This is an ongoing list where I attempt to do the following: Play, Complete, and Rank every video game in the known universe in order to finally answer the age old question "What is the greatest game of all time?" For previous entries find the links on the attached spreadsheet.
How did I do?
|Final Boss Party||Terra, Strago, Sabin, Setzer|
This is a long time coming, and I apologize to @bigsocrates, who voted on this game over a year ago, back when I was thinking about allowing the "audience" to vote for the next game I play. Long story-short, I ended up starting this with the SNES version, then due to a revamp of my gaming setup, re-started it and finished the game with the PS1 version.
It’s very strange to think that this is our first Final Fantasy game on the list and we are starting with what is arguably one of the top two Final Fantasy games. I will say, just to get it out of the way, this FF game is always in my top 3 FF games of all time, it’s ranking in my mind might change week to week, but it is always up at the top. What I find even wilder, maybe ‘wild’ is a bad choice of words, but this is only the 2nd time I have rolled credits on this game, which I have held so high on my personal list. I have started it multiple times, but I usually don’t finish those playthroughs, but obviously if I am going to run such a scientific list I had to do my due diligence.
Now there have been countless articles singing the praises of this game for a long time. In fact, I am sure that any point I make during my write-up has been written by someone else years ago as part of their retrospective/review/”greatest games of X” article, but this game has a lot to unpack so lets dive in. Let’s start with the basics: Final Fantasy 6 (released in US at the time as FF3) was a Super Nintendo RPG. There, Done.. now you are caught up!
Just kidding, but something to keep in mind during the writing and reading of this blog/review/whatever, is that since this is the first Final Fantasy game we are talking about we are going to try and make minimal references to other games in the series. Does FF6 owe a lot to previous iterations? Of course, but in order for me to accomplish what I am doing here, I don’t need to tell you the origins of Final Fantasy, or how the sausage is made. The plot’s don’t carry over, characters don’t carry over (naming conventions, yes, but not actual characters), so you could come into FF6 without having played a single other Final Fantasy game and still enjoy it.
The plot, while not wholly unique, is certainly one of the highpoints for a game of its time. It starts off as a tale of Resistance versus Empire, ala Star Wars, and then eventually becomes a story of heroes trying to preserve hope in a world that has been destroyed. It’s not that I particularly want to avoid spoilers for a game everyone knows a little something about, but rather that I am struggling to find the words to write about the plot, without doing a point by point re-telling. It’s good, has some twists and turns, one of the best villains of all time (more on him later) and hits you at the midpoint with a moment that no one can say they saw coming on their first playthrough. Could you boil the whole story down to: Resistance saves world from evil Empire? Yeah, I suppose you could, but there is so much more to it. When I think of this game I think of the small subplots and side quests that surround the larger plot. I think of Locke who is spending his entire life trying desperately to find a way to raise the dead, so he can bring back his girlfriend and alleviate the guilt he feels for her death. I think of the subplot of Terra who finds a purpose caring for orphaned children, being reluctant to leave them in order to join your posse, or the mystery of Shadow who really only tells his tale through dreams you get while sleeping at inns. This is what FF6 does best in terms of story-telling, MOST characters aren’t just joining your party to save the day, because you come across them and ask nicely, they each have a story to tell. It might be a tragic backstory, it might be a story of revenge, or it might be because you found them in the belly of a random encounter, but each character has a reason to take up arms. Even characters I don’t like, have stories that make you care about them, and the game makes sure it doesn’t get in your way while telling these stories. Some of these stories are missable, whether through not talking to the right people or visiting the right location, and the game does nothing to make sure you have resolved all these stories either. You can approach the final boss missing characters in your party, or not resolving their stories. You get to control how much or how engaged you are in the story, outside of the required plot points.
