Final Fantasy VI2020-10-06
For the longest time, I always considered this game one of my favorites, despite never finishing. I started it for the very first time on emulator somewhere around 2002 or 2003? I started it a number of times since then, but never finished it nor usually ever made it to the World of Ruin.
But the other day, I finally finished it! Now I feel like I can say with certainty that it's one of my favorite games, if not my favorite game of all time.
There will be FULL SPOILERS for EVERYTHING.
It ain't perfect
So before I start heaping praise upon praise on this game, I really want to make sure I account for the problems with this game.
The SNES version of this game launched with some horrible, game-breaking bugs.
The most infamous, is the Sketch Bug, where using Relm's
could cause the game to crash at best or corrupt your save at worst.
A smaller bug that still heavily impacts gameplay, is that the
just doesn't mean anything. Instead,
MBlock% (your chance of evading magic
attacks) controls both magic evasion and normal evasion. It's also very easy
to max out
MBlock%, which on an unpatched version makes you virtually
invincible in many cases.
The English translation is notoriously bad. It's not just bad in the sense that there are outdated references, or that perhaps some characterization doesn't match the original dialog, but in some cases the dialog is outright incorrect. It does have some unique characterization though, a lot of which has been brought into other games (more on that later).
One of the other big problems with this game is how unbalanced the characters
are. Each character has different base stats, and one unique ability that
they're able to use in addition to
Magic. The problem here
though, is that
Magic is far, far better than pretty much any ability late
game, and many of the abilities suck. Some of the worst offenders:
Sketchuses an enemy's ability against it...although oftentimes enemies are resistant to their own abilities. It also tends to be pretty weak. Relm is honestly only saved by her monster magic stat.
Runicprevents any magic from being cast, and converts it into MP for Celes. While it's good early game, late-game you should be casting too much magic for it to be useful anymore. Celes is saved by having some of the best equipment and being one of the best magic casters.
Loreis essentially blue magic. I love blue magic in FF games, but unfortunately Strago's stats suck, and also
Lores have wildly marked up MP costs compared to basic spells. It ends up not being worthwhile to use most
Lores late-game, at least in my experience (the exception here being Mighty Guard).
Bushido/SwdTechis a skill where you wait while a bar slowly fills up, and then it performs an attack based on how long you let it fill up. The abilities are never anything too special, and it takes way too long to actually charge the bar up meaningfully.
Slotsis a slot game. The attack depends on what the slots land on, and if you don't make a match, you get an incredibly weak MT heal on the party.
Danceperforms random attacks based on the dance you select. Most of these aren't great for much of the game? I honestly just found the most utility just equipping Mog with spears and the two
The others are mostly passable, but ideally I'd love to see a theoretical version of this game with much better balanced versions of these special abilities, and perhaps slightly nerfed magic to make sure that specials keep being relevant late-game.
So onto all the ways that this game is great!
I think one of the things that folks tend to remember about this game are all 14 (ok well you know the 12 important ones) characters. Despite them not having enough time for full arcs, they mostly have mini-arcs but also clear characterization, even in the English version.
One of the more interesting decisions is that FFVI is not intended to have one main character? I know growing up, I always considered Locke the main character, since he was the first man that joined the party, and young me hadn't yet understood the idea that women can be protags too. Now after completing it, I definitely feel like Celes is closer to being something like a main protag, since she's one of the three required characters at the end, and she undergoes the most character growth.
Celes starts her story as a general of the evil empire that serves as the Big Bad for the World of Balance. Locke rescues her, but when they rejoin the party, there's this great scene where, as the party meets her, they all interrogate her as to her true motives. Once they begin to trust her more, they end up finding out that her dad is a researcher for the Empire, and the Big Bad lies to the group that Celes has been working for them the whole time.
After the World of Ruin, Celes ends up on an island taking care of her father, Cid, and he most likely dies (more on that in a bit). Celes ends up trying to commit suicide, before going on an adventure to round up all of her friends. And it's wonderful to see them all reunite in a ruined world, and the slow reunion kind of highlights how they've grown to respect and care about Celes throughout the story.
Celes was definitely the main character I was most invested in, especially throughout the World of Ruin. The whole of the island scenes really makes the despair of the World of Ruin feel truly palpable. You see someone who starts off as a fairly strong character get understandably broken by the end of the world and the death of her father, and that really moved me. That really made me feel like things in the World of Ruin were truly hopeless.
