By Pat R.


American Cover

Japanese Cover

Final Fantasy VI

Well, here we are at last. Final Fantasy VI. The first of the big two, and pretty much my single favorite video game of all time. Where do I begin? What can I say about it that I haven't already said before? Better question: what can I say about it that somebody else hasn't said before?

What's immediately so striking about Final Fantasy VI is how much darker it is than its predecessors. It was certainly lost on me the first time I played back in 1995, but after playing through the rest of the series (in order) beforehand, this stark change in tone is especially prominent. Final Fantasy III begins with adorable orphans lost in a cave, IV introduces itself more or less like an anime would, and V's exposition is a fantasy hodgepodge of dragons, pirates, chocobos, incognito princesses, crystals, meteors, goblins, and an almost vexingly peppy soundtrack. Final Fantasy VI opens with a tolling bell, foreboding strings, and a prologue set against dire images describing a fledgling civilization on the verge of reducing itself to ashes through another nuclear magical holocaust. Less than a minute into the game, Square is already telling us it's serious this time.

As we've already gone over, Final Fantasy IV's claim to fame was pushing the envelope in terms of what a video game could accomplish as a mode of storytelling. Final Fantasy V redirected its focus to gameplay, fine-tuning the series' tried-and-true battle and character progression mechanics, and was overall a much smaller step forward. Final Fantasy VI, however, is another massive stride. While it builds upon V by introducing even more ways to customize and fine-tune your party, VI is most commonly lauded for the same reasons as IV: the story it tells and the characters it introduces.


Characters!
Before I move onto the usual role call, an anecdote: a couple of years back, a bunch of people and I did an article for SMPS about each of our twenty-five favorite video games. Final Fantasy VI was, of course, at the top of my list. Months after writing it, it came up in a conversation between a friend and me. "I'm not sure. Maybe I should have put the first Final Fantasy as number one instead," I told him.

"No way. I agree with everything you said about it." He then admitted, "when I was thirteen, the characters in that game were more real to me than my teachers and everyone I knew at school." After thinking about it, I realized that this was, more or less, true for me as well. ("That is touchingly pathetic..." -- Futurama)

But here's the question: is Final Fantasy VI's cast really all that -- or is our attachment to these totally imaginary characters the result of our exposure to them at an extremely sensitive and impressionable age coupled with nostalgia's propensity for embellishment? Hm!



Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

THE HEROES

TERRA BRANFORD / TINA BRANFORD
Magitek Knight

Enter the obligatory a.) exotic mystery girl wearing a curious pendant b.) amnesiac who turns out to be really important. Terra has spent most of her young life as a research subject and imperial biological weapon. After a failed reconnaissance mission to Narshe, she makes contact with an Esper and breaks free of the empire's control. Terra's plot revolves around her coming to terms with her own identity and trying to discover her place in the world. A simplified explanation of her special ability, Morph - or "Trance," depending on how persnickety you are - is that it makes even the nastiest bosses die before you can say "terminated."

High Point: Those moments of tension when Terra's "kids" don't recognize her morphed form and are terrified of her.
Low Point: Those moments afterwards. Children are our future, we must work together for a better tomorrow, blabbity blah. I was half expecting Sting to make a very special guest appearance with a fourth-wall breaking monologue about climate change and AIDS.


LOCKE COLE / LOCK COLE
Adventurer

Purists insist on dropping the "e" from his name, but I think naming Final Fantasy VI's closest equivalent to an archetypical JRPG hero after an Enlightenment philosopher who believed in the innate goodness of humankind is another point for Woolsey. At first, Locke comes across as your garden variety video game do-gooder - rescuing girls in distress, standing up against the forces of evil despite impossible odds, outwitting a whole city full of enemies, etc. - but then it's revealed that Locke has something of a complex from being unable to rescue his old girlfriend Rachel from a freak accident. Locke is a decent party member, but you probably insisted on making him into a tank because he was the first male character you got and you renamed him after yourself. Admit it.

High Point: His obsession with damsels in distress. Every time he saves or protects Celes or Terra, he's actually thinking about Rachel. Plus, I PREFER THE TERM "TREASURE HUNTING!" Man, I miss the Woolsey days.
Low Point: Can't resolve his storyline without a magicite plot device. Oh well.


EDGAR RONI FIGARO
Machinist

Consummate engineer and feckless ladies' man, the king of Figaro aids the anti-imperial cause with his technological expertise and kingdom's resources. Edgar is a very busy man. When he's not running his country or hitting on anything with ovaries that happens to cross his line of vision, he's donning a Jason mask and murdering things with a chainsaw. I love JRPG logic: Edgar and Locke go into hysterics when they see Terra using magic in battle for the first time, but nobody so much as blinks whenever Edgar puts on that hockey mask and saws some poor sap's legs off for an instant-kill.

High Point: It's hard not to like the guy. Edgar's an idealistic leader who's totally dedicated to his people and not afraid to get his own hands dirty. If Edgar ran for President, I'd vote for him.
Low Point: If Edgar ran for President, you can bet his opponents' smear campaign would be centered around his womanizing. [Insert Bill Clinton joke here.] To Edgar's credit, though, his cupiditas makes him more believable and less of a goody two-(dimensional) shoes. So really, I guess it doesn't quite qualify as a low point then. Hmm.


SABIN RENE FIGARO / MASH RENE FIGARO
Monk

While Edgar was blessed with brains, his twin brother Sabin got the greater share of strength and pluck. After his father's death at the hands of the Empire ten years ago, he abandoned Figaro to live in the mountains training as a warrior monk. Now, ten years later, he reunites with Edgar to assist in the Returners' struggle against the Empire. Thanks to his high strength and absurdly powerful Blitz attacks, Sabin is also one of the most broken characters in the game. Bum Rush just isn't fair.

High Point: Sabin's storyline peaks early on, during the buddy comedy escapade in which he plays Chris Tucker and Cyan plays Jackie Chan.
Low Point: He gets pretty boring afterwards, aside from the occasional comic relief comment.


SHADOW
Assassin

Shadow is my favorite Final Fantasy character of all time. Period. With the exceptions of maybe Kain or Cloud, no other character in the series has been conceptualized or developed nearly as well as the man once known as Clyde Arrowny. Whenever the laconic Shadow opens his mouth, it's usually to say "leave me alone." He almost never talks about himself, and he never becomes particularly close with any of the other characters. The only living thing he trusts or cares about is his dog Interceptor. So sure, Shadow does a good job playing the token mysterious bad-ass, but for the first half of the game or so, it's really nothing that hasn't been done elsewhere. But then his estranged daughter Relm steps into the picture. Yes, Shadow is Relm's father. Just because the game never mentions it explicitly doesn't mean there's any room for doubt. That their relationship is so ambiguous and so downplayed is a rare and commemorable feat for a JRPG, a storytelling medium rarely noted for its subtlety.

High Point: Don't get me started. The original version of the previous paragraph was twice as long as it is now.
Low Point: I just now found out he was designed by Nomura. I think I need to lie down.