Those stories the game tells impress me, because the playable cast of characters is so much larger then other games at the time. I'm going to break my rule here, but previous Final Fantasy games always kept your party to 4 or 5 people, with others constantly having a reason to leave your party so you didn't go over that battle cap. Chrono Trigger, whom was no slouch had 7 characters all with their own stories, and Shining force had 30 characters (but I would argue they weren't really well developed). I’m not going to pretend and say that I have played every RPG up to the release of FF6, because I certainly haven’t. There might have been many games that came before it where you could recruit 100s of characters to play as, and certainly games have done it since (Chrono Cross, Suikoden 2, etc.), but here was a game that included 16 recruitable characters to swap into your party, 3 characters that join your party for just set pieces (Bannon, Ghost, General Leo), and multiple other characters that play pivotal roles in the story or your adventure (I’m looking at you Kupo, the 8th best Mog). What makes this list of characters great/unique is that for the most part any of them can be your main character and all the characters truly were individual in terms of their story and their abilities. Sure there are plot crucial moments where you are required to have someone in the party, but if your favorite character is Cyan, then once you recruit him he can be in your main party for nearly the whole game. Don’t like a character? Great, have them sit on the bench for every part of the game they aren’t required for. For the most part, the game doesn’t even care which character you don’t like. Terra is setup as your main character, as she is technically the first person in your party, but once you recruit enough people, you can have her sit out a lot of adventures.
The thing is, you will definitely have your favorites, not just from a story standpoint, but because each character is fairly unique to use. Edgar can use powerful tools, which have a wide range of effects, but don’t cost any MP, HP, or items to use. Once you buy the tool, he can use it every turn and you reap the rewards. Sabin can use the ability “Blitz,” which are fighting game inputs that lead to special moves. If you can remember the inputs and do them correctly every time, you have another powerful character that essentially has cost-free powerful moves at your disposal. There are certainly some overpowered characters that seem to be the “right” choice in the game, but the beauty is that you don’t have to give in to these impulses, and by the time you get to the 2nd half of the game, you can start to better round out the power of other characters that can make you miss using those powerful characters less and less. I will tell you that my two least used characters, no matter how many times I play this game are both Cyan and Gau. Cyan’s special ability are unique sword strikes, but in order to trigger them, you have to sit still and let a bar fill up to a certain length before activating his move. It’s incredibly easy to do, but incredibly boring and it makes fights with him seemingly take that much longer. Yes, you don’t have to use those abilities, and you can just make him a beast by having him equip two powerful swords and attack multiple times, I know and when I absolutely have to use him, I do this. That doesn’t mean that I have to enjoy it. Gau on the other hand has a much more interesting special ability. He can “turn into” an enemy that he has learned the mannerisms of. He doesn’t physically turn into them, but he can then use those enemies special abilities in battle against other enemies. In concept, I love the idea.. however it comes with two huge caveats. 1) you can’t control Gau once he becomes said monster, he does everything on his own, until either the enemies die or he dies. Which means if you need him to take timeout to help heal the team, use an item, or do a specific move, you are screwed. Caveat number 2 is that he can only learn moves by travelling to a certain part on the map and engaging enemies there. The problem there, is you might be fighting for awhile in order for the right monster to pop up that you want to learn from, and the fights don’t gain you any XP, so it’s not like you can just grind some levels there while powering up Gau. If you notice, both of these characters require patience, either in battle, or in training them, and I just don’t want to do it.
The best character and one that most people who have played the game probably think of is not one you can play at all, but the villain, Kefka. Kefka is arguably the best villain of any Final Fantasy game, even more so then the more popular Sephiroth. Kefka is true evil and he knows it. Everything he does is vile, and he is unsympathetic about it. Poison a water supply? You betcha… Kill his boss? Of course… Become an evil god? Yeah, he does that to. However, what makes him such a good villain is that you enjoy hating him. From the first time you see him, you want to beat him up and pull one over on him, and every time he appears you feel the same. This isn’t some omnipotent boss that exists just as a test of strength for you at the end game, but rather a villain that you see through multiple stages, who does a great job of antagonizing you throughout the whole game. I love me some FF7, but if Kefka was just an early proto-type of Sephiroth, (super powerful enemy you are always chasing), it wouldn’t hit the same way it does now. Now I know, a lot of people will point out how Kefka is basically the Joker from Batman, and for the most part they aren’t wrong. There are differences, and its fair to say that some elements of the Joker were used for Kefka, but people have to remember that at the time this game was made, there wasn’t the Nolan Joker that everyone fell in love with. (This is when people chime in to tell me all about the comic book iterations of the Joker that would have occurred before the release of FF6, but I don’t care.) I will end it by saying, there are very few final battles, in any game, that I think are as epic as your final confrontation with Kefka in this game.
