by Ragachak (Jason Parker)
Final Fantasy VI is on just about every list of “Best RPGs of All Time” and with good reason. When I went from Final Fantasy 3/6 to Final Fantasy VII, in a way, I felt cheated. The 16-bit graphics felt too good for the SNES. I had no idea how they created such striking visuals and audio, then to go to the Playstation and its polygon graphics? There were things I liked, sure, but I was much happier with Final Fantasy VI. I did not wind up owning FFVI until much later, but thanks to having friends who owned it, I got to experience this treasure around the time it released initially in America. So what makes this game so treasured? What did it do to shake up RPGs? It’s my opinion that while FFVII did a great deal to make RPGs mainstream, FFVI was the superior RPG in just about every way. From storytelling to character growth, let’s talk about what made FFVI such a great game.
Do you know what popular trope I could do with less of? The sympathetic villain. People feel some measure of sympathy for Sephiroth, that he’s a product of his environment or circumstances. But Hojo? He’s an irredeemable jackass. He’s cruel, uncaring, and just does whatever benefits him. That’s why he should have been the final encounter. So let’s talk about FFVI’s villains. The Empire of Gestahl has people in it that are not evil, but the people at the top of the food chain? Manipulative and vile, down to their bone marrow. Gestahl’s empire reminds me of certain nations in our own history, but that’s another article for another time. The final boss, Kefka Palazzo has no traits that make him worthy of redemption. He doesn’t surround himself in lieutenants that listen to him, or could make him a likable character – just monsters. He rearranged the geography of the world forever – on a whim! He demolished towns because they didn’t worship him enough, and poisoned the town of Doma because “Well, it’s war”!
Generals Leo and Celes were in the same faction but were not evil. General Leo winds up murdered at Kefka’s hands, and Celes was put in jail, likely to be executed before Locke Cole showed up. When Emperor Gestahl, who was also a conniving weasel, thinks Kefka went too far? He tried to kill the clown but failed. Kefka was one step ahead, knowing that Gestahl would try something. So he threw the Emperor to his death, from the floating continent. There is not a single moment of interaction in the game that makes you think “Well, Kefka might not be so bad. . . ” He’s perverse and horrific, and absolutely must be defeated, so that the world could finally know peace. He has a cult that basks in his deeds, which is also terrible. That’s also arguably the hardest (if not most tedious) part of the entire game. If you do not have magic, you cannot enter the Cult of Kefka tower. Even when you defeat Kefka in the end, he still wins. Magic is all but gone from the world, the landscape is shaped in his image, and families are torn to pieces from his wrath. But all is not all grim, because there’s still hope. That’s the crux of act two: Finding Hope. People will rebuild, and make new stories for themselves. Kefka wins in act one by destroying the world, and in act two by leaving his indeliable mark, but people will move on. That’s beautiful, friends.
So, the villains were great in Final Fantasy VI, but what about your main character? Who “is” the main character of Final Fantasy VI, anyway? An argument can be made for several members of the cast – Terra, the half human/esper, enslaved by the Empire, coming to grips with who she is, and what her purpose is in life. Celes, the former Imperial General, imbued with Magical Powers. Locke Cole, a misunderstood thief (treasure hunter), searching for a way to bring his love back to life, while also trying to find a measure of happiness and peace for himself. Cyan, the man without a kingdom. All of Doma was slaughtered by Kefka, so now he has to move on. Every character in the game, except Gogo, Umaro, and Mog are deep and intricate characters, worthy of being the star. Well, maybe not Relm. She’s still interesting though. Final Fantasy IV had a clearly defined hero: Cecil Harvey. Final Fantasy VII? Cloud Strife.
I think the hero of Final Fantasy VI is whomever’s story resonates with you the most. In the second act of the game, when you’re recruiting everyone again, only four characters are required to get the game going again. Celes, Sabin, Edgar, and Setzer. Once you have them and an airship, the world is your oyster. Terra’s off in Mobliz, taking care of the kids whose parents were murdered. Strago? He’s got amnesia/in some kind of trance at the Cult of Kefka tower. Shadow is who knows where, and Cyan’s up in the mountains of Zozo, writing love letters to a woman who has no idea her love is really dead. Who matters to you? What story compels you to keep playing? What purpose do you have in life? Final Fantasy VI had something for just about everyone. You don’t have to pick everyone up (and Shadow can be lost forever), but it’s advisable to.
Final Fantasy VI’s cast grows as the game does. You learn about the lows and highs of their lives. They have depth, you wind up caring about a vast majority of the cast. There are tons of hidden scenes too. Not hidden deep, but tucked away to reward your exploration. Shadow’s backstory is revealed through sleeping at inns, through dreams. Setzer’s tragic backstory is shown off in Daryl’s Tomb. There’s mystery, drama, tragedy, comedy. FFVI really had it all. Nobuo Uematsu created what could be a once-in-a-lifetime soundtrack as well. Dancing Mad is a 9/10 minute track that perfectly encapsulates the madness of Kefka, without redeeming him, without humanizing him. But it’s incredible to listen to, from the organs to the chorus incoherently chanting for the Mad God, Kefka. There’s a reason this is one of the first Final Fantasy games I recommend people. It’s easy to get into, the Esper system is fairly balanced and lets you make the characters whatever you want them to be, and there’s no “right” party to use (outside of required parties in the first act). It’s a classic in every sense of the word, and whether you’ve played it or not, you should sit down with it again.