Final Fantasy VI
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Square
  • Released:
    • JP 04/02/1994
    • US 10/11/1994
Score: 100%

This review was published on 05/29/2013.

Final Fantasy VI is a role-playing game originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994. You might be wondering why the title screen says Final Fantasy III instead of VI. That's because Square, the world renowned company that created the Final Fantasy series, is dumb. Back in those long bygone days, Japanese RPGs weren't very popular in the West, so most of them wouldn't get released in North America or Europe. Square skipped around the Final Fantasy series when releasing it in the West, only choosing to release Final Fantasy I, IV, and VI in North America. Since Final Fantasy IV was the second one released in North America, it was renamed to Final Fantasy II, because I suppose Square didn't want to confuse American consumers. Continuing in that twisted logic, Square released Final Fantasy VI as III, since it was the third game of the main series to make it to North American shores. The general population figured this all out later, so nowadays nobody refers to these games as their localized names. I'll be referring to the game in this review as Final Fantasy VI exclusively from here on out. With that all out of the way, it should be said that Final Fantasy VI is definitely one of Square's best works. The game is wildly regarded as one of the best RPGs of all time, and even one of the best games of all time. That's because it's really good.

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The basic premise of Final Fantasy VI is this: 1000 years ago, when magic proliferated, there was an event known as the War of the Magi. Many were slain during the intense war, and eventually it was decided that magic was too dangerous a force. Efforts then began to seal the use of magic so that it would no longer be abused by those hungry with power. As time slowly passed, magic faded into myth and legend. Man began to focus on making scientific discoveries that brought convenience to society and eventually took the place of magic. This gave rise to the steampunk world that Final Fantasy VI takes place in. People eventually began researching ways to regain the use of magic, birthing a new technology known as Magitek. The research was spearheaded by an evil empire as a means to increase their power over the world. This empire is ruled by a nefarious dictator named Gestahl, and he used the experimental Magitek program to infuse humans and machines with magic power. Soldiers that underwent the dangerous treatment would often have problems, but sometimes develop the abilities to cast offensive spells. Giant bipedal machines were also created with heavy weaponry that could attack with highly destructive magic. The only thing opposing the iron fisted rule of the empire is a rag-tag group of rebels referred to as the Returners. That's a basic summary of the setting behind Final Fantasy VI. This is, quite possibly, one of the best settings for an RPG ever. The steampunk environment, the combination of magical and technological themes, there's so much at work here that works. Final Fantasy VI was totally unlike all the previous games in this regard, demonstrating that Square wanted to take things in a new direction. I can't think of any direction more interesting than this one.

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No other video game of the time had an introduction sequence of the magnitude of the one in Final Fantasy VI. It was like watching the start to an engrossing film. That doesn't sound like such an accomplishment now, as many games these days try to replicate the same effect, but Final Fantasy VI didn't have to replicate it. It just flat out did it. Final Fantasy VI even starts out with the credits, like a movie often would. The credits are set to the backdrop of a person piloting a giant, bipedal robot through the snow. As the hulking piece of machinery trudges through the snow, you can see that the game makes great use of the Super Nintendo's patented Mode-7 effect. Of course, no award winning Square intro would be complete without Nobuo Uematsu's fantastic musical score to provide some positively chilling atmosphere. Shortly after the credits come to an end, you begin your adventure in the awesome world of Final Fantasy VI. The adventure begins with a couple of soldiers and a mysterious woman wearing a slave crown, a device that does what it name implies and enslaves the wearer, surveying old mines in a town while riding around in their fancy bipedal robots. Both of the soldiers seem a little uneasy about the enslaved woman, as she apparently has remarkable magical abilities that allowed her to incinerate 50 armored soldiers in under 3 minutes entirely on her own. This is why the empire forced her into its army, obviously. I won't be delving much further to prevent spoiling the plot, but you can tell right away that this game is going to be good. The intro to Final Fantasy IV has nothing on this. Final Fantasy VI manages to do what many video games dream of but rarely ever accomplish... to be on the same level as a movie.

