Welcome to week three of Re-Play! A ten-week series where we go look back in time to visit some of the greatest games of the past, give them an honest review, and see how well they still hold up today! This week we are taking a look back at a game which has been around for 24 years, but still remains a favorite of many to this day: Final Fantasy VI.
Final Fantasy has been a force within the video game medium for 30 years, however, in the 1990s, only Japan had seen the full scope of this franchise. Final Fantasy I and II were released both in Japan and in North America at the same time but Final Fantasy III, IV, and V were only released in Japan from then on. With the growth in popularity of the Super Nintendo in North America in the mid-1990s, Square decided that its next project of Final Fantasy VI should be released internationally again in order to garner more interest in the franchise in the US and increase profits. However, Square decided to rename the game Final Fantasy III for its North American release and VI for its Japanese release. This odd sequencing of the franchise left avid gamers confused as to the “proper” order of the Final Fantasy series for almost 2 decades, though it did not diminish their love for this fantastic game.
Arguably the most important aspect of a Role-playing Game is its story. The creators of FF6 wanted to do something different with this entry by not focusing on a single protagonist. With 14 playable characters in this game, the story manages to follow 11 of them throughout an epic narrative which weaves in and out each of their lives. The 3 who aren’t followed are entirely optional characters to recruit, and although they are fun to have, they do not affect the story in any way. With a play time of around 30 hours including all optional side-quests, the story keeps the player hooked and always wondering what is going to happen next.
Final Fantasy VI is such a large game that there the main plotline completes at the mid-point of the story. The completion of this plot is a surprise to many players as (SPOILERS) the bad guy actually wins and succeeds at destroying the world. At this point, the player is thrown into a brand new plotline to reunite their party and go after the big bad. This leads the game to some very dark places which not many other video games had addressed mental illness, loneliness, and suicide; yet Final Fantasy VI brings them all up and treats these issues with respect. This shocked many players in 1994 and still does shock first-time players to this day.
The combat system within this game is also top-notch. Final Fantasy VI uses an active-time battle (ATB) system for the fights, where characters have a gauge that charges up over time so they can attack. While each character can use magic and summon large creatures called Espers for massive damage, each of the 14 playable characters has a unique type of attacks. This can be something as simple as a character who uses gadgets like an auto-crossbow to something as complex as a martial artist that makes you input button combinations to execute special attacks ala Mortal Kombat. The amount of options the player has throughout combat is staggering, and it never feels stale.
That is a fantastic plus, as Final Fantasy VI employs a random-battle system where the player is forced into battle at random intervals while on the world map or in dungeons. This means you will be fighting often, and while the battles are rarely challenging the player must constantly be on their toes around new enemy types who could potentially wipe the floor with your party.
Although an entirely two-dimensional game, Final Fantasy VI is one of the most people creations of its era. The backgrounds and characters are expertly designed and never feel ugly. The use of colors and variance between every area of the game and every character is stunning, and no two places or people feel alike. This makes the game a constant treat for the eyes with unique monsters, areas, characters, abilities, spells, and summons which are all beautiful and different from one another.
One of the most famous parts of Final Fantasy games are their music, and FF6 is no slouch in that regard. Composed by Nobuo Uematsu, the music throughout the game helps the player experience the intended emotion for every scene. It is truly amazing how music which was composed over 20 years ago on a Super Nintendo could still seem beautiful to this day. The soundtrack provides sets each scenario in the game perfectly, evoking sadness, fear, or excitement effortlessly when each is required.
HOW DOES IT HOLD UP?
Final Fantasy VI not only holds up well, it does a lot of things better than most RPGs do nowadays. The story and character depth in years ahead of its time, and is something that a lot of modern day games still struggle with. The epic saga of this game, plus the gorgeous visuals and enchanting soundtrack will draw you in early, and the continuing story and combat system are what will make you play to completion. It is really hard to summarize what exactly makes this game great, and the best way to find out why is to just play it for yourself.