Review by Kwing
Epic and Tragic
Final Fantasy VI is often considered one of, if not the strongest, titles in the Final Fantasy series. From what I'd read, the plotline sounded a lot more intriguing than its successor, which overshadowed Final Fantasy VI with dazzling 3D graphics, and to be honest, a lot more ego stroking via love interests. Out of curiosity, I wanted to check this game out and see what it was like.
If you've played Final Fantasy before, you know the drill, so I'll streamline it for you; Final Fantasy VI gives you all of your basic fare: Physical fighters, mages, exploration, some dungeon crawling, and of course random battles. Like its last two predecessors, FFVI features an ATB bar that fills up in real-time; unfortunately, even on the fastest setting the gameplay does get pretty slow. Like most Final Fantasy games, the defining attributes of this installment's gameplay are in the characters' abilities.
Perhaps because Final Fantasy VI has so many damned characters, the point Square was trying to get across was that all of them are different. If that's the case, then it shows in the gameplay. Each character, in addition to their normal fighting and item commands, has a set of class abilities which all work in slightly different ways. For example, one character may be able to temporarily morph into a form that grants them double damage, while another may be able to absorb offensive magic for a turn. Other commands you may already be familiar with, such as Steal, Mimic, or Throw. There are also a couple commands that incorporate unusual game mechanics, such as a slot machine attack (very similar to Tifa's Limit Break), a sword technique command that charges up in real-time, or attacks that require the player to input specific button combinations. These abilities can be acquired by leveling up, shop purchases, questing, or from fighting specific monsters, although commands like Steal are obviously going to remain the same.
In addition to FFVI incorporating a patchwork of different characters and mechanics, this game also incorporates relics, an accessory-like type of equipment from which the game derives most of its strategic depth. While most equipment simply changes a character's stats, relics have the potential to change the course of a battle in less conventional means. Relics offer all sorts of things, including status protection, automatic buffs, amplified class abilities, or even substituted commands (Dragoon Boots change Fight into Jump). Although you can equip two relics per character, by the end of the game every relic is so tempting you'll find it hard to choose between them.
One last slightly unusual aspect to FFVI is the magic system. Throughout the game you will collect espers, which can be equipped to a character. As you fight with that character in your party, they will accumulate Magic Points which will automatically teach abilities to the character it's equipped on. How fast the player learns the ability is determined by a set stat; for instance, the multiplier for learning Cure might be x20 for an esper, but Flare may only be x1, making it take much longer to learn. Each esper comes with a set of spells that a player works towards learning by equipping it, as well as some of them providing stat bonuses upon leveling up. Unlike the well-known materia system, espers need only be equipped until an ability is learned; from then on, that character has that ability permanently.
Onto the pacing of the game, one of the biggest drags of Final Fantasy VI is that the beginning is horrendously linear. Your paths and inventory are both so limited that there really isn't a whole lot you can do. Much of your time is spent wandering from point A to point B, and spamming the same abilities in battle. Even at one point in which the party members are split up and you are allowed to choose which order to follow their stories in, each individual story leans heavily toward being linear. It's not until you hit the halfway mark in the game that things really start to pick up.
In its defense, this is where the game really does start to get interesting. From the moment you get the airship after the halfway mark, you can actually enter the final dungeon and beat the game; the second half of the game allows the player to do whatever they want; you can collect however many or few party members you wish, and take on any combination of plot-related quests before you head off to the final boss. Delightfully enough, even though almost all of these events are optional, the game has been balanced extraordinarily well, so you'll typically feel you're at about the right level at any given point (bar a few overpowered bosses). Monetary gain is similarly balanced, adding a strategic flair to grinding. The gameplay in general also gets a lot more interesting from here on out; you have an arena, auctions, Easter eggs, and more puzzle-oriented dungeon crawling. My only real complaint here is that this game does not hold your hand at all; several times I found myself totally stuck on what to do next, and the fact that a handful of locations are entirely neglected on the world map does not help.
Also, even after you've developed your characters, you WILL be spamming a select few abilities over and over. This is not unusual for Final Fantasy games, but this is a warning for anyone curious about the level of monotony. Thankfully most of the battles you go through will feel productive when you see the well-balanced and rewarding quotients of experience and money coming in.
One last technical goof I'll mention, this being a port, is that when going into the character menu to heal up or fuss with your equipment, simply loading the menu, and then exiting back onto the map, takes way longer than it should. We're talking 5+ seconds here, for every little tweak you make to your party. The laziness of not wanting to sit through the blank loading screens has given me my fair share of game overs.
I thoroughly enjoyed the plotline for this game. You begin the story following Terra, who is originally under the control of General Kefka of the Empire. At some point, Kefka's control over her is severed and she ends up drawn into a rebel group fighting back against the Empire. What I really liked about FFVI was how dark the story was overall. The politics and diplomacy of the story are interesting, but it's really the characters that steal the show. Between the events of the game and the backstory revealed during gameplay, six - count them - SIX characters, are widowed, and some of the scenes are real tearjerkers. Other cheery themes include torture, suicide, and a parent trying to kill his own kid (yeah, and you thought he was just a comic relief character).
In addition to the characters you play as, you've also got some damned good villains, too. From the comedic Ultros to the heartless Gestahl to the tragic Leo to the downright maniacal Kefka, once you beat this game you'll miss the villains, too.
These graphics are approaching their 20th anniversary, and it shows. The sprites are really due for a facelift, and although they look good for sprite graphics, it's understandable to say that the animation is sorely lacking here. As a general rule, enemies, environments, and atmosphere all look great, but given the sheer age of this game, it's leaving a lot to be desired. Besides, games of this era were not totally incapable of looking stylish; look at Doom, for instance.
Criticisms aside, there are a few cool graphical gimmicks of the world map. Although the map itself stays flat as a pancake, the graphic is squashed and stretched to give the illusion of perspective when traveling via chocobo or airship. I've heard someone slam on the graphics for this because it looked sloppy, but considering this game is under 200 MB, I'm not complaining. That being said, I also love lightweight games, even if it comes at the expense of graphical quality. Form over functionality, I guess.
Final Fantasy VI has a pretty memorable soundtrack. Some of the tracks can be pretty haunting, while others can really get you going (boss battle, anyone?). The biggest issue here is that out of a three hour soundtrack, you'll spend hours upon hours of time listening to the same two or three songs over and over again. Still, this soundtrack is a keeper! I fully regret not having turned the volume up louder when I was playing.
It took me 35 hours to beat the game, and the final boss was about at the right difficulty, so I'd say that's about how long you can expect it to be. Replayability seems quite limited to me, as there aren't a whole lot of sidequests, and given that you use almost every character in the final area of the game, I didn't feel much of an urge to see how the other characters played. Bonus content is also sadly lacking. You do have an art gallery, bestiary, and a menu where you can view the FMVs in the game, but it's not particularly interesting. The lack of any real superboss in Final Fantasy VI also takes away from the replayability, although the one on one battles in the Colosseum may cause some players to stick around.
Final Fantasy VI was a very enjoyable game to play. At times it could get linear and tedious, but for the most part I found the level design to be very strong, which compensated for the mostly monotonous battling. The music is absolutely wonderful, and it only adds to the engaging storyline. By the time you get to the end, you realize just how much has happened, and you really do feel like you've been through an epic adventure. The only things keeping this game from a perfect 10 are the lackluster graphics and somewhat repetitive battles. Also keep in mind the port has long load times; if you have another platform to play this on, go for that one.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Final Fantasy VI (US, 12/06/11)
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