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SummaryDefines everything there is to love about the Final Fantasy games
The GoodA definitive classic of console rpgs, FF6 is the last Final Fantasy to be developed for the SNES, and the last 2D game in the series making it not just a classic but also a nostalgic phenomenon when looked at through the polygonal eyes of today's gaming audience. And as with most classic games of any genre it's too difficult to find anything new to say to add to the praises and awards that have piled upon it as the years went by, but well...that doesn't mean I can't try :)
FF6 is basically the most obvious example of the different approach Japanese game designers do when crafting their "roleplaying" games. Basically speaking, here you have an rpg where the roleplaying aspect is limited to tuning up some individual stats and add some additional skills to each character (usually magic-related) and the story develops with the same interactivity as when you sit your fat ass in your sofa and watch ESPN. So what's the big deal behind FF6 you say? It's story, it's characters, it's attention to detail, it's careful scripting and plot development.
I think it's only fair to acknowledge that the true revolution started with FF4, but in my mind 6 is the number I think of whenever I think of the prototypical plot-oriented console rpg. The kind that weaves a large, epic plotline whose complexity is only matched by it's gigantic cast of characters that, in classic Squaresoft fashion, get their own sections of the plot devoted entirely to them, and become interesting parts of a huge tapestry of sideplots, stories of friendship and love that connect in different ways to the "Kill Gonzo" plot and give it a more human and touching feeling that make it a much more interesting and mature experience. And which ever since this game (FF4, really) have become Square's formula for success, with every character having adding it's own collection of traumas, fears and vulnerabilities to make up a much deeper tapestry of emotions.
In fact FF6 goes the extra mile and gives such a prominent place in the spotlight to each particular character that the final plot ends up taking a backseat to the personal dramas and problems of each character, and the game makes a move that I absolutely loved and consider one of the highlights of the game: you see, it doesn't focus the entire story around a certain easy-to-market character that appealed to a specific demographic. For what I think is the only time in the series, the game's hero is actually a collective assembly of characters that help each other evenly and drive the plotline on their own through very thick situations changing the focus of the story as different events pass the ball around the different characters not just for said character's development sake but as an important dramatic component that allows the story to flow much more seamlessly and with a much more epic scope. In fact, thanks to Square's refusal to focus on a single character to drive the main game's plot for it's 6th FF, the game is one of the few that actually has that operatic flow the series so often strives to reach but which often fail to get and end up composing what's mostly an adventure serial (and hey, there's a reason this particular Final Fantasy has that particular and much-praised opera scene). Emotions are driven home in a much more convincing manner as there isn't a need for forced exposition thanks to the narrative focus's ability to jump around and always seat you on the right place. Making this FF a much more adult and emotionally touching game than most of it's more advanced sequels, which had to resort to incredibly forced and unconvincing setpieces just to drive home a simple point like a character's love for another and which did nothing but mess things up because the story always had to find a way to connect the events to the same X character in some way.
For instance, the game might start you on the shoulders of a certain character who imposses you her view of things and takes you with her through most of the plot, but after a specific earth-shattering event, most of the characters you grew fond of are lost and facing their own problems outside of the main plot. Only one character seems to still have the drive to pursue the goal that you all started so long ago, and now you get to see the world from a different perspective as you essentially start over from her point of view and see that not all the characters you knew were as they appeared. Obviously, that's the most extreme example, and not every character gets "equal share" when it comes to starring in the game, but it's still enough to make a difference and remains an oddity in the world of console rpgs which favor the established hero with a supporting cast (well developed or not) that hardly ever rises above that role. Heck, this is a game were you even take control of an enemy general at one point just to see the story from his point of view! Every character in FF6 (with the possible exception of the bonus ones that hardly get any lines at all, let alone entire sequences devoted to them) owns a piece of FF6, and there's not a single character you can remove from it and not miss his/her mark on the game, and the emotional hole it leaves.
Things are so similar and yet so different because of this simple narrative technique that you might not even notice it as practically on every FF you have a melodramatic component of corny love stories, coming-of-age issues and stuff like that shoved in the game, but rarely they make it fit so well with what's going on. Another reason I dare point out as to why the formula worked so and hasn't really been tried again in the same way is because of a nice side-effect of the technical limitations of our 16-bit ancestors: It enforced on designers the notion of SUBTLETY.
So Yes, characters are the true stars of FF6, but it also has a very good save-the-world plot, and great gameplay value with lots of optional quests, branching areas, extra dungeons to explore and unlockable bonuses such as hidden characters, more storyline revelations, and end-all-be-all weapons and spells. The combat and magic system takes a step towards a much more free-form customizable model as it would eventually become in FF7, were any character can become a powerhouse in the right field with the right materia/esper combo, but 6 still retains those "class-like" quirks in full form with well defined warriors, monks, thieves, dancers and the usual assortment of good game-balancing stuff games like FF8 sent to the gutter.
As far as technical development goes, FF6 refines every aspect of the SNES-era FF engine and showcases everything Square and Nintendo had learned from each other, sporting loads of scripted sequences, pseudo-polygonal map exploration, assorted graphic effects and a refined interface as well as extra advances in the sound department that help it showcase the always impressive FF music. Now speaking about the music, I'm not one of the rabid fans that always have nothing but praises towards Nobuo-whatshisname and his compositions, yes they are effective, but quite frankly I've seen more impressive work and could never really find a FF soundtrack that stuck with me or even moved me (specially nowadays, when the series seems to favor shitty pop songs that not even Christina Aguilera would sing)... That is, EXCEPT for the main map theme as played in FF6. Which I found to be a beautiful melancholic melody that often made me stop playing for a while just to listen to it. It is the sole melody I remember from all the FF games (though I often wake up screaming whenever Eyes on Me [or whatever it was called]is sung on my nightmares).
The BadNothing I can think of. Seriously speaking FF6 represents the most evolved state of console rpgs from the 16-bit era and is still a fully playable game to this date.
Tough to be fair I should mention that in order to fully enjoy this one you have to always remember to switch yourself into "Japanese RPG" mode and be able to ignore those naive quirks and "kawaii" moments our friends of the east can't seem to forget to include every now and then. Or their predilection for stupid, needless mini-games (hey boys 'n girls! Let's play catch the fast fish and save Cid!! YaaaaY!!!)...