“Ah, Chris, you fiend! A gaming review on a movie blog? What is the world coming to?”
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), released in 1991, continued the power struggle between Nintendo and Sega, quickly becoming the fastest game-selling platform the world had seen up to this point. In 1994, long-time role-playing game (RPG) production company, Square, released arguably one of the greatest RPG experiences in history. A game which exceeded its predecessors in breaking the casual, boring standards of storytelling that most early games, without fail, excelled at.
For those readers who proudly shout “video games are for homeschooled kids with deplorable social skills,” from the top of the highest high-horse mountain, you aren’t far from the truth. In fact, the first time I played “Final Fantasy VI” was when I visited a friend’s house back in the old central Illinois days. Yes, I completely neglected visiting with my buddy and instead took advantage of the gray SNES cartridge with the red sticker, the American-translated title “Final Fantasy III” on the front. Granted, I couldn’t beat Vargas on Mt. Kolt since internet walk-throughs on how to use the “Blitz” technique were more a delicacy than a commodity at the time, but I digress.
Instead of focusing on the presently outdated gameplay “Final Fantasy VI” has to offer, I would rather focus on why this particular game was so revolutionary for its time.
“Final Fantasy VI” starts strong with a sweeping score, telling us the tale of an evil empire bent on conquering the world, using a powerful force called magicite. We are soon introduced to our female lead, Terra Branford, a girl with an unknown history who holds mysterious magical power. Mind controlled by the empire, she is led into the snowy mountain town, Narshe, where the soldiers destroy the innocent people of the city in order to retrieve a powerful demigod, called an esper. After a confrontation with the ester, the soldiers are wiped out, breaking control on Terra, but leaving her with amnesia.
From here, we discover a Star Wars-esque plot from a rebellious group calling themselves the Returners, who plan an uprising to stop the murderous rampage of the Gestahlian Empire. Within time, we meet 13 other ensemble characters from an unforgettable cast, including: master thief Locke Cole, the womanizing king Edgar Figaro, his brother, and martial artist, Sabin Figaro, Gau, a feral child who lives amongst monsters, Shadow, an ambiguous high-priced ninja, and many others. The diversity in cast allows for hysterically funny moments due to their differences. In addition, most of them experience a high level of growth and character development throughout the game, giving each a distinct, three-dimensional arc. It’s the care put into developing each character that sets this game apart from others of its time.
For the majority of the game, our heroes travel the unnamed world, battling the empire, and making new friends to assist in their quest. Before long, we meet Emperor Gestahl, and his odd, joker-like assistant, Kefka. Those familiar with the “Final Fantasy” series have equated Kefka to being very similar in nature to the Joker from “The Dark Knight”. Unlike villains from other bits of popular culture, he is an unrelenting force of destruction who doesn’t really have any goals of conquering the world or gaining political control. Kefka is a riddle without an answer, as he enjoys corruption and killing others for the fun of it. A brutal villain indeed.
In storytelling, we are used to our heroes coming out on top, stopping evil and putting all things back in order, or balance. However, I took all of that time to describe Kefka because at the crux of “Final Fantasy VI” is Kefka actually winning. At the midpoint of the story, our heroes seemed to have forced Emperor Gestahl to call a permanent cease-fire between the empire, the people, and the espers. Kefka instead steals the power of the espers, ascends an entire continent into the sky, kills Gestahl, and uses the power of ancient goddesses to lay waste to the planet. Entire continents are split in half, towns are wrecked, and Terra and friends are then scattered around this new world of ruin. A year later, they begin to search for one another, collecting into a team once more to defeat Kefka, and restore order to the world.
This is likely over your heads, or at least uninteresting to you, as most stories are best told as they are being experienced. There is something very intriguing about this old gem from Japanese role-playing history. A story of friendship, even unto the very bleakest of ends. A political drama of western conquest, and the natives of the land who would strive to defend their own freedom. A madman who (to borrow the words of Alfred) “just wants to watch the world burn.” Unconditional love for the innocent. A willingness to fight for what you believe in, despite how impossible your circumstances might be.
These are the themes “Final Fantasy VI” seems to so easily employ. The beauty of gaming, specifically intelligent gaming (beyond the shoot-em-up stereotype of shooters like “Call of Duty”) is how it can wrap you into a story through enduring methods, where film cannot. The longevity of a play-through allows you (the player) to experience a story first hand, as if you are actually the characters on-screen. One of the things which draws you in is how you recognize similarities you bear with these characters. For example, enduring the sad pangs of unrequited love, or perhaps feelings of worthlessness, pushing someone towards thoughts of suicide. “Final Fantasy VI” attacks a variety of thematic material, and leaves the gamer with a resounding gaming experience they are unlikely to soon forget the impact of.
Besides the dated, yet artistically comfortable 16-bit graphics — which hold a definite place in my own heart — the game is set in an unfamiliar fantasy world, rife with countless strange monsters and boss battles. While many towns and caves bear the familiarity of other JRPGs, “Final Fantasy VI” was the first installment in the series to implement steam punk elements into its design. This brought the series into a new era of background artwork and stylistic feel.
Driving the game is a breathtaking soundtrack, composed by series’ great, Nobuo Uematsu. Many characters have their own themes, and as the game continues, the music seems to flow seamlessly to reflect the current state of morale that your team is undergoing. At many points, you can hear motifs and bits from each character’s theme falling into different pieces written for the game.
All of this said, “Final Fantasy VI” is an adventure, and having played the majority of the series, I would lean heavily on this being the strongest entry. The character development and end message of the game are just too noteworthy to brush off. With unforgettable moments like a complete opera included in the main story, this is an adventure unlike any other, and dare I say it, multitudes greater of a storytelling experience than many games being released today. It is not in the monotonous encounters of the 12-year-old pre-pubescent children, screaming profanities in a headset, playing the latest “Call of Duty” installment that one calls themselves a “gamer”. In my opinion, it is in enjoying the rare or classic game, where one finds the truest intricacies of narrative storytelling through redeeming character quality and arc. This is found here. Please do yourself a solid. I wouldn’t have you waste your time.
This is playable on a PSX, SNES, or GBA, gaming system, or ROMs; although, I couldn’t possibly encourage you to download those, could I? In addition, you can download the iOS or Android version of the game on the Google Play store, or App store. I would warn you that the graphics are not totally similar to the original SNES character sprites, so for the purists, it may not be the right platform to play from.