If it ain't broke don't fix it.
Square-Enix has given us GBA remakes of Final Fantasy IV and V, and the company has already released the sixth installment of the series in Japan. Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III as it was called when it was first released in North America for the SNES) follows in the footsteps of Final Fantasy IV by offering a meaty (by the standards of the time) story along with the RPG action. It is a favorite amongst the fans of the series, and stands up just as well as any of the previous 16-bit remakes.
Final Fantasy VI is more about story than gameplay. While Final Fantasy IV laid the groundwork, it was Final Fantasy VI that brought the series into full bloom. Featuring fourteen characters, showcasing moral ambiguity, and touching upon issues such as teen pregnancy and suicide, Final Fantasy VI’s narrative packs a punch. However, this narrative power comes at the expense of gameplay.
Final Fantasy VI is divided into two halves: the first guided and linear, the second free -roaming. If a player knows where to go and what to do, like many fans of the series such as myself do, leveling up to an unbeatable party in eight hours is possible. The end game comes down to hitting enemies with the same spell or technique repeatedly. Not a single enemy encountered – save for one exception – requires a different strategy. That being said, the instant death, vanish/x-zone trick has been eliminated, adding a bit more challenge to the game.
Characters have their own unique special talents, and individual stats that pre-dispose thenm towards a certain role. You can influence certain stats and teach characters magic by attaching summons (called Genju in Japanese or Espers in English) to your characters. Once you have taught every character his or her best ability or the Ultima spell, something easily accomplished in twenty-five hours if you know what to do, the game is almost impossible to lose. However, new content adds a slight challenge to the game for veteran players.
The four new summons and a new, hidden, boss-filled dungeon also contribute to the new challenge. Beating this dungeon unlocks endurance-battle mode. You can also continue exploring the world even after you have beaten the final boss. Nevertheless, even these extra challenges eventually fall to leveling up rather than provide a new kind of challenge.
Several new touches beyond the new bosses and summons have been added. Portraits now accompany the dialogue of main characters, and a handful of new weapons and spells appear as well.
The game looks exactly like it did at the time of its SNES release. Aside from the new dialogue portraits, no new art has been added. Despite the lack of a graphical upgrade, the game slows down during the more elaborate spell effects, though gameplay is never affected by it.
The SNES had a powerful and unique sound chip. Emulating it, especially on the GBA’s speakers, is difficult. While most of the tunes sound close enough to their originals, a few key pieces, namely the ending theme and the now famous opera scene, are noticeably different. Purists may abhor the thought of such famous scenes being anything less than faithful to their originals, but I found the changes – in the opera scene at least – to be an improvement.
The game won’t see a stateside release until February. If you are familiar with the original, you might be able to navigate FFVI Advance with little Japanese knowledge. Those who are experiencing Final Fantasy VI for the first time will probably need to be at a fairly advanced level in order to know where to go and to understand the effects of weapons and spells.
The difficulty is a joke, and hardcore RPG fans will likely want to play it for the story, or avoid the game all together. For casual RPG fans, this game is perfect. Its deep story and simple but fun gameplay are sure to please.
If you think you are capable of navigating this RPG in Japanese, give it a shot. For the rest, you will just have to wait until February.