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The Myth of Final Fantasy 6

by Crawl 

I read with interest the editorials regarding opinions considering Final Fantasy 6 to not be a great game. My interest is twofold: I personally do not like Final Fantasy 6, and I believe I have a different perspective on that game than the others who previously wrote editorials.

First, some history of myself might be appropriate. The first RPG I played was Dragon Warrior. The first Final Fantasy game I played was Final Fantasy 1. In fact, I got Final Fantasy before I finished Dragon Warrior, fell in love with it, and Dragon Warrior fell by the wayside for several months.

Normally, I think the main reason I play videogames is for challenge, and as a result, my favorite games tend to be action games. However, when Final Fantasy was released in America, the culture was such that if you went to any videogame (or more likely, simply toy) store on a random day, you might not find a single RPG. At the time, Final Fantasy was a novelty. But it went beyond that. It had solid game play, too. It had large mazes, difficult bosses (at least in the sense that it took many hours of leveling up to beat most of them...), and numerous mysteries that could actually get you stuck in the game for some time (such as finding the air ship - well, if you didn't use the game's included guide). Many of these fundamental game play elements have been left by the wayside by modern RPGs, but I digress... I thought Final Fantasy was a great game.

And so it was with great anticipation that I waited for Final Fantasy 2... even though I now know it's proper name is Final Fantasy 4. And my anticipation was rewarded. I think it may be the single most influencial RPG ever. It certainly is my favorite. Many RPGer's today swear that the most important part of an RPG is story - a value system I disagree with, particularly since almost all RPG stories are rather poor when compared to stories of other story-telling media (such as novels, movies, and so on). However, when the first videogames started adding story, it was as though videogames had a dimension they didn't have previously, and for that reason, those early stories stand out most to me. And among those, the one that had the largest impact was Final Fantasy 4. It's seminal, sure, but many might poke holes in it roughly a decade later. I still think it has aged surprisingly well. First, the story feeds the game play. Vagrant Story's story may have been better translated and may be more thought provoking, but it really is independant of the game, to the degree that some cut scenes could have been moved forward or backwards one boss encounter and it would have made little difference. There are many RPGs in which, after one quest is finished, there seems little motivation to go out questing again. Of course, since we know we haven't yet finished the game we know we need to find some more evils to right, but the plotting in those cases seems sloppy. This is never the case in Final Fantasy 4. Despite all the plot twists, after each quest, you always have some problem which feeds the next quest. And if Kain betrays you too many times, well, at least the game has some post-ironic knowledge and sense of humor about it: at the game's end, Edge says, "I hope he doesn't betray us again!" The increase to Final Fantasy 4's music quality from what came before is the greatest in the history of videogames... and to this day, Final Fantasy 4 is one of my favorite soundtracks (surpased only, perhaps, by Symphony of the Night's). Oddly, I prefer the basic magic spell effects (such as Fire 2) to any other game in the series' history, including the PSX games, and even if the PSX summons are more impressive, FF4 has the most impressive 2D summons (IMO).

But what really blew me away with Final Fantasy 4 was the game play.

As I said, I generally prefer action games, and Final Fantasy 4 injected faster paced elements into RPGs. It invented the entire ATB system, thus every single Final Fantasy game (every "true" game, at least; ie, excluding Tactics) feels like a Final Fantasy 4 clone. It added many great skills, such as Kain's jump, which complimented the ATB system. Palom and Porom's twin magic was like a precursor to Chrono Trigger's double techs (though Magic of Scheherazade seemed to preced CT more in that regard). Most characters had numerous skills (especially in the Japanese version) - for example, Edge could throw weapons, steal from enemies, and had his unique cache of magic. The amount of level building was toned down as well, making the game faster, as well as more replayable.

So, perhaps I have gone on too long about Final Fantasy 4. Obviously, whether you agree or not with my description of it, I loved it. I passed on Final Fantasy 6 for awhile, but EVERYONE told me, "Oh, you have to play it! If you like FF4 you'll LOVE FF6 - it's so much better! The story is better, the music is better, the game play is better! BETTER, BETTER, BETTER, BETTER!!"

Perhaps my hopes were built up too much. However, if a game is praised that much, it should live up to the praise. By now, I have finished FF1, 4, 5, 6, 7, Tactics, and am a good way into 9... and of all those games, I like FF6 the least. (I also have the 3 game boy FFL games, FFAdventure, and FF Mystic Quest, but since those are not true Final Fantasy games, I'm not counting them. I also have Final Fantasy 8, but have not played it enough - not enough free time - to compare it to Final Fantasy 6) I nearly hate Final Fantasy 6, but I suppose as an editorialist, I should attempt to be unbiased.

With that in mind, I will get out the way the four things about Final Fantasy 6 that could qualify it as being special (there are only 4):

1 Sabin's Blitzes

2 Ultros's humor

3 The idea behind the Phoenix Cave and Kefka's Tower: of using multiple parties to explore one dungeon

4 The Magi Master Boss

For 1, as I've said, I've often thought RPGs need more interactive, especially skill based, aspects to their basic game play, and Sabin's Blitzes provide that. In fact, I think it was such a good idea that this should have been stolen by later RPGs... and it boggles my mind that a similar skill was not included in, for example, Final Fantasy 7. The idea is was not plucked from thin air, however: Final Fantasy 6 had Street Fighter 2 to look to in inspiration for Sabin's Blitzes.