Terra is another one of the main-ish characters that's worth a mention. You start off as her, enslaved by Kefka and torching people in a neutral city to retrieve an Esper. Terra ends up being able to speak with the Esper, and her resonance with the Esper is what ends up kicking off the whole tale.
She reluctantly joins the Returners, a group fighting against the Gestahlian Empire. As the game progresses, she discovers that she ends up being the child of an Esper and a human, stolen by the Empire to be turned into a weapon. She feels a kinship with the Espers who are being kidnapped and murdered by the Empire, and that kinship is what ends up driving her to fight against them.
One of the things that I really thought the game did a good job of conveying is Terra's sense of empathy and her role as a caretaker. One of the first ways that we see this, is the first time she morphs into her Esper form. She flies away out of control, and ends up confronting a child, before flying away again. When your party encounters and talks to the child, he makes it clear that Terra had kind eyes, and it was clear to him that she wasn't going to hurt him, despite how his parents had feared for his life.
Later, we see this in how she seems to feel so deeply for the Espers in captivity in the Magitek Research Facility. Seeing them trapped in tubes is clearly heartbreaking for her, moreso because she knows that she's essentially one of them.
Finally, in the World of Ruin, Celes discovers that Terra saved all of the children of Mobliz before it was destroyed, and is now raising...all of them. The kids adore her, calling her Mama Terra, and are greatly saddened when you eventually take her away to help save the world.
Kefka is the most memorable character though. He's this sadistically evil clown that's mad with power, and he has an absolutely dope theme song. Kefka's rise to power and his worsening sadism is one of the stand-out points of this game. Kefka transforms from a character that wanted to ascend the ranks of the Gestahl Empire to a being whose thirst for power was unquenchable.
At the start of the game, Kefka is a high-ranking general in Gestahl's army, leading a batallion of troops to Figaro Castle to interrogate the king about hiding Terra, who had escaped from the Empire's clutches earlier. However, the king is less than helpful, Kefka throws a bit of a tantrum and light's Figaro castle, ostensibly an ally of the empire until that point, on fire. When Figaro Castle submerges itself into the dessert, Kefka utters one of his most famous, incorrectly translated, lines: "Son of a submariner!".
Some time later, Sabin and Shadow happen upon Kefka at a Gestahlian camp laying siege to Doma Castle. He shows up to the camp telling General Leo that the Emperor is calling him away on other business (an outright lie). Leo leaves, warning Kefka not to do anything evil, and Kefka promptly orders that the moat surrounding the castle be poisoned. Wildly, I guess that Doma's moat is their primary water supply, since shortly after, everyone but Cyan drops dead from poison, leading to a quick end to the siege of Doma.
Towards the midpoint of the game, Gestahl tricks your party and General Leo in getting Espers to meet the Empire in a neutral town for a ceasefire. Kefka shows up, purportedly on Gestahl's orders, murders General Leo, murders all of the Espers and burns the town, killing most of the folks living there.
In the transition from the WoB to the WoR, Kefka takes a turn in that he stops working for the Emperor, and instead betrays the Emperor in pursuit of becoming a God and destroying the world. Once a God, Kefka destroys towns seemingly at random, out of what appears to be hatred for humankind.
These scenes, as well as a few others that I've left out, really had an effect of me. They cemented Kefka in my mind as unabashedly evil, and his lightheartedness in perpetrating these acts always made all of these things far more disquieting. His horrifying actions always felt like they gave the main quest urgency and real consequences. They also served as the most memorable moments in the game for me, stuff that stuck with me throughout childhood and well into adulthood.
One of the weaker parts of his character is that there doesn't appear to be any motivation for his ascent to power. The best we get comes from some optional dialog in a random town, where someone in a tavern mentions that Kefka was the first Magitek knight and had suffered severe brain damage as a result. Honestly, I don't love that justification and wish that Kefka's backstory had been expanded on in a meaningful way.
Characterization in general
I think one of the more interesting things that this game does is the general case of how you learn about characters' backstories. The game almost never forces you to learn about most of the characters. There are a few cases, like with Celes and her dad, where through playing the main game, they do character development. In the character sections above, there are even clear examples. Without talking to a random NPC in a tavern, you'd never find out how Kefka became unhinged. Without talking to that random child, you'd never discover that Terra had that moment as an Esper with a child. Without discovering the hidden orphanage in the wreckage of Mobliz, you'd never realize that Terra had adopted a horde of small children.
