Review by darthjulian
Not even the bad PSX port can harm this incredible game that finally found its way to Europe
Eight years. Eight years since 1994. Think about it. An entire console generation, the 32-Bit generation, had its life span within these eight years. And in 2002, with the PlayStation already being virtually dead and succeeded by the PlayStation 2, Sony made what can be considered to be one of the most unusual and fortunate decisions ever for the European market: Sony finally released "Final Fantasy VI", the PlayStation port of the legendary SNES RPG (titled "Final Fantasy III" in the US), here in Europe, eight years after the disappointment over Nintendo Europe´s cheap excuses for having cancelled a European release for this gaming gem. Anyhow, it´s better to get this title late than never, and perhaps it happened at long last because Sony and Squaresoft had realized that the Final Fantasy series really is a popular and lucrative franchise in Europe, too, so maybe both companies tried to make a quick buck by releasing these long lost gems in European territories for a bargain price. However, despite the fact that this title finally made its way here, one must consider that we´re talking about the PSX version of the game that has already been released in the US as part of the "Final Fantasy Anthology", and it´s not exactly the best version of the game...
Being a direct port of the original "Final Fantasy VI" for the Super Nintendo, Squaresoft fortunately did not touch the story of the game at all, and that´s something we should all be glad about, considering its legendary status nowadays. Just like in the days of the SNES, you start the game playing as a mysterious girl named Terra riding a so called Magitek Armor - a magic-powered vehicle - accompanied by two soldiers named Biggs and Wedge (nice allusion to Star Wars here...). We find out that they are members of an evil Empire, and they´re making their way to a town called Narshe in order to search for a frozen Esper, a creature with unsurmountable magical abilities. However, they are being attacked by members of the "Returners" group, who are opposing the Empire and its rule. As the three make their way through the rebels and into the mineshaft of Narshe, they find the Esper, who suddenly starts glowing with a mysterious light, and both Biggs and Wedge vanish immediately as they´re being touched by the light, with Terra falling unconscious. She is saved by a Returner named Locke Cole, who helps her to remove the so called slave crown from her head, a device that caused her to obey the orders of her masters. As she comes to again, she apparently lost her memory, and Locke promises that he will stay with her until she regains her memory, after which the two go on their journey to the headquarter of the Returners and their commander Banon, who might be able to help Terra uncover the secret surrounding her past and her abilities, since she seems to be the only human capable of using magic...Of course the story becomes much more complicated throughout the game, with the role of the Empire and those behind the events surrounding Terra and the Esper being revealed only slowly. That´s part of the reason why the story is so incredibly intriguing, with the other being the characters. Not only does "Final Fantasy VI" have the biggest cast of playable characters in any Final Fantasy, it´s also one of the best. Almost each character gets a good deal of background story and development, to an extent that one could say that there´s no real main character - Locke and Terra could fit the bill as well as others like Celes or Edgar. It´s no surprise that they have an almost legendary status among fans by now, and it´s highly likely that each of them will grow close to you over the time - you´ll actually worry about their well being and their story. Especially the second half of the game gives you an amount of freedom in terms of character development that is rarely seen in any RPG, but I won´t spoil it for you, just as I won´t spoil any other details about the story for those who haven´t played it yet. Nevertheless, it´s still one of the greatest stories ever told in any RPG, and the villain of this game - Kefka - deserves a special mention for being the most lunatic villain in any RPG, surpassing even Albedo from Xenosaga at least in that regard.
Much like its SNES predecessors, "Final Fantasy VI" follows the basic gameplay consisting of the four realms "world map", "dungeons", "towns" and "battles", which is only too understandable, seeing that this formula has always been working properly in RPGs. As far as the combats go, "Final Fantasy VI" uses the well known and widely appreciated Active Time Battle System, with the bars for the characters returning that indicate how long it will take for them until they can attack the enemy or execute another action. There are, of course, other abilities to use in battle, some of them being character specific such as the "steal" command or the use of magic, an ability that is accessible to only two characters at the beginning of the game, those being Celes and Terra. Over the course of the game, however, other character will be able to use magic, too, by equipping them with the so called magicites. A magicite allows a character to learn different spells the more experience points the collect, and by equipping all magicites to each character and training them a lot, you practically can have each character learn each spell in the game. A magicite also enables its current owner to summon an Esper during the battle, the game´s equivalent to the Guardian Forces and other summon spells of later games, with a lot of familiar Espers being present such as Shiva, Ifrit or Bahamut, and as always, they´re powerful allies during the battles. Other than that, you will also encounter a lot of variety in this game, providing you with lots of welcome breaks from the usual fare, with the famous opera house scene probably being the best example for this, as well as some other interesting minigames or submissions, even though they are not as frequent as in "Final Fantasy VII". The gameplay per se is flawless and near perfect, no doubts there, but the PlayStation version unfortunately features some problems that were not present on the Super Nintendo. For one, there are now some nasty slowdowns during the battles, which makes choosing an action quite awkward at times. There are also some horrid load times present in this version of the game, an unfortunate fact you will notice whenever you want to switch to the menu, which can take several seconds now. As if that wasn´t bad enough already, European gamers also have to deal with big. black PAL borders now. It´s really unfortunate and bothersome, since Square could have easily avoided these flaws, seeing that they did so in their PSOne Final Fantasy games - apart from the PAL borders, that is. Despite these flaws of the port, the gameplay still is completely awesome, just the way it was back then in 1994.
Visually, Squaresoft did not change anything about the in-game graphics at all, being on the same level as the Super Nintendo original. And while it can´t compete with some modern PSX RPGs like Chrono Cross or of course its own successors, it still looks surprisingly good on Sony´s 32-Bit machine. The bitmap character sprites still have the same charm to them as in the old days, having lots of small but cute details as well as tons of funny animations that make the characters seem "alive"; bring them closer to you. In a way, they are still among the best when it comes to 2D graphics in RPGs. The environments are solid and detailed as well, and the battle graphics feature wonderfully drawn enemies and backdrops as well as some nifty spell and summon effects, and despite their age, they´re still nice to look at indeed. Even though Squaresoft left the in-game graphics intact, they added at least an all-new CGI intro to the game, as well as an ending sequence, trying to make use of the capabilities of the PlayStation at least in that regard. Technically, they´re very well done and are roughly on part with "Final Fantasy VII", but I somehow did not like the way the characters were being presented during these scenes - they simply look a little too dry and lifeless in my opinion, and I definitely prefer the sprite characters and their portraits in the menu in terms of style.
The music of "Final Fantasy VI" is yet another stellar high point of this masterpiece. Nobuo Uematsu definitely delivered one of his best scores ever, with classic such as "Dancing Mad" or the opera theme still being fan favorites after so many years. And even though Square did not do anything in order to improve their quality on the CD based PlayStation, the audio quality still is considerably good, which is a testament to what Square already was able to get out of the Super Nintendo sound chip back in the days, seeing how wonderfully well it holds up.
Yes, "Final Fantasy VI" on the PlayStation is a technically flawed game compared to the Super Nintendo original, but European RPG fans who still were unable to get their hands on this all-time classic should do so quickly, or at least wait for a translated version of the GBA port. Even if it´s over 10 years old by now, the game has not lost any of its appeal at all, and it´s still one of the best games ever made, an all-time classic and one of the most memorable video game experiences ever, and second only to "Final Fantasy VII" as the best Final Fantasy title. Indeed, one of the greatest games ever and still better than 95% of today´s games.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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