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Battles in Final Fantasy VI really aren't that different from the menu-driven, turn-based fights of any traditional Final Fantasy game. Well, it's not turn-based technically, since Final Fantasy VI uses the same Active Time Battle system, also referred to as ATB, first pioneered in Final Fantasy IV. That means each character has to wait around for a bar to fill up before their turn comes around. Various spells and equipment can alter the speed of this bar, changing the turn order. Casting a haste spell on the entire party is particularly effective in this game, thanks to the ATB. Up to four characters can be used in a single battle, and each character can either occupy the front or back row. Characters placed in the back row take less damage whilst dealing less damage, and characters in the front row do the exact opposite. Outside of normal attacks and items that any character can use, there are also skills and magic specific to each character. All of this should sound familiar if you've played a Final Fantasy game before. If there's anything about this game that sucks, it's that it has the old fashioned random encounter system. The only solace is that the encounter rate isn't quite as high in this game as previous Final Fantasy titles, but it's still a little on the high side in a few spots in the game. It's a good thing that the battles are pretty streamlined, so with the exception of boss fights, things rarely take too long. Final Fantasy VI's battle system takes all of the advancements made in the previous entries in the series and polishes them further, resulting in slick battles. It's not too impressive ultimately, but it gets the job done.

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There are a grand total of 14 playable characters in this game, more than pretty much any other Final Fantasy game in the series. The crazy thing is that almost all of the characters are developed. Most games have trouble developing a single character, but Final Fantasy VI develops nearly 14 of them with incredible ease. Character development was a big issue in RPGs back then, and in some ways, it's still a big issue in modern games. The first character you control is Terra, a teenage woman enslaved by the empire who suffers from amnesia upon being rescued by the Returners. She was one of the only humans born with the ability to use magic, which is why the empire is so intent on turning her into a killing machine. Shortly after that, Locke, treasure hunter extraordinaire, bursts onto the scene. He's actually more of a thief, but he prefers being referred to as a treasure hunter. A little ways more into the game and you meet Edgar, a flirtatious king who secretly backs the Returners while pretending to support the empire. That's only the icing on the cake. All of these characters are brimming with personality and have plenty of great lines in their dialogue. It doesn't stop there, either. Just about all of these characters get fleshed out as the game progresses, as you learn more and more about their past. Even characters that initially don't seem to be much tend to get developed later, sometimes through optional side quests. Shadow, mysterious ninja for hire, is one of those characters. You can totally miss out on his back story if you skimp out on certain side quests later in the game. Final Fantasy VI has both the biggest and best cast of characters in the entire series. That's saying a lot, considering there have been over 13 entries in the Final Fantasy series as of this writing.

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Playable characters aren't the only ones with personality in Final Fantasy VI. The character with arguably the most personality in the game is none other than Kefka, the primary villain. Kefka is one of the top ranking generals in the empire's army, but there is something a little off with the guy. He runs around wearing makeup and flamboyant gear, kind of like a twisted clown. The fellow does all manner of unspeakable, inhuman acts without so much as batting an eye lash. He's as evil as evil can be, a character you love to hate and hate to love. Kefka also has some of the best lines of dialogue in the entire game. I'll never get tired of his "run, run, or you'll be well done!" He is simultaneously evil and humorous all at the same time, kind of like the Joker from Batman. I don't doubt that the Joker was a heavy inspiration to Kefka, as they're very similar types of characters. He's debatably the best villain in the entire Final Fantasy series and perhaps any video game ever. As brilliant as he is, this entire paragraph won't be solely about Kefka. Another really good character in the game is Leo, who is another general of the empire. Leo is a complete polar opposite to Kefka, though, being that he's a compassionate leader who even treats his enemies with dignity. Even though Leo is your enemy, you can't help but admire the guy. General Leo generally doesn't agree with the empire's unruly methods, but he reluctantly follows their orders out of a sense of duty. He hopes to try and sway the empire from its dark path and change it from within, so he's an idealist with high hopes for the future. If there's one thing Leo has, it is most certainly honor. Characters like Leo help humanize the empire, giving you the idea that things aren't quite as black and white as they're made out to be. Kefka and Leo add a lot more personality to the story of Final Fantasy VI by having villains who are just as interesting as the heroes.

