Final Fantasy VI

Introduction

With its improved job system, Final Fantasy V arguably managed to overshadow its direct predecessor in the eyes of Japanese fans. It was certainly no mean feat considering how Final Fantasy IV itself proved to be a turning point for the medium, inspiring countless artists to pen stories for their games more advanced than the kind of material typically delegated to instruction manual filler. Almost immediately after the launch of Final Fantasy V, Squaresoft began work on a sequel.

Due to his promotion to Executive Vice President of the company in 1991, series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi wasn’t quite as involved with this game’s creation. Instead, he served as the game’s producer while Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito were the co-directors. Mr. Kitase was responsible for the fifth installment’s relatively lighthearted tone, and Mr. Ito, having taken inspiration from Formula One racing, conceived the Active Time Battle (ATB) system. Mr. Kitase was in charge of event production and wrote the scenario alongside Mr. Sakaguchi once again, while Mr. Ito handled the combat engine. Despite the minor personnel change, the game’s development cycle went smoothly, taking about one year to be completed.

The man who composed the game’s score, Nobuo Uematsu, recalled Mr. Sakaguchi’s words at the launch party they held in the liner notes of a soundtrack he composed in 2010.

“Thanks to every one of you — we have created the best game in the world! No! The universe! Thank you!”

At that exact moment, Mr. Uematsu cried as he realized just how much of himself he had invested in the project, seeing the tears he shed as undeniable proof. The game debuted in April of 1994, receiving its official North American localization in October of the same year. Any success the series enjoyed up until this point seemed modest compared to the reception Final Fantasy VI received. Critically, it was praised for its character-focused narrative. Commercially, it became a bestseller, moving millions of units in Japan while becoming the eighth bestselling SNES cartridge in North America where it was dubbed “Final Fantasy III”. The reason for this change in numbering was because only the first and fourth installments had been localized in that region by 1994, and the localization team consequently changed the latter to “Final Fantasy II”.

To an even greater extent than the original, Final Fantasy VI was responsible for getting console enthusiasts interested in role-playing games. Indeed, the SNES is commonly considered to boast the greatest selection of JRPGs of any console library, and Final Fantasy VI is cited as one of its hallmarks – notably lauded by people who don’t normally enjoy the genre. Does it truly stand to this day as one of the medium’s greatest achievements?

Playing the Game

WARNING: Due to the nature of this game, this section will contain minor, unmarked spoilers.

One-thousand years ago, the world was reduced to ashes in a conflict known as the War of the Magi. Once the fighting was over, the power of magic disappeared from the world. Humankind instead turned to technology, using iron, gunpowder, and steam engines to replace magic’s role in society. Life slowly returned to the barren land, and even with the rise of an empire, times remained relatively peaceful. However, the flames of war now burn anew. Following a year of small-scale skirmishes with the Kingdom of Doma, the Gestahlian Empire began a campaign for world conquest. With their technological advancements taking full advantage of the lost art of magic, they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal.

The empire currently has control over the world’s southernmost continent, and they have now dispatched three of their soldiers, Biggs, Wedge, and an unknown young woman to raid the colliery town of Narshe in search of an Esper. The empire has learned to harness the innate magical powers of these creatures for themselves, allowing their best soldiers to use magic. It also led to the creation of Magitek Armor, mechanical devices capable of firing concentrated beams of magical energy. The woman has proven especially adept using these machines, as she mysteriously has the ability to use magic without aid from an Esper. In fact, her powers were so feared that she was outfitted with a Slave Crown, which robs her of any free will.

Upon finding the Esper, Biggs and Wedge are incinerated immediately, but the woman is spared as the crown’s hold on her is disrupted. Her unconscious form is discovered by a man named Arvis, who brings her to his house so she can recover. Unfortunately, the crown has rendered her an amnesiac, though she is able to recall her name when asked: Terra. She is then forced to flee the dwelling, as the angry villagers threaten to break down the front door. Terra makes her escape with an affiliate of Arvis’s, a treasure hunter by the name of Locke. The two men are members of an insurgent group called the Returners. Following Locke to Figaro Castle to the south, Terra finds herself wrapped in a series of events that will determine the world’s fate.

