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 20-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, 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 quickly expanding Gestahlian Empire. Terra possesses magic, a power thought to be extinct, 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. 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 story lines that are told throughout the game. Final Fantasy VI does not have a single main protagonist. With a cast of 14 playable characters, the story is able to add subplots concerning the entire cast; both main and minor characters. This makes the game's plot rich, complex and gripping. It also allows the gamer to feel sympathetic to the characters, and makes the experience more believable. To this extent, no other game had achieved this level of storytelling. On top of that, a number of serious topics and themes are discussed in the game including love, hate, betrayal, interracial relationships, children born out of wedlock, and torture to name a few. This was a huge accomplishment for a game back in the '90s and made 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 does not fail to deliver. A handful of new features were introduced in this installment of the series. The first was a mini map. When in the overworld, a small map of the world is displayed on the bottom right hand corner. The red dot being the player and the white dots representing cities, towns, caves or other locations. 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 again handled through the Active-Time Battle System (ATB), first featured in Final Fantasy IV. However, the game still has new battle elements. A new limit break-type action is available to any character who is in critical status and 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.
Customization is also heavily implemented in Final Fantasy VI. Half way through the game the player finds Espers who are magical monsters being extracted by the Empire for their powers. These nice little guys are willing to help during the quest by infusing their magic to the player. The Esper system is simple and easy to learn. Every Esper is able to pass on magic spells to the character who equips them. This can range anywhere from one spell to as many as five. Spells are learned through Ability Points (AP), which the player earns 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 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 small but fun addition is the inclusion of multiplayer; a first for the series. This is limited only to battles, since walking in the overworld is done by the first player. This feature is only seen in 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 both screens. 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 on to 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.
Everything is tied together with a perfect soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu. The series' long-time composer 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 yielded limitations, the soundtrack still sounds fantastic and is rich and complex.
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.