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Final Fantasy VI Retrospective Review

September 29th, 2017 by Tim Willers

ffvi

Nintendo released the SNES Classic Mini this week, and it’s thanks to this little box of nostalgia that people around the world will experience dozens of critically-acclaimed SNES titles for the first time ever – including Final Fantasy VI. For the rest of us, it’s an excellent opportunity to revisit the sixth entry in the series. But how well does it hold up 23 years after its initial release?

The short answer is: very well. From the moment the game is booted up and you watch an ominous scene featuring three armoured figures walking through a blizzard, with Terra’s musical theme playing harrowingly in the background, you get the feeling you’re watching the video game equivalent of a black-and-white movie – a classic ready to be unearthed again.

It is the music throughout Final Fantasy VI that really gives you this sense of playing through an epic adventure. Dungeons and towns feature catchy retro tunes, and detailed sprites and backgrounds are brought to life by the score whilst your imagination fills in all of the gaps. A castle rising up out of the desert sands is easy to visualise cinematically as heavy drum sounds help you picture the scale and magnitude of what you’re witnessing. It’s all too easy to forget that you are playing a video game that is over 20 years old, and that’s what cements VI as one of the greatest RPGs of the 90s. Not to mention the famous opera scene that really pushes the 16-bit era of gaming and shows what a little imagination can provide you with when you’re limited by technology.

ff6 opening scne

All of this music accompanies a fantastic storyline featuring rebels fighting against an evil empire during the industrial revolution. The fact that there is no real main character in VI also means you’re given plenty of variety in which of the cast you want to pay the most attention to, and are never ‘stuck’ with one character for too long. Both the story and the game are split quite cleanly into two halves: the first half being a relatively linear tale of fighting for what is right no matter the odds, whilst the second half features extremely open-ended gameplay revolving around a story of finding hope when all seems lost. This change-up of characters and gameplay keeps the experience from getting stale and provides a constant motivation for the player: the next chapter is always right around the corner.

The core cast of characters is also so memorable and easy to empathise with that you really want to see your playable team succeed. Prominent character Terra is (thankfully) not a damsel in distress and gives as good as she gets, whilst male characters like Locke and Edgar are not opposed to showing emotion; none of the main party feel one-dimensional and find ways to surprise you throughout the adventure. A small critique here would be that your end-game party can ultimately be so large that you lose characters in amongst the numbers. With a troop of 14 playable characters, it is impossible to devote the necessary time to telling a complete story for all of them. Comical characters like Umaro the yeti and Gogo the mimic are fun, but steal time that could have been used to further explore the main, more interesting, cast. Similarly, characters like Relm and her grandfather Strago do have an impact on the plot but feel unnecessary as  party members – they could have been NPCs and instead we could have had even more focus on the brothers Edgar and Sabin, or master thief Locke.

Optional scenes in the second half of the game flesh out most of the characters, but some of them can feel rushed and the payoff ultimately falls a little flat. As a result of this the end-game feels like you are getting tasters of development for every single character, but can perhaps be left hungry for more scenes featuring your favourites. These optional scenes are also extremely separate from one another – your team may be travelling together, but their personal stories don’t really involve anyone else from your party and this can lead to you not really getting a good sense of how well your teammates actually know each other. The unfortunately inevitable effect of a large ensemble cast means there is something everyone will both love and hate.

FFVI Battle

Gameplay is very much your standard classic RPG. Random encounters are peppered throughout a world filled with unique towns and dungeons. Each of the fourteen playable characters have individual skills that give them their own benefits in battle, and at various points you will find yourself having to create multiple teams to fight through a dungeon simultaneously, requiring some strategic planning and forcing you to use some of your more neglected party members. There are a huge variety of spells, summons and abilities to learn which makes character progression fun and addictive. None of the battle mechanics are overly complex either, which is understandable when looking at the age of the game, and this simplicity is quite charming when you realise how the series has grown whilst holding onto its roots over the years.

The villain of the game is one of the series’ best – Kefka Palazzo is delightfully evil and just screams ‘pantomime villain that takes things too far’. In a modern world full of gaming villains with overly complex backstories, it’s quite nice to have an antagonist who really ‘owns’ the idea of being evil and takes pleasure in causing misery just for the thrill of it. Avoiding major spoilers, he leaves quite the impression on the player throughout VI and it is undeniable that Kefka has made a name for himself in the Final Fantasy hall of fame.

FFVI Celes Opera Scene

There is a lot to be seen in Final Fantasy VI. The core storyline is great alone, but the real quality here lies in the wealth of optional content and cut scenes you can stumble upon that enrich the fantastic world of the game. Those who explore every nook and cranny will have a much more complete and fulfilling experience than those who blitz through the main story as quickly as they can – Final Fantasy VI is a completionist’s game at heart and I’d urge anyone to make the most of it. This advice goes both to those of you about to experience VI for the first time and those of you who are on your tenth playthrough: take your time, and get as lost as you can. You’re playing a great piece of gaming history.

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  • o3mta3o

    Kefka is still my fave FF baddie

  • Tim Willers

    He was mine – until Caius Ballad came along in XIII-2!