Shortly after entering Narshe, Biggs, Wedge, and Terra are accosted by the town’s guards, instigating combat shortly after the player has been given control. To those who have played any of the Final Fantasy installments leading up to this one, combat flows in a recognizable way. It uses a turn-based engine that operates according to the individual actions you assign each character rather than on a round-by-round basis. In a stark contrast to most JRPGs, there is a real-time element involved. Next to a character’s health (HP) counter is a meter that fills up as time passes. When the meter is full, you can input an action for that character. How quickly the meter fills depends on the speed stat. If more than one meter is full at the same time, you can press the “L” or “R” buttons to switch characters.

Final Fantasy III introduced the concept of back attacks wherein party member and enemy positions were reversed in combat. It was a rather unfortunate turn of events because formations were reversed as well, meaning that your fragile characters took the brunt of the enemy’s onslaught while the physical fighters were unable to protect them. You would have to sacrifice one or more turns to place them back in the correct rows. Not only does this mechanic make a return, two more battle arrangements have been added: the pincer and side attacks. In a pincer attack, the enemies surround you on both sides, preventing you from escaping. To make matters worse, they will do increased damage to characters not facing their direction. Spells or attacks that normally target all enemies will only affect one side of the battlefield. If luck is on your side, your characters may be able to surround the enemy. This is what constitutes a side attack, and the same rules apply in this inverted formation.

When Terra is evading Narshe’s authorities in the mines, there is random chance of triggering a random encounter against a monster horde. This remains true of any future hostile region you may traverse. Once you have made your escape, you are allowed to explore the overworld. Because |the first half of| the game is primarily driven by its plot, you usually only have one place to go at a given time. Nonetheless, even in the limited areas you can explore, there’s quite a bit you can do. Your arrival at Figaro Castle marks the first time you can talk to NPCs. Doing so is a great way to get a sense of the world’s current state and gather important information with which to advance the plot. As Final Fantasy VI begins in media res, the ability to slow down the plot temporarily to learn more of the world’s backstory is appreciated.

Final Fantasy VI boasts a character roster far greater in number than a majority of its contemporaries. There are fourteen party members on top of an extensive list of characters who only join you temporarily. Every character has a command specific to them. Locke, the thief who insists on being called a treasure hunter, has the “Steal” command, allowing him to take an item from an enemy. Monsters typically have a set variety of items that can be stolen from them. Shortly after arriving at Figaro Castle, you’re introduced to the country’s king, Edgar. Being savvy with machines, he can use any of the technological weapons you may accumulate over the course of your adventure such as the automatic crossbow and the drill.

As more major characters join, you may notice that only two of them can use magic: Terra and Celes. When you examine their stats in the menu, they are the only ones who have an MP gauge. As it would turn out, these two along with a third character named Strago, who can acquire monster techniques after being hit with them, are the only ones capable of learning magic naturally. For everyone else, the ability to learn magic becomes available when Magicite is introduced. Magicite is an Esper’s power in its purist form; it is left behind when they die.

Once you gain your first set of Magicite, you can equip one to each character. After their introduction, you can be rewarded magic points upon winning a battle. Each stone will teach a character every spell listed in its menu description. The rate at which characters learn the spell depends on the Magicite equipped. This is determined by multiplying the number of magic points acquired in a battle and the number next to the spell’s name. For example, by assigning the Esper Ramuh to a character, they will go twenty percent towards learning the “Bolt” (“Thunder”) spell if two magic points are awarded upon concluding a fight. After gaining one-hundred points for a spell, they can use it for themselves.

Magic isn’t the only benefit Espers can bestow upon your characters. Some may provide a bonus to a character’s growth in certain stats as they gain levels. If a character has Ramuh equipped, they will gain a single point in stamina along with to the normal stat bonuses they would receive at that level. Furthermore, equipping an Esper permits you to summon it in battle. This typically has a steep MP cost, and can only be used once per battle. The effects they have when summoned vary wildly from basic elemental attacks to HP regeneration.

