(First published on Gamepad Magazine, 13th December 2010)
FINAL FANTASY 6 (1994) – SQUARESOFT
One of my greatest regrets as a gamer is that I did not start gaming early enough to experience the delights of the SNES/Mega Drive era. As a result, I’ve been forced ever since to listen to debates about Mario vs. Sonic and the like without ever having any input. Luckily, one of my friends has a SNES still working perfectly, and as a result I have managed to get some gametime on this classic console. It just so happens that Final Fantasy 6 was one of the games I have managed to play.
If you read my review on Final Fantasy 7, then you will know that I am a massive fan of the series. Final Fantasy 6 (or 3 as it was known in America) was the last 16-bit entry into the series, and I think Squaresoft wanted to produce a game that pushed the system to its limits. In doing so, they created a masterpiece.
If I tried to sum up the plot of FF6 I would be here for days, and besides it would completely ruin the fun of playing through the game. To sum it up as simply as possible, the game takes place 1000 years after a magical war between three entities, known as the War Of The Magi. In the modern day, an evil nation known as the Empire has assumed control, and is trying to break through to the realm of the Espers, those beings affected by the war who have locked themselves away.
The beauty of the story of FF6 is that it is played out through a series of characters stories rather than being one big adventure. Terra for example, the girl you control at the start of the game has been brainwashed by the Empire and has lost her memories, meaning that she is fighting the Empire to regain her past. Edgar and Sabin, brothers of the Figaro Kingdom, have past issues and gradually make up over the period of the game. Cyan is looking for revenge after the Empire kills his family. Mog the Moogle comes along with his Yeti friend Umaro to kick ass and take names. Every character in this game (and there are 14 people you can play as, a record in a Final Fantasy game to this day) has a properly realised history that is elaborated upon fully in this game, and it makes for some stunning storytelling. Also of note is that this cast does not suffer from the problems that the other Final Fantasy game seem to be cursed with; to my mind there is no character that stands out as being annoying. Even the enemies have substance, with the giant blue octopus Ultros carrying on from Gilgamesh in FF5 as the comedy villain of the game.
And everything is neatly wrapped around a character who in my opinion, is the greatest bad guy in the history of gaming: KEFKA. You meet this guy early on, and he seems relatively clownish, but then you realise just how insane he is. He burns down Figaro Castle, poisons the water supply of Duma Kingdom killing thousands, and causes havoc wherever he goes without any sense of remorse. He then does what no other gaming villain has ever done: he acquires the powers of a god (killing of the Emperor in the process, who you are led to believe is the bad guy for the first half of the game) and then destroys the world. And I do not mean a process that is then reversed later on: I mean he completely destroys the world. It is absolutely brilliant how much of a bastard this guy is, and you genuinely hate him by the end. He also produces some fantastic quotes right the way through the game (IVE GOT SAND ON MY BOOTS!!!) that make him so memorable.
The world in which you play also lends much to the story telling. The world has undergone an industrial revolution and is decked out in steampunk style at the start, with the mining city of Narshe being a good example. When the world gets destroyed, the world map completely changes as well (locations of towns being spread out across the broken landscape, which is a nice touch), giving evidence to the destruction that Kefka has brought to the world.
Quite simply, if you are a fan of RPG’s then you need to play this game. No other Final Fantasy game comes even close to the story of FF6.
The gameplay is one element of the game which I must admit disappoints in some areas. The excellent job system from FF5 has been scrapped, which greatly reduces how you can individualise your characters. Instead, Squaresoft decided to do it for you, giving the different characters ‘Skills’. Fortunately this system works quite well, as it prevents all the characters from being the same, and in some cases it ties in nicely with their individual storylines – for example Terra has the power to change into an Esper, Locke being a thief ‘treasure hunter’ can steal items, Sabin uses a variety of fighting techniques, Setzer the gambler uses cards and slots – it’s a system that allows some great teams to be formed as they can balance skills out, which becomes essential later on when you split up. Skills also expand as you progress throughout the game; for example Sabin learns new fighting moves requiring longer and more complex button inputs, and Cyan improves his sword techniques, allowing your players to become progressively stronger.
