Final Fantasy VI: On the John (Mora?)

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Final Fantasy VI Advance (Section A)

Final Fantasy VI, which many will fondly remember as Final Fantasy III from the SNES days, is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the series. It was created in a time when developers were finally beginning to understand the importance of intricate characterization, and shortly before the time when Tetsuya Nomura would reduce that characterization to angsty, zipper-laden fetishism. It was also the first Final Fantasy to take place outside of the generic fantasy setting that most RPGs of the time were fellating; someone at Square had finally made the stunning deduction that Elfland was the worst fucking idea for an RPG town ever, and you can feel Final Fantasy VI whispering its apologies with every factory, military base, and industrial mining town on its world map. A world map which would be, in the latter half of the game, completely broken open for the player to explore in whatever manner they saw fit. It’s no wonder Final Fantasy VI is remembered as a revolutionary piece of game design; if nothing else, it was created with a genuine understanding that RPGs, as a genre, should evolve.

Final Fantasy VI Advance

Which is why I think that this is a pretty bitchin’ game for its time, but that any claim at its continued dominion over the genre is complete, utter BULLSHIT.

Good, we’re grumping now.

The thing is, RPGs most assuredly did need to evolve, and Final Fantasy VI was an important step in this process; in terms of human evolution, it might have walked upright, and perhaps it had even lost its prominent brow ridges. And then it boinked the shit out of another hairy little RPG, and their offspring walked even MORE upright, and maybe even discovered fire. We’ll never forget the Neanderthal, and you might even love it for paving the way for you. But would you fuck its brains out?

If no, proceed to Section B.
If yes, proceed to Section C.

Banon develops a deep familial bond with Terra

Section B

The bread and butter of Final Fantasy VI is its characters. It spends half the game introducing you to its cast of fourteen, then spends the remaining half introducing you to them again as you hunt them down on a newly misshapen world map. The concepts behind these characters are generally clever, and I would even venture to say that, conceptually, the characters still hold up. The game features a teenage boy, abandoned in the wild by an insane father who thought his wife had birthed a demon; a young woman, half-human and half-monster, struggling to find her place in one of two worlds; a pilot whose lover died while trying to best him in an airship race. There are a lot of genuinely interesting archetypes at play, and the game gives itself a lot of fodder with which it could potentially create some memorable drama.

Mostly, though, the game throws the idea out there and then discards it without ever exploring it. We know that Setzer, the pilot, is a gambling man, and late in the game, we discover his motivation in the form of his dead girlfriend. In case we were too dense to figure it out, the sad music tells us that he’s felt both guilty and sorrow for it, although at this point, we’re mostly reaching; beyond this, Setzer is given very little meaningful dialogue. We never get inside his head; we have this base understanding of his primary concern and motivation, but it’s never used to any meaningful extent. He never develops close bonds with any other characters, and outside of his introduction, he never really engages any of them in meaningful discussion of any sort. It doesn’t matter who’s along for the ride when his big revelation occurs; their dialogue is inconsequential, and isn’t even attributed to any particular character. Like most of the characters in Final Fantasy VI, Setzer is given a compelling setup which amounts to very little.

Most of the characters follow this pattern. A couple of them do have meaningful relationships with each other; one character develops feelings for one of the women in the party, but the idea is never built upon or used to spur any interesting actions on their part. Another character is implied, through sidequests, to be the father of a young girl in the group, but this is never even acknowledged by the characters themselves. Ultimately, there are a lot of great ideas defining these characters, but the script never gives them a chance to be fully realized. We can imagine all sorts of things about them, but the game itself never shows them, or gives us anything more than that first taste of what might be.

WHO FUCKING SAID THAT?

In contrast, the gameplay holds up reasonably well by series standards. Dungeon design is mostly linear, with the very rare puzzle or mystery to solve. There’s enough treasure scattered about to make exploration worthwhile, and every once in a while, there are bitchin’ little diversions, like a mine cart ride through a factory or multi-party dungeons that take full advantage of the game’s large cast.

The battles themselves are breezy, especially compared to the load-timey-camera-swiveling-ten-minute-long-animation-bullshit that we would all be fawning over in the next several years, and they’re punctuated by some fun, if shallow, ideas: Setzer’s special skill involves spinning the reels of a slot machine, and martial artist Sabin’s skill has you punching in fighting-game-ish button commands. None of the battles are particularly difficult, and there’s never any real strategy at work outside of using your best attacks and healing when necessary. This would probably bother me more if the genre as a whole had learned its lesson, but hell, it really hasn’t, so I’m not going to grump about that here.