In addition to the standard weapons and armor that increase attack and defense capabilities respectively when equipped, each character can be outfitted with two relics. Though some provide standard stat boosts, others provide passive bonuses such as status effect immunity. You may even happen upon a few capable of giving new abilities to a character in their respective command menu. An example of this lies in the Dragoon Boots, which allow a character to leap into the air for their standard attack, dealing extra damage when striking their foe. It’s because of these qualities that once could see these relics as a substitute for the job system.

The lack of the previous game’s memorable mechanic is somewhat disappointing, but because the party members’ abilities are tied into their character, it’s an understandable development. Coupled with the Esper system, the relics were an effective method of dealing with its absence. Though not as extensive, these new features do, for the most part, give us the best of both worlds, allowing the characters to theoretically exist as more than blank slates whose roles are filled in by the player to determine while in turn, giving them leeway for customization.

One advantage I feel Final Fantasy VI has over its predecessors concerns its level design. Final Fantasy V began something of a shift toward more gimmick-heavy dungeons in a stark contrast to the decidedly plain, mazelike design they bore in the installments leading up to it. Final Fantasy VI wastes no time throwing you into a strange situation in the prologue wherein Locke is assisted by eleven creatures called moogles to defend an unconscious Terra. It plays out like a real-time strategy game where you must stop the enemies from reaching her. Later on, you wind up having to navigate an underwater trench from a first-person perspective, explore a town where nobody tells the truth, and perform at an opera house. All of this showcases just how much the series has evolved in the span of six years.

In Final Fantasy IV, the first proper boss fight required you to wait until you had an opportune moment to strike. This served a dual purpose, allowing players to become accustomed to the ATB system while demonstrating that boss fights were in a different league than any of the ones they fought in the Famicom installments. This would carry over into the next installment, and I believe Final Fantasy VI marks the logical conclusion of this gradual slide. That is to say, you have to resort to unorthodox tactics for a noticeable chunk of the boss fights in this game. The first changes states in a manner reminiscent of the aforementioned situation in Final Fantasy IV, but later ones will require you to, among other things, constantly absorb the enemy’s powerful magical attacks to survive and chase down the boss in an airship, gradually chipping away its health with each encounter. It’s an effective method of teaching the player that most bosses cannot be defeated by mindlessly attacking them each round. In the process, it encourages the audience to learn the role each character is meant to play.

With the overhaul in gameplay, it would be reasonable to assume that there were a few execution issues despite the programmers’ best efforts. Unfortunately, this is indeed the case. One of the biggest problems I have with the game concerns the fact that Final Fantasy VI has such a large character roster. It has a purpose from a story standpoint, but in gameplay terms, your characters become more homogenized the further you progress. Specifically, because nearly every character can learn magic, they begin to lose their roles established in the first half of the game. They remain relevant at first because the magic available to you from the onset is limited, and early monsters don’t award the player with enough points to make grinding for them worthwhile.

This changes nearing the end of the first half when you have access to an airship, decent Magicite, and an island with a monster that awards ten magic points upon defeat. At this point, even the spells that are learned at the slowest rate become easy to acquire. In the second half of the game |after the main antagonist has destroyed the world|, whatever balance it may have had dissipates immediately upon receiving the |second| airship. If you know where to go and which items to procure, you can, with enough patience, teach almost every character the potent Ultima spell. If that wasn’t enough, certain relics can reduce the normally hefty MP cost to as little as one.

This renders the rest of the game a complete joke, as you proceed to steamroll every boss with sheer brute force – a tactic the first half deftly discouraged. As much as I enjoyed it, a minor complaint I had about Final Fantasy V was that a combination of certain abilities obtained through job system could similarly destroy the game’s difficulty. Here, the problem is worse because while exploiting the job system required effort and foresight, it’s not terribly difficult to find the most powerful Magicite and equipment – even if their existence and acquisition methods aren’t hinted towards in the game proper.

