The Final Fantasy series has fallen on some dire straights as of late. With the latest releases in the main franchise getting either tepid or horrendous reviews a lot of ill will has been thrown Square Enix's way. In particular Final Fantasy XIII and XIV have caused many in the gaming community to write off the whole franchise as a series of trite JRPGs. To anyone who has stuck with the franchise, it is abundantly clear that these people have never played Final Fantasy VI (or IV, IX, and XII for that matter).
So, let me level with you about Final Fantasy VI.
Final Fantasy VI is widely regarded as the best game in the franchise by those who have stuck with it since the beginning, the problem is that it is also commonly over shadowed by the testical bursting popularity of its sequel Final Fantasy VII. I think because of the mega popularity of VII, people often forget just how magnificent VI really is.
Final Fantasy VI has some of the most brilliant themes, characters, and mechanics of the franchise, all of which are supported by a breathtaking musical score. Almost every element of Final Fantasy VI works together to form this odd mixture of quite frankly profound ideas that permeate the entirety of the experience that is Final Fantasy VI. Much like the characters it revolves around this hodge podge of seemingly mismatched ideas coalesce into something greater. Final Fantasy VI is at its heart a tale about the value of life and what it means to live in a dying world and it conveys that not just through plot but through the characters and game play.
Pictured: Beautiful story telling, and the value of life
Part of what makes Final Fantasy VI so special is the playable characters, of which there are a metric butt ton (apparently a metric butt ton measures out to be around 14). Each playable character in Final Fantasy VI (with the exception of two hidden characters) gets a fair deal of back story and character development. Though your initial character Terra is often cited as the primary protagonist of Final Fantasy VI, I would hesitate to call any of the playable characters the chief protagonist because of how well developed each character is. Every character has moments in the story dedicated to developing them and because of this the audience grows attached to this merry band of misfits.
If each character was unique in writing alone that would be fantastic, the fact that Square managed to make each character unique from a gameplay standpoint also serves to enhance the player's love for the characters. Each character in the game gets some unique mechanic, from having to input Street Fighter-esque button combinations for Sabin, trying your luck with Setzer's slots, or filling up Cyan's Sword Tech guage. This sense of mechanical identity not only contributes to the player's knowledge of these characters it makes each character useful in some way, which gives the player more of a reason to use a wide variety of different characters in different situations.
Because JRPG's have such a large focus on characters, the way the characters are designed mechanically has a huge impact on how the player feels about that character. If a character isn't useful to the player then the player is less inclined to be interested in that character. In Final Fantasy VI every character has their uses and this gives the player more reason to use all of the characters and ultimately become attached to all of the characters.
Even though each character has their own mechanical identity the player still has room to customize each character through the fantastic Relic and Esper systems. These systems allow the player to give the characters special attributes, control which magic they learn, or affect their stat growth. Because the customization is so light the characters don't feel homogeneous while still giving the player some choice in how these characters develop. All this goes a long way to make the usually mundane turn based combat actually something that player isn't constantly avoiding, because the player wants to see these characters get stronger and learn better spells to help you out in combat.
The high excitement of clicking through menus to make things happen
Final Fantasy VI goes out of its way to give the player the chance to use each of these unique characters as well. A common problem in JRPGs is that they encourage the player to pick three or four favorite characters and stick to using just them, but not Final Fantasy VI. Not only is the roster of available characters constantly changing, at several points the player will be asked to use all available characters when forming three parties that the player has to switch off between. This makes the player constantly rethink their strategy, instead of just relying on the interplay of 4 characters the player has to evaluate how each character will interact with each other character because its very probable that those characters will be forced into a party together.
Look, the design in Final Fantasy VI is astounding. The developers clearly put so much time and love into designing the characters both from a narrative and a mechanic standpoint and because of that the player cares about the characters. Some of the recent Final Fantasy's have taken the focus away from developing all of the playable characters instead choosing to focus on one or two lead characters. When something like this happens it either leaves the player playing a story that focuses on a character they don't care about, or leaves them wishing another character got more development. Often times these characters are also completely homogeneous in terms of game mechanics which just makes the characters seem less unique and encourages the player to stick to only three or four characters. So yeah, if you're going to criticize the Final Fantasy series at least give the best in the series a chance? Also maybe play IV, IX, XII, or Tactics? Those are all pretty good... so go play those too I guess?
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