Final Fantasy VI - Staff Re-Retroview  

History Lesson
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Easy to Moderate
25 - 45 hours


Rating definitions 

   Widely believed to be the quintessential RPG, Final Fantasy VI has a great many things in its favor, such as a unique visual style and a deeply detailed character customization scheme. True, certain aspects of Final Fantasy VI have not aged gracefully, particularly the more technical aspects of the visuals and especially the combat system. However, what makes Final Fantasy VI a worthwhile game even today is its cast of characters and its unique narrative style.

   At this point in the history of the Final Fantasy series, the Active Time Battle system had only been in place for two games, and in a recognizable form for only one. Final Fantasy VI makes a few significant changes from that of Final Fantasy V, replacing an extensive Job Class system and four main characters with an extended roster of characters with fixed jobs. These changes, unfortunately, do little or nothing to make Final Fantasy VI an improvement from a tactical standpoint. The character customization available in Final Fantasy VI is far more subtle and difficult to get a handle on than its predecessors, involving the magic spells and level up bonuses granted by equipping Magicite, and to a lesser degree, basic equipment. A truly dedicated player could conceivably manipulate each character's statistics to the utmost potential, but for the normal player, controlling a character's development is a nebulous and confusing task at best. Actual combat, however, requires little strategy beyond See Foe, Hit Foe, et cetera. Although the Esper system does provide certain interesting possibilities, the game limits the direct impact Espers have in combat. Without any other real option, players will most likely find themselves using a very small list of commands over and over again, regardless of whether the foe is a random encounter or a boss.

   One of the game's stronger points is its plotline. Though the setup is fairly standard - an evil empire plots to take over the world - the way the narrative works is something special. In Final Fantasy VI, there is no obvious main character. Compelling arguments can be made for nearly every playable character, but there simply is no one character who stands above the rest as the key to the entire plot, or the one focus that everything follows. More intriguingly, the characters are each flawed and surprisingly human. They aren't so much heroes as simply people who get caught up in a very strange time, and are forced to decide between doing what is right and simply giving in. This is what makes the story of Final Fantasy VI so powerful. So often in video games the characters are invincible paragons guided by some higher force or purpose, entirely invulnerable to human error or weakness. It's refreshing to play as characters who feel human. It is, ultimately, the characters of Final Fantasy VI and the player's ability to relate to them which makes it such an enjoyable game.

Final Fantasy VI holds fond memories for a large section of the RPG populace. Final Fantasy VI holds fond memories for a large section of the RPG populace.

   The control of Final Fantasy VI feels a little laggy in most respects. It's a little unclear what causes this, but it isn't a major problem as nothing in the game really requires a great deal of fine control or split-second timing. Menus are fairly well constructed and link to one another in an intuitive fashion - Relic menu to Equipment menu, and so on.

   Compositionally, the music of FFVI is considered some of Nobuo Uematsu's best work ever, and with good reason. The themes of Final Fantasy VI work very well not only as a pure soundtrack, an impetus and magnifier for the events of the story, but also on a more visceral level. The soundtrack of Final Fantasy VI is simply very good music, and would be regardless of whether or not it had been featured in a game.

Actual combat doesn't actually require much tactical ingenuity. Actual combat doesn't actually require much tactical ingenuity.

   Although the visuals and soundtrack of Final Fantasy VI are of high quality, they don't break from series tradition enough to be surprising. Likewise, the combat system is very similar to previous incarnations of the ATB, and though Final Fantasy VI lacks a Job Class system, its Esper system is little more than a variation on magic-learning systems found elsewhere. The plot, however, makes a number of choices that would make it unusual even by today's standards.

   A tricky business in general, Ted Woolsey has done a decent job with the translation of Final Fantasy VI. It does, however, come off as inappropriately funny at times, and even a little slapdash. The translation takes a fair number of liberties with the original Japanese, inserting American slang phrases and replacing curses with such ridiculous substitutions as "Son of a submariner". The translation also stumbles a bit in regards to religious references, exchanging Holy elemental items and spells for the more innocuous "Pearl", a relic of Nintendo's draconinan pre-ESRB ratings policy. This phrase-swapping can be irritating at times, but it doesn't overpower the story or get in its way enough to be truly irritating, and in general works well as a decent example of early translation.

   Final Fantasy VI provides very little in the way of replay value. Character customization is extensive, but hard to get a serious grip on, and the game forces players to use nearly every character at crucial moments in the game, thus demanding that each and every one of them be leveled at some point. There are only one or two mini-games, and although most of the second half of the game is technically side quest, it is unlikely that a player would intentionally skip much of it.

   For it's time, the visuals of Final Fantasy VI were absolutely stunning. While the sprites were not that highly detailed, the enemy combat stills as well as the games' many backdrops are quite impressive. Compared with modern technology, the visuals are a bit pixilated, and are probably more accessible to those who played the game when it was first released. Character design may be a sticking point for some - designs by Yoshitaka Amano tend to be willowy and pastel in nature, something not everybody is going to go for. The overall visual style is a little fractured, given that the character sprites didn't mesh well with or really even resemble very much the more detailed character portraits.

   Generally speaking, Final Fantasy VI is not a difficult game. With preset character affinities and abilities, a player who pays a bit of attention to party makeup and equipment will find no difficulty at all in breezing through most of the game unscathed. Due to the large number of side quests - practically the entire second half of the game - Final Fantasy VI can be completed in anywhere between twenty five and forty five hours.

   Along with some of it's contemporaries, Final Fantasy VI marked the beginning of a renaissance era for RPGs. They began a slow climb out of obscurity and hopeless cliché towards a more compelling, cinematic approach to gameplay and story. Although RPGs and video games in general still have quite a lot to answer for in terms of general lack of depth, Final Fantasy VI shows definitively how much of an effect a single game can have on a wide swath of the gaming populace. Final Fantasy VI would make a great introduction to RPGs for beginners, and a good history lesson for everyone else.

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