I have a small confession to make. When I started the Year of Final Fantasy, I did it for two reasons. First, because I obviously adore the series and wanted to honor it for its 30 years of entertainment. Secondly, because I needed a boot in the butt to get playing the entries I had missed or not beaten. Despite having beaten Final Fantasy VI a whopping one time about three or four years ago, I shockingly don’t remember much of it. Yes, my first sin of this article is that I only first played Final Fantasy VI in the 2010s.
This is part of a continuous series. Please be sure to check out other entries in the Year of Final Fantasy!
However, I feel this is good for the series. I have very little connection to it, so any fear of nostalgia blindness is gone. It will help me in determining just how well Final Fantasy VI has held up since 1994. Yes, SNES owners, this is the famous “Final Fantasy III” we received in America at that time! This was at the tail-end of the era of Square not having time to localize games since they were cranking them out so quickly. Think about it: in the time it took them to localize three games, they had six in Japan. Dang.
Anyways, let’s set the clock back a bit. Time to hop back to 1994 and see if Final Fantasy VI withstands the test of time!
Final Fantasy VI - April 2, 1994 (SNES, PS1, GBA, Android, iOS, Steam)
Platform used for review: Steam port, 2015
“A mysterious young woman, born with the gift of magic, and enslaved by the Gestahlian Empire...”
Before you even press any buttons, Final Fantasy VI starts with an ominous screen of gray clouds and lighting, with angry organs building up in the background. Suddenly, the logo flashes across the screen, embroiled in flames. Something tells me this one’s not gonna be the happiest adventure.
Upon actually starting a new game, a narrator explains that 1000 years ago the world was stuck in a war called the War of the Magi. The Warring Triad locked themselves in battle, enslaving humans as magical beings called espers in the process. Before they ended up destroying the world, the three chose to petrify themselves and free the espers. These espers, worshipping the Triad, took the statues and sealed themselves off from the human realm. 1000 years later, during a technological boom with magic being a myth, this peace is about to be undone…
And with that, after a neat little cutscene showing off the power of the SNES’s Mode 7 graphics chip, we’re off! We start as a green-haired girl who can’t even remember her name. She’s being controlled by two soldiers from the Empire, Biggs and Wedge. They received word that an esper is frozen in the mines of Narshe and have come to investigate.
After things don’t exactly go well for the two soldiers upon meeting the frozen esper, the girl seems to resonate with it. She’s soon rescued and brought to a nearby house, which serves as a hideout for the Returners. The Returners are a rebel group opposing the overbearing Empire, wishing to stop them from taking over the world.
The girl, who was wearing a control crown, is finally freed. She remembers her name, Terra, and not much else. The leader of the Returners orders fellow member Locke Cole to escort her to Figaro Castle to hide her from the Empire. There, she meets a womanizing, charming young king named Edgar. He’s an engineering genius who has built his castle to be able to sink into the desert sands, which he does soon after as an emissary of the Empire shows up.
Kefka, the clown prince of crime– er, Kefka, the lapdog of the Empire, says he knows Terra is there and demands that Edgar gives her up, engulfing the castle in flames in the process. Edgar orders his troops to sink the castle and escapes with Locke and Terra by chocobo.
It’s a surprisingly fast-moving plot, for better or for worse. From there, events continue to unfold at a breakneck pace. I was actually surprised by how quickly I hit the halfway point, which is when things get really crazy. This has been a trend for RPGs of this era so far: people either forget or don’t realize that all those epic experiences they’ve had are condensed into a 30-hour RPG. In a time where anything less than 50 hours is considered “short” for an RPG, it’s stunning to see these older games be so well-regarded despite their short length.
Now, before we continue to discuss further, time for a spoiler warning.
Major plot spoilers beyond this point! Skip to the other bolded text if you don’t want to read spoilers!
So around 15 hours in, I reached the halfway point of the game. Kefka and the Emperor of the empire have tricked us into opening the gateway to the esper world, unleashing them upon us. Realizing his mistake, the emperor swears off his campaign to rule the world and begs us to soothe the angry espers with Terra, who we found out is half-esper, half-human and can use magic without needing machines.
Terra begins to calm them and bring them to a peace treaty in a nearby town, but Kefka shows up and starts murdering them, turning them into magicite in the process. These magical stones are what espers turn into upon death. The very essence of magic, they give the ability to learn all sorts of spells, and the more you have, the more powerful you become. Kefka goes on a killing spree, taking as much magicite as he can before retreating to the Emperor who, shockingly, was completely lying about giving up world domination.
