Review by RLegacy3

"The GBA's swan song, and a fantastic RPG to boot"

Final Fantasy VI Advance - Gameboy Advance

When Square-Enix began porting its Final Fantasy series to the GBA back in 2004, there was one game that many fans were anticipating above all others, and after what seems like an eternity, it's finally arrived. Final Fantasy VI marks the end of the GBA remake project, and also happens to be the last great Gameboy Advance game full-stop. Is it a case of saving the best 'til last, or have Square muddied the waters and spoiled what is arguably one of the greatest RPGs in existence?

First thing's first: Final Fantasy VI is as different from the previous series installment as you can get. Whereas Final Fantasy V made gameplay and overall enjoyment a priority, FFVI heads in the opposite direction, and instead gives you a bucketload of colourful characters, a deeper plot and heaps of drama. The plot centres around an Empire utilising magical weaponry to gain complete control of the world. Fearing a reoccurrence of the War of the Magi (an event which devastated the world in ages past), a group of rebels known as the Returners rise-up against the invading Empire in a bid to avert catastrophe.

You begin the game as a young woman called Terra, who has been enslaved by the Empire and forced to invade the mining town of Narshe, accompanied by two imperial soldiers. After a fairly dull and arduous opening, Terra is released from the Empire's grip and flees Narshe alongside an adventurer (and Returner) who goes by the name of Locke. From this point on the game picks up at a gradual pace, and as you visit new towns and recruit more and more allies you'll grow increasingly attached to the world, its inhabitants and the plight of your characters.

Final Fantasy VI is the first game in the series (prior to the Advance version of FFIV) to implement a party-change system. Having no set main character, you're free to mix and match your party as you see fit. There are fourteen characters in total (more than any other Final Fantasy) and each have their own specific strengths and weaknesses. As the game's resident thief, Locke can pilfer items from enemies using his Steal command, Edgar can utilise tools such as crossbows and chainsaws to attack enemies, and martial-arts expert Sabin can make use of Blitz techniques, which require beat-'em-up style button combinations to activate. Aside from the fairly standard skillsets, there are also some truly unique offerings on display, none more so than wild youth Gau, who (when fighting on his home turf of the Veldt) can integrate into any monster "pack" you've encountered throughout the game, and use what he learns from them during battle in the form of Rages. Once activated, Gau will become uncontrollable and begin to act in the same manner as the monster in question, inheriting one of its special skills as well as weaknesses/resistances and any special properties it may hold. A remarkably unique character, if a little difficult to master. Perfectionists will have lots of fun (cough) trying to collect the full set of well over 200 Rages.

As well as the individual character abilities, your party will be given the chance to learn magic spells later in the game. By equipping stones called Magicite, you'll be able to use its resident summon monster (known as Espers) and learn certain spells which are tied to that particular Magicite. Spells are learned quicker depending on their usefulness. For example, Ramuh teaches its host Thunder at a x5 rate, so beating a monster group which yields 2 AP contributes 10 points (out of 100) towards learning the spell. The stronger Thundara spell, on the other hand, has only a x2 rate of growth.

The battle system is a familiar affair. The ATB bar returns once again, allowing the turn-based fights to play out in real-time (sort of). New to the series is the ability to cycle through each character's menu without needing to waste a turn with the Defend or Row command. So if you desperately need Terra to heal the party but currently have Locke's command window up, you can simply press Select until you have control of her, providing Terra is also able to act at that time.

One area in which the Final Fantasy Advance ports have improved substantially is presentation. The original versions of FFIV and V had one-tone window box colours, blocky fonts and ugly abbreviations, which were thankfully cleared-up for their portable outings. Final Fantasy VI is in the awkward position of not really needing too much work, yet at the same time demanding a bit of polish to make the whole thing a little more worthwhile. As is to be expected, the font has been given a refresh and the script has been retranslated. The latter producing fairly mixed results. While the translation is closer to the Japanese script this time around, some lines (particularly at the end of the game) just don't flow as comfortably as the original dialogue. It's hardly catastrophic, but the changes will no doubt irritate a few hardened fans of the original game.

Graphically the game is exactly the same as the original, although that's not necessarily a bad thing. Character models are nice and chunky (twice as tall as the midgets of IV and V), the animations are sharp and monster sprites are (as always) nicely drawn. FFVI is visually far more adventurous than the previous two outings, especially when it comes to flying airships. What may seem like primitive pseudo-3D to newcomers was pretty advanced in the days of the SNES, and it's all handled without a hitch on the tiny GBA.

The music in Final Fantasy VI is arguably the best of the NES/SNES era (or the entire series, depending on who you ask). It's an extraordinary and hugely expansive soundtrack, with memorable tunes such as the operatic Aria de Mazzio, Terra's theme and the collection of fantastic battle tracks. If there's one sour note, it's the quality of the transition from SNES to GBA. It's nowhere near as diabolical as some would make out, but a few tracks are noticeably weaker when compared to the original.

Those who've already finished the game on the SNES or PSOne will be happy to hear that there's plenty of bonus material in FFVIA to sink their teeth into. Four new Espers (Cactuar, Leviathan, Diablos and the infamous Gilgamesh) are accompanied by three new spells (Valor, Flood and Gravija), a gruelling bonus dungeon (the Dragon's Den) with over ten rock-solid boss battles, and a Soul Shrine where you battle hoards of monster one after the other. The den adds countless hours of play-time alone, and although the new spells and Espers are hardly essential, they're a welcome addition and at least pretty challenging to obtain.

The bottom line is this: Final Fantasy VI is without a doubt the greatest RPG available for the GBA. But while newcomers are in for a treat, those who've played any of the past incarnations will find that, unlike previous Advance ports, the game has not been considerably enhanced. As a result, FFVIA ends-up as just another version of the game as opposed to one which improves substantially on the original (which is testament to how well it holds up today). Some niggling oversights and an altogether lax difficulty are also questionable, but regardless, Final Fantasy VI should sit proudly amongst any serious RPG fan's collection, and is the perfect way to see-off the Advance era of portable gaming.

Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/26/07

Game Release: Final Fantasy VI Advance (EU, 07/06/07)

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