I have played nearly every FF game, except for IIj, IIIj, and XII (but I do know its story), so basically I played I, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X(and X2). I am not a old schooler who hates the newer FF's. I am looking towards XIII, especially now because they have a lead female protagonist (lightning), maybe a decent supporting male (snow), and another important female character who could steal the show (vanille). I loved the original FF, thought FFIV was great but slightly overrated (it doesn't have a coherent story, it seems Square made things up along as they went), and liked FFV. I do view FFVII as one of the most overrated, if not the most overrated, game of all time. I did find VIII, IX, and X extremly beautiful and great FF games. I also thought Lost Odyssey was an incredible game, almost matching....FFVI in storytelling and themes.
But Final Fantasy VI is truly amazing, its characters are top notch, the gameplay was great, and its themes transcends video gaming and handles serious human issues with grace and respect. I have not seen anything like what FFVI did until Lost Odyssey. Lets talk about the moments first. This game has incredible direction and has incredible moments due to the direction....the Opera Scene, Phantom Train, the Solitary Island, and the ending truly being standouts. I liked how you have this completely cool level in the Phantom Train, with a cool boss battle, but at the end, they stick one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the game to give the whole stage a meaning. The late 19th century, late 20th century vibe is uncliched and really adds to the game. The best directional move was to have the metaphysics and the lore take a backseat to the characters and to have a simple, but effective storyline.
The characters really shine in ways the other games don't compare. The standouts are the two lead characters, Terra and Celes, who are not typical cliched leads you find now in JRPG's. Terra is not a badass action hero lead, she is different. At the beginning Terra is someone who doesn't know who she is, is freigthened and needs protection, and goes wherever the wind takes her. But she is trying to learn how to be human, especially finding out what the meaning of love is. Later she does, in a motherly role, and becomes the great hero. What an uncliched stunning role for a lead heroine. Celes Chere.....her journey is similar, but different than Terra. She has to learn how to deal with her humanity, which is a difficult and tragic journey, which no other character in the series really takes. Celes is made great by her weaknesses, not her strengths. When Locke finds her, she is branded as a traitor and hopeless, struggling with the lack of humanity brought about by working with the empire. She has to learn to find hope and she does in companionship with Locke and later Terra. But Celes along the way does tragically get defeated by despair, but learns from it, finds hope, and becomes the most vital character in the defeat of Kefka. Basically Terra learns to be independant and Celes learns to be co-dependant. The other cast memmbers are incredible as well, from the Figaro brothers, to Locke, the tragic knight Cyan, and lovable and silly Relm. They have their struggles and weaknesses to overcome as well.
Kefka may be the best villain in the series, he is certainly the most wicked and ruthless. Characters like The Joker and the Riddler, Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men), The Judge (Blood Meridian), and Capitan Vidal (Pan's Labyrinth) come to mind. He is a personification of hatred, despair, and death. He doesn't care who he hurts, is freighteningly unperdictable, and untrustworthy. He also works for his great power. In the end (when he rules the World of Ruin), he is so evil, he enjoys watching people suffer and takes pleasure in it, for example the darkly funny line when he poisions Doma's water supply. He is definately the opposite of a Terra or Celes, who represent love and hope.
The themes transcends video games. FFVI was ahead of its time and I think still is. It was willing to explore and bring out issues other games do not address; dealing with tragic loss of a loved one, suicide, teen pregnancy, the value of family, ethics and rules of warfare, and what it means to live. I find that this game has the best non theistic explaination for the value of life (before the final battle when Kefka asks "why do you yearn live when all things must die?"). This game absolutely pulls no punches (at least the uncensored Japanese version) when it comes to death and loss. Dealing with the loss of loved ones is a major theme in the game and nrealy every character has to deal with it. The most notable are Locke (who loses his girlfriend, and never got to say goodbye) and Cyan (whos family was murdered by Kefka). Both have an extremely tough time dealing with their losses, with Cyan going as far as writing letters to the girlfriend of a solider who died, pretending to be him. Through supernatural means, they do eventually learn to cope with their loss, but death is still permanent, for example with Rachel. Celes's suicide attempt may be the most heartwrenching scene in the series. I don't think another suicide like that is done in a game. Most suicides in video games are noble heroic deaths...this attempt is anti-heroic. Celes throws herself off a cliff because she felt alone (thinking all her friends, including Locke were dead), scared, sad, and hopeless after losing the person who cared for her throughout her life, Cid. The SNES version though is butchered with its censored translation (the GBA version is no longer a "leap of faith"), the original Japanese script is far more grim. But Celes, luckily alive after the attempt, learns a valuable lesson to never give up hope when she finds Locke's bandanna on the beach. I think this is not only the most stunning scene in the game, but in the entire series. The meaning of love is also explored more maturely than any other game I have seen (except for Lost Odyssey). Love is found to be caring for someone, fighting to bring someome a better future, and being there fo rthem. This is what Terra poignantly learned at the orphanage in Mobriz and thats why she regained the ability to fight, to protect and give hope to those she loved, the children and her fellow party members (and somehow Celes develops a bond with Terra and in turn worries about her and cares for her in the final attack and ending). And boy does she answer Kefka's big question.
The soundtrack is also a standout....and considered one of the greatest if not the greatest soundtrack in video game history. You can't go wrong with Terra's Theme, Celes Theme (or the opera leitmoif, Aria Di Mezzo Cattare), or the final boss song "Dancing Mad"...sorry One Winged Angel...
While the other Fantasies are good, maybe even among the all time greats, none have the thematic bravery and the power this game has. With strong characters, effective plot, meaningful themes, and strong direction, I think I set the bar way too high for future FFs and that was the big case with VII in 1997. So I am always a little disappointed.
Those who have not played VI before (those who only played VII or later) need to play this game....you may have a new favorite soon!!!!!