<–Final Fantasy V Final Fantasy VII–>
This is the part of a long-term project to play and review/analyze all the Final Fantasy games. Whenever possible, I will play the original version, but in cases where it’s not available and/or there are time constraints, I’ll use a port and/or watch a Let’s Play, both of which contingencies will be indicated in the review. Ideally, I will attempt to play a portion so that I can remark more accurately on the gameplay experience. These will be long-form reviews with detailed plot analyses, so please be wary if you do not want spoilers.
Author’s Note: This took me over two years to write and edit, and it’s over 25k words, which I think is way too long for one post. I love longform reviews, but I find them difficult to read in one sitting, so I’ve broken this up into parts with links to each.
Final Fantasy VI was my first Final Fantasy, and like the game narratives themselves, one could say I began them in media res. When I first saw the ending at age fourteen, it was so joyful and full of promise the excess (at least for a time) rubbed off on me. While I hold up Final Fantasy VII as my pinnacle narrative, that’s (partially) because I revel in grief. Before that and other tragedies, FFVI represents what could have been. Trauma muddles your memory, especially when what comes to pass happens around the time your age changes, and Final Fantasy VI makes a sharp, almost mocking, delineation dividing childhood and forced maturity, a line between hope and despair.
Final Fantasy VI was released on April 2, 1994 in Japan and later in that year on October 11 in North America. Like the prior Final Fantasy IV, which was marketed as Final Fantasy II in the US, FFVI was initially numbered Final Fantasy III for its Super NES release. It was the first game to be directed by someone other than Hironobu Sakaguchi who shared writing credits with one of the new directors Yoshinori Kitase. Of course Nobuo Uematsu returned as the composer, later stating that FFVI was his favorite in the franchise. This was also the game that introduced me to Yoshitaka Amano’s transcendent art, which will be featured in this review.
What makes Final Fantasy VI stand out is not only its multitudinous array of characters, but the fact that each of them is well developed. There are a host of films with ensemble casts that don’t do half so well. While the video game medium has its differences to that of movies, I’ve played other games with large casts where the devs didn’t bother to create enough background for any of them (sorry Chrono Cross). While FFVI does give you the choice of whom you want to bring along (with some caveats), each character has their own unique personality, motivations, and secrets that might be revealed depending on what situation you put them in.
With that in mind, lets get to a part I could easily describe in my sleep and that’s the…
Final Fantasy VI employs a similar setup to the prior games in the series with a top-down world map and turn-based combat.
Battles are random on the overworld and in dungeon type areas (e.g. caves, forests, etc.), but unlike its direct predecessor and more like Final Fantasy IV, each character in VI has a special skill only they can use. Locke Cole (whose sprite is featured above) calls himself a “treasure hunter,” but as his special skill is Steal, you can surmise that’s a euphemism for something else. The eleven other mandatory characters (and two optional ones in the game’s second part) are the same. Each lends a particular skill to the mix that could be crucial to winning either a decisive battle or a random one…at least in the beginning.
Like Final Fantasy V, FFVI has an Active Time Battle (ATB) meter and a four party limit, which works out perfectly for their similar level of difficulty. This is not to say Final Fantasy VI didn’t offer its share of challenges (especially in situations where a character is on their own), but a full party should forestall any Game Over screens unless levels are too low or a new area is accessed too quickly. There are times when grinding is necessary, but this is less often for levels and more for magic.
While there aren’t explicitly named character classes, they do exist as certain party members can equip certain gear and have different abilities. The type of equipment a character can use is conveniently indicated at the weapon and armor stores located in each town.
If the character is in “victory” mode, they can equip the item. An “E” means it’s already equipped; an up arrow means it’s better than what they have on, and a down arrow means it’s worse. This system includes all the characters, even ones not currently in the party. Since four is the limit, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to buy everyone individual gear, though there are a few scenarios where multiple parties are in play, or characters need to be unequipped prior to decisive moments (which is why saving before entering anywhere new is important).
FFVI has an additional battle element in the relic system. Relics are items with their own special store and menu option.
They have a variety of functions to either enhance certain stats or protect your characters from status effects. There are a few that can only be used by certain people e.g. Locke and the Thief Glove, which allows him to attack AND steal at the same time (changing Steal to Mug for those familiar with Final Fantasy VIII), and there’s another relic that raises his rate of steal success. One of the best relics is the Genji Glove, which lets a character equip two weapons at a time, sacrificing some defense for lack of a shield. The person will then attack with both hands, increasing damage. Later on there’s another relic called the Offering that lets them attack twice with both weapons, and combining those allows them to “offer” everything its ass on a silver platter.
Only two relics can be used at a time, but some have “party” effects like the Sprint Shoes, which cause whatever character sprite you have on point to move faster through towns and dungeons, though not on the world map.
Like Final Fantasies before and after, the magic system of FFVI is intricately tied into the greater narrative. For now I’m just going to talk about how it works in terms of gameplay and save the overarching implications for the Story Synopsis section.
Magic is (mostly) learned through Magicite shed by Espers, and each one holds a variety of different spells with some overlap between and an AP multiplier for each.
Each AP point after a battler will net you whatever it is times 10 towards Bolt, times 2 for Bolt 2, and times 5 for Poison. Locke would also get a Stamina boost at level up. Some spells take longer to master than others such as Drain, which has no multiplier and therefore requires grinding for 100 ability points.
Only one person can use one Esper at a time, and each one can also be summoned for the MP cost below.
Some characters (like Terra above) start out with a spell or two and can learn others at specific level gains. As the game progresses and Espers are obtained, everyone can eventually learn every spell. Once every Esper is obtained and all magic is learned, the characters’ unique abilities become less important. Granted, there are quite a few games in the series (and beyond) where leveling up enough will render attacks overpowered, but in Final Fantasy VI it comes off as more egregious due to non-differentiation.
There’s a great review by RamblePak64 that perfectly sums this up.
The later homogeneity doesn’t take too much away, because similar to the Sphere Grid of Final Fantasy X, character customization or optimization is entirely up to the player. Characters still retain their unique ability throughout the game, and these skills also lend useful purpose to our next section, the Story Synopsis, which can be found in Part 2.