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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.