CELES CHERE
Runic Knight

Technologically infused with magic as an infant and raised to be a Magitek knight, the young Celes quickly rose through the ranks to become one of the empire's top generals. But Gestahl's greed and Kefka's cruelty compels her to have a change of heart, and Celes attemps to defect. She is imprisoned and awaiting execution when Locke passes by and busts her out of jail. From then on, she is on the Returners' side. Celes represents a step up for Final Fantasy heroines, if not JRPG females in general. Previously, if you were a woman in Final Fantasy game, you were either a.) a magic user whose strength of spirit compensates for her relative physical weakness b.) a sassy tomboy/crossdresser whom the hero overlooks in favor of a or c.) a magical loli. Celes doesn't quite fit under any of these, and while she isn't exactly a gleaming pillar of feminine strength in a male-dominated genre, at least she's evidence of progress..

High Point: The scene on the solitary island. You know which one I'm talking about. It's a shame the SNES version glossed it over the way it did, but come on - it's not like it wasn't obvious what was really happening there.
Low Point: Okay. So like...if Celes is a hardened femme fatale imperial general, why does she fall apart when some candy-ass thief from the boonies isn't around to "protect" her? (To answer my own question: because the player probably named Locke after himself.)


CYAN GARAMONDE / CAYENNE GARAMONDE
Samurai

One of the world's finest swordsmen, Cyan served as the retainer to the king of Doma until the Empire attacked the kingdom for supporting the Returners. Kefka decided to cut the siege short by dumping poison into the fortress's water supply, thus wiping out most of Doma's entire population. Though Cyan survived, he could only watch helplessly as his king, his wife, his son, and his countrymen died in agony. He joins the anti-imperial cause because he has nowhere else to go and nothing else to live for. He is one of Final Fantasy VI's most compelling and tragic characters, eclipsed only by Shadow.

High Point: They couldn't possibly have picked a better theme for Cyan. It perfectly encapsulates his nobility, tragedy, and exoticism. And here's something I never knew about until this playthrough: towards the end of the "Cyan's nightmare" sidequest, before you fight Wrexsoul, a short cutscene occurs if you visit his family's quarters. It's nothing more than a glimpse at one of Cyan's memories of his wife and son, but it's arguably one of the most touching moments in the game.
Low Point: The appeal of Cyan's character is diminished by the fact that he's next to worthless as a party member. Seriously, if real samurai were anything like Cyan, it's no wonder they died out. YOU'LL ALL BE SORRY IN FOUR MINUTES WHEN I CHANNEL ENOUGH CHI POWER TO UNLEASH MY LEVEL EIGHT SUPER HYPER OH GOSH I'VE JUST BEEN SHOT FIFTY TIMES IN THE FACE.


GAU
Wild Child

Gau is a feral teenager living on the wild, untamed plains of the Veldt. Though his uncivilized manners and broken speech might give the impression that he is somewhat dim, that he managed to survive and grow up in such an inhospitable place indicate a great degree of giftedness and cunning. He befriends Sabin and Cyan and assists them on their journey to Narshe, then sticks around just for the hell of it. His special abilities, Rage and Leap, make him a triple hybrid of the old Berserker, Trainer, and Blue Mage jobs. Even so, he's probably about as useless as Cyan.

High Point: His reunion with his father is another example of the increasing level of sophistication in video game storytelling. Not all endings can be happy ones.
Low Point: I'M GAU! I'M YOUR FRIEND! LET'S TRAVEL TOGETHER! I'M GAU! I'M YOUR FRIEND! LET'S TRAVEL TOGETHER! I'M GAU! I'M YOUR FRIEND! LET'S TRAVEL TOGETHER! I'M GAU! I'M YOUR FRIEND! LET'S TRAVEL TOGETHER! I'M GAU! I'M YOUR FRIEND! LET'S TRAVEL TOGETHER!


SETZER GABBIANI
Gambler

Known as the "Wandering Gambler," Setzer is a wealthy vagabond who travels the world on his airship and enjoys a life free of cares and responsibilities. Knowing that they need an airship to reach the southern continent where the Empire's capital city is located, Locke and Celes successfully hatch a scheme to trick Setzer into kidnapping Celes, who then sneaks the rest of the party onto the airship. Setzer is irritated at being duped, but then finds himself captivated by Celes. They agree to bet on a coin toss: if Setzer wins, Celes marries him; if Celes wins, he lends the Returners his airship and his assistance. Celes tricks him a second time by fixing the outcome, and the duly impressed Setzer is more than eager to hold up his side of the bargain. His special abilities include Slot, Coin Toss, and being exclusively able to equip a slew of nasty throwing weapons.

High Point: I just like the cut of his jib. Setzer views his siding with the anti-imperial cause as gambling his life, which he puts on the line as casually as he would a poker chip. Cool.
Low Point: Kingdom Hearts II.


STRAGO MAGUS / STRAGUS MAGUS
Blue Mage

An elderly monster hunter from Thamasa, a solitary village where natural magic-users live in isolation from an outside world that has long distrusted their special abilities. Strago is well versed in legend and lore, not to mention an accomplished mage. His sole reason for living is Relm, a young girl he adopted as his granddaughter after her mother (a friend of Strago's) died and her father skipped town. When Strago learns the cataclysmic aims of Geshtahl and Kefka's ambitions, he joins the Returners in order to prevent the thousand-year old catastrophe from repeating itself.

High point: Hmmm. Here's an interesting idea somebody brought up: does Strago recognize Shadow and Interceptor when the party arrives in Thamasa for the first time? Watch the scene again.
Low point: Strago appears late into the first half of the game, so he doesn't have that much time to BS with the rest of the party - which is where the bulk of character development occurs in games like this. And months after the world was saved and the heroes went their separate ways, Setzer still couldn't get the old man smell out of the Falcon.


RELM ARROWNY
Loli Pictomancer

As a Half-Thamasian, Relm's capacity for magic manifests itself through her artistic abilities. Not only is she a prodigy when it comes to painting, her "Sketch" skill allows her magically create mirror images of living beings to attack their originals. She also has an alternate "Control" command allowing her to temporarily seize and, well, control an enemy. This makes Relm an updated version of Final Fantasy V's Trainer job, but her real usefulness is in her obscenely high Magic Power stat. Relm's storyline focuses on her relationships with Strago, Thamasa, and Interceptor (who protects Relm if Shadow is allowed to perish).

High Point: So interesting - Relm and Shadow are such important parts of the other's story, and the two never actually speak to one another.
Low Point: Interceptor + Relm hentai. It exists.


MOG
Moogle

Final Fantasy VI is the first game in the series to contain hidden optional party members, and Mog is probably the first you'll come across. He's also the first (and best) playable Moogle in the series. The terrain-based effects of his "Dance" skill make him a cross between Final Fantasy V's Dancer and Geomancer jobs, except moogle moogle moogle. God I love moogles.

High point: Being a moogle.
Higher point: Being a dancing moogle.



UMARO
Sasquatch

Final Fantasy VI's take on the Berserker job is a beefy, cave-dwelling sasquatch who takes orders from his moogle buddies. Umaro doesn't have a lot to say and it's impossible to control him in battle, but any party member who inflicts the big damage by punting Mog at villains is okay in my book.

High point: Equip on Sasquatch, and...
Low point: Unnnh...





