Retro Review: Final Fantasy VI

I asked a few people, and gave them a list of what they’d potentially like to read. Final Fantasy VI won out. If you have a suggestion for a Retro Review, whether I’ve played it or need to, please message me on Twitter, or on the OnRPG Facebook page. I always read them! – Ragachak

FFVI - Nobuo Uematsu

Probably the greatest soundtrack ever.

Final Fantasy VI [III back in my day] is the second RPG I played on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System [before that, my Uncle rented a Super Nintendo for me and Final Fantasy II to play on it for a weekend. I was hooked, even though I only got to  Cagnazzo [Water Fiend], and didn’t even beat him. Came close though! My first exposure to Final Fantasy VI was in the 7th Grade, with one of my friends who owned it. We played it two players for a bit because it allowed for two players in combat. So I at least got to have the illusion that I was helping. But it’s ultimately a one-player game, that one person drives the story forward, and what a wild ride it is! I had never played anything like it up until that point. It’s one of the few Final Fantasy games that I’ve played that has a point in the game where it really opens up, and stops being quite as linear: When the World of Balance is destroyed by Kefka’s magic and becomes the World of Ruin, after you acquire the airship, the world is your Oyster. You can go fight through the final dungeon at any point after that [but I don’t recommend it]. As an aside, I’m doing a Randomized Run of this game on Youtube, right here.

FFVI - Early Game

Missing: Half-Esper, wanted for “crimes”.

The story plays out in a pretty interesting way. You aren’t the Legendary Hero, destined to bring balance and light to the world [Final Fantasy IV], you aren’t out to save the world from imminent destruction [Final Fantasy VII, possibly VIII, X, X-2, XIII], and aren’t seeking to fulfill an ancient prophecy [I, IV, V, possibly IX]. You’re a woman with no memory, who is a former slave to the Empire of Vector. She wore a crown that robbed her of her memory and free will and was commanded by their Generals to wreak whatever havoc they wanted. The curious part about Final Fantasy VI is that it has no main character. Arguably, Locke Cole [the second character you meet] could be the main character. He’s a Thief [treasure hunter], works for the Resistance against the Empire. He’s made some terrible life choices, lost the woman he loves, and only fights to save people who have lost hope in a world slowly becoming enshrouded in the darkness of the Magitek Empire of Vector. Even to the main cast of heroes, they seek to use Terra [the magical slave] to fight the Empire. It’s an interesting dynamic, that she’s being used by both sides, but she warms up to the heroes and joins them. The first half of the game focuses on the fight against the Empire, trying to restore order and the plot thickens. The Empires plans aren’t all so cut and dry, and one member of the military, in particular, has more horrific goals.

FFVI - Kefka

Bask in it!

The second half, however, the cast is split apart because [spoilers] and the goal goes from “stop the empire” to “Kefka’s the worst villain in ever, and now rules the world like a Mad God in need of a comb. Maybe we should stop him.”  And that’s what’s so fascinating about this game. He’s a villain that actually succeeds in his goal, and recreates the world in his image, using fire. Lots of fire. And lasers. Not everyone wants to continue fighting. Some members of your cast are broken by this. Some have changed in their personality, some have grown, and some just want to crawl back into a bottle. To this day, I do not think I’ve played a single RPG that had more character growth, per character. And this game has 14 characters! Two of them are hidden and have less known about them, but Gogo is a character I could write about all on their own. And I probably will at one point. It’s a gripping story, and is more than just “walk to the next town, fight the bad guys, move on”. You travel everywhere. Interrupting opera performances, surfing around on rafts, climbing mountains, sending love letters for physically incapable soldiers, you really do it all in this game.

FFVI - Atma on Island

“I am Atma. I am pure energy. . . and as ancient as the Cosmos.”

However, one could say that the second half of the game is a bit too open. This game was made back before the Internet could solve all your problems and answer all of your questions. The game holds your hand for parts of the second half, but beyond that, you have absolutely no idea how to find your team. Looking at it purely from the scope of a 90s game, it feels like the game “creates” difficulty in the second half, trying to figure out where the Hell everyone is. Some of them you’ll find simply by exploring, then trying to figure out how to recruit them again, like Strago [Cult of Kefka Tower], some are hidden in caves, or in mansions [Shadow, Relm], some are hiding in destroyed towns and you have to figure out how to light the fire under them again [Terra], and some you won’t find until you complete dungeons that are in no way linked to the main story [Locke, Phoenix Cave]. After playing through the game a few times, or reading a walkthrough, that becomes incredibly easy, and I won’t ever have to look that up again. But the notion of manufacturing difficulty to create more playtime, or push strategy guide sales can be incredibly frustrating. Then you have to balance who you have, get them appropriately geared and powered up, and balanced for some of the multi-team dungeons.

FFVI - Part of Phoenix Cave

This is just “part” of the Phoenix Cave.