Then a giant chunk of earth flies into the air. Oops.
More plot stuff happens, the party gets onto the Floating Continent and confronts the villains. The chunk of earth is from the esper world, and it’s the shrine of the three Warring Triad statues. In perfect balance, the three silent statues contain their power. However, at the last second Kefka usurps and kills the Emperor, shoving all the statues out of place to disrupt their balance and absorb their power.
The party escapes to the airship, but it’s far too late. The unholy power of the Warring Triad is released, and the world is torn asunder. The airship breaks in half and everyone falls off in the chaos. The earth splits and cracks open, crushing the unfortunate souls standing in the wrong spot. Earthquakes, lightning storms, fiery death rains upon the world. The villain has achieved exactly what he set out to do. The game is over. You have lost.
... And then party member Celes wakes up a year later from a coma. She’s trapped on a deserted island with her father figure, a scientist named Cid. Apparently there was a settlement of people here. However, over time, they all lost hope and jumped from a cliff into the ocean one by one.
The world is in bad shape. The three continents are now many cracked islands in a red ocean. Hardly anything can grow, people are committing suicide out of hopelessness in droves, and those that don’t bow to Kefka have their towns burnt by the Light of Judgment. Cid falls ill, and depending on your actions he can live or die. It doesn’t affect the plot, but the first time I played years ago he died. If this happens, Celes is overcome with grief and attempts to throw herself off a cliff just like the others. Thankfully, she survives and washes back up on the beach before finding a raft left behind by Cid for her to escape. If he survives, Cid simply tells you about the raft and sends you off to find your friends.
Finally on the mainland, the second half begins. You must find all your friends, scattered around the world, to build up your forces and go after Kefka. It’s about a nonlinear as you can expect, and I’ll go into more detail in the gameplay section. For now, though, just know it’s very cool and I can’t think of another game that’s done it since. However, there is a major drawback to it in that it basically turns the second half of the game into a giant checklist of things to do instead of a plot.
Spoilers end here! You may continue reading below!
Final Fantasy VI is a rare example of the villain not just being all talk. They actually manage to go through with their plan, and the result even today is shocking. However, for as tightly-written as the first half is, I have to admit that the second half, while very cool in concept, struggles a bit. Instead of a tightly-woven narrative, it breaks off into tons of small story chunks. These vignettes of story are nice, but I’ll be honest, it pales in comparison to the writing of the first half. However, it’s hard not to appreciate the effort that went into this section.
“D-d-did y-y-you just see what I saw? That was magic! MA-GIC!”
This was the last Final Fantasy to release on the SNES, which meant that Square had time to perfect the graphics they had put into place starting with Final Fantasy IV. The result of the experience they had with the two previous games shines through here.
The characters are all very distinctive and emotive, and even have their portraits appear by their names. This was a feature last seen in Final Fantasy II and is a welcome addition to help differentiate the enormous cast further. The world is lush and beautiful, with several backgrounds feeling extremely impressive. The opera house, for example, is a gorgeous way to show off parallax scrolling and multiple graphical layers as you crawl along the beams up top while the audience and orchestra play below you.
Another feature Final Fantasy VI wished to show off was Mode 7 graphics. This allowed for pseudo-3D graphics with 2D sprites, which was usually shown in short bursts in the fourth and fifth installments. However, Final Fantasy VI goes all-out, completely changing the way you ride chocobos or airships around the world map. Instead of just raising up above the world map and zipping around, you actually change camera perspective to a behind-the-ship angle, and you pilot it forward like an actual ship. It’s very cool, and a great show of the power of Mode 7.
Much like Final Fantasy V, the characters are very emotive and animated, making it easy to tell how people are feeling at any given moment.
For as nice and vibrant as the world looks, the second half of the game is harsh and sad-looking. A constant sunset looms over the red waters of the ocean, the earth is cracked and ruined, and trees are few and far between. The atmosphere is set to great effect here!
Though it tends to be one of the shorter sections in these articles, I must say that Final Fantasy VI looks fantastic. The production values were high with this one. They managed to push 2D to the limit, even pushing into faux-3D at times, and it looks all good!
“My beloved, do you hear My words whispered in your ear”
This one is gonna get me in some trouble.
For starters, I loved a majority of the soundtrack in Final Fantasy VI. Nobuo Uematsu worked tirelessly to bring some of the most memorable tracks in the series to date. His music sets the tone with absolute perfection in the game. The theme for the second half’s overworld is harsh and desolate like the overworld itself and changes to a more hopeful tune when you get your airship.