GOGO
Mimic

Hmm. He's (or she's?) much more human-looking than in his appearance as a secret boss in Final Fantasy V, and he hangs out in the belly of a voracious worm-like behemoth. There's not much to say about Gogo, really. He's able to use any other party member's special abilities, but has low stats that can't be augmented because he's unable to equip magicite. Back in the days before Gamefaqs and the Internet took the mystery out of video games, Gogo was the subject of some pretty interesting rumors.

High Point: Gogo's true identity is Adlai Stevenson.
Low Point: Gogo's true identity is Geshtahl/Daryll/Rydia/etc.


ALLIES

MOOGLES

KU-MOTHERFUCKING-PO.


BANON

The head of the Returners, an underground organization dedicated to resisting the Empire. He's sort of like a cross between Hilda and Minh from Final Fantasy II, and is real good at getting his ass killed by Ultros.


CID

Final Fantasy VI has an older scientist guy named Cid who builds airships Magitek equipment. Whoa, talk about a curveball! Nobody knows why he wears a raincoat indoors.


GENERAL LEO

One of Gestahl's top-ranking generals, Leo is an unusual figure in the imperial forces in that he refused a Magitek infusion and actually has some integrity. You get to control him in exactly one (1) battle. His special "Shock" command makes him the single biggest badass in all of 2-D Final Fantasy.


ESPERS


Final Fantasy's summon monsters take on a more prominent role in the sixth installment's story than ever before. After the War of the Magi came to its cataclysmic conclusion, the Espers packed their bags, moved into an isolated realm behind a sealed gate, and took the power of Magic with them. For the past millennium or so they've stayed put - until Gestahl and his soldiers forced their way through the sealed gate and captured a handful of them. By combining the Espers' leeched magical powers with advanced machinery, the Empire developed the Magitek technology which has thus far made it an unstoppable conquering force.



Knowing that they won't stand a chance at resisting the Empire without a means of countering Magitek, Banon and the Returners try to use Terra to get the help of the Espers themselves. More than anyone else, the Espers don't want to see a second War of the Magi, and they are readily willing to forfeit their own lives to ensure that the mistakes of history are not repeated.


VILLAINS

IMPERIAL FORCES

The technologically-advanced armies of Emperor Geshtahl are the main antagonists for the first half of Final Fantasy VI. Like their predecessors in Final Fantasy II, the imperial forces make their presence felt - attacking the heroes at every turn, occupying towns, restricting access to certain locations, and generally making a big nuisance of themselves. Fortunately, even with their Magitek armor and machinery, these guys are far less threatening than the "game over if you talk to me" imperial soldiers from Final Fantasy II.


VARGAS

Duncan's son and Sabin's spiteful rival. Early throwaway boss. Let's move along.


ULTROS

I take it back. Shadow is the second best character in the game and series. The inexplicable Gilgamesh was a hit in Final Fantasy V, so Square came up with an even more nonsensical recurring boss to harass the good guys in Final Fantasy VI. But unlike Gilgamesh, who was the second-in-command of the main villain and had at least some relevance to the story, Ultros is evidently just a talking octopus who just really, really doesn't like the heroes (except for maybe Terra, but we're venturing into H-territory here) for some reason. And instead of having a change of heart and nobly sacrificing himself to save the heroes towards the end of the game, Ultros's ultimate fate is to spend the rest of his life working as a receptionist (g'fa ha ha!) at the Dragon's Neck Coliseum to pay off his tremendous debts.


TYPHON

Or "Chupon" if you played the original English translation. In Final Fantasy V, Gilgamesh had a sidekick named Enkidu, which was a nod to the actual Gilgamesh epic, in which the king of Uruk (Gilgamesh) was befriended by a wild man raised by animals (Enkidu). His spiritual successor in Final Fantasy VI also has a myth-borrowed companion. "Ultros" is actually a mistranslation of "Orthos," a two-headed dog from Greek myth. Orthos's father was a gigantic snake-like beast named Typhon. (How a dog and snake monster got transformed into an octopus and a two-headed something with bad sinuses is anybody's guess.) Interestingly enough, Orthos's mother was a subterranean half-nymph named Enchidna, which would explain where the Final Fantasy III dark crystal guardian comes from.


ATMA WEAPON

"Ultima Weapon." Right. Whatever. "Atma" just sounds cooler. The term Ultima Weapon actually refers to two different relics from the War of the Magi. The first is a lightsaber-like blade whose power depends on the life force of its holder; the second is the monstrosity you see above, a living weapon bred for mass destruction. This is the first instance of an Ultima/Ultimate/Weapon boss in the series, and while it's not quite as nasty as some of its future incarnations, this beast means business. He is the endboss of the game's first act, and enjoys hanging around the Floating Continent, talking smack, and blasting your already-weary party with atomic energy attacks. In the second half of the game, another version of the beast appears in Kefka's tower. (The Woolsey translation simply calls it "Atma," while it's "Ultima Buster" in the Japanese and GBA versions.) The fight is usually much less scary than the one with its brother, but it's interesting because it opens with one of the coolest and most enigmatic speeches in the entire series:


Two things about that.

1.) You fight Atma in Kefka's old prison cell. I am trying very hard not to overanalyze this.
2.) Conversation between my friend Dave and me as he watched me play:

D: "...So what's the answer?"
P: "Uh, he never says. He just tries to kill me."
[Long silence]


HUMBABA AND DOOM GAZE

Or Phunbaba and Deathgaze. Take your pick. These two are a pair of ancient demons who are released when Kefka, in the fashion of all Final Fantasy villains, mucks around with some mystical forces he really should have left alone. Humbaba (named after a monster from the Gilgamesh epic) is a wandering behemoth who stomps through the blasted wastelands, murking the hell out of who or whatever he comes across. Doom Gaze, meanwhile, is the only monster in the game who randomly picks fights with you when you're in the airship. It's a very bad idea to board the Falcon with a party whose levels are multiples of five. Believe me, I had to learn this the hard way.


SIEGFRIED AND MAGI MASTER

Final Fantasy V introduced the concept of optional super bosses who were only worth beating for the sake of bragging rights, but Final Fantasy VI sorta drops the ball in this regard. I guess these two are the closest you're gonna get to a Shinryuu or an Omega in Final Fantasy VI, unless you pick up the GBA version. The Magi Master challenges you at the top of the Fanatics' Tower, and he's none too happy to find a bunch of punks trying to make off with Kefka's treasure. This fight is not an easy one. You are only able to use the Magic and Item commands in battle, and the Magi Master responds to virtually every attack with WallChange. To make matters worse, the guy's a sore loser too. The fight with Siegfried is even more unreasonable. He can only be challenged in the Coliseum, which means that you don't even fight him in the conventional sense: you pick one character to go mano e mano with Siegfried in a duel you have absolutely no control over. Ick. The only way I've ever been able to pull it off is by leveling up Edgar, decking him out in full Imp gear with the Dragoon Boots and Dragon Horn relics before casting Imp on him, and then praying and resetting the game a whole lot.


THE STATUES


Woolsey calls them "the Goddess Statues," the English GBA version calls them "the Warring Triad," and they're simply "the Warring Gods" in Japanese. The Empire's Magitek technology is derived from the magical powers of the Espers. But the Espers' magic has a power source itself: enter the Statues, fallen gods whose very existence gives birth to magic. They were originally three feuding deities whose differences escalated into the planet-shattering War of the Magi. They created the first Espers by blessing certain humans with portions of their powers and forcing them to fight against each other. Eventually, the gods came to their senses and agreed to end the conflict once and for all by turning themselves to stone.



