Review by 2Deux2
Better late than never
FFVI was the last 2D Final Fantasy and marked the monumental shift for the series from Nintendo to Sony. The game was finally released in the UK 8 years after its original release for the Playstation. I have mixed feelings about this game. On the one hand, there are elements of genius in here, on the other, the game has several flaws and aside from the story, has not aged too well.
Back in the day, this game had amazing graphics, some of the best on the SNES. The port ,however, doesn't overhaul the graphics at all to take advantage of the PS's superior processing power, save for 2 sub-par FMVs, which are badly thought out and incoherrent, focusing on stringing together several plot events rather than adding anything to the story.
In regard to the original graphics, there are several gripes I have. Firstly, there is a bad 2D- pseudo 3D contrast throughout much of the game. When walking on the world map, the game runs in 2D, but when on an airship or chocobo, the game runs using mode 8 in pseudo 3D. Naturally this can be quite disorientating. When it does attempt to do full 3D as in the minecart ride, it looks horrendous and feels like a bad acid trip. Not cool. Secondly, many of the monsters are palette swaps. This is very lazy on behalf of the programmers, especially when they are 2D sprites with very few animations. If all three PS Fantasy's didn't have palette swaps, why does this?
On a positive note, the monsters do look stunning from the majestic Greater Behemoth to the fan favourites of Malboros, Cactuars and Tonberries (here called Badoscars, Cactrots and Pugs) . The backgrounds for the fights look amazing and display a high level of artistic intricacy. Sadly, the towns are somewhat bland with many appearing virtually identical with the exceptions of Narshe, Figaro castle, Dorma castle and Vector. The dungeons also suffer from great similarity, one wonders what Freud would read into the developers recurring obssession with caves. There are some brilliant ones such as Cyan's mind and the Magitek facility, but these are few and far between.
It's not one of Uematsu's greatest scores. The fight theme is catchy, the boss theme is decent if unremarkable. The character themes are mostly brilliant, especially Locke's and Celes', but only play occasionally. The inherrent limitations of the SNES in the sound as well as the fact Uematsu's style had not yet fully developed mean it's below the standard of the later games in the series. The stand out moment is the track from the final boss fight, it flows like a suite seemlessly from one phase to the next.
This is where the game really shines. The tale begins with a bit of backstory. 1000 years ago, the War of the Magi destroyed civillization as we know it. Subsequently, the magic which started the war was lost. Unfortunately, the evil Empire is eager to recover the lost art for its own nefarious purposes and so a mysterious green haired girl under control of two soldiers of the Empire is dispatched to attack the village of Narshe and find an "Esper"- a magical being.
Soon, you're caught up in a struggle against the Empire and the diabolical court magician, Kefka who's sanity has been warped in the Empire's twisted experiments. Expect plenty of twists and turns and keep a box of tissues handy. The plot is one of the funniest in the series, from the castle escape scene to the discovery of magic, yet also very poignant at times. Once you get over the subpar graphics and horrible encounter rate, the present day gamer will be entranced.
There are 14 characters, of which 3 are optional. From the hellraising Setzer to the quiet and reserved Terra, each character has their own personality. While about 4 of the cast have little more backstory than you would find in a game like Suikoden V with over 108 characters, they are unique and engaging. The other 10 have reasonably deep backstories, most of which have an element of tragedy to them. Most of these are discoverable in the second half of the game in the World of Ruin.
The only downside with the story is the translation. At several moments, important parts have been cut for the western audience, such as the lecherous Edgar hitting on 10 year old Relm, and then being shocked when he find out her age. Some monsters and spells also encountered problems in localization, Atma and Merton should be Ultima and Meltdown respectively while the text size limitation for weapons has led to the Masamune being dubbed Aura and Heaven's Cloud Strato. Thankfully, the overall essence of the story remains intact and there are no "spoony bard" moments.
It's an RPG. For those who have already played a game in the series, you know how it works. For those who have not, the gameplay consists of a turn-based battle system with 4 of your characters against a monster/ monsters. You have the usual options, fight, magic, item and in FFVI a unique character command, ranging from absorbing magic with Runic to sketching your opponent and attacking it. You can equip armour and weapons as usual, but FFVI focuses on items with magical properties known as relics. These may grant immunity to statuses, or allow you to wield two weapons, or to attack 4 times. They create an element of strategy to customizing your characters. As well as levelling up with exp, the characters can equip "espers" and learn magic from them.
Random encouters occur frequently as you explore the games numerous dungeons, nearly all of which look like caves of some description, or on the world map. The encounter rate is ridiculously high and some of the enemies can be hard; in the last dungeon some are nearly as tough as the bosses. Thankfully, you can ride a chcocbo, a sort of yellow ostrich and later an airship on the world map to avoid battles, but the ridiculously high encounter rate in dungeons remains until you find Mog and his charm in the World of Ruin about 2/3rds of the way through the game.
Speaking of bosses, VI is old school. Bosses are not pushovers and you'll more than likely see a few game overs (it took me 4 tries to beat the final boss). They usually have a few cheap attacks that require a bit of forethought to prepare for, which usually consists of choosing armour to protect against nasty statuses/ elemental attacks. Although there are several optional bosses, there are no uber optional bosses common to later FF games, the final boss is the hardest in the game. This ramps the difficulty up considerably for the casual gamer and you may e inclined to throw your controller against the wall. As such, there is a feeling of immense satisfaction when you finally vanquish one of these insidious enemies.
The game is split into roughly 2 halves, the World of Balance and the World of Ruin. The World of Balance is extremely linear and plot driven all the way, Ruin, on the other hand is made up almost entirely of sidequests delving into various character's backstories as well as offering lots of secret espers and exciting items to aid you in your struggle if you take a look around. You can complete the game with 3 characters, or you can search the world over to find your friends again, the choice is up to the player.
The World of Ruin becomes extremely aggravating from a gaming perspective as to what you should actually do to find people. Getting most of the Espers as well would probably require consulting a guide. However, if you possess a good brain and talk to everyone in every town, you would probably be able to figure out most things given enough time. To give you an idea, it takes about 12 hours to do virtually everything in the World of Ruin with a guide, without it would probably be over 20. It all depends on your personality and gaming style as to which you prefer.
Outside of the battles, there is plenty of exploring to do to acquire the best techniques and weapons. While obtaining spells such as Fire 3 isn't too difficult, to obtain Ultima is quite a challenge. There are no minigames, but you don't really miss them that much. Instead, some of the game's events and later dungeons involve two- three party puzzle situations to try to stop a foe, or to reach the cave's treasure.
The game is shorter than its PS cousins clocking in at probably 30-40hrs. Nevertheless, it is largely an enjoyable experience. If you are a fan of the series and are willing to put up with some flaws, get hold of this. However, I would recommend the GBA version with its better translation and graphics, or alternately waiting for its inevitable DS overhaul rather than forking out for this shoddy localization.
Final Score 7/10
Product Release: Final Fantasy VI (w/ FFX Demo) (EU, 03/01/02)
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