The World of Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy VI
In 1994, Square released the third and the last Final Fantasy game for Super Nintendo. Made during a particularly creative period of video game development, "Final Fantasy VI" remains until now one of the most popular console RPGs, and a game that granted the genre psychological depth and emotional intensity unseen before.
In a certain sense, "Final Fantasy VI" continues both the gameplay-oriented tradition of odd-numbered Final Fantasies, and the personal approach of the even-numbered ones. Its flexible gameplay is second only to "Final Fantasy V", its non-linearity leaves a lot of room for exploration and discovery, and its story and cast of characters reaches a whole new level of quality. It is hard to decide which aspect of a game is more developed in "Final Fantasy VI". Its balance and perfection are of a kind that is hard to find in other games, even among the respresentatives of the same series.
The approach of "Final Fantasy VI" toward storytelling is different for one obvious reason: there are two different "planes" of story in the game. While the outer storyline is fairly standard, traditionally epic, and serves to tie all the events and the destinies of the heroes together, the inner layer of the story concentrates in turn on each one of the many characters of the game, telling their stories in an extremely warm, human way, bringing the player as close to them as it was only possible.
The greatness of "Final Fantasy VI" cannot be measured by just telling its main story. It is quite simple and clichéd, even compared to that of "Final Fantasy IV". An evil empire seeks to obtain the powers of the Espers, a magical race of semi-human, semi-monster creatures, that dominated the earth a long time ago. In the center of their interest stands Terra, a young girl who seems to have a mysterious connection to the world of Espers. Something inside Terra tells her she should not reveal her hidden powers to the empire, and she joins forces with many other people, who help her, for different reasons, to find out the true nature of her connection to the Espers, and to stop the evil jester Kefka from destroying the world. Important for later development of Final Fantasy is the fact this is the first Final Fantasy story that integrates the Espers (which are actually monster summons from previous games) into it and even places them at a central point of the events.
What makes this story remarkable is not the course of its events, but the small individual "sub-stories" of each one of the game's characters. Every character joins the rebel group for his (or her) personal reasons, and those reasons are explained and shown in detail in "Final Fantasy VI". The personal motives of the various characters are by far more subtle and realistic than those shown in previous Final Fantasies. "Final Fantasy VI" opens a new way towards the inner world of a character, and proves how rich a gaming experience can be if its heroes are portrayed as real human beings, and not as a bunch of cardboard knights and world-saviors. The typically epic plot line becomes almost obsolete when the player dives deeper into the intimate worlds of the game's characters, discovering their fears, their hopes, their joys, and their grievances. "Final Fantasy VI" introduced for the first time mature themes that were never before treated in console RPGs: suicide, teenage pregnancy, complicated moral problems, love, etc. Even the characteristic subject of losing loved ones got a whole new dimension here, with characters responding much more profoundly and realistically to their loss. For the first time, love became one of the central issues of the game - of course, not as clearly and as overwhelmingly as in later Final Fantasies, but nevertheless with much more intensity than before. The relationship between Locke and Celes is both tender and touching. There is a number of extremely beautiful and touching moments in the game, such as Celes singing "You Are My Hero" in the Opera House, or Cyan writing love letters. The romantic figure of Shadow and the tragic past of Locke continue the "flashback" tradition of "Final Fantasy V", where you learn about the past of the heroes by visiting optional areas and following their memories and dreams. "Final Fantasy VI" presents the most memorable cast of characters ever seen in the series until then: the quiet, pensive Terra; the seemingly light-minded thief Locke, who conceals a tragedy deep within his heart; the careless, galant king Edgar and his brother Sabin, who prefers studying martial arts to the wealth of a kingdom; the unhappy imperial general Celes, a "genetic experiment" of the empire, torn apart from within by her desire to be understood and loved; the samurai warrior Cyan with his simple morals and vision of the world; the mysterious, cynical assassin Shadow, who roams the world with his dog Interceptor, while nobody knows who or what he really is; and many other characters, up to a total of fourteen possible party members. "Final Fantasy VI" follows the steps of the previous game by granting all its characters equal importance - the game has no lead character.
The open-ended, non-linear gameplay style of "Final Fantasy V" found its continuation in "Final Fantasy VI". Almost the entire World of Ruins part is non-linear: the player can explore every part of it at a desired order, or not to explore certain parts at all. The job system of "Final Fantasy V" is gone, and instead "Final Fantasy VI" introduced what seemed to be a class-less system. However, the characters actually do have a class assigned. They use different weapons and have distinctly different stats. In most cases, it is easy to determine the well-known Final Fantasy classes by the characters of "Final Fantasy VI": Locke is clearly a thief, Sabin a monk, Cyan a samurai, Shadow a ninja, Strago a blue mage, Mog a dancer, etc. By equipping Espers on the characters it is possible for the player to guide them in a desired direction, as most of the Espers raise certain stats by level up. Thus, the player can decide himself which character should become stronger, which one should have better magic power, etc. At the end, it was possible to make the distinctions between the classes more vague, having spell-casting ninjas or monster-summoning knights. The concept of class-less system was implemented later in "Final Fantasy VII" and developed to its extent in "Final Fantasy VIII". Another great innovation of "Final Fantasy VI" is the possibility of choosing different characters to form an active party.
The music of "Final Fantasy VI" mixes epic tunes with profoundly lyrical melodies, and takes the whole musical experience of the series onto a new, higher level. While the epic tunes and the sinister dungeon music are largely based on the musical score of the two previous games, the lyrical moments of the game are accompanied by wonderfully melancholic, typically Japanese melodies, of the kind that was unheard in the series until then. A whole new musical experience is the Opera House scene, which sets the ground for the vocal music of later Final Fantasies.
The graphics of the game are considered by some the best example of 2D graphics ever. However, those graphics also showed the limited capacity of Super Nintendo in the age of full-motion videos and CD ROM media. They were barely enough to express all the rich ideas and emotions of the game. It was clear the next Final Fantasy game should be created for a more powerful console, using more advanced technology.
Many fans consider "Final Fantasy VI" the best of the series. It is indeed an absolutely remarkable game, that combines storytelling and gameplay into a perfect whole. Later Final Fantasies, with all their originality and new ideas, were all heavily influenced by this game, and owe it quite a great deal. "Final Fantasy VI" underwent a decisive change of style: while maintaning the epic outlines of the story, it went deeper into the hearts of its heroes, discovering and showing a wide range of human emotions. Instead of a fairy tale, "Final Fantasy VI" delivers us a melodrama. Its new inclination towards a futuristic environment inspired the two next Final Fantasies, and partially "Final Fantasy X". Its fine, class-less gameplay started a revolutionary trend that was also continued in the two future installments for the Playstation.
"Final Fantasy VI" was erroneously called "Final Fantasy III" in USA, because it was only the third Final Fantasy game released there. It was later re-released for the Playstation as a part of larger compilation in both Japan and the USA, and as a standalone title in Europe and other PAL areas.
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