The other problem I have is that, despite Mr. Kitase describing the final debugging phase as “an exhausting affair”, a myriad of programming oversights remain. One major problem is that the “Evade” stat, which is meant to calculate a character’s likelihood of evading a physical attack, does nothing at all. Instead, this is determined by the “Magic Evasion” stat, which also determines a character’s likelihood of dodging a magical attack. Not only is any piece of equipment that only increases the “Evade” stat worthless, if the “Magic Evasion” stat is raised to its maximum value, it renders a character practically invulnerable.

Though there are quite a few other glitches that a player may experience during their time with Final Fantasy VI, by far the most damaging would be the Sketch bug. One of the playable characters is a boisterous girl named Relm. She is described as a Pictomancer, for she possesses the ability to paint an enemy’s picture, allowing her to use one of its attacks against itself. Actually attempting to use it runs the risk of freezing the game, filling the inventory screen with random objects, or erasing your save files in extreme cases. It’s usually triggered attempting to sketch characters that aren’t meant to be fought or using the ability on invisible enemies. This is due a coding error wherein the game attempts to load data from the wrong place. The junk data becomes volatile if the lead character’s spells are arranged in a certain way – by having the “Silence” spell occupy the twenty-eighth slot.

There is something of an upside to this in that not all of the programming errors are harmful. In fact, one can be used to trivialize the game’s challenge before even reaching the halfway point. The “Vanish” spell is intended to turn characters invisible, thus protecting them from physical attacks. From there, in the event that they are hit with a magical attack, they will be rendered visible once more. When invisible, the checks for a combatant’s immunities are not preformed because the status overrides them. Therefore, by using the “Vanish” and “Doom” (“Death”) spells in quick succession, you can instantly kill most enemies in two actions. What makes this quirk notable is that bosses aren’t exempt from this error, so once you learn both spells, clearing the game is a mere formality on your part.

Despite having moved past its humble origins, Final Fantasy VI as a game is a lot like the original in that it manages to be good overall despite being weighed down by a litany of programming errors and balancing issues. However, as most fans can attest, Final Fantasy VI isn’t just memorable for its gameplay. When parsing the gameplay for any length of time, it’s evident just how much it and the story are interwoven. Veterans of the franchise have often debated over which installment features the best scenario, and this particular entry is a popular choice. It’s now time to examine the true reason why the third exposure Western fans had to the series left such an indelible impact on them.

Analyzing the Story

WARNING: This section of the review will contain major, unmarked spoilers.

The game throws something of a curveball at you as soon as it begins. Specifically, you start off controlling soldiers of the evil imperial army, leading a raid on a neutral city. Though this isn’t entirely unprecedented for this series, as Final Fantasy IV reveals that its protagonist also killed innocents in the prologue, Final Fantasy VI goes one step further by making it a mandatory playable sequence. The game doesn’t sugarcoat it either; though the only major character of the three you’re given control has been robbed of her own agency, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re forced into slaughtering innocent guards who are just doing their job. On that front, I give the writers credit for this sequence because it’s just enough to make the player guilty. At the same time, though the narrative shows the logical consequences of this action, it refrains from excessively pinning the blame on someone who only wants to see how the story unfolds.

Taking advantage of its sizeable character array, Final Fantasy VI often splits the party so that the story may unfold from multiple perspectives. It makes for an interesting storytelling technique, for it deemphasizes any one character as being the protagonist. Alternatively, as Mr. Sakaguchi intended, one could interpret it as meaning that every character is the protagonist.  The writers were particularly successful in this regard by giving all of the characters other than the hidden ones their own arcs that run throughout the game.

Though Terra is the first character to whom you’re formally introduced and asked to name, she actually spends a noticeable length of time incapacitated, giving her comrades time in the limelight. There are even a select few dungeons nearing the end that require you to split you party members yourself, hammering the point home how much larger the conflict is than any one of them.

