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By: Zachary Lewis
Outside of Japan, RPGs went by the wayside during the early '90s. Enix had pooled their Dragon Quest resources in Japan, Capcom's Breath of Fire wasn't selling well, and even Squaresoft had seen fit to withhold Final Fantasy V from foreign shores. Yet, not all hope was lost for the genre. Secret of Mana had managed to rekindle interest in Squaresoft and the RPG genre in general. So it was that Final Fantasy VI arrived in 1994, to the praise and wonderment of all.
Much like all the other 16 and 32-bit incarnations of Final Fantasy, VI used the tried and true ATB system to drive its battle system. Unlike the majority of games from around that time, each character had a special skill - or group of skills - that were usable only by them. These ranged from the simple 'steal' of the treasure hunter, to the more arcane 'runic' magic absorbing ability of the mage-knight. Also for the first time in the series, 'limit break' style attacks appeared, whereby a character with low health had a small chance of inflicting a massive amount of damage to their enemies. By utilizing the simple text menu to use items, attack foes, cast spells, or use a special skill set, combat flowed smoothly, much like the regular in-game menu system. Although wholly a text-based affair, the system is self-explanatory enough that most any player could pick up the game and customize their characters equipment.
One special facet of a character's equipment was in dealing with magicite. Essentially the magical essence of dead espers, magicite taught the characters different magical spells and altered their level-up statistics. For example, equipping the magicite 'Shoat' slowly teaches a character how to cast Bio, Break, and Doom, and as long as it stays equipped, also adds 10% to the amount of HP that character would naturally gain from leveling up. Although it would be possible to beat Final Fantasy VI without swapping magicite between characters and trying to teach everyone some of the bare essentials, it would be virtually impossible to complete several of the sidequests later in the game. And given that there is only one ending, one path through the plot, and that the majority of those sidequests are mandatory, there is little to increase replay value beyond any other typical RPG.
In discussing the story of any RPG, one should hope that the characters play an interesting and useful function. Considering that the game follows the same 'evil empire' and 'lust for power' parable of Star Wars, the characters bring a large percentage of quality to the story. The majority of them receive several scenes of personal development, and through the course of the adventure each one is given a clearly defined goal and self-explanation for their continued support for one another. In part because of this special attention to the characters, it's fairly easy to develop a special place in your heart for each of them, which lends a lot to the urgency of the issues covered by the adventure.
One area the game propels itself far beyond where any other could ever hope to catch it is with its music. Nobuo Uematsu gave the game a huge amount of tracks to draw from, including a phenomenal piece for each character, and each major location. From the inspiring world of balance overworld theme, to the frustratingly sad tune given over to the wild-boy, Gau, every track - without exception - was a 16-bit masterpiece. Accompanying the aural marvels of the soundtrack, are the apt and obviously 16-bit sound effects. But, with the limitations of the Super Nintendo itself, not much more could be hoped for or received. The sprite-based graphics and multi-level backgrounds similarly use the vast majority of the console's potential to deliver an amazingly gorgeous variety of characters, effects, and locations to the 16-bit world being created.
The unremarkable translation is the one area where FFVI sags down to the level of practically every other RPG made during its era. With Nintendo's harsh censorship issues, a huge amount of text to translate, the majority of the plot remaining intact, and the entirety of the menu system coming across regardless, the end result was better than some but worse than others; which also aptly describes the games difficulty. The first half is remarkably easy, save for a few troublesome boss battles, while the more open-ended 'World of Ruin' jumps the difficulty dramatically upward, and imposes some arduously long character gathering sidequests. Assuming you opt to skip most of these, or are on a second playthrough, there should be little difficulty completing the game in 30 hours. Meanwhile, first timers will have much more exploration ahead of them and find a lot more interest in following every word of the story, which could easily double that figure.
To say that Final Fantasy VI is rivaled by any other RPG of its time, with the possible exception of Chrono Trigger, would be doing it a grave injustice. It brought more heart and love of making the game forward than the huge majority of even recent RPGs, and that love showed through in an amazing way. So, if you're in the mood for a well told story, and aren't firmly rooted in our current new-school of titles, then wander back to the SNES and play one of the best RPGs of all time.
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