Each statue represents one of the primary three spell types in Final Fantasy. Demon (Poltergeist in the Woolsey translation) rules over fire; Fiend (Doom in the Woolsey version) controls Ice, and Goddess represents lightning. Each statue's power neutralizes another's. If they are ever moved out of alignment, the balance would shatter, and a planetary-scale disaster would ensue - which is why the Espers took them into their hidden realm for safekeeping.


EMPEROR GESTAHL

In a JRPG tradition borrowed from Star Wars, empires are always evil. Final Fantasy VI's is no exception, and at its head is this treacherous old fart. When the game opens, Gestahl already has about a third of the planet under his control, and his imperial reach only continues expanding. At first, Gestahl is quite content with commanding an army of magically-enhanced soldiers and machines, but is later enticed (possibly by Kefka) to seek to increase his personal magical powers by collecting Magicite and taking control of the Statues. He is more despicable by far than any Final Fantasy villain we've met thus far, and I smile every time I watch his unceremonious (and much-deserved) demise.


KEFKA

Even with a cast as likable and extensive as Final Fantasy VI's, Kefka still manages to steal the show. Up until this installment, most of the series' main antagonists have been all-powerful wizards or demigods. In most cases, they either introduced themselves fairly early on and demonstrated that they were way out of the good guys' league (Golbez, Exdeath) or were only fought towards the end of the adventure, after demonstrating their influence and power by throwing horde upon horde of demons at you or occasionally vaporizing a town or two (the Emperor, Zande). Kefka, on the other hand, starts off as a gofer for Emperor Gesthal, trudging through the desert and whining that he hates his job. Since his first encounter with the heroes ends with him throwing a humiliated tantrum, Kefka might even trick you into thinking he's just a comic relief villain like Gilgamesh. But even though Kefka is introduced as a laughingstock, by the second half of the game, nobody's laughing anymore. (Well, except for him, of course.) What's neat about Kefka is that he isn't an ancient wizard, he's not descended from an advanced race of lunar humanoids, he's not an evil tree, and he's not possessed by dark spirits. He's just a human being - a manipulative, sadistic, power-hungry man. As the Final Fantasy series becomes more sophisticated, its villains become more realistic.


History has already selected Sephiroth as the definitive Final Fantasy villain, but this grumpy old fan begs to differ. What does Kefka have over everyone's favorite silver-haired mama's boy, you ask? Well...

1.) Kefka racks up a much higher body count. And even if he doesn't shock the world by impaling an attractive female party member, he claims quite a number of high-profile victims.

2.) Sephiroth had everything in place. His plan was foolproof. There was nothing he didn't have going for him - and he still screwed it up. Kefka, on the other hand...

3.) Here's how it usually plays out in Final Fantasy: the villain gets carried away and tampers with some archaic power or another, and is eventually destroyed and/or controlled by said power. The Emperor and Exdeath were both devoured and possessed by the forces they sought to possess. Zande was being manipulated by the Cloud of Darkness all along. Final Fantasy VII suggests that Jenova is the one pulling Sephiroth's strings. But Kekfa is always in charge. He's nobody's clown. He gets the best of his boss, masters the Statues, and rules the world like an insane death-god, and all for the sheer fun of it.


COOL PLACES AND SCENES

The Intro


When you first turn on the system, the first thing you hear is a foreboding organ, as the screen scrolls down through thick, stormy clouds, eventually revealing the logo. When you begin the game, the opening credits feature three mechs - known as Magitek Armor - trodding through the snow, with a particular somber yet enchanting melody. These same theme is featured at least a few times through the game, as it acts as both the overworld song and Terra's theme.

Terra is one of the girls in these mechs, although her name initially shows up as question marks. She contains immense power, the living result of experiments done to amplify her power far beyond her nimrod compatriots - who, despite piloting these walking monstrosities, manage to get themselves wasted within the first twenty minutes of the game. They were soldiers of the (naturally evil) Empire and had attempted to unleash the power of an Esper hidden in the mines of Narshe. They tried and died. These Espers, also, contain immense power, and are thus of great interest to the Empire.

After passing out and having vague flashbacks of her torturous past, Terra awakens in the arms of Locke, a thief and a member of a rebel group known as the Returners. The Empire is soon knocking on his door, looking for their lost weapon of mass destruction, so Locke aids her escape. After recruiting the help of Edgar, the prince of a local kingdom who is also none to fond of the Empire, the group eventually convinces Terra to aid them their fight.

Both sides, it seems, sees Terra has a huge asset to their causes. She can use magic, which is apparently unheard of in this world. As we learn, she is part Esper, another race that had been kicked out of the human's world because that's just what humans do. The Empire is attempting to capture Espers and use their powers to dominate the world, which is a sinister plan that clearly must be stopped. And so, the crusade truly begins - one which, as detailed above, ultimately ends in failure.

The Phantom Train


There's also the Phantom Train, which apparently transports mortals over to the other side, and somehow your still living characters have climbed aboard. Most of the ghosts here will attack you. A few will actually join you - these guys have an ability called Possess which will sacrifice themselves to immediately kill one enemy. At a later point, the ghosts will stop attacking momentarily to serve you some grub in the dunner cart. The whole scene tragically ends when Cyan watches the the train deliver his murdered wife and son to the underworld...but not before you've fought a totally absurd battle where you're being chased by the haunted train itself. You're running along the tracks at, apparently, the same speed as the train, so it can never catch up to you. You can use Sabin's power to lift the locomotive into the sky and suplex it into ground, and it keeps on running. Not long later, your characters decide to hop down a waterfall and fight bad guys in mid-air as you plummet towards the ground. There's no time limit - you simply land gracefully once you've successfully killed the boss.

The Opera


The Opera is about a young woman who's in love with a soldier named Draco, who's fighting battles far, far away. As Celes takes the stage, she sings of longing for him, complete with a synthesized voice in place of the lyrics. It's almost astounding how good it sounds, despite being completely artificial, to the point where your mind can interpret it as close to real singing. What's more, you almost find yourself briefly caring about Draco and Maria's plight, despite having absolutely no bearing on the plot as hand. This is, again, mostly the music's fault. The whole scene was turned into a real twenty-two (GET LENGTH) opera which can be found on a few different CDs, including on the arranged Grand Finale CD, featuring the lyrics sung in Italian.

Anyway, during these scenes, about the most you need to do to succeed is memorize the script, since you're given a few options during the scene. At one point, Celes needs to walk up to the balcony and toss a bouquet off into the sky. If you don't walk fast enough, the director yells at you for being too slow, and you "lose" the scene. If you don't screwed up, then everything goes as planned, Celes is kidnapped, and Setzer joins your cause.

