Retro Review: Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI is a dividing point in the series. While FF7 is the one remembered for its cinematics, in many ways FF6 did the same thing with lesser hardware. It was the turning point in the series, the first time it abandoned its pure fantasy roots in favor of something a bit darker, a bit more serious, and a whole lot more cinematic.

Graphically, Final Fantasy VI holds up so well that it makes one wonder what they were thinking with those blocky polygons in the PS1 generation. You can recruit 14 characters, each with a range of animations that are pretty simple but still manage to convey a lot of emotion. The tilesets are seamless and, for the first time in the series, aren’t obviously just arranged in a grid. The sound design, particularly the music, is also flat-out amazing. FF6’s soundtrack is among the best in RPG history.

The gameplay of FF6 is a strange amalgamation of two distinct concepts. Each character is based on a special ability, many of those based on the jobs of FF5 (similar to how FF4’s characters were mostly recreations of FF3 jobs). But FF6 allows you to teach every character any spell, so there are no dedicated “mages,” per se. Unfortunately, the system is so flexible that you can lose the individual elements of each character in the magic and leveling system. It’s not a total loss, as they retain their abilities and each have different equipment lists, but any endgame FF6 party can just spam Ultima to kill everything, regardless of how you played the game up to that point.

Indeed, Final Fantasy VI has a fundamental flaw: the game isn’t just breakable, it’s very nearly pre-broken. It’s a very easy game once you have a grasp of the mechanics, and even at that point there are more powerful mechanics to learn. There’s a reason various low-level or low-powered challenges are so popular among FF6 players.

But what FF6 lacks in gameplay balance, it more than makes up for in storytelling. It’s a story that, like many in its series, features a band of rebels fighting an encroaching empire. You will span the world gathering intelligence and strength in a fairly linear progression culminating in an epic battle. That’s a good RPG right there, but for FF6, that’s just the first half. The game fundamentally changes, becoming wide open to the player while retaining the strong story aspect. Your first-half battles have real consequences in the second half, and you can witness the results firsthand. Emotionally resonant cutscenes are found throughout, including some of the most well-known in JRPG history. The Opera House scene has no business being anything at all but cheesy and ridiculous, but it’s stuck with gamers for decades.

In the end, what you get out of Final Fantasy VI will come down to what you want from it. If you’re looking for the deepest tactical RPG system there is, this is not that (though I hear there’s a ROM hack). If you’re looking for a story that will make you feel for its characters and struggle, you may just find it here. Or you may find it to be trite nonsense. But I can only speak for myself, and I love this game.

Review Score: A

Comparing FF6 and FF7 Data

The FF7 guide is coming along nicely, with almost everything done except for actually re-playing the game.  Things are about to get crazy at work, so I’m going to try to finish this one soon, but we’ll see.  I definitely want to make a guide for I am Setsuna, but I may need to put that off for quite a while.

In the meantime, while writing up all the data models for FF7, it struck me that FF6 had much more complicated data.  This seems odd, because FF6 isn’t actually that complicated a game.  I believe this is mostly due to FF6 having a dozen different types of abilities that all shared some basic structure.  In FF7, you basically only have spells, and individual character abilities are covered by limit breaks.  These are fewer in number than all the Blitzes, SwdTechs, and whatnot, and all function in the same basic way, so it cleans things up a bit.

Nonetheless, it has made me appreciate FF7 a bit more.  The materia system allows enough complexity that they could surround it with relatively simple systems and the game still ends up being incredibly deep. I still have some issues with the balance of the materia system, which I’m sure I’ll post about some time later, but it does a good job of creating interesting mechanics without a bunch of convoluted systems.

Final Fantasy VI Guide is Live! (But Not Finished)

I’ve had a Final Fantasy VI guide in the works for quite a while, but my complete and total addiction to Final Fantasy XIV has gotten in the way of its release.  Well, now that FFXIV is in a bit of a lull until Heavensward, I managed to finish up the data collection.  There’s still a bunch to be done, mostly in the form of adding various graphics to the cards, but it’s still a lot of data.  I put in a number of features I like but haven’t seen elsewhere, like average magic points per encounter group, and a by-item guide to everything you can bet for it (both to get it and using it as the bet) at the Colosseum.  Enjoy!

FFXIV 2.3 Updates, FFVI Progress

The FFVI guide data collection was going well until FFXIV patch 2.3 came out and derailed all my momentum.  Them and their fun quests!

Fortunately (?), I’ve done most of the basic content in 2.3 and I (still) have no particular interest in grinding out any of the high-level stuff, so hopefully I can get back into the FFVI groove.