There are more extreme examples of this type of storytelling, one of them being Gau. Gau is a child that you discover on the Veldt, that joins your party when you toss him some meat. If you avoid talking to random NPCs, that's quite literally all you know about him. He undergoes no character development; at most you're treated to some fun scenes where Gau calls Cyan "Mr. Thou" because of his speech patterns.
However, if you talk to some NPCs in Mobliz, you find out that a neglectful old man had a mental break, confused his child for a monster and threw him out into the Veldt. Later in the game, when you get an airship, you can even find this old man, and lead Gau to him. If you do so, you get a cutscene where your party tries its best to dress Gau up in a fancy suit and reintroduce him to his father. It starts off touching, but when it becomes clear that his father is never going to remember him, Gau backs off saddened, but at least secure in the knowledge that his father is safe.
That's a really cool scene! But it's trivially missable! I have very mixed feelings about this approach, but I think one of the strongest arguments for it is that these scenes feel more earned, in a way. When you think to bring Gau to see that random old man speaking nonsense in a hut, it feels like you're getting rewarded with backstory for making that connection. It feels much less like the game is forcing its narrative upon you, and instead that it's letting you discover its narrative.
It's also one of the things that I think makes different people's playthroughs of this game unique. Not everyone is going to uncover the same parts of the characers' backstories, and that breeds discussion and commentary, which I think is pretty cool.
At the same time, if any of my friends play this game, I wonder how much of these sidestories they'll actually discover. It's almost sad that they may not get the same experience with the characters of FFVI that I did. I love these characters, I enjoyed their stories and I want my friends to be able to enjoy them as well.
This game is one of the most ambitious games that I've played on the Super Nintendo, and honestly I think that that is both positive and negative. Really the only negative is that they crafted characters and a world that I wanted to see more of. There are 14 characters in this game, and 12 of them have some degree of backstory...and unfortunately there's not enough time or space on the cartridge to flesh all 12 of these characters out enough as well as handle the story.
The story feels a lot more high stakes than a lot of Final Fantasy games that I've played. The world ends in this game. Whole towns are destroyed. Arguably the whole merged world situation from FFV seems like it should be more destructive, but it doesn't seem to have the impact that Kefka creating the world of ruin does. Compared to the merging of worlds in FFV, so many more people clearly die from Kefka creating the world of ruin.
FFVII seems to have similarly high stakes, since the end of the world is also on the table in that game, but Sephiroth isn't successful with his plan. In FFVI you're cleaning up a world destroyed, whereas in many other FF's you're trying to prevent it.
Once you're in the World of Ruin, everything seems incredibly bleak. Like I said, Celes tries to commit suicide. The overworld music has gone from traditional jrpg fare to a sad, almost dirge-like tune. When you get to towns, you see people living in absolute ruin. People talk about the deaths of their families and friends. Characters that you did quests for in the WoB are now dead, ultimately because you failed to save them and their world. You failed, and you are feeling the full effects of it. Now, instead of you and your friends working together to save the world, you're alone. You're alone and you feel it. And when you start off, you're just hoping your friends have survived and you're trying to find them.
This tonal shift is also accompanied by a change in the gameplay. The first half of the game was a typical, linear jrpg. However, once we switch to the World of Ruin, the rails are gone. You can go anywhere as you try to find out if your friends even survived. Before, you had not just a goal, but you were told where to go and how to achieve it, by either the folks in your party or NPCs. Once the world ends, you're not just alone in the sense that your party members are gone, you're also alone in the sense that nobody is telling you what to do anymore. You just have to figure it out on your own.
From here, the game turns into much more of an open-world affair. You can go anywhere, you can get your party members in any order and there's actually very little that the game forces you to do in terms of progression. One popular FFVI run that I learned about during this playthrough is called a CES run, where you only get Celes, Edgar and Setzer (the required characters) and complete the game.
One of the wildest parts of all this is that the World of Ruin only happened because FFVI was ahead of schedule, and the devs decided on a whim to add it. I cannot even imagine this game without the World of Ruin; it wouldn't have had nearly the emotional impact without it.
