Final Fantasy VI - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Gift of the Magi
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

20-40 Hours
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   A millennium ago, the War of the Magi reduced the world to ashes, and magic disappeared from the world. Since then, iron, gunpowder, and steam engines have been rediscovered, and high technology has reigned supreme. However, there are some that wish to enslave the world by reviving the ancient power of magic and possibly repeating the ancient war. Square's Final Fantasy VI originally saw its North American release on the Super NES as Final Fantasy III, proving to be one of the system's definitive titles.

   As has been the franchise's trend since the fourth installment, FF6 features random encounters utilizing the series' active time battle system. As with before, each of up to four active characters has an active time gauge that gradually fills up, allowing them to take their turn and execute commands such as attacking, using their innate ability, using magic, using an item, changing back/front row formation, or defending. An improvement over previous installments is the ability to change between the command menus of characters with full gauges, allowing players to delay execution of certain characters' skills if desired and adding a little to strategy.

   Magical beings known as Espers play a significant part in skill and stat development for every character when eventually accessed in the game, with each character able to equip one at a time and gradually learn magic after acquiring enough AP from battle alongside experience and money. Each spell an Esper offers has a different rate of learning; for instance, a spell with "x2" by it would require 50 AP to reach 100%, when a character will learn that spell. An Esper a character has equipped can also be summoned into battle once for a certain amount of MP, and sometimes offers a certain stat bonus when that character levels up.

Looks like Hoth Marching to Narshe

   The battle system works decently for the most part, with the Esper system giving most characters the opportunity to cast useful magic spells alongside their innate abilities, some of which are actually useful (and physical attacks aren't too bad, either), and thus, the player needn't be dependent on magic the whole game, with fights being fast-paced in most instances while providing a number of options to dice the enemy without feeling restrictive. Granted, there are some instances when newcomers to the game might find it difficult to play (and make the most of the battle system) without a guide, but still, combat helps the game more than hurts.

   Interaction is in some respects a mixed bag. The menus are easy to get a handle of, characters can be automatically outfitted with the best equipment, and the player for a change can see before buying new equipment whether it increases or decreases each character's stats. However, the player has to have a character in the party in order to manage them, which can be somewhat problematic when the player's party grows large late in the game, when characters not in the party have Espers equipped, when the player is thinking about selling equipment characters not in the party could possibly equip, and so forth. It's not a horribly game-breaking flaw, although it could've certainly been addressed, and the interface, while not bad, could have been better.

   FF6 also has many things going for and against it in terms of creativity. Combat features some old ideas, such as its active time nature and fixed skills for each character like in the fourth installment, and new ideas such as the Esper system (characters can also supposedly execute powerful attacks when near death, although it's likely players won't see them at all through the game). The plot is also a little on the derivative side, filching ideas from the Star Wars series such as an evil empire, a rebel alliance, and even a nasty weapon of mass destruction, although the game does have a cast of playable characters unprecedented for a Final Fantasy game, even today. Overall, the sixth installment is in most respects a hodgepodge of old and new ideas.

Yet it still recovers all HP and MP Should've brought a water purifier...

   The story, even if a little derivative, was actually well above average for a Super NES RPG. The cast of characters, while by far the largest of the series, is actually one of the best developed for any title on the system, with most characters having some interesting background; Kefka is also a reasonably maniacal antagonist. Ted Woolsey's translation also stands as one of the much better RPG localizations of the Super NES era. The pacing of the plot, however, does somewhat suffer during the second half of the game, although it still has plenty to celebrate.

   The music also shines, with Nobuo Uematsu's soundtrack being one of his best, with most characters having their own themes, different dungeon environs having distinct music, towns having peaceful tracks, and so forth. The only major downside is the presence of only one normal battle theme throughout the entire game, which can get repetitive but is good in its own right nonetheless. Overall, Final Fantasy VI's aurals are a reasonable draw to the game.

   The sixth installment also marked a significant shift in visual style from its predecessors, with taller character sprites, nicely-detailed environments, excellent coloring, superb monster art, a considerable use of Mode-7 on the overworld, and so forth. Granted, monsters in battle are still inanimate, although the visuals were some of the best for a 16-bit RPG.

   Finally, playing time can vary considerably depending upon the character's skill, with novice players likely needing to take somewhere from twenty to forty hours to complete it, although skilled gamers could possibly finish it quicker. All in all, Final Fantasy VI, despite its flaws, very much deserves to stand among the most-revered titles of the 16-bit era, with enjoyable gameplay, immersive characters, great music, and decent visuals. Whether or not it's the very best of the franchise, though, is certainly a matter of opinion, although those who haven't played it definitely haven't played classic Final Fantasy.

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