Watermark? What watermark?

The game utilizes the Esper system, in which characters can equip objects to teach them new magic, and the Relic system, where characters can equip two different accessories to give them new abilities. Neither of these ever begin to approach the level of depth and customization that the Job system from Final Fantasy V managed to achieve, but they’re no worse than most of the other character growth devices employed by other games in the series, and they’re a far cry from broken, as in Final Fantasy VIII’s junctioning.

Final Fantasy VI features graphics that are charming in an old-school sort of way, with goofy superdeformed characters and well-designed monster sprites that are, in some instances, pretty damned impressive. The music has series composer Nobuo Uemetsu at the top of his game, and back when he had a legitimate excuse to use MIDI, too boot.

Ultimately, Final Fantasy VI is a charming RPG that managed to hit all the right notes back in the day but doesn’t hold up as well as it could in some departments. In some ways, the RPG genre has undergone very little evolution in the past decade, and this is why the game can still be fun and engaging, even if a tad too easy. In other ways, the genre has definitely pushed forward, and with the advent of RPGs with characters that FUCKING INTERACT on a regular basis, Final Fantasy VI feels a bit stripped-down in comparison.

Section C

Hot Neanderthal on Neanderthal Action!

Section D

I know what you’re thinking. I’ve tackled most of the major issues concerning Final Fantasy VI, and I’ve probably insulted your intelligence a few times. So far, we’re on track. But where does that leave Final Fantasy VI Advance?

Pretty much in the same place, as it turns out. This Game Boy Advance port offers up two new dungeons, neither of which adds much to the game, an auto-run feature, which is wonderful, and a bestiary, which is FUCKING annoying. Seriously, I understand that it’s kind of a fun idea or whatever shit Squeenix was thinking when they added bestiary features to all their GBA Final Fantasy ports, but for those of you stupid enough to try and get perfect files (like meeeee!), the bestiary is a swift kick in a pair of otherwise-flawless nuts. This kind of shit is great in a series like Zelda, where you can go back to any area at will and thus can’t really miss anything permanently. In a series like Final Fantasy, where finding things is less a matter of exploration and intuition and more a matter of sucking the right cock at GameFAQ’s, and where you can permanently miss major monsters and items based solely on the luck of the draw, the last thing I want is another way to fuck up my perfect save file.

Aside from this, the music is tinnier, but still sounds decent. There are five new Espers, which don’t change the game very much unless you’re stat-maxing (like a fucking IDIOT(like me)). The translation has been changed subtly in some places, and item and monster names have been retooled to fit series canon, but the difference is fairly negligible. Perhaps most importantly, a certain bug that allowed the instant killing of bosses has been removed, although the game is still pretty easy.

If you’ve already played other versions of this game to death and are only interested in the new features, Final Fantasy VI Advance probably isn’t worth your time. If, however, you’re interested in being able to play this game on the crapper/in the car/while camping/while muff diving, this is a damn good port with a few sweet bonuses.

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11 Responses to “Final Fantasy VI: On the John (Mora?)”

  1. johnmora Says:

    I am also in the camp that FFVI has a lot of compelling characters and impressive graphics and sound for the SNES, and a simple but fun RPG battle system.

    But it has such a simple, stupid script, rudimentary difficulty and I think Kefka’s overrated. And General Leo. And that f’in Opera Scene. Maybe you had to be there.

    At least it’s still PLAYABLE, though. Unlike IV and lower. V is playable, but I’d never want to REplay it. The story in that is worse than shit.

  2. btothefuckingz Says:

    Of all the GBA ports, FFV Advance was my favorite. Yeah, the story is CRAP, but I feel that the battles and character growth hold up better than any of the other pre-PS2 FF games. As stupid as the script is, I found that if I ignored that and focused exclusively on the gameplay, it was a blast- there’s just so much more going on than in, well, MOST other RPGs, even to this date.

  3. johnmora Says:

    I’d rather play FFIX again than V. It’d be like playing it for the first time, after all! \:3

  4. homelessparade Says:

    my favorite part was the muff diving.

    oh, and as far as FFVI goes…

    For some reason I always quit the game right before the raft ride because I’m totally bored. Then, months later – I’ll pick it up again and will be utterly engaged.

