Fine Final Fantasy or the Finest Final Fantasy?
Final Fantasy VI is one of those genre-defining games that made it hard to play games that came before it. The superior combination of story and gameplay was unmatched when it came out and not only set the standard for J-RPGs to come, but still holds up very well to this day.
Final Fantasy VI was originally released as Final Fantasy III for the SNES in the US because II, III, and V did not see a US release. For those new to the game, the story takes place 1000 years after The War of the Magi. In this war, magic had nearly destroyed the world and was sealed away. Over time, the war became legend and technology reigned. However, magic has recently been rediscovered by Gestahlian Empire, and the empire seeks to conquer the world, not only suppressing people, but putting the entire balance of the world at risk. A rebel group known as The Returners band together to try and stop the empire. The group's lead characters come from all sorts of backgrounds such as king, thief (treasure hunter), young painter girl, and even Moogle.
While the series had always included anachronistic technology such as airships, Final Fantasy VI marked the first strong role of futuristic technology blended with classical fantasy elements, and the creation of “Magitek" in the game fuses the two into one. The game focuses much more on story than stats, though gameplay does not suffer. With the game touching on many dark and ethical issues, the inclusion of many of Nobuo Uematsu’s greatest compositions serve to bring a real emotion to the game, easily evoking memories of the fantasy world and its characters.
Final Fantasy VI was also the first game not directed by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi; instead, it was co-directed by Yoshinori Kitase (director of FF VII and VIII) and Hiroyuki Itou (director of FF IX). What is evident in this change is that Final Fantasy series began to go along a cinematic route, fully realized in Final Fantasy VII. While there are no true FMVs in the game, there are numerous cut-scenes, which use detailed sprite work and plenty of Mode-7 effects. The “opera scene" is one of the most recognized events in the genre.
Unlike its predecessor, Final Fantasy V, this game does not include a job system. Instead, each character has his or her own special ability. This leads to a different type of battle strategy and a diversity of characters. In fact, the fourteen character cast is still the largest playable cast of any Final Fantasy game. Under normal circumstances, players will take control of four characters at a time, though in certain battle situations, players will switch between two or three groups of four characters. Each character has a unique story and personality, evident even given the relatively short script (by today’s standards) and limited sprites. Each character even has his or her own memorable theme song.
Final Fantasy VI features classic menu-based J-RPG gameplay and the Active Time Battle System, though several characters’ special abilities involve non-standard input, such as Setzer’s Slot machine and Sabin’s Blitz, which entails memorizing and pressing button sequences to perform an attack. These features enhance gameplay beyond simply pressing A over and over to get through battles (though that’s still an option). During the game, characters collect summons known as Espers, which teach magic spells as well as unleashing their own spectacular attacks.
With a greater emphasis on story, Final Fantasy VI is a fairly easy game, though some battles may be unexpectedly easier or harder due to the random nature of attacks. It’s not a complete walk in the park, still managing to keep the player feeling like he/she is accomplishing something, and it has enough difficulty that new players will have to do a little more than pressing the same button over and over, but veterans should breeze through it without much trouble.
The first half of the game is fairly linear as most of the characters are introduced, though even early on there are several plot twists. Once more than four people are in the party, the story does diverge, spreading characters around the world only to be re-united again and letting players advance certain characters’ plots before coming back to choose the next party to continue. A cataclysm midway through the game changes the entire world map, as well as making the game more non-linear with many side-quests. In the latter half, characters are developed further, their histories conveyed in surprising detail given their diversity.
For veterans of the game, the translation is likely to be the main point of contention in this port. The original game was translated by Ted Woosley, who did a respectable job translating and cramming the game’s text into a third of the space it should have had. However, purists still argue that his interpretations weren’t as accurate as they should have been. With more space now available, the translation has been enhanced in several ways.
Unlike Final Fantasy V’s total retranslation, the translation in Final Fantasy VI keeps much of the original Woosley translation. In particular, most of the character names are kept the same as their SNES counterparts even though many differ from the original Japanese. Nearly all of the items, weapons, enemies, and techniques have been changed to either better represent the original Japanese, or to match the modern Final Fantasy naming scheme. In addition, Nintendo’s censoring is no longer in place so that names such as Pearl can now properly be called Holy. Since items and menus have generally had name changes, veteran players should be careful that they don’t miss certain items expecting a different name.
The main concern with the translation is that certain textual reinterpretations actually change how players will perceive the characters, particularly the personality of Locke, Celes, and Shadow. While this probably won’t concern new players of the game, it will certainly disappoint some fans of the original. Despite a less-strict NOA, a few scenes have been censored by the Japanese, such as the beating of Celes during her interrogation.
Of course, you couldn’t call it Final Fantasy “Advance" without some extras. FFVIA includes four new Espers, all characters appearing in other games in the series. Along with the Espers come three new magic spells. A new dungeon, Dragon’s Den, can be unlocked by defeating eight dragons found in the game. Additionally, the Soul Shrine allows players to continuously fight monsters for those who really want to explore battle mechanics to their fullest extent.
The GBA version now includes a Quicksave slot, which lets players save at any time to resume at the same spot and is suited for play on the go. Like previous GBA releases, the game also includes a music player, which is unlocked after beating the game, and a bestiary, which catalogs every monster that players have encountered.
Unlike previous ports, the graphics have barely been touched. Final Fantasy VI served as the model to which the other Advance remakes strived to equal. It is a little disappointing that nothing was done to the graphics, however. Due to color limitations of the SNES, as detailed as the backgrounds are, they can sometimes look slightly drab as a result of a limited palette and could have been prettied up even more.
FFVI Advance fixes several bugs present in the original version. For instance, no longer can players use Vanish+Banish (formerly X-Zone) to immediately kill enemies. A minor stats bug, Relm’s Sketch glitch, and many other problems with the original have also been remedied. Final Fantasy VI Advance is not without fault, however minor. In particular, the combination of scrolling backgrounds and text boxes causes a noticeable lag within the game, and some of the more complex battle effects cause some slowdown.
For those who haven’t had a chance to play the classic, now is the time. Those who have played the game before now have the perfect opportunity to play it on the go. Final Fantasy VI Advance is the last Game Boy Advance game from Square-Enix and Nintendo, but this classic game is a great way to say goodbye to a system.