Review by Mariner
"Far beyond mere enjoyment"
What do you think you’ve found, here, in this dying world? - Kefka, FF Anthology
And what do you think you’ve found, or will find, in this game? Most find it to be an extremely well balanced RPG with some great gameplay elements. Others find an intelligent storyline that draws them in. Some merely find an enjoyable game and time waster. And then there are the few who dislike the game and thus find many minor problems with it. I’ve found all of those too (yes, even the minor problems), but also something more. I have found a game that is not satisfied with being merely great, and instead moves beyond the traditional boundaries of games to a state of total immersion and emotional cleansing, making it one of the very few games that I deeply care about.
[Just a note, this review assumes you know what the game is like. If you want a description of the plot and gameplay, go read the other reviews here first. This thing is going to be long enough without the no doubt lengthy descriptions needed to adequately paint a picture of this game.]
It’s not the net result of one’s life that’s important; it’s the day-to-day concerns, the personal victories, and the celebration of life - Terra
An RPG is practically nothing without its story. And much has been said about this one, a good portion of those words negative. But Square took such a different direction with this game than most others that it’s hard to compare it to other games. Sure, the first half is very straightforward. The tale of a group of people recognizing someone’s rising power and the dangers within is tantalizing and interesting enough to keep practically anyone interested for the first half of the game. It is the second half that others complain about, but I feel they are missing the point. Rather than focus on a probably contrived plot to get rid of Kefka, Square focused on showing off the theme of the game, best described in Terra’s quote above. There was no point to a plot, as it would not bring out this theme - the feeling Square was getting at - as perfectly as the sidequest nature that the second half provided. You see South Figaro working together to rebuild, you see people trying to plant flowers despite recognizing the hopelessness of the situation, you see the children of Mobliz living on. None of these required a plot, but combined, they all come together to answer why people yearn life even when they know all things must die. Those wanting nothing more than a connect-the-dots plot, where the heroes do this which makes them do that which makes them do this, were undoubtedly disappointed that Square took the time honored approach of showing and not telling. A nice, simple story or a deeper look into the world one created; which do you prefer?
Don’t misunderstand me. I just came for my dog - Shadow
Likewise, characterization, especially with the main characters, is excellent. I hate a flashback sequence where one event completely shapes a character, like Cid from FF7 or Lucca from Chrono Trigger, as it feels cheap, contrived, and hollow. I’ll admit Locke’s flashback is also very much like this, but Edgar and Sabin’s is the best example of how to do it right. Rather than random, uncontrollable events shaping a person’s life, we had the character’s true selves come through and provide a solution for the problem of the time (choosing who would be king). The past didn’t make them; they made the past, and that is good characterization. Shadow’s past is complicated, as you can tell by his dreams, and you can see him struggle with his identity and his emotions. Once you know his story, other, smaller details of him begin to emerge. He told Terra he cleansed his emotions, he told Strago he only came for his dog, but you have reasons to doubt both. All of his actions show off a man struggling with his past life, and you can see how he changes the more time he spends with your team. And then there’s Kefka. A shallow character with no past, no reason to kill, or no reason for his actions? Absolutely. A bad idea? Not at all. Like the second half of the game, he was there to give focus to the theme of the game, as he was the perfect antithesis to life, dreams, and hope. He wanted to build a monument to nonexistence when the heroes were fighting to exist. Once again, we see an emotion and a feeling and a theme coming through rather than yet another simplistic RPG story. And once again, it is good.
All these great parts of the story were brought together perfectly. Unlike most RPGs, including most FFs, Square does not hit you on the head sledgehammer-style with characterization and plot development. Instead, it is nice and subtle. You never get a single defined moment were Celes changes from the cold-as-ice imperial general to the softer, gentler Returner, you merely watch it happen. Heck, the game doesn’t even mention that Locke and Celes even might be in love, even though it’s obvious they are. And if you don’t use Shadow a lot, you may not even see most of his dreams. Characterization is very subtle, and allows you to explore it rather than connecting the dots for you. This, to me, is much more appealing. Likewise, the story was subtle, but also well paced. You got a fast paced adventure for the first half, with most of the major events taking place in the first quarter of the game. This keeps the player interested immediately, and can get them hooked long enough to enjoy the rest of the game, where the themes are drawn out. Square also makes an effort to keep a balance between humor, light heartedness, characterization, and pointing out the struggle for life. Kefka’s jokes are so much funnier in context, as they tend to come at serious moments. I’ve never seen a person laugh at a line in a video game until this one came around. But you never sense the loss of purpose, and the game continues on. This is superb directing, able to bring out deep characters and strong themes while still maintaining an enjoyable game.
You just have to show technology who’s boss - Cyan
Sadly, the visual aspects are not going to blow anyone away anymore. This is the SNES after all. On the other hand, it’s a far cry from the earlier Final Fantasies. Finally, the character sprites are large enough to actually display a wide range of emotions, even if in a simplistic manner. And that’s enough. But there are still other shining examples. Some of the spells look particularly cool, the opera house looked gorgeous, and one cannot complain about the final battle. Not that Kefka was perfect, but the mountain leading up to him was. It wasn’t just a perfectly rendered sprite, which it wasn’t, but it was just impressive looking.