Zozo


And then there's the creepy town of Zozo, a city where it's perpetually raining, and the music sounds a bit like something from the Addams Family. In climbing the skyscrapers of this mad city, you meet people marching in line, none of whom are particular hostile, but I'm not sure if the game ever gave an explanation as to what the hell they were doing. When you stop and talk to any of the few townspeople that aren't lying collapsed on the ground (for reasons also unexplained), they start spewing half-nonsense about clocks (which as it turns out, are clues to get the Chainsaw weapon. Which I wholly recommend doing!) Once you get to the end of an area, you meet a strange man blocking your both, who politely remarks about how much he hates to fight and then launches into an attack anyway. His sprite is an enlarged kung-fu dude who appears to be suspended in a midair jump kick. He mostly sits backs, heals himself, and casts protective spells, while summoning minions to do his dirty work. Zozo is still the coolest town in any RPG ever.

The Battle Against Kefka


The Magitech Factory


The Floating Continent


The absolute pinnacle of Final Fantasy VI - and, as such, the pinnacle of Japanese role playing - occurs when the heroes, which are your standard Final Fantasy character types, fight their way through a huge dungeon called The Floating Continent. It's a pretty tough level, and if you're not sufficiently leveled up, it'll probably kick your ass. As such, it feels like a final area, completely with vicious bosses (here dubbed "Weapons") with their own unique battle themes. Your goal, ultimately, is to defeat Kefka. Except, you can't.

The bad guy wins. The dungeon ends with your heroes running with their tails between their legs, desperately fleeing for their lives. Right before the final escape, one of the alternate party members, a ninja named Shadow, seems stranded. Do you jeopardize your own lives to try to save him? If you don't, your heroes jump to safety, and Shadows sits helplessly as the Floating Continent collapses beneath him. There are no long, drawn out, dramatic death sequences, or even much mourning. He's dead, and you will never see him for the rest of the game.

The World of Ruin


After the end of the world, as it were, your party members scatters. The story refocuses after an undetermined (??) amount of time, focusing on the young soldier Celes. As one might expect, the land after the apocalypse is not a pretty place. All of the lush green scenery from early in the game has been transformed into a scarred wasteland. Random battles occur, and enemies die on their own before they can even attack.

The Suicide


In the World of Ruin, Celes' only companion, a sickly scientist named Cid, seems on his last legs. Troubled, she brings herself to a cliff, momentarily ponders, then tosses herself off. Now, everyone who's experienced this part knows it tugs at the heartstrings, but try to view this from, again, an outsider's perspective. You are essentially watching a small animated sprite, with an exaggerated head and two dots for eyes, whose only real forms of expressions include sadness (looking down at the ground) and excitement (hopping in place madly), try to commit suicide. Someone merely watching the game might shrug their shoulders that something so minor might provoke a response. You, at this point, might even be shocked at how much they actually care about a little computer person.

The Final Battle


After Kefka's devious taunting, your party members face off against three forms of Kekfa - the last being some sort of angel that undoubtedly inspired Sephiroth's final form in FFVII.

ESPERS~!
Summon monsters are nothing new to Final Fantasy, but Final Fantasy VI is the first time an entire game practically revolves around them.


COOLEST-LOOKING SUMMON SPELL
Alexander (Justice)

To borrow a term from Grandia, I think "BA-BOOM!" would be a more appropriate name for Alexander's gigantic pearl-elemental attack. Er, holy. I meant holy!
















MOST USEFUL SUMMON SPELL
Palidor (Sonic Dive)

Indispensible if you plan on tackling the game at lower party levels. So you know that boss is winding up for that massive attack, and there's no way your party's gonna be able to survive it. (I'm looking at you, Magi Master and Goddess.) What's the best solution? Simple: don't be there for it. Dragoons stopped appearing in Final Fantasy because Palidor put them out of work. True story.




MOST USEFUL SPELL LIST
Ragnarok (Ultima: x 1)

Ragnarok teaches you Ultima and nothing else. One of my biggest beefs with Final Fantasy VI is that if at least two of your party members know Ultima, then you've practically already beaten the game.







BEST-DRESSED
Siren

She goes pantless in the Japanese and Final Fantasy Anthology versions, but she's covered up in the American Nintendo releases If you're not totally outraged by this unforgivable act of prudish, puritanical American censorship and don't think it renders the SNES and GBA versions completely unplayable, THEN YOU SIR ARE NO TRUE FAN. GOOD DAY




BEST MAKEOVER
Golem

He transforms from a midget made of rocks in Final Fantasy V to a sleeker, steam-powered midget in Final Fantasy VI. I think halfway through the game the developers forgot they were going for a steampunk vibe, and hurriedly revamped Golem to compensate.



BEST DEBUT
Stray

Okay, okay, so Stray isn't really that cool or useful. But since his Japanese (and GBA retranslation) name is Cait Sith, he's the only Final Fantasy summon monster ever to cross over and become a party member in a later game.


MOST INTERESTING JP/NA NAME CHANGE
Crusader

When Final Fantasy VI Advance came to the states, most of the Esper names that Woolsey had changed were reversed. Stray became Cait Sith. Tritoch became Valigarmanda. Shoat became Catoblepas. Jihad, however, stayed Crusader. Bet you can't guess why!




MOST DUBIOUS STAND-IN
Bismark

Great. We go from Leviathan, the tsunami-flinging sea serpent of justice, to a magical flying whale with a dimwitted smirk across his face. I hope he runs afoul of a Japanese fishing vessel.


JOB SYSTEMS AND CHARACTER ADVANCEMENT

Final Fantasy V was the last game directed by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, and this time, the reins were passed to Yoshinori Kitase, who did away with a bunch of other series conventions. Crystals? Yeah, they're kinda sorta there (in the form of the magicite), but they're not quite as important to the main plot. Similarly, most of the important job classes have been ditched. There are many similar abilities and characters - Locke is a thief, complete with a steal command, Strago is a Blue Mage, and Mog is basically a Geomancer - but most of the characters are otherwise pretty unique. Sabin has powerful Blitz attacks - instead of selecting them from a menu, they're executed by Street Fighter-esque button commands. Screw them up and he loses a turn. Cyan has SwdTech attacks, which require that you wait for a power meter to charge (all while enemies are attacking) in order to administer various kinds of punishment. Setzer has a gambling command that determines attacks based on how well you can play the slots. Relm can Sketch any enemy character on the battlefield and use their attacks against them. Gau is a variation on the Blue Mage, who learns even more enemy abilities by visiting a certain area of the game called "The Veldt". Some of these skills have appeared in later Final Fantasy games (variations of the Blitz manuever are found with Zell in FFVIII and Auron in FFX), but most of them here are totally unique to FFVI.

Various other skills - like the ability to run fast (a Thief ability from FFV), protect wounded allies (a Knight ability) and Jump commands (the Dragoon power) are enabled by equipping relics, which can be bought in stores or obtained in rare spots throughout the game. One of the most useful is the Moogle Charm, which will completely eliminate random battles while equipped. Since this is obtained in the second half of the game, it makes the subquests go by a lot quicker. Each character can equip up to two Relics, further enabling more customization options. All in all, there aren't quite as many skills as FFV, but they did choose most of the important ones. There are no more traps or damage tiles, and hidden paths are few, so many of the Thief and Geomancer skills are useless.