Honestly, for the time, opening up a jrpg like this was quite a departure from the rest of the gaming landscape. Sidequests were of course pretty common, but making whole swathes of what's conceivably the story was markedly different from other popular jrpgs of the time. Even in other FF games of the time, when you got your airship, there'd still be a clear quest-line you would have to follow that was still very linear.
One thing that struck me as particularly unique about FFVI was the types of choice that the game presented you with, and how it can directly impact the gameplay experience you have.
When we talk about choice in video games, it's oftentimes the bs Mass Effect Paragon/Renegade dialog-tree-based system: NPC says thing, you can reply in a certain way that adds or removes points on some kind of purity meter.
FFVI goes about presenting options to the player in an incredibly different way. Honestly, it doesn't really present them at all.
There are very few major choices that you can make that affect the story. I think there are only two? There are only two that I'm going to discuss here anyway.
Shadow is a merc that, in the WoB, will join your party for a fee and will leave when the mood suits him. We also see him work for the Empire in parts of the WoB, reinforcing that he's the type that'd slit his mama's throat for a nickel. However, we see him change throughout the story, and develop affection for some of the characters in your party, particularly relating to both Terra and Relm.
Once we get to the Floating Continent, we see that Shadow has been tossed aside by the Empire and that they even tried to have him killed. Shadow rejoins your party throughout the Floating Continent, and fights on your side for the remainder of the game, or his life.
Right as the world begins to end, Shadow says that he's going to distract Kefka while the others escape, and to wait up before jumping on the airship and fleeing. However, when he says, "wait up," he means it. As you race against the clock towards the airship, if you don't wait until quite literally the last second before jumping on the airship, Shadow dies as the world ends.
What I like about this, is that the signal to the player is subtle. It's a real thing that Shadow asks, and the game doesn't break the 4th wall in any way to let you know that not waiting will result in Shadow dying. It's even makes sense to think that if you get into the airship early, you'll just see Shadow run and jump aboard regardless of what you do.
If you do end up killing Shadow, the game doesn't even really tell you that you could've prevented his death. Imagine killing Shadow, not realizing you could save him, and then chatting with a friend that did save him. I like that the subtlety of this choice very likely prompted these types of conversations, as well as wonder as to what else could've been a choice.
Another big consequence of this choice is that you end up missing out on the majority of Shadow's backstory. You get some bits of it in the World of Balance, but a lot of it is discovered in the WoR. Killing him cuts out that whole storyline.
When we start in the World of Ruin, we play as Celes sharing a cottage with a sick Cid. To stop him from dying, you need to go down to the beach, catch some fish and feed them to Cid. The catch though, is that not all fish help equally, and it's timed. There's no timer on-screen, his condition just quietly gets worse.
If you don't have the running shoes equipped, and you don't already know which fish are better for Cid, it's very likely that he'll die. Any of the times I played without a guide, I never was able to save him. On this playthrough, I could've saved him, but I decided to let him die on purpose, because I think Celes' arc is so much more powerful with the death of her father.
While this choice doesn't have gameplay implications like letting Shadow die, it does heavily change the tone of Celes' story. If you don't save Cid, Celes tries to commit suicide and only regains the will to live by finding Locke's headband - a sign that he might still be out there and alive. You find a note from Cid about a raft he's been working on, and you set out to find your friends.
If you do save him, well, Cid just tells you about the raft he built and sends you on your way. I don't really like this route, since it's much more satisfying to see Celes pull herself together from the edge of utter despair.
Both of these choices profoundly change the tone of the story, and the game never hits you over the head with them. There's no little ding, there's no meter tracking your morality and most importantly, it's very possible to play through the game not recognizing that either scenario could've played out any differently.
One of the more unique types of magic that frequently recurs in FF games is blue magic. Blue magic allows you to learn some of the attacks of your enemies, although the mechanics vary significantly from game to game. However, where this game differs from previous (and as far as I'm aware, subsequent) entries, is that there are essentially 3 different types of blue magic: Lores, Sketch and Rages.
Lores are Strago's special skill, and function like blue magic does in previous entries in the series. To learn a new spell, Strago has to witness an enemy casting it while not being impaired by certain status elements. After he's seen an enemy use a magic attack, he can use it from then on.