Likewise, it’s hard to get excited about the sound effects. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of them, including different sounds for an attack being blocked by a cape or shield. Yes, the boing sound when characters jump around is hokey, but we’ll survive. Yes, the sound quality is not perfect, but it’s a hack of a lot better than most SNES games. Fortunately, you don’t expect much from the sound effects in an RPG. This one satisfies, albeit not something to go nuts over.
But the music? Well, this is the best soundtrack you will ever here in any video game, period. In most games, there’s maybe one or two songs that strike me as memorable and worthwhile. In this one, there is maybe one or two themes that aren’t memorable. The opera music, for instance, is so utterly beautiful that Nobuo Uemetsu worked parts of it into Aeris’ theme in FF7! And then there’s the Atma music, which is easily the best battle music I have ever heard for an RPG. Or how about Vector, where the music announces that you are in the dark, dangerous, and forlorn depths of the Empire? Or Zozo, with its fun beats? Or the Coin Song, or Terra’s theme, or Shadow’s? But the perfect song to prove my point here is Kefka’s theme. Uemetsu managed to capture Kefka’s total essence in that song, which starts slow and somewhat goofy (much like the way Kefka was presented at first) while subtly becoming much darker, more menacing, and more dangerous as the tune continues, once again just like the man it represents. How many other games can claim their music perfectly complements the storyline and characters? There is a reason this musician is considered the best in the business, and this game was certainly his peak.
All this may not matter to the poor souls who only play games for the actual gameplay, but they shouldn’t mind this one either. It may be your basic RPG, with dungeon exploration and the typical battle setup, but it does what it does well. You will never feel that the game is moving along slowly, that the battles are cheap and unfair, that you must level up some more. Simply put, you will never feel the game intruding in on the story. There is an excellent balance between magic, fighting, and special skills, and a wide variety of bosses. The real gem, however, is the second half. The complete freedom and nonlinear gameplay allows the player to do what he or she wants to do, not what they have to do. You can take the sub quests in any order you want, allowing you to optimize your strengths in any way you want to. The only problem with the game, of course, are its numerous glitches. It is a shame too. On the other hand, the big one is easily avoidable (don’t use Relm’s sketch command), and the rest are actually beneficial (don’t worry about becoming blind). It barely detracts from the game, and can easily be ignored.
That’s not to say the gameplay isn’t marvelous, as this is not in any way a simplistic, shallow RPG. For one, the equipment system is quite deep. Between the four equipment slots and two relics, you have almost complete customization of your characters. You can load up on magic offense or defense, normal attack or defense, speed, special advantages, or any combination of these. In fact, it is quite possible to manage your equipment well enough to survive the game with gaining the bare minimum number of levels! Furthermore, the esper system works well enough. Due to the summons and the level up bonus, you cannot simply look at the magic you learn to decide which ones to equip. Finally, each character has, of course, his or her own strengths and weaknesses, outside of the obvious special abilities. Many people complain about the uselessness of Relm, but her high magic strength and ability to wear some unique equipment gives her a special charm. Gau’s rage ability can be either useless or the most useful skill outside of the Bum Rush depending on how deep you want to get into it. Umaro’s uncontrollable strength can be either a lifesaver or a setback depending on your position. If you want to, you can turn this into quite possibly the deepest RPG on the SNES. The emphasis is on if you want to; the game is perfectly beatable without getting into advanced tactics. You decide how deep to make the game, which is as it should be.
So gently, you touched my heart. - Celes
This is not a mere game. So many so called hardcore gamers, not to mention many game makers, believe that the first, last, and only important element in a game is fun. To me, that’s a complete waste of talent. Obviously, fun is important, and the most important element for some games, especially multiplayer games. But these are throwaway games, time wasters, games you play with your friends or to kill a few hours. Final Fantasy 6 is more. It goes beyond mere enjoyment to touch the player’s heart and mind, to keep the player thinking about the game, about the characters, about everything. It makes us want to play it again immediately after finishing it, to experience it all again. It is a game that makes us excited as the time for the opera draws near, not because it’s “fun,” but because we will once again get to experience one of the most beautiful scenes in RPG history. It immerses us, makes us feel as if we were there, makes us experience what the characters experienced. It may sound corny, but it’s true. At least for me. This is the game that shows us what video games can be- “high art,” respectable, a worthy form of entertainment and not a complete waste of time and money. I do not feel like I’m playing a game when I play this, I feel as if I’m experiencing something worthwhile.
It’s obvious that most people will not feel this way regarding this game, and I understand that. But even without my irrational love affair here, it’s hard to deny that this is a high quality game. With a different approach to storytelling than what we are used to, Square allowed us to explore a theme, rather than yet another simple plot. Coupled with this was a great soundtrack featuring many of the best tunes I have heard in videogames. And with it all comes a battle system that is both simple and deep at the same time, and a well paced game to keep you interested. But to me, it all becomes more than this. It becomes larger than the sum of its parts; and the feeling I get cannot be expressed in simple descriptions of plot and gameplay. But there is one thing that I am sure of. This is why I play it, not for fun, not for enjoyment, but for the experience.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/12/02, Updated 09/12/02
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