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Throwback Bit Thursday: Final Fantasy VI

Today’s throwback is none other than the legendary Final Fantasy VI. For about half a decade, the game was known as Final Fantasy III on the west, as Squaresoft had bypassed Final Fantasy II, III, and V in the US.

Released in 1994, the Super Nintendo Japanese role-playing game has become one of the more beloved entries in the series. How beloved? Many fans believe it is the greatest Final Fantasy game that has ever been made.

Fan boy wars on forums usually pit the FFVI camp, against the FFVII camp, in angry verbal altercations that  many times start as educated discussions, but end in violent verbal conflict. This was true in the late 90’s, and it remains so until this day. Final Fantasy VI is a regular mainstay at the top three spots of all time Final Fantasy games lists everywhere.

The game’s popularity on the west, actually took Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi by surprise, as the game didn’t sell that well on SNES.  In a US Gamer interview, had Sakaguchi dispelling the misconception that the game had found success on the West (but had struggled in Japan),

“In terms of numbers, Final Fantasy VI didn’t sell in the States. It actually did very well in Japan. I’m mystified, because I see Americans are playing the mobile version. I think size of the characters really matters to an American audience, so from Final Fantasy VII onward, we used bigger characters. I think that’s why Final Fantasy VII took off. But I am kind of mystified by VI’s current popularity in the West, because Americans didn’t buy Final Fantasy VI back then.” – Hironobu Sakaguchi

This is interesting, mainly because the game in some forums is second in popularity only to FFVII (which is the greatest selling FF title of all time). But the game has received numerous ports, and conversions after Final Fantasy VII drove the genre into the mainstream video gaming market.

So, it is likely many of gamers got to play the game on their Gameboy Advance, and their PlayStation 1. Perhaps, many newer gamers have been able to enjoy the classic in one of the newer mobile platforms, or even through emulation on PC. Whatever the case, FFVI has reached the level of popularity that it deserved when it originally launched in the subsequent years and decades after its SNES debut.

Taking Final Fantasy into a new direction

Some fans wrongly credit Final Fantasy VII with ‘modernizing’ the series. The popular 7th iteration of the series plays just like its predecessor. It is in truth, Final Fantasy VI that deserves the credit.

With FFVI, Squaresoft ditched the Sword and Sorcery themes that were common in the series’ first five entries.  Instead we were given one of the most artistically unique settings that the genre has seen.

Magic is mixed with technology in a society that is constantly threatened by a MagiTek empire bent on world domination. A dark Steampunk setting provides the backdrop for a melodramatic plot that includes a cast of heroes composed of 14 members, in which each possesses his or her own intricacies, and  back story.

It was somewhat revolutionary on the SNES, a system populated by high selling platformers and 2-D action games, that a game like FFVI would broach a wide gamut of mature subjects.  Death, Love, and Suicide are themes  that are strongly represented in the game.

Iconic Final Fantasy VI opera scene
The famous Opera Scene.

A dark world filled with despair, brought about by the machinations of a sadistic villain, made FFVI an refreshing entry, not only in the FF series, but in the genre itself.

The game is also divided into two chunks. A story driven first act, took the party into a linear (but magnificent) ride, in which Squaresoft (despite the awful translation) demonstrated its mastery over the genre in ways that most other developers could only dream of at the time.

And a second act, after the world is destroyed by the villain, that flipped the typical JRPG script, and instead gave the player near total freedom to explore the world, and in order to hunt down cast members to strengthen the party for the final showdown with Kefka.

Again, it was a jarring change, even if FFVI is considered a standard traditional JRPG (which it is), it introduced elements to the genre that were uncommon at the time.

The Cinematic RPG Before The Cinematic RPG

Perhaps FFVI’s most important legacy comes in the form of its amazing presentation. Truly, Lunar did more in a sense (and years earlier), by introducing cutscenes, and voice acting. Lunar, however, had the advantage of utilizing Sega CD’s Disc format to achieve its more modernized presentation.

Squaresoft didn’t have such an advantage, and instead had to work around the constraints of the cartridge based medium, and SNES. Under such restrictions then, FFVI was equally, if not more impressive in its own way.

One only needs to watch the opening scene, with the Terra, and the other two soldier in MagiTek armor as they make their way into Narshe. The combination of Pseudo 3-D graphics in Mode 7, and with the incredible musical score made that entry scene, one of the most iconic and cinematic moments in video gaming history.

FF6 intro
Final Fantasy VI is an iconic title, and it has an equally iconic introductory scene.

Final Fantasy VI, continues that same cinematic approach to its story telling (though in normal 2-D graphical style as opposed to mode 7) through its lengthy run time.

The game did a good job in playing with the gamer’s imagination. I remember Celes opera scene, as a powerful and dramatic moment, even when at a simple glance all that is seen is her sprite moving around the background accompanied by a synthesized voice effect giving the impression that she is actually singing.

The scene has to be seen in realtime to be believed. It was perhaps one of the first introductions that gaming had into real-time in game cutscenes.

While we are on the musical subject, the SNES has two titles that are above every other game of the 16-bit era in terms of music: Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI. Out of the two legends, FFVI has the more epic score.

“Aria di Mezzo Carattere” is by far, in my opinion, Uematsu’s greatest work.

When I think of Final Fantasy VI today, I specifically think of art. In terms of visual design, and musical compositions, it is perhaps the greatest RPG that has ever been made. While I prefer FFVII’s story over its own, and FFIX’s over all polish and charm, there is no denying that FFVI’s world remains an alluring place after all of these years.

A Game Worthy of a Remake

While Square is busy remaking FFVII, into some thing that might end up being an entirely different thing, I would love to see a smaller team craft a newer, more fleshed out version of FFVI. It doesn’t have to be a multimillion dollar, decade long undertaking, it can be something akin to Bravely Default (which some of us prefer to FFVIIR).

For now, FFVI, even in its original state, remains a dark and engrossing adventure, with a sense of art, and spirit of a bygone era. A spirit that Square/Enix has failed to capture in the past two decades.

Our 2004 review of Final Fantasy VI.

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By Samuel Rivera

Avid Video Game player, and Book Reader. Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.

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