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Characters are unique not only in personality, but in their abilities during combat, as well. Final Fantasy VI doesn't have a job or class system of any sort, so each character is built a certain way. Every character has stats, abilities, and equipment based off their personal traits. Locke is a thief, for instance, so his special ability is to steal stuff from his foes. Edgar's shtick is that he's an engineer, which means he has access to a plethora of tools you can buy that do all kinds of things, like a drill to plow through enemies' defense, a mechanical crossbow that hits all foes for damage, etc. Edgar starts off vastly overpowered, because his abilities are powerful and they can be used without any cost. That changes as you progress through the game, naturally. Terra is one of the only characters early on in the game who can use and learn magic, making her pretty important, both in the story and in battle. Shadow can throw ninja stars and any weapons you aren't using for massive damage, and that makes him massively useful. The most interesting character in the game is Gau, when it comes to skills and abilities. Many people tend to ignore him, but he has a unique skill to steal the skills of enemies he fights, provided he pounces on them in a specified area. This technically makes him the most versatile character in the game, because he can adopt the behavior of almost any enemy. The catch is that you can't give him specific commands when he uses an enemy's skill set, and that can make him a liability. Gau is a double-edged sword, to be sure. With 14 characters to choose from, you have a lot of options available to you. The game makes you get acquainted with most of the characters by changing up the party on you a few times, but you are usually able to pick from a few people at key points in the story. Combat strategy changes wildly depending on who you bring with you into battle, so it's not just a matter of picking the coolest characters in the game. Final Fantasy VI gives players nearly unlimited versatility with such a huge selection of playable characters.

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A few hours into the game, you'll be presented with three scenarios to choose from. This will probably come as a total surprise to you if it's your first time playing the game, because it's a complete departure from everything that comes before it. The individual scenarios are linear, but they can be completed in any order, which breaks from the overall linearity of the first half of the game in a neat way. Final Fantasy VI really explores a lot of unique story telling techniques when compared to other games in the series, and this sudden scenario selection thing is one of them. Each scenario takes place in a different part of the world with a different set of characters, most of whom you already met earlier in the game. The story resumes its normal course once you complete all three scenarios, so this acts as a short intermission between key points in the game's plot. While this is certainly interesting, the one downside to this section of the game is that you're forced to use a particular set of characters for each scenario. I don't find that to be a problem, personally, but some people will be bothered by this. What's most notable about this section of the game is that there's no clear protagonist. The first character you control is Terra, so you might assume that she's the main character, but you quickly switch to other characters almost immediately. Then this scenario thing happens, and Terra isn't involved in most of it. In fact, Terra spends most of the game AWOL, making it difficult to really peg her as the game's protagonist. Every character feels like a protagonist at one moment or another. You can basically imagine the protagonist as whoever you please. I'm a big fan of Locke, myself. Not many games, books, or movies do something like this, and that makes Final Fantasy VI one unique story. The ambiguous protagonist and scenario selection only add to the game's appeal.

