bow, the wind no longer cold, erratic and howling. She unbinds her hair, letting it flow, and enjoys true freedom as an autonomous person.

Free to follow her own heart, having found her own purpose.

Geordi fell in love with storytelling when he was just four years old. Watching movies that kids maybe shouldn’t, reading books with too many big words, and exploring new worlds on his NES and SNES, he found his passion. Left with a deep empathy for countless worlds and all who inhabited them, he pursued not only media, but firefighting, much to the confusion of his teachers. When he is not consuming every film, book, and game he can get his eyes on, he’s writing about them… and perhaps making his own.

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