I regret missing out on Final Fantasy VI back in my SNES days. I would have fallen in love. Some of its story beats are familiar now, but that doesn’t take anything away from its status as one of the best titles in the series. If this were in fact the “final” fantasy released, the franchise would have gone out on a high note.
FFVI has a large, lively cast of characters, and two women – Terra and Celes – are arguably its most important protagonists. Terra is the only human who possesses innate magical abilities, and Celes holds the fate of the world in her hands at multiple points during the game. Unlike games like Final Fantasy VII and VIII, this game doesn’t depend on one main (and moody) protagonist to drive the story forward. FFVI is truly a team effort, and I had a tough time ranking my favorites heroes. For the record, my A-team ended up being: Terra (magic), Locke (strength), Celes (magic), and Shadow (strength).
Though I’d heard some information about FFVI before playing, I had no idea about its plot twist. Halfway through the game the unlikely band of rebels confronts the big bad Kefka, and they lose hard. The world is ripped apart, the heroes are scattered, and society as a whole barely survives. It’s such a dark time that one of the main characters attempts suicide. The World of Ruin reminds me of a post-apocalyptic novel setting, and its dark pall is nicely offset by moments of levity and love between the family of characters.
Not everything is perfect in FFVI. Though the characters are nicely varied, the Ultima spell is so powerful it makes all the other spells obsolete once it’s learned. Spamming one spell is not nearly as fun as learning an enemy’s weaknesses and exploiting them. An easy way to circumvent the issue would be to limit a character to using Ultima once per battle. On the flip side, the summons (which can only be used once per battle) are much too weak. Also, the characters only level up if they’re in the battle party, so it’s easy to allow less desirable characters to stagnate.
This is a definitely an RPG that benefits from at least two play-throughs. The plot’s not overly complex like Final Fantasy Tactics, but after reading up on the game (once I completed the story), I discovered plot points I didn’t even realize. Shadow’s connection to another character went right over my head. And Kefka sneaks into his role as the primary antagonist, graduating from unbalanced mage to world breaker. I didn’t expect that at all, and I should have taken him more seriously as a threat. He is, so far as I know, the only Final Fantasy character to succeed in his mission by becoming a god and taking control of the world. Really, even if you discover every secret the first time around, the story and characters are worth revisiting.
I completely understand why this is so many people’s favorite Final Fantasy game. It laid so much groundwork for future installments, and because of its gorgeous pixel art, excellent music, and timeless story, it’s aged very well. It’s a dark game, abound with themes of survivor’s guilt and depression. But like I said before, it’s a serious game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The characters can act quite silly, and even Kefka can be entertaining when he’s not completely horrifying. It’s refreshing to follow earnest heroes who are trying their best, as opposed to seeing characters attempting to rally around a bad boy who thinks “…whatever” is a proper bit of dialogue. Sorry, Cloud. Not sorry, Squall.