Soldiers of the Empire! We stand at the dawn of a new age! The lost power of magic has returned to us! We are the chosen ones! The time has come for us to claim our rightful dominion over the world! Nothing shall stand in our way!Gestahl
Emperor Gestahl is the secondary antagonist of Final Fantasy VI. He is the ruler of the Gestahlian Empire that has rediscovered the lost secrets of magic and oversees the development of Magitek that fuels the Empire's engine of world conquest.
Gestahl is an old man with long hair and a beard and mustache; his concept art, Super NES sprite, and his sprite remaster version depict him with white hair, but his field sprite in the mobile and Steam versions has pale blond hair. He wears ornate red and black robes with gold trim, a gold belt, and a black hair ornament with a golden band and a red crest at the front. Yoshitaka Amano's concept arts stick to this basic appearance used for Gestahl's sprites, but gives his robes various patterns like stripes or flower blossoms.
There is some confusion on Gestahl's age from the source materials. The Final Fantasy VI The Complete guide and Final Fantasy Ultimania Archive give his age as 50, yet in the timelines given in the Final Fantasy VI Settei Shiryō-hen he was born 72 years before the events of the game, and became the emperor around the age of 50. This is one of several areas that Settei Shiryō-hen contradicts other official materials on, and as The Complete and Ultimania Archive were published later, presumably Gestahl's age was retconned from Settei Shiryō-hen.
Gestahl is an ambitious and ruthless man who desires nothing less than total control over the world. Gestahl personally led an invasion of the esper world twenty years before the start of Final Fantasy VI and he ordered his men to abduct espers with intent to experiment on them and drain their powers. When Gestahl saw the collapsed Madeline thrown out of the esper world, he took the infant Terra from her arms and laughed as he realized she was a half-esper child, and that he could use her to accelerate his plans. When Madeline stood up and called out to stop him, Gestahl coldly told her to be quiet and struck her (it is ambiguous if he killed her or merely knocked her down).
Gestahl is a charismatic speaker and a consummate liar. He inspired genuine loyalty in hundreds if not thousands of Imperial soldiers, and convinced the Returners he truly wanted peace and wanted to negotiate a truce with the espers; though they did not fully trust him at his word, they went along with his plan. In the Cave to the Sealed Gate, Kefka Palazzo claimed that Gestahl purposefully let Terra escape the Empire and join the Returners, as part of a plan to get them to open the Sealed Gate for them. It is unknown if Kefka was telling the truth, but the suspicious evacuation of the Imperial Observation Post and Kefka's timely arrival at the Sealed Gate right as the Returners get there would suggest that if Gestahl had not intended this all along, he was at least able to anticipate their actions and set a trap for them.
Under Gestahl's rule the Empire has invaded many cities and killed thousands, and he shows no regret or remorse over these deeds. While others in the Empire loathe Kefka for his cruelty and bloodthirsty nature, Gestahl trusts him for the same reasons and has no issue with Kefka's actions, which often include the pointless deaths of the Empire's own troops. Gestahl cares little for the Empire except as a means to acquire power for himself. While the Imperial capital Vector burned from an esper attack, Gestahl remained in the Imperial Palace and threw a banquet. Given the opportunity to seize the Warring Triad, Gestahl abandoned Vector and went to the Floating Continent to claim them, and had the Imperial Air Force defend the continent from his enemies. When he felt that Kefka, the last ally he had, could no longer be trusted, Gestahl attempted to kill him.
Gestahl's objective is to rule the world, which causes him and Kefka to turn on each other when Kefka tries to awakening the Warring Triad, as that would devastate the world and Gestahl has no interest in that. Gestahl's final words before Kefka kicks him off the Floating Continent differ between the Super NES and Game Boy Advance versions. In the Super NES script, he says "there'll be no one to worship us", a final attempt to reason with Kefka and convince him not to go through with his actions. In the Game Boy Advance script, he says "the world is about to learn the meaning of fear", showing terror over what Kefka is about to do and the consequences humankind will suffer for it.