From an aesthetical standpoint, Final Fantasy VI is significant for breaking free of the medieval setting that nearly all JRPGs at the time used. Given that it takes place long after a war which ended with all magic disappearing from the world, it seems to be a response to the question “What would happen if a fantasy world was allowed to grow up?” Settlements in this world resemble that of Earth during the second industrial revolution, featuring technology such as oil lamps and steam trains. Even with the shift to a steampunk motif, this installment never betrays the spirit of the series, forging a unique identity all its own.

If Final Fantasy IV was a turning point for storytelling in video games, Final Fantasy VI marked a milestone for how teams went about localization. Before Final Fantasy VI, video game translations were invariably literal with little regard for the target audience’s perspective. This typically led to translations that were mechanically incorrect even if they were technically comprehensible. Other times, the translations would be correct, but at the cost of losing much of the character the source material had. A major reason for this is because, at the end of the day, Japanese and English are very different languages, and subtle nuances of the former don’t always translate well into the latter.

The primary translator for most of Square’s output in the fourth console generation was a man by the name of Ted Woolsey. He was and remains something of a polarizing figure in the video game community. His attitude regarding Final Fantasy V and how it was allegedly too difficult for Western enthusiasts did him no favors, as it suggested he didn’t think highly of them. In the works he was made to translate, he would often modify the script in order to render it more accessible for an American audience. In his defense, he often had a pragmatic reason for doing this. Japanese is a more compact language than English, and the draft consequently had to be cut by nearly 25% just so it could fit on the cartridge.

Thankfully, we got an uncredited cameo appearance out of the deal.

Though many fans decry the translators whenever they tinker with the script, Mr. Woolsey’s changes provided a notable exception. Though some changes were thought of as unnecessary, they didn’t hurt the overall product. In fact, fans wound up embracing these creative liberties either because they melded well with the overall themes of the game or even enhanced a few aspects that were originally considered bland or boring. A readily apparent example lies in the name of the first protagonist to whom you’re introduced. In the Japanese version, she was named Tina give her character an exotic flair. Tina is a fairly common name in the West and such an effect would have been lost in translation. Mr. Woolsey then changed her name to Terra. This not only preserves the exotic feeling the original audience got from her, it complementarily fits with the name of the other character capable of using magic naturally: Celes.

By far the most notable beneficiary from Mr. Woolsey reworking the script would be its antagonist: Kefka. Japanese fans found him to be insufferable due to his nihilistic, overly childish demeanor. Among American fans, not only is he thought of as one of the most memorable antagonists in the medium, some argue that he manages to steal the show with his new dialogue. I personally wouldn’t agree with the latter assertion because the game’s true strength lies with its leads rather than Kefka’s antics. Regardless, it reinforced his character as a misanthropic madman more effectively than in the original while providing a treasure trove of one-liners capable of amusing and horrifying players at the same time.

The game’s central conflict involving the Returners and the Gestahlian Empire heavily resembles that of Final Fantasy II. Though it set itself up to be a conventional JRPG plot involving a scrappy group of heroes triumphing over the evil empire, a more thorough examination revealed it to be an ahead-of-its-time deconstruction. |They aren’t taken seriously at first, the only reason they join the rebel army is because they have nowhere else to go, and when they finally win, half of the world has been destroyed.| Considering the franchise’s first take on the prototypical JRPG plot provided a few unique spins before it had a chance to cement, it’s only natural in hindsight that Final Fantasy VI would go in an entirely new direction with it.

The halfway point of this game is marked by the heroes confronting Emperor Gestahl and Kefka on a floating landmass. Raising the continent uncovered a trio of petrified deities. In the distant past, the three gods descended upon the world and, fearing each other’s power, began to war. They became known as the Warring Triad as a result, and mortals were caught in the crossfire, becoming Espers. These Espers were, in turn, forced to fight as slaves for the gods. Once the deities realized the destruction their feud was inflicting upon the planet, they agreed to seal away their power. Only their stone forms remain, and it’s said that they must remain in perfect balance for the rest of eternity. After Kefka makes clear his intentions to revive the gods, Gestahl, realizing this would bring about the end of the world he wishes to conquer, tries to stop him. The effort is in vain, as Kefka uses the power of the Triad to strike him down, pitching his body off the continent.

