By Pat R.
TERRA BRANFORD / TINA BRANFORD
LOCKE COLE / LOCK COLE
EDGAR RONI FIGARO
SABIN RENE FIGARO / MASH RENE FIGARO
CYAN GARAMONDE / CAYENNE GARAMONDE
STRAGO MAGUS / STRAGUS MAGUS
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.)
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
TERRA BRANFORD / TINA BRANFORD
LOCKE COLE / LOCK COLE
EDGAR RONI FIGARO
SABIN RENE FIGARO / MASH RENE FIGARO
CYAN GARAMONDE / CAYENNE GARAMONDE
STRAGO MAGUS / STRAGUS MAGUS
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Final Fantasy VI (SNES)
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.
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 (GBA)