Even earlier in the game, the overworld theme is full of uncertainty. Despite this, there’s a sense of hope with a constant marching beat. It encapsulates both the general tone of the game and Terra herself, which makes sense seeing as it’s her theme!
And, of course, Final Fantasy VI gave us the magnum opus of the SNES’s sound abilities. With a final boss that’s a staggering four-part battle, Uematsu wished to match it with his music. Thus, he crafted a theme with four movements, like a symphony. The result is Dancing Mad, easily one of the most recognizable themes in the entire series. Grab some popcorn, this beast is a monstrous 17 minutes long!
So, why did I say that the Sound section would get me in trouble? Well, despite the incredible highs of the soundtrack, there are several lows by comparison in my opinion. The dungeon music isn’t very memorable, nor are several of the town themes. While I love the theme for Zozo …
... other town themes just sort of fall flat for my tastes compared to something like:
It’s not to say that a ton of love and care didn’t go into the OST; it clearly did. It’s just a small selection of songs that don’t really strike me. Overall it’s a great soundtrack, but I wouldn’t call it the best one in the series.
“Wh-what is this!? I feel tremendous power! Wave after wave of pure, magical energy...!”
It’s no secret that Final Fantasy VI is downright stuffed to the brim with content. For starters, there’s a staggering 14 playable characters! The game regularly takes advantage of this fact. In the first half of the game, there’s a point where the story breaks off into three separate sections. You can complete these sections in any order, and they all tie back up at a certain point.
Each character has a unique skill, building off the gameplay style from Final Fantasy IV. For example, Edgar has several tools to use as weapons, such as a drill or chainsaw. Shadow can throw items to do damage, Setzer uses slots as his special attack, Strago is a blue mage who learns attacks from enemies, and so on. Several of these are Final Fantasy staples, but others are brand new. Sabin’s Blitz ability uses button inputs like a fighting game, for example. Celes uses Runic, which allows her to absorb any magic spell and convert it into MP. Several of these are job skills from Final Fantasy V but with a new coat of paint to keep it feeling fresh. For example, instead of a beastmaster that controls or uses enemies to attack, Relm sketches them on a magic canvas to copy a move. She also controls them with a special accessory that only she can wear.
However, to allow for some customization, the game introduces the magicite system. Magicite is the essence of an esper, powerful beings you can summon in battle. You can equip one magicite to a person at a time, and each one has at least one spell you can learn. Alongside this spell is a number multiplier, which multiplies the AP you get in battle until you accumulate 100% and learn the spell.
There is plenty of magicite to go around, so you should always be able to teach new spells to everyone at once. However, the magicite will soon bring up one of the problems I have with the game.
Before we get into that, though, another addition to the game is the Desperation Attack. When a character is low on HP, the regular attack command may trigger a character's unique Desperation Attack. This is the prototype to another famous Final Fantasy staple that we'll be seeing next month!
I keep making mention of the second half of the game, and it’s both positive and negative. From the second half of the game, the only thing you must do is get an airship. You’re alone as Celes and must recruit your party all over again. You can manage to only recruit three people if you wish: Celes, Edgar, and Setzer. Once you get the airship with Setzer, you can go ahead and take on the final dungeon at any time you want.
However, this is obviously discouraged unless you’re really good at the game. Everyone else is encouraged to explore the world and find your old party members as well as some new ones. The cool part about this is that the game can be completed in damn near any order you want. There’s a ton of stuff to do, but this comes at a cost to the gameplay. Where the first half of the game leads you on a relatively narrow story path, the second half of the game almost literally turns into an enormous to-do list.
That’s no joke, by the way. You can recruit 11 party members in addition to the 3 mandatory ones. There are 19 optional magicite to collect. There are 8 dragons to destroy in order to get a magicite and the optional dungeon. You can fight a ton of enemies to teach Strago and Gau their blue magic and Rage attacks. There are hidden tools and even a hidden Blitz to find for Edgar and Sabin. There are even non-sequitur story scenes for certain characters to uncover.
There’s so much stuff to do that it’s daunting. I can’t think of any other game with a post-apocalyptic wasteland playground to explore.
Jokes aside, I applaud Square for attempting what they did in Final Fantasy VI. It can feel tiresome with no real story to back up the second half other than “collect friends to fight the final boss!” which is a shame, but to the game’s credit, it does let you take on Kefka’s Tower at any point once you get the airship.
