"Not just a mascot for Square's golden age; Final Fantasy 6 is a testament to the greatness of video games."

Until this point, the Final Fantasy series was rarely serious. Oh it had its moments here and there, especially with 4 having one of the most suicidal casts in the history of video games, but there was still a lot of bright stuff going on. 1 had the standard "save the princess from the evil knight" fare, 2 never happened, 3 had some orphans lost in a cave, 4 has a castle knight struggling with his inner sense of justice and 5 is just all over the place. Bright colors, jumpy plots, and lots of happy moments even with various worlds crumbling down. And then you plug in Final Fantasy 6. As a side note, screw Japan for not releasing all 6 games stateside and convincing millions of people Final Fantasies 4 and 6 were actually 2 and 3.

When FF6 first starts, you're immediately shown how this game is not. f***ing. around with you. The world is on the brink of ruin thanks to an empire obsessed with controlling everything (The Japanese really love taking potshots at American foreign policy, don't they?), you look at a few bipedal robots traversing through an arctic snowstorm, you're reminded of how the world used to have people that used magic but a war over these powers all but ended the planet, and now some idiots in high positions are tinkering with these powers of old. This will clearly lead to nothing but bad news. And all this is before you even see the title screen; "Final Fantasy" then shows up and almost looks on fire, which is a far cry from the happy-go-lucky meteor showers and Cecil nuking some eyeballs in the perspective intros of the past two games. It doesn't take long to realize FF6 is going places video games had never gone before.

Backing up for a moment, Final Fantasy 4 went and proved how the Japanese RPG could tell a very deep story. Yeah the plot twists occasionally bordered on Theater of the Absurd, but the story was still great to follow. Gameplay however wasn't the deepest. Then Final Fantasy 5 went the other way. The gameplay was multi-leveled and had arguably the deepest mechanics of any JRPG to date.

Final Fantasy 6 does both, which is why it's one of Square's "big two". We can't say there's a "big three" because no one bought Xenogears or Chrono Trigger, and most of the copies you'll find of the former these days are censored. Two outta three ain't bad, as Meat Loaf once said.

This game has very deep, multi-layered gameplay which admittedly gets much too easy, and the story outshines it anyway. FF6 has an amazing plot, especially for the first half, and it's driven by one of the best casts in any JRPG.

Characters and Plot

Final Fantasy 6 has an ensemble cast, which more or less means there's no true main character and lots of people take their turn in the spotlight. You start out as Terra, but eventually you recruit more than 15 characters and almost all of them are written extremely well even with having to deal with Ted Woosley's awful translation.

In the beginning, Terra is being led around by the Empire, doing the types of things evil soldiers typically do -- burning villages, murdering citizens and so forth. Terra's stuck doing this because she was born with the power of magic, so naturally the empire saw fit to capture and enslave her. But during a mission to Narche, Terra comes in contact with a frozen esper, who frees her from the empire's mind control. In a JRPG, having amnesia or working for the enemy at any point probably means you're pretty important.

From there, you're introduced to one character after another, the majority of which are in a resistance group called the Returners. You have Locke, who is totally not a thief and has a pension for rescuing damsels in distress, which proves he totally has no baggage from his past at all; there's Edgar, the womanizing King of Figaro who doubles as a master engineer (which somehow means putting on a Freddie Krueger mask while using a chainsaw); Sabin, Edgar's brother who fled Figaro after the death of his parents to become a bodybuilder-monk hybrid; Mog, the first and only playable moogle in the entire series, who somehow kills things by dancing near them; Celes, a turncoat former Empire general who does not fall in love with any party members who have the freegoing personality she desires to have in herself; Shadow, an aptly named ninja who hates the empire only slightly less than he hates you; Cyan, the last surviving member of Doma's samurai after the empire poisons the local drinking water, who is probably the most well-written character in the entire game and has an unhealthy fear of machines; Gau, a wild child who fits the "raised by monsters" archetype; Setzer, a seedy gambling addict who just happens to have the world's only airship; Strago and Relm, a grandfather-daughter family from Thamasa's line of mages; and finally there's Umaro and Gogo, the game's two optional characters.

Beyond that is a whole host of side characters, NPCs and villains, highlighted by Kefka himself. The Final Fantasy series has had a plethora of villains, and most of them fit the same mold: crazy evil thing that messes with something they shouldn't mess with and the power consumes them. Some of the villains are given sympathetic angles, like Sephiroth, and some just come right out and sell their soul to the devil so they can kill as many people as possible, like with the Emperor or Zemus.