The methods by which you learn magic have also changed from FF5. You collect the remnants of Espers on your travels (known as Magicite), and equip them on different characters. From here you will gradually learn basic spells, and can call upon the Espers as powerful summons. There are a wide variety of Espers to summon, but you do not gain access to the best spells until much later on in the game. Again, it prevents the player from becoming godlike too early, thereby lengthening the challenge of the game.
The way that you get around the world is traditional stuff. There’s a world map which you walk around on foot or by Chocobo power (you gain access to the airship later on) which serves as the main place where you will level up your characters by fighting monsters, and then the various locations you visit are split between towns (where you can be healed in an inn and buy supplies from the shops) and dungeons, where the best of the game’s treasures lie. I would complain though that some of the towns look too similar and that only a few stand out, which is disappointing especially when you consider how Chrono Trigger a year later would create some very varied environments.
I would personally say that the game is not too hard – I was pretty underleveled when I beat the final boss, and you do not have to grind anywhere near as much as you do in Final Fantasy 4. Don’t underestimate the game though, some parts are unexpectedly tough – the battle with Atma Weapon on the Floating Continent for example is a great challenge, and with the final encounter with Kefka being a four-parter, you may find yourself dying quite a bit. If you plan on doing the side quests, and there are a lot of them, then you are looking at a good 35 hours of solid RPG gameplay.
And on a final note, some random trivia. The ultimate weapon of the game (which is confusingly called Atma Weapon, the same name as the boss) is a blue sword that deals more damage if you have more health. And the blade in the battle screen gets longer depending on your current level of health. And you can dual-wield them. Cool right?
And yes. Sabin really can suplex a train.
There’s no escaping that fact that the SNES limited what could be done with the graphics for FF6 – its 2D and that’s the end of it. The characters are also still represented by sprites, which do allow a conveying of emotions such as shock or laughter, but are a bit of a disappointment when you consider the more detailed models that were appearing in Tales Of Phantasia and Chrono Trigger. It’s also quite disappointing when you realiase that the battle screen is still pretty static. Apart from a few quite well animated spells such as Holy, it hasn’t made much of a jump from FF5.
However, the environments of the game have had noticeable work done to them. The colours stand out much more in this game than in FF4 or FF5, and it works to create the gritty atmosphere combined of steampunk and normal fantasy. It’s also good to see that detail has been put in to demonstrate the changes between the World Of Balance and the World Of Ruin; whereas one is light and full of colour, the World Of Ruin is dark and glum, and it does help to set the mood. This game really did help to show the world what the SNES could produce, and I do not think that many games would come along on the system (with perhaps the exception of Donkey Kong Country) that looked better than FF6.
There is one word to describe the soundtrack for this game: epic. There is over 100 tracks in this game, and considering the small size of the cartridges for the SNES it is a phenomenal achievement by Nobuo Uematsu. Personal favourites are the boss theme, Terra’s theme, Searching For Friends and of course the piece de resistance, Dancing Mad: Kefka’s boss theme which is split into four different parts totalling 20 minutes, and fittingly it is just as crazy as him. Also, everyone loves Kefka’s laugh.
There a few issues worth noting with Final Fantasy 6. The use of Chocobo’s is heavily limited, which is disappointing after the delights of the flying Black Chocobo in FF5. The sheer size of the cast means some characters get an unfairly small amount of time in playthroughs (namely Umaro). My biggest problem however is once you acquire the airship; as soon as you get it, you can fly straight to Kefka’s Tower and finish up. I wouldn’t recommend it because you will get smashed to pieces (only having four characters for the final part is suicide if you haven’t levelled up), but it does annoy me that Squaresoft created some excellent side-quests and then give you the option to simply go straight to the final fight without experiencing some of the best parts of the game when the character’s stories get tied up.
Final Fantasy 6 is one of those games which has earned so much praise over the years that it has elevated itself to the position of being regarded as one of the finest RPG’s ever made. I do not feel that there have been many games that have come in the time since its release that have given the gamer such a fantastic storyline to play through, and villains truly do not come much better than Kefka. The gameplay tweaks were just about subtle enough to keep fans happy, and the upgraded graphics and superb soundtrack just add that extra bit of polish to the proceedings. A truly brilliant game.