The madman then repositions the statues, causing their power to destabilize. The party’s airship is destroyed by one of Kefka’s blasts, and everyone gets separated. With no one left to stop him, he unleashes raw energy from the statues’ misalignment onto the world, rending it beyond the point of recognition. Life as everyone knew it has ended. The world has become a charred husk of its former self where plants refuse to grow, the water is polluted, and countless powerful monsters run rampant.

Though this twist was spoiled by the map included in the game box, it still manages to be shocking in a way that effectively plays with the audience’s expectations. At its core, there were two basic outcomes for the first half’s conflict. Either the rebels would win the war, restoring peace to the world or the empire would triumph, ensuring their world domination for generations to come. Going into the game, the player would have no reason to believe the latter is even a possibility. If such an outcome was possible, it would solely exist as an elaborate game over sequence indicating the player must reset and try again. From this, they would infer that, though there may be a setback or two, the Returners will defeat the empire. After all, it’s the only result that melds with the idea of the player beating the game. It is from this assumption that Final Fantasy VI blindsides the player by rendering the conflict completely irrelevant.

Setting a game after the apocalypse wasn’t an unprecedented move by 1993. However, most games that used a post-apocalyptic motif rarely showed you the world before its collapse. If they did, it was only for the prologue or you would eventually remedy the situation through time travel. Final Fantasy VI, on the other hand, allows you get to explore the world for significant lengths of time both before and after its collapse. Seeing a destroyed town carries with it much more emotional resonance when you were once able to see NPCs roaming the streets.

Unfortunately, I have to say that the narrative suffers somewhat in the second half along with the gameplay. In the World of Balance, the game is structured like a typical JRPG wherein you follow a linear path with only a scant few opportunities to embark on sidequests. Meanwhile, the structure of the World of Ruin resembles that of a Western RPG. Once you receive the second airship, you can enter the final dungeon, Kefka’s Tower, at any time to complete the game. It’s an ill-advised action because the tower requires you to split the party into three groups, and you only have three or four characters by the time it’s accessible. Instead, the game encourages you to explore the world so you may find your scattered comrades and defeat Kefka once and for all.

On paper, I admire the concept because it allows you to learn what your party members have been doing in the past year, and the writers gave mostly satisfying conclusions to their individual arcs. I also like how it presents the full scope of Kefka’s tyrannical reign in little snippets because you’re able to gather these story beats at your own pace, and in some respects, it’s more effective than a singular narrative.

In practice, this presents a twofold problem. To begin with, it gives off the impression that the plot is rather disconnected in the second half. This radical shift wasn’t inherently a terrible idea as Square themselves proved with Final Fantasy V. In something of an ironic twist, having a simpler story allowed Final Fantasy V to make the conversion much more gracefully. By the time the final dungeon was accessible and you were allowed to embark on sidequests, most of the lingering plot threads were resolved or would be once you decided to clear the game. In Final Fantasy VI, quite a few plot threads are abandoned entirely, and some important characters vanish without a trace. To wit, the creators were deliberately silent on the fate of the Returners’ leader, who disappears just before the world comes to an end. While ambiguous situations can make for a compelling talking piece, it’s important to have a sense of fair play when implementing them. In this case, it felt like the creators were being needlessly obtuse.

The other half of problem concerns the precise reason why the rest of the game becomes so easy to brute force – even without the infamous Vanish/Doom combination. This is because the difficulty curve, which increases at a reasonable rate in the World of Balance, plateaus after you obtain the second airship. Suddenly, barring a few situations revolving around certain gimmicks, you’ll find yourself finding one viable tactic and marvel at your enemy’s inability to stop you.

