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Final Fantasy VI Review

by Lassarina Aoibhell

Ask me what my favourite game is, and there will be no hesitation. Final Fantasy VI is my favourite, and has been for almost a decade as I write this review. I've completed it nine times and yet I never get bored with it. Every time I play I get intrigued by something different. Considering I can recite over half the game's dialogue from memory, and can beat it in under 30 hours when I choose (probably under 20 if I forego my love of leveling), its staying power impresses me.

So what makes this game special? Why do I love it so much? And how in Deity's name can I stand to re-play it so much? Well....

I first remember being introduced to this game when my father bought it. I had been staying with my grandmother, and came back to my Dad going "You have to see this! Look!" and showing me one of the most beautiful scenes in the game: the opera. I was promptly hooked.

The game starts out with two Imperial soldiers escorting a woman to a town called Narshe. The woman is under the influence of a device called the Slave Crown, which prevents her from having her own thoughts. Thus you are introduced to one of the main characters, and the story begins. The main story line of the game is relatively simple and uncluttered. For me, what makes the story worth re-living again and again is the backstories of each character, many of which you can discover through side quests in the second half of the game. The story is both linear and non-linear. For the first 10-15 hours, the game holds your hand and guides you through a set pattern. You're given directions on where to go, whom to talk to, and (generally) what to do. After a certain point, though, the game turns you loose. In the second half of the game, you know that you must go and face the ultimate bad guy, but there are any number of optional events you can do before you get there, like exploring each character's motivations and their past.

Speaking of characters, no other game has ever gotten me attached to the characters the way Final Fantasy VI did. I fell in love with Celes and Locke the first time I met them. Over time, I've come to appreciate some characters, like Shadow, and loathe others, like Edgar and Gau. FF6 has a massive cast (14 playable characters, the largest in any FInal Fantasy game except FF Tactics), and no two lovers of the game can agree on who the best characters are. There are some people who would gasp in horror at the thought of consistently using Edgar, and others who cannot even comprehend playing the game without having him in their party. Nearly all the characters have richly detailed backstories. Some are given more attention than others, of course, which is inevitable given the size of the cast (the two optional characters are barely even nodded to, for example.) Still, each of the characters is real enough to draw you in. I still cry every time I see the scenes from Locke's past, or at certain parts of the ending. Well, not cry perhaps, but definitely sniffle.

This game has always had a tremendous emotional impact on me, and a large part of that is due to the music. Firstly let me say that I think Uematsu is at the very least a minor deity when it comes to music. My prejudice aside, though, the soundtrack to FF6 is simply stunning. It ranges from a delicate woodwind-and-strings theme for the youthful artist Relm, to a rather martial theme featuring the brass section for the King of Figaro, to an Old-West style theme for the ninja Shadow. The themes really seem to draw out the essence of the characters. There are parts of the ending theme that leave me in awe of the beauty of the music. While I'm not in love with every track, it's certainly one of my favourite soundtracks overall. The sound effects are also nice. They are very crisp, but generally subtle enough not to interfere with your involvement in the game.

There is one thing that makes this game, perhaps, less than perfect by today's standards. My biggest pet peeve with people who met the Final Fantasy series through FF7, 8, 9, or 10 is that they bitch about the graphics from older games. First of all, graphics do not a game make. I can name several RPGs with great graphics, but terrible everything else (*cough*Legend of Dragoon*cough*). Second of all, the graphics are more than good enough to serve their purpose. I realized this anew on my most recent play-through of the game. The sprites are exquisitely detailed. During cutscenes, their movements and facial expressions tell you so much about their emotions--nearly the same degree of detail you would see in a fully realistic modern FMV. The backgrounds for fight scenes or, in some cases, cutscenes are simply amazing. The mountain background, for example, is stunning. It reminds me of a photograph I took of the Colorado mountains--a slightly hazy, blue-tinted mountain range with pristine white clouds to set it off. So what if FF6 doesn't have the three-dimensional realism of games like Final Fantasy X? To me, it doesn't matter. And at the time of its release, its graphics were very good, something that should be kept in mind when reviewing or playing older games.

Finally there's the issue of gameplay. One of the things that has always intrigued me about FF6's gameplay is the degree of flexibility it offers. Each of the 14 characters has a single unique skill that only he or she can use (with the exception of Gogo the mimic, who can be given any other character's specialised skill). The ninja can Throw shuriken or old weapons, the mechanically-minded king fights with Tools he designed himself, the thief Steals the enemy's items. Depending on the character, you can equip a variety of weapons. For example, the general can equip any sword or dirk, but cannot use rods, whereas the artist can use brushes, dirks, or rods but cannot use spears or swords. Armour likewise is only usable by certain characters.

The magic system in FF6 ties in to the level up system, and provides the greatest part of the game's flexibility. I would like to point out that it is absolutely, entirely possible to beat this game doing nothing more than hitting the "Fight" command and using healing items or spells. However, there's an enormous range of support, attack, and status spells that make the game infinitely easier. These spells are learned by equipping magical stones known as Magicite, which teach the character magic. Each piece of Magicite holds the soul of an Esper (a magic creature), and each Esper teaches you different spells at varying rates. For example, Kirin teaches Cure at the rate of 5, whereas Starlet teaches it at the rate of 20. Magicite has other uses, as well. Most pieces of Magicite have a level-up bonus that lets you increase a character's HP, Magic Power, MP, Stamina, or Strength more dramatically than the standard level-up. If you don't want to bother about fiddling with the details of raising your character's stats, you don't have to. But if you want to take the extra time to customize each character to your specifications, the Magicite system makes it possible. I, personally, love the flexibility of the system. I find that difficulty in FF6 is strictly related to how much you level up. There are almost no points in the plot where you're locked in and cannot level up in some way. The last time I played, my four favourite characters were pushing level 70 by the final battle, and I cleaned house.

All that said, I love this game. I find it difficult--though not impossible--to believe that another game may take its place. Now for the scores:

Plot: 10
Characterization: 10
Music: 9.5
Graphics: 10 (in context)
Gameplay: 10

Overall Score: 9.9

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