Final Fantasy VI's Jump Scare

October usually brings up spooky things, but I’ll resist any discussion of Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Siren, Resident Evil, Power Piggs of the Dark Age, and other openly frightening games. Instead I’ll talk about the first game that really scared me: Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI, then known as Final Fantasy III, might have been the last game I played completely fresh. I grabbed it on the day of release back in 1994 and plunged into it before any of my friends had it, before Nintendo Power properly featured it, and well before the Internet could spoil it. Everything that unfolded was new and fascinating—and even unsettling at one point. 

Halfway through the game, the heroes head to an imperial stronghold near the mysterious Sealed Gate. It’s clear they’re being duped by the empire, but I nonetheless awaited the mechanics of the trap. Were the unstable Kefka and the conventionally evil Emperor Gestahl the main villains, or would there be a less human monstrosity behind it all? And what of the renegade general Celes, who’d joined our cause for a while? With many questions in mind, I marched Terra, Locke, and the rest of the misfit revolutionaries into the fortress.  


At first things proceeded as normal: the group entered, everyone noticed that the base was deserted, and Terra seemed almost resigned to the empire’s inevitable machinations. Then it happened. Terra suddenly jumped around the screen like a cave cricket. The other members of the party vanished. Then Terra skipped out of sight completely and the game froze. 

I was stunned. I had seen video games glitch out before. I had witnessed countless NES games with garbled graphics that required a now-inadvisable cartridge-blowing. I knew that computer games would jam if you pulled out the disk at the wrong time. I had even personally kicked an arcade cabinet so hard that the game rebooted. But I had never seen something like this. 

I tried to make sense of it. Maybe it was supposed to happen. Final Fantasy VI’s visual effects went well beyond other RPGs of its day, and Terra’s "Let's get this over with" even hinted that she was planning some revelation. Hours prior she had unexpectedly morphed into a wild-haired Esper and soared across half the world, so bounding all over the place was mundane by comparison. 

I waited for the game to right itself. It stayed frozen. Shock spread through me. The game had broken through no fault of mine. It had stepped outside the boundaries of fiction and violated some unspoken decree of verisimilitude. Perhaps it had even wrecked my save file and destroyed all the hours that I’d put into this quest. Perhaps the actual game cartridge was irredeemably damaged right down to the circuits. For the first time in my life a video game was messing with my head. 

Of course, everything was fine. I reset the game, pulled up my most recent save file, and sent Terra and her compatriots into the fortress and beyond without incident. And yet that strange scene was never far from my mind, and for the rest of the game I half-expected acrobatic chaos and lockups whenever the characters broke into conversation or entered a new region. My faith was shaken. 

I had good cause for that. Final Fantasy VI is littered with notorious and well-documented glitches, including the many odd side effects of Relm’s “Sketch” command. That’s to say nothing of such deliberately unsettling sights as Shadow’s dreams and the final battle’s grotesque Boschean vision. 

Yet nothing in the game rattled me like Terra’s bizarre, game-freezing gymnastics, partly because they seemed unique. Other kids knew all about Relm’s glitches, and everyone who played the game enough would see Shadow’s nightmares. I never met another player who’d encountered a leaping Terra at the imperial fortress. 

Even today I can’t find the glitch listed among Final Fantasy VI’s many known technical hiccups and exploitable programming. And I’ve never been able to recreate Terra’s antics in any subsequent play-through. I might be the only person who ever saw it, and that makes it just a little creepy even today.