Release Date: Out Now
ESRB: E 10+
Square-Enix's Final Fantasy series may be pushing the boundaries of what consoles can achieve nowadays, but it's amazing to me how relevant Final Fantasy VI is to the series even after almost 19 years now. It's not Final Fantasy XIII as far as graphics go, but so many aspects of VI broke new ground for its time, including the graphics, the themes it explored, the music, and last but not least, its touching story. It's no wonder that many fans still consider it the best game in the series. But just how much does the game hold up, and why should you play it after all these years? Buckle up, because you're about to get a lesson in Great Games 101.
Final Fantasy VI starts out as the story of a mysterious brainwashed girl named Terra who at the start of the game is acting on the side of the enemy unbeknownst to her, and quickly finds herself caught up in a war and split between two opposing sides. Upon starting the game, it didn't take long for me to realize that Final Fantasy VI was way ahead of its time when it orginally came out. Very few RPGs before it had tread into the thematical and emotional elements that this game explores, such as death and grieving, racial prejudice, betrayal, and even thoughts of suicide. But underneath some of the darker tones of the game lies a grand adventure in the wait, as you join up with a ragtag group of heroes made up of a prince, martial artist, thief, gambler, enemy general turned traitor, assassin-for-hire, and more in order to save the world from a corrupt empire.
This game also carries on the tradition of using the Active-Time Battle System, where you'll select your attacks, items, magic, and whatnot in real-time when you enter battle mode, meaning that enemies can and will attack you as you make your selections. Of course, since this is a port of the original game (which was released in 1994), that also means that random battles are used as a means of forcing you into battle in certain areas of the game (almost any area outside of a town, actually), but it doesn't feel out of place due to the aesthetic and nature of it all. But yes, the ATB system holds up very well here, giving each of your party members their own separate timed bars that determine when they can next act; it all works fabulously, even years down the road.
Another interesting gameplay aspect Final Fantasy VI introduced was the inclusion of "espers" that would augment each of your characters. With over 20 different types of espers to collect throughout the game, equipping one would allow that specific character to learn a certain type of magic over a certain period of time. In battles, you'll gain a certain number of "magic points" at the end of each, and in turn, accumulating these magic points will help you learn the different types of magic from each esper. In this way, it's possible for you to customize your characters' magic abilities to your liking. The other added effect that espers have is that some will attribute extra bonus stat points to your characters when they level up, such as +1 strength or +1 stamina, giving you even further control on how to build your character's stats; however, these features only open up in the second half.
As for the different characters you'll accrue over the course of the game, each has specific skills that you can take advantage of in battle (and sometimes out of battle too). For example, Edgar (the prince) is adapt at using machinery that can give you various advantages during battles, and Celes (an enemy-general-turned-good) can use an ability called "Runic" that absorbs some types of offensive enemy magic, thus rendering it ineffective against your party. Though there are some rather useless abilities (such as a few like "Rage" and "Dance," which force characters to use random attacks throughout the battle), the game often puts you in different scenarios early on where you'll be forced to learn to work with different character's skill sets, so you'll have to use them to your advantage.
The game also boasts what is quite possibly the best musical score that composer Nobuo Uematsu has ever produced. From the hauntingly beautiful theme for Terra to the theme of the Empire, to the arabian-inspired sounding battle theme, Final Fantasy VI has one of the most memorable soundtracks ever, and it sets the tone of the game's bleak story perfectly. It's almost as if a live orchestra wanted to break free of the 16-bit shackles of the sound limitations on the SNES (the console of which the game originally debuted on), but it doesn't matter since you almost don't even notice the fact since it's produced so well.
In addition, this was the last game to use chibi sprite-based 16-bit visuals. It might be a bit funny for those who didn't grow up in the 90's to see little characters with short stubby bodies and a big head spouting forth serious lines about life and death, but back in those days, it was the norm due to graphical limitations. However, it doesn't deter from the game at all, and you'll find yourself acclimating to the less-realistic graphics right away.
Aside from the characters' designs, Final Fantasy VI also sports some of the best art direction in the series, and this is never more apparent when paying attention to the visual backdrops for some of the battles, which clearly show very intricately detailed backgrounds of such settings as forests, plains, mountains, dungeons and more. It's obvious that these were at one point physical paintings that were digitally input into a 16-bit form, but despite the limitation they look superb, as does the rest of the game in general. This particular version of the game also boasts a pre-rendered CG cutscene intro, which looks just a little dated at this point, but not so much that it doesn't still work.
As I said at the outset of this review, this game was ahead of its time. From its bleak opening to memorable moments like the opera scene that broke ground in storytelling in RPGs, Final Fantasy VI presents a tale that is so masterfully woven and told through its characters that even the obvious technical limitations of its time couldn't hold it back. This is a game that originally released in the golden age of RPGs, when the genre was at its absolute best.
The only issue with this PSone re-release is the longer loading time when transitioning from the field to a battle (and when transitioning to the status screen as well). It's not unbearable, but it is noticeable enough to be a little irritating at times. Regardless, this is a game no RPG fan should miss. If you've not played Final Fantasy VI yet, then prepare to witness Final Fantasy at its very best, as well as a game that stands toe-to-toe with some of the greatest games out there today.
+ Great characters and a great story
+ Sharp, attractive, 16-bit visuals and detailed art design
+ Some of the best music you'll ever hear in a JRPG
- Transitions from field to battle (and status screen) are a little too slow
Overall: 9 (out of 10)
If you haven't played Final Fantasy VI, you're going to have to turn in your RPG fan card. No fan of the series or of JRPGs in general should miss this classic.
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