Most of the special abilities help make fights consist of more than just hitting "Fight" over and over, they also speed them up quite a bit. If Square had done things right, every Final Fantasy game after this should've included a character with Edgar's "Tools" command, because not only will most of his weapons attack all enemies at once, but you can use them ad infinitum, without worrying about running out. This was the problem with magic attacks in a lot of Final Fantasy games - your characters were rarely given enough MP to fully experiment with magic, but here, you can use most of the powerful attacks at your leisure. The unfortunate downside is that they're not always balanced, resulting in a game that, in general, is a bit on the easy side - which is why many of these abilities are only found as "limit break" type moves in later games.

Functionally, these skills aren't all that special - most of them are just some kind of powerful attack, sometimes spread across multiple enemies. What's important here is how these attacks are executed. For nearly all of the characters, you could just simply select it from a menu. But these little mini-tasks keep battles more engaging by requiring that the players does more than simply hitting Fight over and over. This alone makes fights a little bit more interesting, even if the novelty eventually wears off.

But it's just as important from a storytelling standpoint, as each of the character's personalities are reflected in the kinds of attacks they've executed. Cyan's SwdTech requires that you wait several seconds to charge up attacks, which reflects his persona as patient and stoic warrior. Sabin, while not having a particularly strong personality, is occasionally represented as a bit of a meathead. ("Why is everyone singing?" he quips at the opera, a line which still makes me smile every time, for reasons I really can't explain.) As such, his attacks are incredibly powerful, as denoted by his muscular stature - but they're unpredictable, seeing as how you can't target individual foes, and the success of a move is determined by button presses, the fighting game equivalent of brute force, rather than strategy. Setzer doesn't require much of an explanation - when you convince him to join your party, his response is basically "Why the hell not? Nothing to lose but my life." He's a man on the edge, just like his Slot machine ability, which, if you screw up, can possibly attack your own party. This same device was used in Final Fantasy IV (Cecil's life draining attack as a Dark Knight, Edward's Hide attack showing his cowardice), but they're much more expanded here, and a bit more interesting.

ERAU QSSI DLRO WEHT

Final Fantasy VI marks a stage in which it had become apparent that video games were evolving into a medium, and not just a product. SquareSoft had shown with Final Fantasy IV that a game could be used to tell a coherent and engaging story. Secret of Mana was quite possibly the most aesthetically rich video game to date at the time of its release. Final Fantasy V raised the bar for gameplay depth in a JRPG. In Final Fantasy VI, all of these elements are combined, refined and unleashed as a perfect 16-bit storm.

What's most remarkable about Final Fantasy VI, I think, isn't that it's one of the first console games in which the gameplay is almost completely eclipsed by the characters, story, and atmosphere (which is true) - it's that the gameplay is nothing short of fantastic, and the story still manages to outshine it. Today this might not be so surprising, but let's put this in perspective: do you think the guy who invented Pac-Man saw that coming? That he ever suspected that for the video games of the 21st century, the silly cutscenes between levels would be main selling point? For that matter, do you suppose Sakaguchi ever wondered while designing the original Final Fantasy if the monster battles and dungeon crawls might become less important to future players than the Light Warriors' imaginary personal lives?

The problem with JRPGs now is that they haven't come much farther since then. As a film, Nosferatu would have a hard time standing up to something like The Shining - but it's understandable. There were fifty-eight years of technology advancements, directorial innovations, and filming techniques between the two. But in almost fourteen years, three console generations, and thousands of video games later, Final Fantasy VI is arguably still the standard for what a solid character and story-driven JRPG should be, and that's a dismal sign. Games like BioShock, Rez, and Shadow of the Colossus are excellent examples of progress being made in video games as a medium, but there's been nothing at all as groundbreaking and innovative in the JRPG sphere lately. Xenosaga dropped the ball. Kingdom Hearts II was a joke. Shadow Hearts began as a throwback to 16 and 32-bit JRPGs, but then became just as predictable and cluttered as the rest of its 128-bit contemporaries. And .hack//G.U. is the very embodiment of all that's wrong with the genre today. (Admittedly, I haven't played any of the Shin Megami Tensei games, so maybe they're doing something right.) 16-bit JRPGs struck a nearly perfect balance between of innovation and familiarity, presentation and gameplay, and action and story.

On the plot: Final Fantasy VI isn't the best story ever told. Not by a longshot. If you want something truly epic, go to the bookstore and pick up some Homer or Tolstoy. The Iliad/Odyssey and War and Peace are inherently better stories because that's what they are. Final Fantasy VI is a game with a story, and its greatest accomplishment is blending the two together so well. But if you hold Final Fantasy VI's story up to, say, A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens is always gonna come out on top. There's just no contest whatsoever.

Perhaps another problem is that people today are expecting too much from JRPGs. The technology is improved. The graphics are hyperreal and beautiful. Cutscenes have evolved to high-budget cinematic presentations. From a technical perspective, virtually anything is possible. But the problem is that these are still just games. They are not novels or films, no matter how many elements they borrow from them. The incredibly sophisticated hardware and presentation (not to mention the nostalgia factor) raises expectations to a height that can probably never be reached.

The more a game tries to be a film or a novel, the less of a game it becomes. Conversely, the more it focuses on being a game, the less developed its characters and story become. Would Citizen Kane be a better film if the main character had to amass a party, travel around battling mobsters and robots to find more about Charles Foster Kane's past, and finally had to fight a giant cybernetic Citizen Kane zombie demon in order to discover the truth behind "Rosebud?" And on the reverse, how much fun would Mario Bros. 3 be if Miyamoto had tried to squeeze a Lord of the Rings-scale plot into action? I honestly think it's a safe bet that the same people who whine about Xenosaga being all cutscenes and no action are the same people who complain how Final Fantasy XII's story was disappointing compared to its gameplay. Tough moogles, people. You can't have it both ways. The sad fact is that either JRPG developers need to devise a very different way of doing things, or fans need to lower their expectations (and maybe read a goddamn book once in a while if they need a story fix that badly).



Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

THE MUSIC

Final Fantasy VI's soundtrack is legendary, much of which is attributed to series composer Nobuo Uematsu. I'd argue that while this is definitely his best work, a huge amount of credit goes to the sound programmer, which the opening credits tell me is a guy named Minoru Akao. The SPC sound processor is given extraordinarily amounts of respect, but a lot of that is due to selective memory - for every Square game that sounded amazing, there were dozens of lower quality titles with hollow instruments, awful drums, bland guitars. In Final Fantasy VI, every sound sample - the acoustic guitar plucks, the moody trumpets, the pseudo violins - they all chill your spine. The gorgeous flute in the overworld theme ensures its status as one of the best of its kind. The battle themes aren't quite as memorable as FFIV's, but any qualms against them are immediately cancelled out by the massively epic final battle theme, a three-segment masterwork featuring choir vocals similar to the Opera (again, of quality nearly unheard of for the SNES), which breaks out in a rocking guitar piece similar to FFIV's and V's as you take on Kefka's final form. Like of the rest of the game, FFVI's soundtrack is held up to such high esteem because it's so consistently good - there are very few, if any, bad pieces amongst the fifty or so songs throughout the game.