But Kefka is different. He's not a demigod, or a freak with an oversized katana or even a subhuman. He's a human being, and he accomplishes more in this game than pretty much every other villain in the series. He'll especially appeal to people who love The Joker's character in Batman, because the dude is designed like a clown and is completely off his rocker for most of the game's first half. He plays the part, too, until he completely and totally snaps.

The overall plot of the game is a very good one, because even with all these characters almost all of them get loads of screen time and character development. The best compliment anyone can give an RPG cast is "they feel like real people", but that almost feels like a disservice to this group. Consider this: Final Fantasy 6 was released in 1994, and two decades later many gamers still consider it the benchmark for storytelling in a video game. Whether you hate JRPGs or not, FF6 broke a ton of new ground when it came out and really pushed forward video games as a storytelling medium. Games haven't fully evolved that way just yet, but there's that whole "interactive" thing to worry about.

This review was originally written in 2011, so that's 17 years since FF6 was released. Think of what the world was like in 1994. The internet hadn't really taken off yet. YouTube didn't exist. Even cell phones and laptops and smart phones and loads of other technologies, things we consider a part of everyday life these days, weren't yet a major part of our culture. Now look at how far most of the major storytelling and information mediums have come. Newspapers are virtually dead thanks to the rise of the internet, televisions and movies are probably going to all be in 3D soon, our game systems have evolved to the point where our entire bodies can be used as a controller, and everyone knows how far computers have come.

Yet through all of it -- all of it -- Final Fantasy 6 remains one of the best stories ever told in a video game and arguably the pinnacle of the genre. Think about how crazy that is, given everything that's out there now.

Gameplay

Yet even with a plot that can and did overshadow the whole gaming medium, FF6 is damn fun to play. It basically takes the quasi-job system from 4 and meshes it with the magic system from 5, and you end up with a bunch of characters all doing different things and generally having a grand old time nuking bad guys to bits.

If FF6's gameplay has one weakness, it's that it's way too easy, especially after the party gains the ability to learn magic. There's at least some challenge before then, but once your whole team becomes Bolt-throwing Ultima demigods, nothing any of the enemies can do will matter. It's why no-magicite runs are so fun; only a couple characters can really learn any magic, and beyond that you're left to focus on everyone's individual job skills for the whole game rather than the first 25% or so.

The gameplay is mostly standard JRPG fare. You walk around, get in random battles, select commands and watch things happen. It's not purely involved like a Tales game or overly challenging like some aspects of a Western RPG, but it's still really fun. FF6 makes use of the Active Time Bar, and when it fills a character can act.

Much of the fun in a game like this comes out of battle, where you equip and develop your characters a certain way and then watching it happen in a fight is the big payoff. No normal JRPG could ever do this better than something like FFT or Fire Emblem, but this doesn't stop FF6 from being a blast in its own right. Also happening outside of battle are loads of puzzles and environmental factors to interact with, and the overall product will keep you busy from start to finish. One of the best things this game does, and it's a wonder no RPG has done it as well since, is some dungeons having multiple parties working together. They need to bring that back.

Overall FF6's story overshadows the gameplay and may have begun the trend of gameplay taking a back seat to plots in RPGs, but it's still a really fun game to play and you'll always have something new and fun to do.

Graphics and Music

Also known as "the least relevant things to how good a game is", but when they're done well they can turn a great game into a Hall of Fame classic and this game is a testament to that.

Some soundtracks are great. Some soundtracks have some great songs. But Final Fantasy 6 goes so far beyond this that it's really impossible to describe in words. Pretty much every. single. song is amazing. If you listen to one at random, odds are it's a work of art. If "art" is defined as great effects through small means, then FF6's soundtrack is nothing short of art.

The graphics follow suit here, but it's difficult to describe graphics without taking the "play it yourself and see" route. But remember this: The SNES did not have full CGI animation, and FF6 is almost entirely hand-drawn animations transformed into sprites and slapped onto prerendered sprite backgrounds. Remember that when you're in shock at how a game from 1994 can look so good. Remember that as the world struggles under its own weight, quite literally at one point.

Closing Stuff

Final Fantasy 6 being a benchmark video game isn't just this one reviewer's opinion. It's borderline accepted fact at this point, and one only needs to see where video games went after this game's release for the proof. Gameplay is more and more taking a back seat to the imaginary personal lives of the characters on screen, which is something that was forcibly beaten into all our heads while playing Final Fantasy 13.

For better and for worse, we have FF6 (and Chrono Trigger, to a lesser extent) to credit for that. Or blame, if you're on the other side of the fence.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/29/11

Game Release: Final Fantasy III (US, 10/20/94)


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