Gestahl collects paintings and commissioned an artist in Albrook to do his portrait. However, the Emperor was dead by the time the artist completed the work, so it was sold to Owzer in Jidoor and put on display in his mansion.
Gestahl was born to a military family in the southern state of what would become Vector in the Gestahlian Empire. His father was involved in a military coup when Gestahl was 13 years old, and Gestahl was crowned Emperor some time later. Gestahl researched ancient tales of magic and sorcery, looking for truth behind the tales.
The Empire's scholars discovered the location of the gate to the esper world, and Gestahl led an Imperial assault on the realm, promising riches to any soldier who captured an esper. The esper elder cast a spell to sweep Gestahl and his troops out of their world and then sealed the gate. The esper Maduin and his lover, a human woman named Madeline, were caught in the storm and banished alongside Gestahl. Gestahl took their child, Terra, from Madeline's arms, and returned to Vector with her and several captured espers.
Over the next twenty years, with the research of Cid Del Norte Marquez, the Empire developed revolutionary machines of war powered by magic, called "Magitek", and infused humans with magic from espers to allow them to cast magic. The Empire conquered its neighbors—Albrook, Tzen, and Maranda—and set their sights on the northern continent. The Empire's attack on Kohlingen was repelled, and they attacked Doma, which became a prolonged siege of Doma Castle, under the command of General Leo.
At some point Gestahl hid the magicite remains of the esper Phoenix in the Phoenix Cave. Rumor of the Empire having a "legendary treasure" that could restore the dead to life spread through the world, catching the attention of Locke, who began to seek the Phoenix to revive his dead lover Rachel. A letter containing a clue to the location of the Phoenix Cave was concealed in a portrait of Gestahl that was displayed in Owzer's mansion in Jidoor after his death. The portrait had been ordered by Gestahl from an artist in Albrook, but they did not finish before his death and so sold the painting to Owzer. How the letter came to be concealed in the painting is unknown.
Terra was sent to Narshe to raid the town for a frozen esper the townsfolk had dug up in a mine. During the raid, the Slave Crown being used to control her malfunctioned and her escort were apparently killed, leaving an amnesiac Terra to be found by the Returners. Gestahl sent Kefka to Figaro Castle to search for her. Gestahl called for Leo to return to Vector, leaving Kefka unchecked to poison Doma's water supply and wipe out its inhabitants save for Cyan.
When the Returners discovered Terra's origins and the existence of the Sealed Gate, they sent her to try and speak to the espers to aid them in attacking the Empire. Kefka confronted them at he gate and claimed that Gestahl had allowed Terra to escape the Empire and join the Returners to trick them into opening the gate for the Empire. The gate opened and a rush of espers blew Kefka away and flew to Vector, where they attacked the town and caused massive destruction.
When the Returners arrived at Vector to investigate, Gestahl had imprisoned Kefka, ostensibly for war crimes for the poisoning of Doma, but this was a ploy to convince the Returners of the sincerity of his next scheme. Gestahl claimed that the espers' show of power made him see the error of his ways and he had lost the will to fight and ordered a ceasefire. He invited the Returners to a banquet and explained that he needed their help to track down the espers and bring them to peace talks, before they attacked again. Aware the espers would not trust the Empire, Gestahl asked the Returners for Terra's help in finding them and convincing them to come to negotiations. The Returners agreed, though Locke insisted on accompanying her, and Gestahl appointed General Leo to lead the expedition.
While Terra, Locke, and Leo were went to Crescent Island and Thamasa, Gestahl remained in Vector and the rest of the Returners investigated his true intentions. Edgar learned the truth from a serving girl—Gestahl's ceasefire was a ruse to have Terra lure the espers out of hiding, and Kefka had secretly been sent to kill them and seize their magicite. The party escaped Vector before Gestahl could move against them, and met up with Terra and Locke too late to stop Kefka from massacring dozens of espers. The espers beyond the Sealed Gate, sensing the death of their friends, rushed out of the gate to attack Kefka, but they also fell. In their wake the gate was left open and defenseless; Gestahl and Kefka entered the esper world and found the Warring Triad, the gods of magic. With their power, Gestahl raised the island the gate was on as the Floating Continent, situating himself at its summit with the Warring Triad.