Much like John Williams, Nobuo Uematsu is a very thematic composer, and every character has their own distinctive melody. Most of them are rearranged and show up in different places -Terra's theme acts as the overworld theme, with various arrangements playing at important plot points, and in the intro, Celes' theme is found in the Opera, and a slower version of the Figaro Castle theme plays whenever Edgar and Sabin reflect on their past. Many other themes are straightforward in representing the character - Locke's is fast, triumphant, and full of adventurous spirit; Cyan's is slow, with a Asian-flavored pan flute distinguishing him from your normal medieval knight cliche.

The solemn themes of the two children - Gau's is carried by a deep cello, with Relm represented by bagpipes - tells of their tragedies before you learn of their lonely pasts. They also contrast with their respective personalities - Gau's hyperactive beast-like attitude, Relm's brattiness - portray the innocence of children disparaged by the real world. Since neither of these characters are as prominent in the main story as the rest of the crew, the music does a lot of expand their presence.

The big triumph of the musical score is right at the end, when each of the character's themes are reprised into an expansive twenty minute medley. The actual cinema, which comprises of watching the characters escape and viewing some Mode 7 pans of the overworld, is ultimately a bit on the boring side. But this musical piece recaps memories of the entire game in this relatively short time span, which should immediately induce pangs of nostalgia, the kind that make you want to start a New Game right after the final credit rolls.

TRANSLATION NERDINESS AHOY

Unlike Final Fantasy II's dreadful SNES translation, this one received much better treatment when it came to the States. For starters, it's actually, you know, comprehensible. Ted Woosley's script has come under fire by certain Japanese purists, stating how so much depth of character is lost, and how Woosley made it too silly, and it totally didn't match the tone of the game. Yeah, they're talking about the same game where your characters just out of an airship and fight bad guys in midair. Woosley's script isn't always precisely literal to the original Japanese, but that's okay. Due to space constraints (English writing takes up much more space than Japanese), some of the sentences needed to be cut short and simplified, but it's astounding how well done it was otherwise.

For example? When Edgar, Locke and Terra escape from Kefka's grasp at the beginning of the game, he yells "Son of a Submariner!" at them. In Japanese, he squeals and yells (literally translated) "Damn! I'll definitely get back at you!" ("Hiiii, kusso! Kono kari wa kanarazu kaeshimasu yo!") The way Kefka talks is a bit odd, since he tends to use somewhat more polite speech than your average gruff and tough villain, all the while still sounding threatening. As a result, he sounds particularly crazy. These can't be precisely translated into English, so Woosley decided to give him some vaguely comical lines while still portraying him as threatening. The methods may be different, but the general idea is more or less the same, and the shows that the translator actually knows what they're doing.

There are other little bits of amusement - when you talk to Kefka's soldiers as they set Figaro Castle ablaze, they give a Beavis and Butthead-style laugh and go "Heh, heh, fire!" Although the purists tend to look down upon pop culture references, it still fits the situation even if you're not familiar with the MTV duo, and it's a lot more interesting than the Japanese. (Literally: "Burn and die.") And you know that one part in South Figaro where Locke tuffles with a merchant, yelling "Call me a treasure hunter or I'll rip your lungs out!"? His line in Japanese is simply "Call me a treasure hunter!". In general, there's a lot more personality added to the dialogue, which a literal translation completely misses. In spite of these, some of these purists were so disturbed by the original translation that they rewrote a new version, this time making it more faithful, rehacked with the new writing, and released it as a ROM to play on emulators. As much as I feel bad about decrying a project that was done by fans (and thus, spurred by their own passion without any real compensation), I have to think they were kinda wasting their time.

A lot of the characters' names were changed too, which is a sure way to infuriate RPG nerds. Most of them were pretty good ideas. I like the name Tina, but, as constantly argued, it sounds too "normal" for the type of character she is - while Tina may be exotic in Japanese (there is technically no "ti" sound natively found in the language), Terra is much more exotic and feels more appropriate. Since her name means "earth", it nicely matches the use of her theme as the overworld music. Mash is just kind of stupid sounding, although some people have tried to argue that it could be transliterated as "Matthew". They'd probably be wrong, because the extra long vowel at the end of the normal spell of "Matthew" (Masshuu) is a huge difference between the spell of his actual name ("Masshu"). I'll admit Sabin is still a pretty odd name. I still balk at "Cayenne" being dubbed "Cyan", if only because the color cyan is really kind of wussy, and doesn't really fit his stately personality, but it's closest they could get to the original name while keeping to the six character limit. I also still don't like the name Esper - the Japanese word "Genjuu" translates roughly to "illusionary beast", which sounds dumb in English, but Espers are supposed to have Extra Sensory Perception, hence the name ESPers. Magicite was originally called "maseki" or "magic stone", and the English word is fitting without sounding stupid. Magitek Armor is know simply as "Madou Armor", or "Magic Armor", which is far less cool sounding. Some names are spelled differently. "Kefka" was originally "Cefca" (looks stupid) and "Narche" was originally "Narshe" (same difference). All of the Moogles names in the beginning were changed, except for Mog - in the English version, they're all based on variations of the word Moogle phrase "kupo" (Kupek, Kupok, Kumama), while in the Japanese, they're based off of "Mog" (Moglin, Mogret, Moggie). The "Atma Weapon" was supposed to be "Ultima Weapon", another case where the true spelling wouldn't fit, but at least the spell is still called "Ultima" regardless. In the Japanese version, all of the characters had class names listed on the status screen - these are all gone in the American release.

Ultros the octopus was originally known as Orthros, which is actually the name of a two headed dog in Greek mythology similar to Cerebus - leave it to Japanese RPG designers to totally mangle a reference like this. Later in the SNES American version, Ultros fights alongside an enemy named Chupon - his name is supposed to be Typhon, another Greek figure and father of Orthros. This pairing made even less sense, but again, the references didn't make it through to the English release. No big loss.

Lots of enemy names were changed of course, mostly to fit in the limited character space. So were a bunch of attack names, including Cyan's SwdTechs. (In the Japanese version, you could actually rename them using different kanji.) A few of the changes, like renaming "Holy" to "Pearl", was done at the behest of Nintendo of America. Bars are changed to cafes, and other alcoholic references removed. A boss named "Deathgaze" was renamed "Doom Gaze", despite several references to characters being killed. A few of the scantily clad female monsters - like the Esper Siren or the boss GET NAME in the art house, are covered up. These changes are all pretty silly, but they have practically no impact on the experience overall.

There were a few errors - the soldiers in the beginning are supposed to be named Biggs and Wedge, referencing Star Wars, but "Biggs" was translated as "Vicks", which is actually closer to the original katakana but misses the allusion. "Phoenix Down" is spelled "Fenix Down", which I'm guessing was due to character limit issues (at least, I hope so.) A minor character named "Sigfreid" has his name spelled differently on various occasions. So yeah, there are some minor, minor issues, but nothing to get remotely huffy over.

OTHER VERSIONS
Although Final Fantasy III brought in tons and tons of fans, it really didn't get mainstream attention until Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation, released two years later in 1997. Due to the relative rarity of the cart, combined with high demand, finding a copy of the SNES cartridge became pretty difficult, and it become one of the most sought after games on the system. In the meantime, like all of its predecessors, Square was busy porting all of these games to the Playstation. In 1999, Square released the Final Fantasy Collection in America, a triple disc set that included the PSOne versions of Final Fantasy V (the first time the game was seen officially in English) and Final Fantasy VI, as well as a single CD soundtrack featuring music selections from both games.