FF6 also has my favorite combat when it comes to RPGs. Yes, I am an annoying asshole who thinks turn based combat is great, but FF6 has that best of both worlds option, where its not strictly turn-based but not quite action. There is a name for it, the ATB (Active Time Battle), where your characters actually have a little bar that fills up before they can take their turn. This bar fills up at different rates based on the speed stat of the team member you have in battle, as well as potentially based on any status effects they might have (haste v. slow). Presumably the enemies have the same bar filling up, but obviously you aren’t privy to it during combat. What this does is adds another layer of strategy into combat that you can control, but doesn’t ultimately rely on how fast your reaction speed might be. With multiple characters filling up their bars at once, you can alternate between who you want to act, perhaps holding back a certain character who can act reactionary to what a boss does. I will give you an example, during a boss fight, I would hold back my healer so that they can start loading up a healing spell immediately a boss attack, maximizing health gain, instead of either using it before the boss attacks and wasting it, or having them do a different action and then panic when I have to wait for their bar to fill up to heal again. Of course, there is also the alternative that states that if you can input an action as soon as available, you will get more turns then any enemy meaning you can perhaps quickly dispose of them before you get in trouble. This is of course already built on top of a system I loved, but one that allows you to control the actions of all your allies to truly oversee the whole battle. Gambits and other computer controlled AI partners I always have an issue with, and its simply because the computer has to follow their programming. If they have a Gambit that says, heal if you drop below 50% they are going to do that everytime. That's the benefit of the gambit, but I want to play freeform jazz, maybe I think the battle is almost over and I don't want them to waste a healing spell. I like my total control, and I won't apologize for it. I don’t have much more to say on it, and yes you are (for the most part) just selecting attacks/moves/spells from a menu, which doesn’t seem very cool or impressive, but it works for me and it was something I was sad games went away from in later titles.
Before I get into what I might see as negatives (blasphemous, I know) I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the music to this game. This game’s music is perhaps Nobou at his best, or at the very least close to his best. There is so much good music here, that I am not going to go into every song, but obviously I will call out some standouts, but don’t be offended if I leave off your favorite. In no particular order, The final battle, the opera scene, Airship in world of ruin, Shadow’s theme, Locke’s theme, just to name a few are all amazing tracks. I would say, if you haven’t played this game, check out the tracks… but honestly I don’t know if that would work. The tracks are bolstered because of what is happening on screen and what they conjure up, but I imagine if you weren’t familiar with the Opera scene but listened to the track, you might not think it’s actually great music. Take that how you want, for me, I can listen to the soundtrack either while writing, jogging, or just lounging around the house and immediately place myself in the scene the song comes from, so its special to me.
I love this game, hopefully that is obvious, but I will say that upon playing through the game and trying to take a critical eye on it, I did find it was far from flawless. Some of these are minor issues that really won’t impact a lot of people, but if I could change anything about the game it would be the following.
I find the beginning slow, I’m sorry I do. It certainly serves a purpose, as it allows us to get introduced to all the characters we are going to use for our adventure, it sets the story and allows the gameplay to come into its own. The game can’t throw you all the characters with all their different talents and expect you just to walk through it unfazed, so I understand the slow start, but for me it takes too long to get into the meat of the game. To me the game truly doesn’t begin until the first real multi party fight (Narshe Mountain top), or first visit to Zozo. Now this game is a long burn, for instance this playthrough took me 34 hours with some reloads, but unless you are speed-running the game, you are probably casually not getting to that point until around hour 8-10. That’s when we first get autonomy about what we want our party to be, and we start getting the ability to truly start upgrading our party (learning spells). It is always what stands in the way of me wanting to play it again, because I usually don’t want to put in the starter hours before I get to the “fun.” Now I think the beginning is fun, and needed for first-timers, but for me, I would love it shortened up. The slow start also highlights the true shift between the beginning and end of the game, even now upon my latest playthrough, it was a little bit of a struggle to get over the beginning hump. I might have played it for an hour a week and play other stuff because it wasn’t grabbing me, but put me in the world of ruin, and I couldn’t put the damn game down. I went from playing an hour to two a week, to playing three to four hours a day. It’s certainly a slow burn that can get its hooks in, but it takes a little time to get there.