First, though, I wanted to mention the updates I’ve made for FFXIV.  All of the new items, recipes, dungeon drops, and so on are in.  Unfortunately a lot of the newer systems use a lot of data I can’t practically gather.  Desynthesis (or “desynthisis”, apparently) is a good example – even if I had the time to desynth everything, I’d need three characters to do it.  I did at least add whether an item can be desynth’ed to cards.  I’m trying to decide if it’s worth adding a desynth column to item lists themselves, or perhaps having “items this class can desynth” lists on class pages.  That seems largely redundant with crafting lists in general, but perhaps “items this class can desynth that it can’t craft” would be better.  Of course that wouldn’t tell you that culinarians can’t desynth food and alchemists can’t desynth potions, both of which seem pretty relevant.  I’m open to opinions here.

FF6, FF7, and the Nature of Criticism

Final Fantasy VI may be my favorite games in the series. Final Fantasy 7 is my least-favorite. This started as backlash to its popularity, but I’ve refined my criticisms over time. There’s just one problem: my issues with FF7 generally apply to FF6 as well.

FF7 isn’t really high fantasy, but nor is FF6. Sephiroth is an overwrought villain, but less so than Kefka. Both games’ translations miss many series references. The characters in FF7 are effectively interchangeable due to materia, but FF6’s esper system has similar problems. I find Cloud distractingly angsty, but I feel the same way about Terra.

I had to rethink my position on both games once I realized this. Is my analysis of FF7 wrong? Is my love of FF6 simple nostalgia? Perhaps, but I think this is more straightforward: it’s easy to criticize things you don’t like.

I could pick apart any game in the series, including the ones I love. Indeed, I would use many of the same arguments as haters of the series. I still love the series anyway.

The truth is, I don’t know why I like FF6 or dislike FF7 as much as I do. I think people are generally very bad at identifying why they feel the way they do about something. For almost any singular criticism of a game, you can name a game that’s great despite doing the same thing. As a Final Fantasy fan in 2014, I remind myself of this often.

RPGs and the Perfect End Game

Gamer Corner Guides exists in part because I wanted to avoid some of my issues with many typical guides.  In particular, I don’t want to focus on the end result of character customization.

In Final Fantasy VI all of your characters will naturally reach almost 9800 HP and 990 MP at level 99 without any influence from espers, so the general sentiment is not to bother with many esper HP or MP bonuses.  I haven’t seen much discussion of the value of having a bit more HP or MP at any point during the game, and this bothers me.

When I was younger, my goal in every RPG was perfection.  In college, I was playing FF4 and stumbled on a “perfect levelling guide.”  It revealed that the stats you gain after level 70 are somewhat random, and how to maximize them.

It didn’t take all that long to get Cecil and Kain each to level 80.  Before starting a third character I wanted to see what would happen if I took on Zeromus with just those two.  I figured they would be crushed, but shockingly this was not the case at all.  I had to use some Elixirs (Big Bang is still Big Bang, after all), but I won the fight easily.

It was at that point that I realized how pointless what I was doing was.  Zeromus is the hardest fight in the game, and I could annihilate him with a party of two, so why was I still leveling?

Since then, I don’t bother with perfection.  I find games are much more fun when you focus on the journey, not the destination.  There is a balance to be struck: I’ll choose espers in FF6 based more on stats than spells for some characters, but I’m not likely to leave an esper on a character once mastered (because that would be wasting magic points).  It’s not an optimal decision in the long run, but I will have completed every challenge in the game long before optimal becomes required, so what difference does it make?

Final Fantasy VI After All This Time

Since I’ve started tweeting site updates, I haven’t really updated this blog much.  I’m going to experiment with some actual blogging rather than just using this for site updates.  I recently decided to make a Final Fantasy VI guide.  FF6 was my favorite game when I was younger, but it was also the game that made me decide to stop playing the same game over and over and branch out a bit.  I have beaten it quite a few times.  I’ve cheated on that promise a bit – I did play through the GBA release, for instance – but it’s been a very long time since I played FF6.

One of the interesting effects of not having played the game in so long is that I no longer know where it would sit in my Final Fantasy game rankings.  I really love FF12, but that game is pretty flawed in the gameplay department, and I only really like half of FFXIII.  (Well, two quarters of it – the first half of the story, and the second half of the gameplay.)  FF9 might be a contender but it’s been even longer since I played that than FF6.

It will be interesting to see how I feel about the game now.  My biggest worry is that the last time I played FF6, I really broke the game’s systems.  My characters’ stats were ridiculous and nothing was even a challenge anymore.  While many FF games are exploitable, the problem with FF6 is that using the mechanics at all (especially the Esper bonus stats) is basically exploiting them.

I have a lot to say about FF6 and how it fits into the series, and I’ll be blogging my observations and experiences while playing through this time to make the guide.  It will be interesting for me to gather my thoughts on this game, and hopefully it will interest you as well.