The Returners landed on the island and made their way to Gestahl. Celes, a former Imperial general, tried to reason with Gestahl, but he used the power of the Triad to paralyze her comrades. Gestahl invited Celes to rule the world with him and Kefka, saying that Kefka and Celes as Magitek Knights breed a new line of magical progeny. Kefka gave Celes a sword to kill the others and prove her loyalty, but Celes refused and stabbed Kefka. Kefka flew into a rage and called for the Warring Triad to show him their power to attack Celes. Gestahl, knowing the Triad's awakening would have catastrophic consequence, told Kefka to stop, but Kefka refused and insisted on showing their enemies the power of the Triad.
Gestahl decided that Kefka had outlived his usefulness and declared he would put Kefka "to sleep". Kefka reacted with shock and then laughter, confusing Gestahl, but Kefka refused to explain what he found funny. Gestahl ignored him and attacked Kefka with magic, but the spell had no effect. Gestahl resorted to more powerful spells that also failed, frustrating him, and he demanded an explanation of how Kefka was doing this. Kefka knocked Gestahl back and explained he was standing in the field of the Warring Triad, which absorbed all outside magic. Kefka called for the gods to show Gestahl their power, and bolts of lightning rained down around them. Gestahl evaded the strikes as Kefka taunted him, until a bolt hit him directly.
Gestahl collapsed, badly wounded, and Kefka kicked him around and mocked him. Gestahl gasped out his final words shortly before Kefka pushed him off the edge of the Floating Continent, and the Emperor plummeted to his death.
The theme for Gestahl is called "Empire Gestahl" and serves as the main theme of the Empire, being used in Vector and the Imperial Palace and many cutscenes about the Empire. Its first use is the start of the game when Terra flashes back to her time in the Empire, including when Gestahl gave a speech to his troops. It is also used during Gestahl's invasion of the esper world and when Kefka creates an illusion of Gestahl to taunt General Leo in Thamasa.
"Troops March On", another theme associated with the Empire that is used when they are initiating an attack, plays during the latter part of the esper world invasion when the player takes control of Maduin. "The Returners" plays during the banquet with Gestahl. When Gestahl raises the Floating Continent, and when the party confronts him at its summit, the theme "Catastrophe" plays.
Gestahl appears as a dog minion. This is likely a reference to Gestahl's original SNES sprite resembling a dog.
Emperor Gestahl appears with one Fire- and one Dark-elemental card.
The name Gestahl may derive from Gestalt psychology. Gestalt psychology or gestaltism (German: Gestalt "shape, form") is a theory of mind whose central principle is that the mind forms a global whole with self-organizing tendencies. This principle maintains that the human mind considers objects in their entirety before, or in parallel with, perception of their individual parts; suggesting the whole is other than the sum of its parts. Gestalt psychology tries to understand the laws of our ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world. In psychology, gestaltism is often opposed to structuralism.
The term "emperor" is of Old French origin and was derived from "Imperator", which was the title of the Roman head of state during the Roman Republic and, post-Augustus Caesar, the Roman Empire, and itself roughly means "commander".
An emperor is a (male) monarch, usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife (empress consort), mother (empress dowager), or a woman who rules in her own right (empress regnant). Emperors are generally recognized to be of a higher honor and rank than kings, and are generally the highest temporal political rank/honor in existence.
After the banquet with Gestahl and before leaving for Thamasa, it is possible to talk to the Emperor. In the North American SNES release, the name shown in his textbox is "Majesty", while he is known as "Gestahl" in the Finest Fantasy for Advance release. Kefka refers to Gestahl by his real name during the scene with General Leo in Thamasa.
Majesty is an English word derived from the Latin term maiestas, meaning greatness. It is generally used as a title of respect for a ruling official, namely a king or an emperor.