The Final Fantasy games are known for their iconic and scene-stealing villains. Sometimes it’s obvious who the big boss of the game is going to be (Sephiroth), while others it comes completely out of nowhere (Necron? Really?). However, one of the best approaches to a final boss is hiding them in plain sight. Kefka, the archvillain of Final Fantasy 6, manages to be present from the beginning of the game, yet surprises everyone by his turn as the ultimate evil.
For one thing, Kefka does not look like a big boss. He dresses like a jester, with gaudy, brightly-colored patches of asymmetrical clothing (granted, that’s a Final Fantasy staple, but still) and clownish makeup. He’s short and slightly built, and his trademark is a high-pitched laugh which seems more annoying than menacing. There is also the fact that his behavior is mostly played for laughs early on in the game. He’s obsessed with his appearance, he’s petulant and whiny, loud and obnoxious. While he is clearly a villain, most Final Fantasy bosses are cold and distant, either unknowable cosmic forces of evil or professional masterminds, and in either case, possessed of a dreadful dignity and subtlety. Kefka had none of that, and loudly blurted out every ugly and hateful thought that came into his head, to the point that it seemed silly. He is also cowardly, running away from battle or using illusions of himself, and becomes enraged and terrified at the sight of his own blood.
For all this, Kefka is perhaps the most malevolent force in the Gestahlian Empire from the moment he arrives. While most of the generals of the villainous empire are at least somewhat honorable, Kefka gladly commits war crimes, such as poisoning the water supply of a town he is attacking and killing everyone inside, including the civilians and even his own captured troops. He personally kills the noble General Leo, a fan favorite, and one many hoped would become a playable character. Even the Emperor himself finds Kefka’s actions to be despicable, if useful, and the rank and file soldiers broadly dislike him. In the end, it comes down to Kefka and the Emperor deciding how to use the ultimate power of the gods they manage to acquire. While the Emperor wished to be cautious, and use only enough power to conquer the world, Kefka wanted to harness that power to its fullest extent. To this end, he murders his lord and unceremoniously kicks him off the floating continent. Then, he does what no Final Fantasy villain before or since has managed: he reduces the world to a wasteland and rules what remains as a god.
Kefka’s motivations seem to be based on his insanity. He was among the first of the Empire’s Magitek Knights, and as such, the incomplete process damaged his mind. This left him with a burning hatred for everyone and everything, as well as a nihilistic sense of amusement at the pain and suffering of other living beings. He seems to believe that since everything dies, nothing matters, and anyone who finds meaning in fleeting life is an idiot. When he conquers the world, he does so not out of a desire for power, but to amuse himself. Mostly at random, he afflicts survivors with the “Light of Judgment,” a deadly power that destroys entire cities. He has the people convinced that he does this because they don’t worship him properly, but their loyalty is incidental to his vicious sadism. Indeed, as the story goes on and Kefka’s power grows, his madness grows as well. When confronted by the heroes, who speak of their belief in life and hope, Kefka disgustedly tells them they sound like a self-help booklet, and that he will destroy the world just to spite them and shut them up.
Kefka manages to be an amazingly effective villain because everyone underestimates him. In real life, the worst people are often those who come across as the most pathetic, because they have no sense of dignity or fair play. They’ll debase themselves as much as they need to in order to get away with their crimes, then turn around and use the pity and disgust of others to stab everyone in the back and take what they want. Kefka has no likeable traits, not even ones commonly found in master villains such as strength of resolve, bravery, or some twisted code of ethics, and because of this, he’s able to weasel his way into becoming the most powerful being in the world, a position he abuses with impunity. His abject denial of anything positive in the universe drives him deeper into madness, and while it seems inevitable he would have burned out on his own, he would certainly have taken everything else with him when he went.