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Practically every RPG has equipment like armor and weapons, but Final Fantasy VI takes that concept and does it better than almost any other game imaginable. First off, each character can only equip certain classes of gear, but the selection is large and overlapping. It's also very personalized, because almost no two characters are identical when it comes to equipment, yet every piece of equipment can be shared with multiple characters. Final Fantasy VI doesn't necessary like to stick to archetypical equipment classes, either. For example, Terra can equip the heaviest armors and almost all weapons, despite being someone who specializes in magic. Then there's Locke, who can equip even more weapons than Terra, but he can't wear heavy armor and has poor performance with magic. Edgar does heavy armor and heavy weapons, but he's one of two characters that can also equip spears. Shadow equips special ninja gear and assassin blades, though Sabin can also equip ninja gear despite not being able to use assassin daggers. This further adds to the personality of each character and also greatly influences the strategy behind who you decide to take into your party. Equipment can be purchased at shops early on in the game, but late game gear can only be acquired through treasure chests in dangerous areas. This means that equipment becomes limited and you have to cherry pick who you decide to give what. That's where the intense strategy comes into play with your party setups. What your characters are wearing can greatly influence the tide of battle, like having a fire shield will make you totally immune to fire. There's no single best armor or weapon in the game, either, so there's pros and cons to almost every piece of equipment you pick up at the end of the game. RPGs tend to treat equipment as an afterthought, but Final Fantasy VI turns it into a game changing concept.

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Later in the game, your characters have the option of equipping things called Magicite, crystals that are the essence of magical beasts known as Espers, to learn magic spells. If you're wondering where Final Fantasy VII got its inspiration for Materia, now you know. It's possible to summon one of the mythical Espers for a powerful one-time attack when equipped with Magicite, but that's not their true purpose. The real reason to equip Magicite is to learn magic, and almost any character in the game can do so. This greatly alters the dynamic of the game, because you initially can only use magic with two or three characters, but then you suddenly can do it with anyone. Learning magic is easy; you equip a character with Magicite and then fight battles. In addition to earning the usual prizes from winning battles like experience points and money, you also earn magic points. If you earn enough of these points, you'll learn whatever spells your current Magicite has. At that point, you keep the spells even if you take off the Magicite, allowing you to put the Magicite on someone else to repeat the process. Only one Magicite can be equipped at a time, but it's possible to learn around 5 or so spells from a single one. Some characters are more suited to use magic than others, obviously, so just because a character can learn magic doesn't mean they should. It's a nice option to have, though. Characters are entirely different in terms of stats, equipment, and skills, but magic is the common modicum of customization that binds them all together. This mixture of characters having unique traits whilst also having things that they all share adds a greater sense of depth to the mechanics in Final Fantasy VI.

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One point in the game stands out as being particularly divisive. I can't say what it is without spoiling a major plot twist, but it's easily one of the best plot twists in a video game I've ever seen. Most people who are overly cynical of game plots would do well to play Final Fantasy VI this far. Not only does this point in the game provide major ramifications on the story, but it also presents major ramifications in the game play department. For the first half of the game, the progression is extremely linear with a huge emphasis on storytelling. The second half of the game does a complete 180 on that and becomes an incredibly downbeat, totally nonlinear adventure with little interruption from scripted cutscenes. It's at that point where all of the game's significant side quests open up. What's particularly brilliant about these side quests, though, is that they're just as good as the main quest, with tons of dialogue, character development, and cutscenes. That's not to mention all of the fabulous prizes, too. The problem is that this isn't everyone's cup of tea. Some people will like the first half of the game better, whereas others will better enjoy the second half, and still others might not like the idea of such a drastic change in the first place. It's certainly divisive, in more ways than one. I mean, it is fairly common for games to get less linear in their latter half, but not in quite the way that Final Fantasy VI does it. The way I see it, this is just another reason why this game is so good. You're not faced with the same old type of progression all throughout, and that should be a good thing. Whether people like it or not, everyone can agree that this was a unique endeavor. Final Fantasy VI takes some great risks, but they ultimately pay off.

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Final Fantasy VI is one of the best RPGs on the SNES, one of the best RPGs in general, and one of the best games of all time. Okay, maybe that's a little hyperbole, but many people do consider it one of the best games of all time. One thing is for certain; Final Fantasy VI is one of Square's best games, and the game that helped pave the way for Japanese RPGs in the West. Sure, it wasn't until Final Fantasy VII that Japanese RPGs truly became a big hit in the West, but it's thanks to Final Fantasy VI that anyone was hyped and looking forward to the seventh installment of the Final Fantasy series. It's safe to say that if you haven't already tried Final Fantasy VI, then you should get started right away.

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