Review by D'Hoost
"This game does everything right, except one; that one is the most important of all"
Final Fantasy is currently about to begin its thirteenth installment for the PlayStation3. Last year was also the hallmark year: 20 years since the Final Fantasy series started. It certainly does come from humble beginnings, doesn't it. The originally Final Fantasy was glitchy, confusing and had many traits that would have made it a true bomb by todays standards. Granted, at the time it was a masterpiece. Still, look how far Squaresoft has come.
I think that most of us would agree that if Final Fantasy had a golden age, it was on the Super Nintendo. Sure, Final Fantasy X was great, and Final Fantasy VII will go down in the annals as one of the best games ever made. However, as a collective group of games, Final Fantasy 4, 5 and 6 are generally considered to be the creme of the crop. Compelling stories with rich characters combined with a well thought out gameplay system made them the golden standard of most RPGs today.
Final Fantasy 6, as the tail end of this era, was kind of the transition game between two distinct periods in the franchise. With no surprise, it's halfway in the list, numerically. One of the most obvious changes that even a casual glance will show is that graphics became much more important. In the prior games, graphics had been good. Not the best that we had seen, but no one was complaining either. A quick glance at the world map showed that there wasn't a whole lot of effort being put into making the game a visual masterpiece. Final Fantasy 6 changed all of that. As far as visual effects go on a 16-bit system, this game ranks pretty close to the top in how impressive it looks and feels. While the characters are still 16-bit sprites, they were significantly cleaned up and look a notch better than their predecessors. However, where the graphics truly shine are in the environments, which started to make the transition from cartoons to reality. The world map isn't cheaply rendered anymore; you can actually see the grass under your feet and the leaves in the trees. Towns are no longer paved with brown, but with beautiful cobblestone, and the roofs are intricately tiled. The dungeons feel much more gloomy, because let's face it- how gloomy are the plain gray and brown walls from other games really going to make you feel? It definitely raised people's expectations, and since this game, Square has delivered time and time again with graphical excellence.
On that same note, this game set the stage for the epic music that is now synonymous with Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy 6 has one of the best video game sound tracks to date. I don't just mean in the series; I'm talking about all-time greatest collection of music... and that's with cheap MIDI files. The composer took the limited tools he was given and constructed an absolute masterpiece. I mentioned earlier that the improvement in graphics made a huge difference in environment, but those improvements pale in comparison to the ones felt due to the music.
I will illustrate my point by talking about a single song, which is remixed half a dozen different ways through the game. It's the theme song for your main character, Terra. You first hear is as the credits roll at the very beginning. It is slow and dramatic, and it gives the player a sense of foreboding. Given the snow falling around you as you trek towards your destination, we can understand why this is. This same song is remixed as the song for the world map. Gone is the foreboding, and it is replaced with a rather grand sense of adventure. It's upbeat and makes you feel like you need to get moving to finish the job that you set out to do. I might add that the world map song is one of my favorite game songs of all time- simply superb. Remixed another way, we have a song called Awakening. This song plays in situations of hopelessness, and other emotionally down portions of the game. It carries with it a sort of airiness to it, and it's incredibly mellow and soothing. Another great piece.
Now, these three incredibly diverse tracks are all the same melody, tweaked in brilliantly subtle ways to give them dramatically different effects. This sound track is made up of far more than just one song, redone a hundred ways. With the dozens of different, unique songs that this game has to offer, there's never a dull moment when you're playing- the music keeps you going and totally draws you in to the rich atmosphere that it has to offer.