For 2... I've often heard people say, especially before I played FF6, that FF6 was a great drama. Imagine my surprise to find most of the dialogue of the first half of the game (and all of the most effective dialogue) was low humor! FF6 is not a good drama, plain and simple. I did laugh at some things Ultros said or did. However, even in this regard FF6 falls short: Booster from Super Mario RPG was more humorous. Also, perhaps FF6 would have had a chance at being an effective drama if every supposedly dramatic moment was not preceded and followed by (or in some cases, simultaneously was) a comedy routine.

3 was a good idea, but unfortunately it made level building that much more tedious, leveling up 3 times as many people. Still, I wish this idea was stolen by other games. It really could have benefit Chrono Cross. Using multiple parties at once would put that huge roster of characters to good use, and since level building is not required in that game, it would have added no tedium. A huge opportunity was missed there, IMO.

4... FF6 is an easy game, and only the most basic strategies are needed (ie, attack bosses when you can, heal when you must... or have a few dedicated "white mages" heal while the rest attack).. with one exception: The Magi Master. The Magi Master NEEDED exotic strategies to beat, and even better, more than one exotic strategy can be used. For Emerald Weapon, on the other hand, the knights of round/mime strategy is definitely the prefered method. On the other hand, even this has a down side: The preceding tower is either too easy (if you use the moogle charm) or too tedious. Admittedly, challenging RPGs that are actually fun are rare.

So, what about the aspects of Final Fantasy 6 that are usually praised?

I did not like the story. The main story was not fleshed out at all. It went too often into flashbacks into characters' pasts, avoiding the center of the story. It could be argued that those flashbacks established characters, but so? What did it establish them FOR? How do those traits tie into the quest their currently on? For the most part, they don't. How do individual quests forward the plot? For the most part, they don't. Quests for the first part of the game are simply of the nature of getting from point A to point B. The only real plot twist in the first half of the game that occurs in the same time as the game (ie, it's not a flash back) is what happens at the end of the World of balance... and we know what happens next! No plot at all! It's not as though there are numerous clashes between the empire and the returners before that time. The whole set up of the plot seems hard to believe to me, anyway. Gestahl is trying to take over the world... from what? The whole world already seems to be under his control. The only other country that exists on the planet to oppose him is Doma, which was primative compared to his. The plot hinges on the Goddess Statues. Presumably, they gave Kefka his power. Presumably, they have some relation to the espers. But what? What is the origin of the statues? Their purpose? What powers or limitations do they really have? Considering their importance to the plot, some attempt at answers should have been made. But there's nothing.

My take on Locke's romance with Celes: Locke: "Who cares about Racheal now that I gots Celes to get busy with!"

(This is my same take on Aeris's death in FF7, just replace Racheal's name with "Aeris", Locke's with "Cloud" and "Celes" with Tifa. I really didn't think Aeris's death was emotional at all, except I was pissed that I spent all that time leveling her up and learning her limit breaks - I actually managed to avoid spoilers and didn't know she would die until I saw it happen)

The game play... I already named the best things about the game's game play. The rest comes from earlier FF games or simply isn't good. Each character has at most one unique skill. That's worse than it seems. If Kain could only jump, he also was defined as a powerful fighter and could not use magic. In FF6, characters are all more or less the same with regards to basic stats, and all (except Umaro) can use all spells. Terra's morph command is especially pointless. If used in maybe 1 out of 100 fights, it'll last for about 4 rounds... which means that for the vast majority of the time, Terra's special skill is NOT using a special skill.

The attempts at non-RPG gameplay (minigame precursors) were, imo, stupid. If the opera scene weren't silly enough, picking the next line is really scraping the bottom of the game play barrel. Couldn't they think of some new type of game play that involves more skill than writing down lines on paper? I also wonder what "game over" means if you fail? Did the opera house owner kill you for messing up the lines? (yes, that last bit was intended to be silly).

The end boss was a wuss, and it didn't help that you could save right before hand to immediately try again if you (somehow) messed up.

Music is a subjective thing, and I have no aim at being objective here. I will say I enjoyed a few tunes very much, such as Terra's theme and the boss theme, but there are also numerous tunes I did not like at all (I was mortified at what was done to the classic FF fight music, and that's one some that plays over and over...). The majority of the music in the game had no effect on me at all.

I think that the game offers very little new that I liked, the core being an FF4 clone, is one of the main reasons I dislike it. If nothing else, that banishes it immediately to the realm of "just another RPG." As I said, when FF1 was released, it was something of a novelty in America. FF6 was all old hat.

Of course, so was FF7 and 9 (and I almost certainly expect I will think the same of FF8). Are the rest of the reasons given for my dislike of FF6 enough to rank it below those two more recent games, not to mention various other RPGs I've played? They are, I think, at least a sufficent starting point for me to accept as based in intellegent thought my poking of holes in Final Fantasy 6's myth.

-Crawl, crawl@smbhq.com

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