Another big issue doesn’t start to rear its head until the end of the game. Kefka’s Tower is a very difficult final dungeon, so it’s best to bulk up and come prepared. The easiest way to do that is to teach Ultima to all your party members. When you go into the final dungeon, you use three parties of four, so you should teach major spells like Ultima to 12 party members (two of them don’t equip magicite). There’s a spot where you can earn 5 or 10 ability points per battle and it’s pretty fast; however, it’s still luck-dependent on whether you get the 5AP fight or 10AP fight. Compound that with Ultima’s modifier of x1, which means you need 100 points to learn it. Compound that with the fact that you can only learn Ultima one person at a time unless you go through another sidequest involving 256 battles with a cursed shield. This means, at absolute best, you must fight in 120 battles to teach everyone Ultima. At worst, it’s 240 battles. Needless to say, it’s an annoying cap to a pretty fantastic game.
Final Fantasy VI has a lot of great things about its gameplay, and I love the ambition behind it. It’s got a great deal of diversity between the character skills and customization through magicite. The second half of the game is very unique for an RPG of its kind. However, it’s not all perfect. That very same second half turns into a giant checklist of items and party members to collect without much story driving the plot. In addition, there’s a pretty nasty grind you have to do if you want people to be able to nuke the crap out of everything. Overall, Final Fantasy VI delivers on most fronts, even if it stumbles in a few.
“I had no idea there were this many...”
Remember how I said there’s a ton of stuff to do in Final Fantasy VI? I wasn’t kidding. In addition to the mountains of side content in the second half of the game that I’ve already discussed, there’s even more to grab! There’s a tower of cultists where you can only use magic. Climb to the top and your reward is the Soul of Thamasa! This equippable item turns your Magic into a Dualcast, which is awesome. There are other dungeons to conquer as well and even a coliseum.
The coliseum allows you to bet any non-key item in your inventory. Only one person can fight in the coliseum and you can’t control them. Win against your foe, and you get a better item. Lose, and you just lose the item you bet. I’ll just say that it’s pretty important in the second half to not sell anything in your inventory! You never know when something could come in handy at the coliseum …
Also the bonus content from the GBA release of Final Fantasy VI and later. The Dragon’s Den is a bonus dungeon that unlocks once you kill the eight dragons scattered around the world. At the end of this tough dungeon is the king of dragons himself, the aptly-named Kaiser Dragon. Defeating this insanely tough superboss will net you a powerful magicite and will open another bonus dungeon on the world map.
(Fun fact: The Kaiser Dragon was originally meant to be a superboss in the original SNES version of Final Fantasy VI as “CzarDragon." Instead, Square dummied him out and made him inaccessible. However, you can still fight him via hacking the game! It’s interesting to see the differences in appearance as well as fighting style after so many years between his creation and revision.)
Now, there are still two things to do. The other dungeon I mentioned is the Soul Shrine. This is a dungeon consisting of 128 random battles of enemies and bosses spanning from the beginning of the game all the way to the recent Dragon’s Den. Because of the number of enemies here and the types that can show up, it’s possible to get tons of great, rare items that used to be one of a kind (such as the previously mentioned Soul of Thamasa). Completing this will give you the Master’s Crown item. What does it do? … Absolutely nothing. It’s simply there for bragging rights. However, you can go through this dungeon as much as you want. Only one Master’s Crown, though!
Another, tougher challenge awaits you back in the Dragon’s Den. Go through yet again and reach the Kaiser Dragon. Except this time it isn’t the Kaiser Dragon! You instead get to face off against the terrifying Omega Weapon. If you thought the Kaiser Dragon was bad … good luck. You’ll need it.
“On that day, the world was changed forever...”
Final Fantasy VI is a stunningly ambitious game, there’s no question about that. It’s a very deep game in terms of how many gameplay mechanics are there, new and old. The music, barring a few missteps, is awesome. The characters are great and the story is able to shock me in many ways with how unrelentingly dark it can get at times.
That being said, it’s not all 100% sunshine and roses. As I’ve said several times now, I really do appreciate the direction the game took in the second half. However, it’s not perfect and I feel like it could’ve used a bit more story instead of being a grocery list of things to do. Also, I get why it takes so long for everyone to learn the best spells, but it’s still so tedious since they can usually only be learned one at a time. This wouldn’t be an issue normally, but in a game with 12 characters that can learn these spells, it’s tediousness at its finest after a while.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy VI. Personally, I’m not sure I would say it’s my favorite one thus far, but I admit that I appreciate it much more than when I first played it. I knew I must’ve been missing something when I wasn’t that into it the first time around, and I’m glad that I was proven right.
Now, let’s all hope I like next month’s entry as much as this one or the Internet might explode …