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

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