    EXPLAIN THIS PHENOMENON.

  5. btothefuckingz Says:

    Highwind-

    Dude, that’s really weird. Almost the exact same thing happened to me my first time through this game.

  6. IGoByChad Says:

    I’m sure it’s just a sign that the game gets completely boring? Honestly, without an SNES it’s been hard for me to play SNES games (understandably, I hope). This and most of the lower Final Fantasies haven’t aged as well as anyone wants to think.

    However, how can the characters be the bread and butter for the game and then you go on and on about how they wasted such great potential, how they are mostly quarantined from each other in terms of their development?

  7. johnmora Says:

    Because despite all that, you wuuuuuuuuuuuv them.

  8. btothefuckingz Says:

    “However, how can the characters be the bread and butter for the game and then you go on and on about how they wasted such great potential, how they are mostly quarantined from each other in terms of their development?”

    I do think the characters were the biggest focus of the game. Fourteen of them are playable, and the game goes to great lengths to create scenarios where you’re reminded of how many you have at your disposal. Also, like I said, for its time, the game probably did a better job at giving those guys backstory than any other game on the market.

    It’s just, y’know, that aspect hasn’t aged well.

  9. james Says:

    I’m curious if part of your detachment to the game is the fact that you came to it after starting with Final Fantasy VII. We both know that I have an irrational attachment to Final Fantasy IV, as do many people who started with that game, and yet you feel that it’s a total piece of crap. Perhaps our nostalgia for FFVI is clouding our eyes?

    Regardless, if you’re looking for in-depth interaction between a large cast, I really think you’re looking at the wrong side of the ocean. If you ask me, while it can be argued that Japan has produced more intensive studies into one or two characters (FFVIII) or a story (I’d argue Suikoden II, here), the Bioware Baldur’s Gate games and Torment do a much better job dealing with party interaction. Maybe it was the space of the PC that allowed to add all the little random party interaction (that would return in Knights of the Old Republic, as you know), but things like that both flesh out the individual characters as well as allow you to understand exactly how they fit in your group.

    It’s a shame that Jade Empire was so shallow and just ruined the streak. I still haven’t even finished that game as I stopped once I realized there really wasn’t anything more to the combat.

    You also make a side-swipe at Kefka, but don’t really explain why you dislike him. If you ask me, he’s far more developed than almost any other RPG villain. Way more than Sephiroth, who gets all the press. I still have no clue exactly what the hell was going on with him beyond his mommy issues that someone randomly exploded one day. Perhaps Jowy in the aforementioned Suikoden II? But even he’s not really a villain, after all. There’s also Lucifer in Nocturne, who has interesting motivations, but I’m not certain you’d consider him developed enough.

    I will agree with you that the gameplay doesn’t hold up, but I think that’s more a result of my exposure to the SMT line than anything else. Really, once you meet a series in which status ailments become actually useful, and magic use during a regular battle becomes not only encouraged but necessary, you begin to realize how shallow Final Fantasy’s gameplay really is. Even XII had the flaw that all you had to do to beat 98% of the regular enemies was simply hack them to death, although it was a rare FF game where buffs were useful in a regular battle.

    Still, in the end, I guess nostalgia wins out. I think even today I wouldn’t be able to give this game less than a 4 out of 5, simply because it’s fun.

  10. btothefuckingz Says:

    Nah, I played this game back when it first came out. I pretty much started with FFI back when I was like 5 years old, then played the series in order of US release from there.

    And yeah, I totally agree about the other villains and whatnot. I tend to think that most of the series has underdeveloped villains.

    Actually, I have a pretty jaded view of most jRPGs. The thing is, I love them to death. It’s just that when I really start thinking about the mechanics of them, I realize how anachronstic they are, in storytelling as well as gameplay.

  11. riotsword Says:

    I also played this when it was new. At the time it definitely changed how I viewed games as a whole, and it was the first game that got me emotionally involved; I remember actually standing up from my usual Indian-style gaming position and jumping up and down as Kefka finally dissolved into nothing.

    If a person who had never, ever heard of the Final Fantasy series, let alone play them, were to sit down and play each one as a totally new experience, I’d like to think that, aside from Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy VI would be the most fun to play.

    But maybe I’m just full of shit and I’ve deified FFVI in my mind. I dunno.

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