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1. Terra Branford ('VI') vs. 8. Vivi Ornitier ('IX')
We’ve got a good old-fashioned mage duel to kick off today’s battles. The structure and rules of this tournament do imply the combatants actually end up fighting. And that’s essential because, if we’re being realistic, these two probably share a pleasant chat and become best friends. They’re both too sweet for their own good. That disposition may be a disadvantage, but it’s a shared flaw here. Terra’s magic is arguably stronger than Vivi’s, and Vivi relies solely on his status as a powerful mage. Terra also has the added dimensions of her weaponry. Don’t let Dissidia fool you; that sword isn’t just for show. Even if all magic is equal, Terra wins with steel and an Esper form that surpasses Vivi’s Trance. Providing they don’t hug it out, Terra wins.
5. Ingus ('III') vs. 4. Sabin Figaro ('VI')
Ingus is the toughest warrior in III’s party. Nonetheless, this fight has the feeling of a schoolyard bully shaking a younger kid upside down for some additional lunch money. Sabin’s brute strength and blitz techniques make him an absolute gladiator. Ingus is a de facto leader in his own right, while Sabin is essentially the group’s muscle with a bit of heart. But the two are in different leagues in a matchup that is largely determined by strength. I don’t mean to overemphasize this point, but the man suplexed a train. And his techniques offer a consistently devastating slate of physical and elemental beatings. Sabin wins a respectable brawl.
6. Vincent Valentine ('VII') vs. 3. Squall Leonhart ('VIII')
Guns aplenty grace this next matchup. 'Final Fantasy’s' very own Bruce Banner takes on the man that doesn’t miss. Squall will spend much of his time drawing to cast powerful spells towards his elusive opponent. While Vincent’s experience as a Turk is no joke, it’s safe to say Squall enjoys a narrow advantage in the combat savvy department as well. Materia fuels the worthy adversary, and the wildcard of course comes down to Vincent’s transformations. With so many available spells and basic abilities being otherwise equal, the big question is whether or not Squall can single handedly take down Chaos. Vincent’s Chaos form would make an exciting boss battle for most 'Final Fantasy' parties, let alone an individual, and Squall’s position in the grand scheme of protagonists is more popular than powerful. Both wield a chilling composure, but Vincent wins with a next level of berserker beast mode.
7. Gladiolus Amicitia ('XV') vs. 2. Cecil Harvey ('IV')
There’s a valor surplus between these two knights. The king’s shield and former Red Wings commander are no strangers to intense combat scenarios. They were born to enter this tournament. But while the IV universe embraces high fantasy and its many powers, XV veers away from it in favor of noodles and gas stations. There isn’t a tremendous amount of otherworldly power in XV’s cast outside the one true king. Cecil is as accomplished, in fact he’s much more accomplished than his opponent as a knight. And, as a paladin, he doubles as a proficient healing warrior. Item spamming is a nifty gameplay exploit that lets XV players avoid a single death until they first pilot the flying Regalia. But Gladio struggles mightily against a superior fighter who also has access to magic. Cecil claims another decisive victory.
1. Cloud Strife ('VII') vs. 8. Rydia of Mist ('IV')
A pair of massively destructive characters ushers in our fourth and final corner of the bracket. Rydia’s black magic offers a harder hitting alternative to the tried and tired white mage-summoner trope. You don’t go poking around at Leviathan’s friends with a slab of metal. And with a clash of raining spells or limit breaks, the forgetful mercenary would be doing just that. Despite being among the tournament’s favorites, Cloud is pushed to the very edge by this middle seed. Rydia isn’t the most durable combatant in franchise, but she packs a devastating punch. That punch can be attributed to both characters. The only thing separating the two is Rydia’s inability to protect herself once Cloud bulls his way in with an Omnislash ready. A respectably-sized sword would be nice, but she’s looking at fourteen slices of pain when that big moment comes around. Cloud wins a surprisingly close one.
5. Kain Highwind ('IV') vs. 13. Aerith Gainsborough ('VII')
First round upsets are great. They’re the lifeblood of March Madness tournaments. But they do occasionally lead to second round mismatches. Aerith, despite her supernatural nature and magical proficiency, can’t compete with a warrior of Kain’s caliber. In fact, the dragoon’s patented jump is oddly familiar…just saying…it’s an eerily similar angle for Aerith defeats. You would think she’d learn to look up by now. Against a Cetra or not, Kain outclasses this opponent by miles and seizes one of the easier wins in this second round.
6. Oerba Yun Fang ('XIII') vs. 3. Tidus ('X')
Much like her previous opponent, Fang strikes me as the type who could’ve tagged along for Yuna’s journey to repeatedly put Tidus in his place. They’d get along famously, but in that very uniquely Tidus way. Despite the chosen-one undertones and his incredible athleticism, Tidus does assume more of an underdog role within his group. There’s little implication that he can stand up to the power of an Auron, for example. Fang is a militaristic, highly skilled l’Cie. Tidus is a scrappy athlete with a surprising knack for combat, particularly in a support role. If the two shared a story, a presumably linear one, Fang would be his physical superior every step of the way. She’s the tougher fighter, the better tournament candidate, and the winner of this battle. Fang wins and moves on to our Sweet Sixteen.
7. Celes Chere ('VI') vs. 2. Warrior of Light ('I')
Dissidia turned the Warrior of Light into a heartier character that builds around his original depiction. With that said, the depth of 'Final Fantasy' abilities increased over time as the series granted characters more individuality. The granddaddy protagonist is powerful, but he’s also relatively standard. Celes’ nuanced backstory, as we mentioned in the previous round, is that of a genetically enhanced Magitek general. Her powers, sans Esper, resemble that of the game’s protagonist. And she does it all with a better feel for experienced combat. VI bridged the gap between the 'Final Fantasy' eras of noble adventurers and near-superheroes. Celes is, in many ways, an evolution of 'Final Fantasy’s' previous generation. She gets the win here.
With 75 percent of the field gone, the tournament enters its home stretch. Check in next time for the entirety of our 'Final Fantasy' March Madness Sweet Sixteen.