Even without actively setting out to break the game, the final battle against Kefka isn’t particularly challenging because you can attack him with up to twelve characters. You determine the order in which your characters attack with the first four leading the assault. The battle consists of four parts, and incapacitated members at the end of the round are replaced with ones lower on the list. If you have twelve characters and they’re all reasonably leveled, you don’t have a realistic chance of losing.

There is a bright side to all of this in that the final battle, though not difficult, does end the story on a triumphant note. The ending sequences change depending on which characters you recruited before facing Kefka, and it’s evident a lot of effort went into crafting them. As Kefka had absorbed power from the Warring Triad and the party defeated him and the gods themselves, Espers will disappear from the world, and magic with them. It’s a beautifully bittersweet ending that played a major role in giving the universe itself a character arc. At the start of the game, you learn that magic disappeared from the world. After you’ve watched the credits roll, it ceases being a fantasy world anymore as magic fades from existence.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Strong, memorable ensemble cast
  • Features one of the medium’s most iconic villains
  • Intriguing premise
  • Good level design with numerous gimmicks
  • Excellent music
  • Good battle system
  • Incredible presentation for its time
  • Creative boss fights
Cons:

  • Plot becomes disconnected in second half
  • Very easy to break game’s difficulty
  • Characters lack diversity in terms of gameplay
  • Numerous glitches abound

The first six Final Fantasy entries followed an interesting pattern in that the odd-numbered installments seemed to be more gameplay-focused while those bearing an even number placed more of an emphasis on their stories. I feel Final Fantasy VI edges Final Fantasy IV out in terms of quality with a more ambitious story and overall stronger cast. Even if many of the ideas Final Fantasy VI pitched have been improved upon since its release in 1993, I feel it stands as one of the SNES’s better games. It’s a title I could recommend to enthusiasts of any kind, as one wouldn’t have to contend with the more tedious elements present in contemporary JRPGs. Warts and all, the SNES version has held up reasonably well, and you couldn’t go wrong with the newer editions, as they bear translations that improve upon the script while keeping Mr. Woolsey’s best ideas intact.

Interestingly, though it garnered a strong following in the West, Final Fantasy VI was seen as something of a step down from his predecessor in Japan. They preferred that game’s art style and the level of customization offered by the job system. I find myself siding with the Japanese fans on this matter, as Final Fantasy V manages to provide a more solid experience with fewer glaring mistakes. In any event, though I personally wouldn’t be quick to rank it among the greatest of all time, Final Fantasy VI is a good game in its own right that sticks the landing in a way I feel other acclaimed artists years down the line ultimately failed to grasp. Though it’s true that a significant number of enthusiasts never finish the games they start, Final Fantasy VI enforces how important it is for programmers to treat the creation of a story-heavy work in the same way one would write a book or direct a movie. Though there is a plethora of new rules to consider when crafting narratives in this medium, one lesson that should be observed from the older ones is to have faith in your audience to see things through to the end.

Final Score: 7/10

18 thoughts on “Final Fantasy VI

  1. Great write-up. I’ve completed the GBA port and briefly attempted the Playstation version but the latter’s horrendous loading forced me to give it up sharpish.

    The big shame for FFVI is that it was SO good in terms of story and yet it was squashed under the size 14 boot of its immediate sequel. Everybody goes on about FFVII (and I do adore the game myself) but if any game needs a quality remake or update then it should be VI. The world being destroyed and the antagonist effectively succeeding really took me by surprise but the music, spritework and characters themselves are all worthy of suh praise.

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    • I myself played the SNES version first then the GBA one. Both are good, though the latter fixed many of the problems plaguing the former.

      I haven’t actually played any Final Fantasy game beyond this one to completion, so I’m not sure how the sixth and seventh one fare against each other. I do like the fifth one more because of its job system, though, so of the ones I’ve experienced, Final Fantasy VI ranks second.