While we are on the topic, I need the side quests to be split between the worlds a little better. I didn’t do any research to back up this fact, but if you divide the game between the worlds, even though I don’t think it’s a 50/50 time split. In the World of Balance, its 90% story and 10% side quests and the world of ruin is 30% story and 70% side quest. In this instance I am saying that a side-quest is anything that is not required to beat the game, no matter the difficulty you would be setting yourself up for. You can technically fight the final boss with your first crew, but if you do the “side-quests” you can recruit the rest of your team and tackle it later. Also some of the side quests in World of Ruin are incredibly engaging and you feel like you stumbled on something great that the game didn’t tell you directly to go here. The ancient castle under the desert, the Phoenix cave, or the Cultists tower, these are all great side quests and while they might not have big (main) story implications there is no equivalent in the world of balance. It is yet another reason I rush to hit that World of Ruin and feel that the beginning drags on a little long. It is so satisfying completing a side quest, getting that cool item, and knowing that you were gaining levels and learning spells with your make-shift team in the process, all while others might have missed out. So, in favor of side quests… but I need it spread out more during the game. Outside of some very small side-quests, there is nothing even remotely similar in the beginning of the game that you can sink your teeth into. It helps you gain levels without feeling like you need to grind, to the point that I beat the game without ever having to devote any time to just gaining levels and spells, outside of doing normal side quests.
The final “negative” is maybe the equivalent of me complaining that there isn’t enough frosting on my cake, but I love the multi-party dungeons and fights and I wish this game utilized it more. For those that aren’t aware, there are a few stages in this game where you actually split your characters into separate parties and are “forced” to make it work with that crew. The game opens up with this splitting your initial party of 4 into 3 different scenarios, but after that moment is used so sparingly. I like the challenge of having to use a collection of characters I don’t normally use, and while I can do that manually by constantly switching my party around (which I did), I much preferred when I was in a situation where the game made that split for me. If nothing else, I am a man who loves strategy and tactics in games (look at all the Xcom clones I have talked about for this list), but I loved agonizing over which 8 characters would make up 2 parties or what the makeup of 3 parties was going to be, knowing they all would have to do some work. Should I try and split up my favorites so that one or two is on each party to help carry the load? Should I divide up my primary mages? Gotta make sure I don’t overload a team with too many fighters, or characters who are weak to magic… can I avoid using Gau and Cyan at all? The final dungeon is my moment of the game, because it’s a long ass dungeon that requires you to do just this. Try to favor one team, or split things up incorrectly and you are going to have a bad time, because every team has to fight one tough boss, if not multiple. It is something that I have told myself, when I tinker around in RPG Maker, that I want to make sure I do for whatever game I am working on, force the player to mix-it up. Don’t let them get comfortable only using the same 4 characters. Now I can certainly see that if the game is overloaded with this, it makes it less impactful and the game is trying to tell me “a little bit goes a long way,” but I still want more.
Those are minor nit-picks and even with those, I think FF6 is and will always be considered a great game. The pixel art holds up, the diverse cast of characters and story still work, and the music is just as great. Are there people who don’t like this game? Of course… Are there people who probably find it’s combat boring? You betcha… But to me, the game holds up very well. I do realize that it will probably be an incredibly rough sell to get newer generations to get into this game, and I highly doubt when my kid inevitably wants to follow in my glorious footsteps and make his own list, this game ranks as high, but for my list this is easily in the top 5 of greatest games of all time.
Is this the greatest game of all time?: It is sooooo.. close, but no
Where does it rank: This list sometimes makes me think over my personal top games of all time. Sometimes I re-visit a game, and realize that maybe nostalgia played too much of a role, and while I won't deny that I am sure nostalgia played a little role in FF6, this game still holds up incredibly well. I have Final Fantasy 6 as the It is between Yakuza 0 (2nd) and Mega Man 2 (4th).
Anyone looking for it: here is the link to the list and more if you are interested in following along with me (this is not a self promotion).Here. I added links on the spreadsheet for quick navigation. Now if you missed a blog of a game you want to read about, you can get to it quickly, rather than having to scroll through my previous blogs wondering when it came up.
Thanks for listening