Like I mentioned earlier though, these kind of suck unfortunately. The big problem isn't that any of the actual skills suck, in fact many of the spells are traditional FF blue magic spells, but it's that they cost tons of MP compared to the traditional white, black and grey magic and tend to have worse damage output or effects as well. Since late-game FFVI is all about maximizing damage output through magic casting, blue magic just doesn't make sense in the magic economy. If Strago had a better magic stat and/or if the MP cost of blue magic was reduced, it could've had a much larger role in the game.
Sketch is Relm's special skill, and it just executes one of the enemy's specific skills against it. As I mentioned before, this does unfortunately have the massive drawback of the enemy often resisting its Sketch move. Relm also has the opposite problem of Strago, in that her magic stat is super high, so using Sketch instead of casting high-powered magic almost never makes sense.
Rages are Gau's skill, and they're one of the best in the game. So far, of the FF games that I've played (FF4-8, FF10 and FF15), there hasn't been any other ability like it. I guess there are technically skills with the word "Rage" in them, but they have always functioned like traditional blue magic, rather than Gau's Rage.
With Rage, you pick an enemy and cede control of Gau completely. Gau then adopts a limited version of that enemy's moveset, as well as their resistances and weaknesses for the rest of the battle. To actually acquire these Rages, you have to go to the Veldt, an area where every enemy you've ever encountered will spawn, and use another Gau skill called "Leap" on the enemy party. Gau will leave your party for a couple of battles, and will come back with the Rage of all of the enemies in that encounter.
For background, blue magic in all FF games is generally limited to roughly 10-30 spells, depending on the game. But remember, I said that every enemy appears on the Veldt. That's right...pretty much every enemy, and even some bosses, are available to you as Rages. That ends up being roughly 250 different Rages that you can learn. There are (incredibly necessary) guides that cover this topic in great detail.
This provides an incredible amount of flexibility, and the payoffs of learning the system well actually turn out to be worth it, making Gau one of the better characters throughout the game. Really the only downside is that it's difficult to organically understand all of the Rages and their trade-offs, since there are so many, and their various trade-offs aren't always clear without a guide. Learning how to milk the Rage system ended up being one of the more fun parts of my most recent play-through.
Notably, FFVI is the first game that featured the mechanic that turned into Limit Breaks! It's hinted at in the Beginner's house, which serves as kind of the in-game manual for new players. One of the people there says to "try using the Fight command when you're low on health." What that practically means, is that there's a chance that if you attack at low health, you'll execute a unique, powerful move that sometimes will also yield instant death to an enemy.
Here's a quick video exhibition, since it's kinda cool to see. I didn't encounter any of these in my playthrough, unfortunately.
In terms of setting, FFVI was the first game that really pushed the fusion of the industrial and more traditionally magical settings that are familiar in more modern entries of Final Fantasy.
FFVI has a number of towns all in different stages of development. There's the highly-industrialized Vector, which serves as the location of the high tech Magitek Research Facility as well as the seat of the Empire. In this area, homes are made of brick and steel, and the brutalist fortress housing the Emperor towers over the populace. Vector seems very much like a scaled down version of Midgar in FFVII, in a way. It's the center of not just power, but also technology.
Contrast this to a town like Mobliz or Thamasa. These towns are very similar to towns you'd encounter in FFV or earlier, where there are a few simple homes and shops, but no real industry.
FFVI slaps. I'm not sure that these posts will ever have a real conclusion. I also didn't really plan this out, so there's not really a point to this post, other than expressing some of the aspects of this game that really caught my attention.
My hottest take on this game is that FFVI walked so that FFVII could run. Honestly, this game feels in many ways like a spiritual predecessor (and I guess it's also the literal predecessor) to FFVII. Many ideas, like the hybridization of magic and tech, the technology capitol being the seat of authoritarian power, the unhinged, sadistic general disobeying orders to become the Big Bad after spend their early life as a science experiment. It seems like FFVII fleshed out and refined a lot of the ideas that FFVI had developed.
Despite this, my biggest dream would be for FFVI to get the FFVII:Remake treatment. I'd love an opportunity to revisit this world and to see how the developers would expand upon the environment and the characters with more time. I'd love to see Vector, Narshe and Figaro get the HD treatment. I'd love to see an update to the battle system that gave some of the worse characters more opportunity. The biggest problem that FFVI has in my eyes, is that I'm left wanting more, and I'm left wanting to see what developers today could do with the framework that it built on the SNES. Hopefully someday, I'll get my wish.