The translation used in the Playstation version is almost identical to the SNES version. Minor spelling differences were cleared up (the "Fenix Down" and "Vicks" issues were corrected) and some of the censored monster designs were reinstated, but otherwise, there was little that was improved or fixed from the original release. In fact, it's a lot worse.

Most of the SNES-to-PSOne ports (FFV and Chrono Trigger, in addition to FFVI) suffered from a variety of technical setbacks. Amongst the worst were the constant load times. Instead of the screen pixellating like the SNES game, the screen broke slowly and separated in opposite directions across the screen, which attempted to mask the transition times to the battle. Getting into battle in the SNES version took maybe a second. Here, it takes about five. This was almost vaguely tolerable in the PSOne FFV, but FFVI has it even worse - there's slowdown. Lots of it. Every time a character attacks, it looks like the Playstation is struggling to put the damage totals on the screen. Just what is taxing the system so much? It's not like the graphics or the mathematics are that complicated, but everything moves much slower, to the point where there's significant lag in merely scrolling through menus. There's no way this should've been acceptable - part of FFVI's charm was the speed of the battles, and with that gone? It's a huge detriment.

But the sound got shafted even more. Again, the other PSOne games (save FFIV, which used streamed music recorded from the SNES game) had vague problems with the soundtrack, but this ended up far, far worse. The problem was, whoever did the port (apparently it's by Japanese mystery developer-for-hire TOSE, rather than Square themselves) simply took the musical samples used in the original game and plunked them into the Playstation's sound processor. They sounded fine on the SNES SPC chip - here, the Playstation doesn't handle them right, and some of them sound awful. Most of the soundtracks sounds acceptable, although slightly different than the SNES song. Some are butchered - just listen to the piano in the "Prelude" song in the menu screen. Everything is out of tune. Even the little "pling" sound effect of the cursor is impossibly grating.

So what advantages does the Playstation version have over the original? Not much. Again, like the other PSOne ports, there's an enemy gallery, which is pretty pointless. The CG scenes are far better than the ones featured in FFIV and FFV - they're based off of Yoshitaka Amano's designs, so the Magitek Armor look more like mechanical monsters than the mini-mechs found in game. They show off several key moments of the game, including the launch of Terra and her crew on their journey to Narshe, as well as Locke's rescue of Celes and brief clips of the Opera. While they're nowhere near the quality of FFVII's cinemas, they look okay, and also feature some nice arrangements of the music. But there's still only a few minutes of them - featured in the intro and ending - and their contribution to the package is negligible. Other than some amusing easter eggs - a 2D sprite version of Squall occasionally pops up walking around the bottom of the new "load game" menu screen - there's little reason to bother with this inferior version of Final Fantasy VI. But, hey, it was the first time the game was officially released in Europe. And the Relm sketch bug that was in the early North American cartridges is fixed. I guess those count for something.

Way down the line, in the late months of 2006, Square released Final Fantasy VI ported to the Gameboy Advance. The previous SFC-to-GBA ports received some nicely repainted terrain graphics, which drastically improved the way they looked. Here, the backgrounds were already pretty good, so nothing visually has changed, other than an alteration in contrast to better suit the GBA/DS screen. There's a tiny bit of slowdown in the battles, although nothing nearly as bad as the PSOne version. The music, as expected, has been downgraded a bit, and the transformation isn't quite as elegant as it was in the previous two GBA ports. Still, in spite of the fuzzy instruments samples, again it's remarkably more tolerant than the butchered PSOne game. Some people have claimed the Opera scene sounds better - I'd say it's about the same. Like the previous GBA ports, the character portraits have been added to their dialogue boxes, and a few new ones have been drawn for those who didn't have them previously (Kefka, Cid, Gestahl, and Esper Terra.)

So if the graphics are the same, and the music is kinda sorta worse, what does this actually bring to the table? Well, there are four new espers, which means four new sidequests to get them. These include Cactaur, Gilgamesh, Diabolos and Leviathan. These also teach a few new spells, such a more powerful gravity spell, a water-based spell called Flood, and a stat enhancement magic called Brave, which was introduced in FFXII and merely increases attack power. **There are two new dungeons at the end of the game, one is yet another one of those multi-party affairs. There's the standard omake bestiary and sound test options.**

Unfortunately these bonuses aren't quite as delicious as the "select your characters!" final dungeon in FFIV and extra job classes in FFV. The English version does get a slightly improved translation - without the space constraints imposed by the SNES release, some of the lines have been rewritten to sound a bit better. However, some were also rewritten completely ("Son of a submariner!" becomes "Son of a sandworm!", and in many cases, are more faithful to the Japanese version. (In the SNES version, Edgar remarks that Shadow would "slit his momma's throat for a nickel!", but in the GBA version, he says that he'd "kill his best friend for the right price.", which is closer to the original line.) Overall, the writing is a bit better, although many of the rewrites of classic lines feel totally unnecessary and do rob a bit of the flavor. Most of the enemy names have been restored to their original form, or at least, close approximations. All of the Moogles at the beginning of the game keep their original Japanese names, and the Class titles on the status screen have been restored. All of the major characters (including the main cast, as well as Ultros, Kefka and Gestahl) keep the names from the SNES translation.)

Oddly enough, the GBA release censors a particular scene regarding Celes. At the beginning of the game, when Locke sneaks into South Figaro, he spies on her being interrogated by Empire soldiers. In the original version, she's punched a few times, then collapses as the soldiers leave the room. When Locke runs in to save her, she's in chains. In the censored scene, the soldiers still interrogate her, but don't beat her at all. Before they leave the room, she collapses anyway. When Locke enters, she's still on the floor, no longer bonded to the wall. The reasons for this are the same nebulous reasons why Penelo's kidnapping scene was cut short in the Japanese version of Final Fantasy XII - apparently there was a hostage incident going on in Japan at the time (although the specifics I am not privy to), and Square felt that it would be in bad taste to leave them it. They also feared getting a higher rating by the CERO, the Japanese ratings board, which at that time, had recently revamped its system to be considerably harsher. Unlike FFXII, which had the scene reinstated for overseas release, the revised scene is still found in the American GBA version, although that's probably due to Square being too lazy to reprogram it rather than censorship.

Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

Final Fantasy VI (GBA)

CONCLUSION!
It's a shame that Final Fantasy VII (and Chrono Trigger, to an extent) stole so much of its thunder, because Final Fantasy VI is really a 16-bit masterpiece. It's not perfect (I don't think any games other than maybe Ms. Pac-Man, Legend of Zelda, and the odd-numbered NES Super Mario Bros. games can really make that claim), but everything this game does well more than makes up for its shortcomings. It's the finest JRPG of the 16-bit era, and set the standard for what a JRPG should be expected to do in terms of gameplay, presentation, and story - a standard which, unfortunately, has yet to be revised or surpassed. This game represents every reason why Final Fantasy and SquareSoft became such a big deal to begin with. In short: it's just a really, really, really fun video game.


Well... so much for 2D. We're halfway through the series now - I'd better hurry up and breeze through the rest if I don't want to have to buy a PS3 and do a write up for Final Fantasy XIII.





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Ultros Battle:

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