Final Fantasy VI has been touted by fans as one of the best RPG’s of all time. I’m convinced that they’re right. If you can look past the 16 bit graphics (which were cutting edge at the time), there’s an excellent story with strong characters and beautiful music to hum along to as you play. The main character, Terra, is a mind-controlled slave for the empire who is forced to destroy cities at the bidding of the power hungry emperor, Gestahl. Magic is a forbidden and lost art, though the emperor has invented machines that can use magic, but the resources required to build them are obtained inhumanely. After Terra is freed from her slave collar, she is assisted by an underground movement and the choice is up to her to help them or not. Given her unique abilities, only she can help save the world and prevent another magic war.
Over the course of the game you can acquire up to fourteen members into your party. Generally speaking, you can control up to four at a time, but there are moments in the game where you divide your characters into multiple parties and switch back and forth between them. Each character is unique in personality and abilities. Most characters have a back story that can be revealed through dream sequences or interactive scenarios. While some of the scenes are light hearted, others tug at your heart strings a little bit.
Some characters are limited with their weaponry, but that’s not the case when it comes to magic. With the power of espers (crystals with magical beings trapped inside), any character can learn any spell. There are no jobs or classes to hold you back from learning all of the magic spells. Besides teaching spells, espers can boost stats like health points (HP), magic points (MP), vigor (strength), magic power, speed, and stamina. If you want your party to be powerful in the end, don’t level up too much before getting espers. Even if you don’t use espers, some of your attributes like HP and MP will increase naturally. Relics, weapons, and armor can also give your stats a nice boost.
The battles in this game are random, but some of the bosses and dragons are visible. In battle you can fight, summon the equipped esper, use magic, use an item, defend, or run away. Sabin has blitz maneuvers that can be triggered by pressing the proper button sequences. It's a pain in the butt to learn them, but they sure are powerful once you have them mastered. The magic spells are fun to watch and some of the characters like Gau and Strago can learn attacks from enemies they encounter.
While the bosses for the most part are unique, there are several instances of sprite recycling. Even still, there is a good amount of variety. The castles, caves and dungeons offer many twists and turns that will keep you on your toes. I like the instances where you control multiple parties and have to work together to hold down switches to let the other groups pass through to new areas.
There is so much to do and explore that you can easily sink more than seventy hours into this game. Like previous Final Fantasy games you can walk, sail, ride chocobos, or fly an airship after you meet Setzer, a determined high roller that has a crush on the opera singer Maria. One of the most memorable scenes in the game has Celes performing in the opera, and your performance affects hers. It’s up to you to say the lines, dance, and move in perfect time. The accompanying music is memorable to say the least.
For the era this game was made, it’s amazing what they did with the audio hardware they had to work with. While there are no singing voices, they synthesize them pretty well. The opera and Dancing Mad songs come to mind here. Nearly twenty years later, Final Fantasy VI dominates on top lists of games for best overworld music (Terra’s theme) and boss music. Nobuo Uematsu was on top of his game here.
It’s a shame that because of the graphics that many newer gamers won’t give this classic the time of day. Many Final Fantasy fans started with Final Fantasy VII and haven’t circled back to see what they’ve missed out on. If you’re one of these fans, I beg you to reconsider.
Even with the high praise, there are some moral issues worth noting. Some of the female characters in the game are wearing bikini-like outfits. While the North American version is censored, the Japanese versions show naked bottoms. Magic is a huge part of the game and pretty much unavoidable. The espers have magical powers and you have to summon them to get their assistance in battles.
Since this is an RPG, some grinding is to be expected if you want to master all of the spells available to you. There are many rare items to be had if you’re willing to fight and search for them. One of the mini games is a coliseum where you can bet an item to trade it for another provided you win the battle. The catch? You have no control of your character other than what they’re wearing and fighting with.
That’s it. That’s the only negative thing I can say about this game. Yes, the graphics are dated by today’s standards, but they were cutting edge when the game came out. The music and characters are in a class of their own. Even the bad guys are exceptional: the main villain, Kefka, is heinous and deplorable with his disregard for human life, while Ultros is aggravating and charming at the same time. There are so many emotions you’ll feel playing this game, and if you haven’t played it yet, add it to your bucket list!