Multi-team dungeons? Of course! There are two of them in the second half of the game, and they teach you how to do it within the first few hours of the game when Locke teams up with the Moogles to save Terra from the Narshe guards. You will form a series of parties, balanced however you’d prefer, and swap between them with the Y button on the controller. Fun fact, in earlier iterations of the game, if a party sat on a save point, the other party/parties could heal with a Tent, anywhere in that dungeon, so long as one party stood on the point. I think that got corrected in later versions of the game, but it was a great way to level if you had plenty of tents just lying about [and you should]. These require strategy and teamwork and were pretty groundbreaking for RPGs in general, not just Super Nintendo games. You have to figure out what works best for you, and not cripple one party, just making one power team. Sure, you can make a weak team in the Kefka Tower, lead it with Mog, and his Moogle Charm [0% encounter rate], but you still have two or three major bosses to fight. One of the Goddess Statues, and then whatever fights that path has, depending on where you put them. One of the harder parts of the game is figuring out what works for you, and then taking the time to have suitably powerful team members.


FFVI - Suplex

Not from in-game, but yes: Sabin can suplex a Ghost Train.

Each character has their own strengths, weaknesses and special attack. From Sabin’s martial-arts “Blitz”, Cyan’s charge meter sword techniques “Swdtech”, down to the hidden character Gogo’s “Mime” and the power to use any skill you’ve unlocked, everyone is special. A positive for the game is that it’s hard to pinpoint who is the strongest, who is the main character. There could be an argument made for many of the first characters in the game, and personally, I’ve narrowed it down to Terra or Locke. Every character excepting Gogo and Umaro have a storyline and personal demons to work through. Cyan loses his family and has a hard time moving on, and overcoming his fear of machines. Edgar and Sabin, the brothers of Figaro have some issues to work out concerning the importance of family. Gau has probably the most tragic story; his father abandoned him on the Veldt, a place of wild beasts from all over the planet. He was meant to die but didn’t. Instead, he learned about the beasts and how to use their techniques. At some point, you can go and try to mend that fence, and it will probably be the most heartbreaking scene in the game, to many people. Terra wants to know where she belongs in the world, Locke wants to not be alone, Shadow’s running from his past.

FFVI - End Game

This game also has what could be the prototype for FFVII’s “Materia” system. As you progress, you will find Magicite, the spirit of dead Espers. Kind of eerie, honestly. They give their lives to teach the main cast magical powers, to help them on their quest. Or they’re murdered, or drained of their powers, and give you what little is left. It’s a pretty dark system, honestly. But these Espers each teach specific spells, at specific speeds [using Magic Points garnered in battle] and in addition can also give stats upon leveling up. That’s where the customization comes in: You can give a squishy spellcaster like Strago “Bahamut” which gives a large amount of HP per level, to make sure he’s able to take a hit, and then give him some defensive options. It’s grindy, but it’s far from impossible, and the game has secreted away some pretty incredible ways to grind out your Espers. In the first half of the game, there’s the dangerous Triangle Island, home of the invisible Itangir. It’s immune to physical hits while invisible [as is anyone], but this leads to a very important glitch that existed. Enemies who are under the influence of Vanish, have a 0% chance of resisting spells. That includes Doom. So you can target it with Doom, get a free 10 AP. Sure, he has a Meteo counterattack, hitting any who damaged him, but with a Flame Shield or something else, you can power up your whole team. There are so many glitches in this game, like “Sketch” being used on invisible enemies. This will glitch your whole game and can ruin your save file. Or … it could give you the best gear in the game. There are so many secrets for this game, that it would take a whole extra editorial just for that.

Ooooooh, Maria~  5/5

FFVI - Opera

I’ve never played a game, of any genre, that made me feel such a variety of emotions. The Opera House is probably the best scene in any FF game, and that’s not hyperbole. It’s as close to a “perfect” roleplaying game that can be found in this or any generation. There are so many things I have not mentioned, from comical characters, to amazing items and spells, to tactics …But it’s not without its issues, such as the difficulty forced into the second half of the game, and if you don’t use Vanish/Doom, the game has some incredible difficulty spikes. Any of the “major” bosses, like the various Atma, the Dragons, and Kefka himself can be infuriating. And to see the final boss of the game cast two spells back to back, say, Final One [all HP reduced to 1] and then immediately cast “Fallen Star” [Huge AOE Fire attack] is deflating. If you didn’t have Life 3 [auto-res], you’re boned. There are lots of little traps like that hidden through the game and if you aren’t prepared, and in-the-know, you can be obliterated without a chance. Another great example is the Magi Master’s “Ultima” counterattack. When you kill him, even if you berserk him to prevent him from using his Barrier Change ability, he’ll auto-cast Ultima, the strongest spell in the game, and it will kill your party. Again, if you don’t have Life 3, you’re done for. And it’s a long tower hike, and there’s no way to avoid having to climb the whole tower again, without the use of the fight command. It’s a thrilling, gripping, heartbreaking game, but it’s not just because of the challenge. It’s a story told that cannot be told again. It’s the first and last of its kind, and it’s not one to be missed. I’m grateful, fortunate that I grew up in an era when it was commonplace. Out of all of the iterations of this game, the SNES and GBA versions are the ones to play. Not the mobile, not the PSX. If you’re going to get it and play it, purchase those versions.

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