Final Fantasy VI: Best in the Series
The Final Fantasy series is one of the longest-running and most famous series in the videogame industry. It started out with Final Fantasy for the Nintendo Entertainment System as a last-ditch effort by Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) to save the company from bankruptcy; it ended up becoming one of the most profitable and loved franchises known today.
Final Fantasy VI debuted on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994 (the successor to the Nintendo Entertainment System), the last in the franchise to be released on the system. Although it is now a 14-year old game, it still holds up and is considered one of the best, if not, the best in the entire Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy VI boasts a compelling story, incredible gameplay, top-notch graphics (for its time), and a memorable soundtrack; making this an absolutely unforgettable experience.
The game starts out with a young, green-haired soldier named Terra, who is under control by the fast growing Gestahlian Empire. Terra possesses a power that is thought to be extinct called magic, which the Empire is using to gain even more power and take over more territories. Within the first fifteen minutes of the game, Terra is saved by a group opposing the Empire, called the Returners; her slave crown (which without her knowledge was controlling her) is removed, and the truth about the Empire is revealed to her. Terra must now decide what she will do; help the Returners bring peace back to the world or run away back to the Empire. From hereon, the story unfolds, a vast cast of characters will be introduced, and the adventure begins.
The plot from Terra's point of view is only one of the many interlaced storylines that are told throughout the game. Final Fantasy VI doesn't have a single main protagonist – with a cast of 14 playable characters, the story is able to add subplots and underlining storylines concerning the entire cast – both main and minor characters. This makes the game's plot rich, complex and gripping – allowing the gamer to feel sympathetic to the characters, and making the experience overall more believable; to this extent, this was something that had not been done before in the series. On top of that, a number of serious topics and themes are discussed in the game including love, hate, betrayal, interracial relationships, children out of wedlock, and torture, to name a few. This was a huge achievement for a game back in the '90s; and makes Final Fantasy VI one of the most mature games at the time.
Of course, a good game must also have great gameplay, and Final Fantasy VI doesn't fail to deliver. A handful of new features are introduced in this installment of the series, first being a mini map. When in the overworld, a small map of the world will be displayed on the bottom right hand corner; the red dot being you, and the white dots representing cities, towns, caves, etc. This is a huge help as the overworld is quite large and navigating without a map can get very annoying and wastes time. Monsters are still fought in random battles and are still handled through the Active-Time Battle System (ATB) first featured in Final Fantasy IV. That's not to say that there aren't new battle elements in this game either. A new limit break-type action is available to any character who is in critical status; this allows them to do a powerful attack to the enemy. Also – a special ability that matches their job is assigned to each character. For instance, Locke, the thief, has the ability to steal items from enemies; or Edgar, the engineer, can use tools as weapons.
Customization is also heavily implemented in Final Fantasy VI. Mid-way throughout the game you find Espers – who are magical monsters being extracted by the Empire for their powers. These nice little guys are willing to help you on your quest by infusing their magic to you. The Esper system is simple, and easy to learn. Every Esper is able to pass on magic spells to the character that equips them; this can range anywhere from one spell, to as many as five. Spells are learned through Ability Points (AP) which the player can earn by fighting random battles. After enough AP is earned, the spell is permanently learned and the Esper can be switched out for another, if one so chooses. Besides armor and weapons, characters can now equip something called Relics. Relics are accessories that can be equipped for added bonuses; such as Sunglasses to protect against blindness or Dragoon Boots, which change your Attack command to Jump. One last fun but small addition is the inclusion of multiplayer, a first for the series. However, this is limited to only battles, since walking in the overworld is done by the first player. This feature was only seen Final Fantasy VI, and Final Fantasy IX.
The graphics in Final Fantasy VI are some of the best on the system and really push the SNES's hardware. Before Final Fantasy VI, character sprites were less-detailed on the map than in battle; this time around, the same sprite is used for either screen. This allowed the characters to have more animations and facial expressions. Another addition was the way Chocobo riding and airship flights were handled; whenever the player hops onto any transportation device, the view switches from an over-the-top 2D view to a somewhat 3D perspective, giving it a more realistic feel. The game also features beautifully rendered backgrounds, and some very unique levels, for example – a massive floating continent.
Everything is tied together with a perfect soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu. The series' long-time composer for almost all of the games in the series creates what would be considered for most his best score ever. Every character's theme song reflects their personality flawlessly and every level's song fits the mood and atmosphere impeccably. Even though the SNES provided limitations, the soundtrack still sounds fantastic and is rich and complex.
Overall, Final Fantasy VI still stands as one of the best in the series. The game boasts break-through graphics and sound achievement for its time, an absolutely remarkable story and cast of characters, great gameplay, and still manages to stick to the conventions of its predecessors; delivering yet another compelling experience for the series.