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    • I might give Final Fantasy VII a go in the future because I would like to experience more of what the series had to offer in its golden age and see how it compares to this installment. Indeed, it seems like this is the popular choice for those who didn’t care for VII, though personally I like V more than VI. As it stands, I’ve reviewed every game in the series I’ve completed, so it will probably be a while before you see a Final Fantasy VII review.

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  2. I’ve loved the visuals in this game as the typical 16bit rpg feel that has been emulated countless times.

    I’d definitely suggest players look for FFVI Advanced for Gameboy advanced as it adds a lot of quality of life improvements, although the SNES version is good as well (stay away from the PSX version!).

    A classic that, as you mentioned, really set up the standard of storytelling in a big sweeping game. I initially hated what felt like dry repetitive combat at the beginning, but eventually learned to enjoy each of the different characters and combat once you get into a little further. Nice review!

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    • One touch I like about the visuals is that the same sprites used when exploring the world are the same ones used in battle. Before then, characters had larger sprites in battle.

      I heard the PSX version is disastrous, so that’s the only one that should be avoided. The SNES version had a decent translation for its time, but the GBA one is unequivocally better. The best part is that it keeps most of the best dialogue (including that aforementioned “cameo appearance”).

      Honestly, this is a game carried more by its story than its gameplay, though the latter is still pretty good. In either case, thanks for reading!

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  3. For the longest time, this was my game. My all time favorite. This was the one I obsessed over. Got all wrapped up in it, absorbed into its world, consumed by the nuances of gameplay. This was the height of gaming to me. As time went on, I found a lot of other great games to take some of the top spots, but even now, Final Fantasy VI is still up there. I love this game. I love the plot, even though as you said it really becomes nebulous in the latter half. I love the gameplay. I love the music and the environment and the world and everything else.

    This is one of the games that’s come so close to me that I would not be able to give it a fair review. There is no way I could be unbiased when it comes to Final Fantasy VI. This game and I just have too much history together.

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    • I played this game for the first time in 2006 and by that point, I had never played a game with storytelling that ambitious before. Back in 1993, I think few contemporaries could claim to have better storytelling – among console titles, it was practically peerless, arguably second only to Dragon Quest V, which wasn’t released worldwide in that generation. Even though there are plenty of games that outclass it in that regard nowadays, it’s still worth playing all these years later. It’s complex, yet focused enough that it rarely gets crushed by its own ambition.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That point about Kefka makes so much sense…I never thought about that difference between how Japanese and western audiences would take Kefka. Says a great deal about certain cultural differences, because that crazy clown is beloved with so many. Nihilism you don’t have to deal with in real life is a huge staple of comedy (probably why Rick and Morty is really popular), but it would add another layer of villainy in Japan. I always learn something new from your well researched reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s quite a fascinating subject how works or even certain characters can be well-received in one culture, but not another. It goes to show that, in many ways, there is no singular reality. In this particular matter, I take the middle road in that I do think Kefka is a good villain, yet I don’t think he steals the show, and his nihilistic viewpoints only serve to underscore why he needs to be stopped.

      I’m glad I was able to help enhance your gaming experience!

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is definitely no singular reality or possibly even an objective one (not to get too philosophical). That’s so funny to hear someone say that. Most FF fans absolutely adore him. He’s very similar to another beloved villain: the Joker. I thought he was amusing when I first played, but gravitated more towards Sephiroth since he’s a more in depth character, and I like my villains/characters to have understandable if not necessarily commendable motivations.

        Definitely! You’re very knowledgeable 😊

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, from what I’ve heard, Sephiroth has one up on Kefka in that regard. The latter’s motivation basically boils down to “because he’s crazy”, and his backstory is discussed by a single, easily missed NPC (and even then, it’s not particularly insightful). A lot of people like those kinds of villains, but I feel Kefka and the Joker are some of the few examples that actually work because they serve as effective contrasts to their respective foes. In most cases, it comes across as laziness on the writers’ part so they don’t have to spend time coming up with a more believable motive for their villains, and it tends to render the experience hollow.

          Thank you!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: 100th Review Special, Part 7: Let the Good Times Roll | Extra Life

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