That atmosphere is one that is riddled with characters, and what characters they truly are. The protagonist, a young woman by the name of Terra, is working for the Empire, and it quickly becomes apparent to us that she is doing so against her will. Her mind control is soon broken, but she is left with no memory of who she is, and so she must begin her quest to recover her memory. Along the way she meets Locke, who is a treasure hunter (call him a thief and he'll cut your throat) with a chivalrous streak that would make Lancelot bow out of respect, Edgar, who is of royal blood but doesn't feel at odds with asking a common street walker out for a drink. The story is lined with people who can join your battle against evil. More important than quantity, though, is quality. One thing that this game is not lacking in is character development. All told there are sixteen playable characters, and with the exception of a couple of gimmick secret characters, all of them have a complex story that drives them, and it's up to you to use them and take them through the world to uncover stories about their past and their future. Some of the stories are truly heartwarming, such as Terra's fight to become who she once was, while others are truly heart-wrenching. You really learn to appreciate these characters, and you come to the point where you'd truly miss them if they went away.
Now, where might they have gone away to? Well, this is where one of the best parts of the character scene comes into view. That's the villain. His name is Kefka, and he is nothing short of diabolical. More than diabolical, though- he's funny. He definitely takes a few cues from the Joker, and he does so with delicious acumen. He really knows how to mess things up, and the things he does are horrible, and yet... despite that horror, you just can't wait to see what he's going to do next. What is his terrible plan, and how is your heroic force going to stop him?
Well now, I'm not going to spoil the great struggle here! It's sufficive to tell you that knives are pulled out of many people's backs, and the game keeps you on your toes with alliances that are forged and broken time and time again. Who can you trust, and who is really not on your side after all? I will say this much- the bad guys win... if only for a time. They take over the world and have the ultimate power, and unlike in many other games, they do so before the final battle, and unlike almost any other game out there, they use that ultimate power to rain fire from the heavens and bring that wonderful judgment day that they promised everyone. It's a well built story that has a fantastic climax.
...There's only one real problem, and unfortunately it's a pretty big problem: there's really not much of a resolution. The bad guys rain fire down, and your group gets separated; scattered to the four corners of the earth. Now, this happens with approximately 60% of the game time under your belt; maybe less. Surely with so much time left to play, you're going to have some fantastic story of overcoming the trials to vanquish evil, right?
Wrong. Despite the fantastic build up and despite the magnificent would-be end to the game, we're left with a poorly thought out ending. While character development hits a real peak at this point in the game, the main plot fizzles. It's as if Squaresoft wanted to tell us more about our heroes but couldn't find a place to do it in the original story, and so once the story ended, they threw a jumbled mess at the back end to make sure we got everything. There's actually nothing more to the main plot. All there is to do is go back to the fortress by incredibly roundabout ways that will collect all of your teammates for you. In fact, most of the team-collecting is optional and you can skip a good 25% of the game and finish it early. That extra quarter does absolutely nothing to advance the plot, and at times you get so caught up in the backstory that you forget there even was a central plot to tie everything together.
Don't get me wrong- this game is a lot of fun. The gameplay is very well designed with a great battle system. Players collect summons, who can then teach your characters the spells they need to win the day. The precursor to 7s famous materia system, it is well thought out, easy to use and leads to some great customization. Furthermore, each character has a unique trait to them that keeps things interesting. My favorite would have to be the Blitz command. By inputting commands on your controller (many of them resembling old street fighter moves), a player can inflict some serious hurt on the bad guys. Other character moves are not quite as interesting as that, but it keeps things diverse; something that I never liked about many later games (such as 7 and 8) was that characters were virtually the same, making party selection a simple matter of choosing who you liked instead of choosing who was useful. The blend of customization via summons and uniqueness via skills gives the right blend of both.
Yes, even though the game is fun, and even though the graphics were good, and even though the sound track is a legend in its own right, the story is just such a disappointment. In a way, this game is perfect if you just quit before you finish the game. I have no complaints about most anything else but that drop off at the end. Indeed, this game was once my favorite game; I would have defended it to death... but then I played through it again without the rose colored glasses, and what I found is that while this game is really great at first, that premature death of the story leaves your bored, waiting for something good to happen. Final Fantasy may have set the standards on lots of different things, but the standard that they set more than anything else is a great game with a great storyline to keep you interested, and Final Fantasy 6... just doesn't do it.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/22/04, Updated 07/21/08
Game Release: Final Fantasy III (US, 10/20/94)
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