What is a legacy? To me, it's the hopes, dreams, knowledge, experiences, advice, and all kinds of things that have some kind of value to us, that we want it to carry on to those that will come after us. This concept is specially fitting when it come to gaming series. And to me, FF VI was a major point, not only to the series, but to me, both as a gamer and as a person. And i always felt like this game was forgotten on the shadow of the massive success that is its younger brother FF VII, which is a shame because this game is such a masterpiece. Nearly every single aspect of this game was well though and crafted, especially from a game design perspective.
FF6 came in 1994, and it was the last game of the series to be on SNES. You would think that the console limitations would make it very similar to the previous game, but the development team instead worked full aware of said limitaions, pushing the limits of the technology, while setting the bar very high for other RPGs. People say that FF7 is the game that others RPGs will be judged by. That's not true. This was the FF that captured the very essence of its name, taking the very best of what came before, and tanking it to new levels. While this game is not perfect, was the only one on the franchise to find a balance between every aspect, from gameplay to presentation.
Funny thing, the first time i ever played this game, i got bored of it. The second, a little more mature i managed to play a lot. But it was only years late that i finally was mature enough to understand the meanings of its themes, or the beauty of its music. And i'm really glad i came back after all that time. But enough backstory.
This is the forgotten legacy of Final Fantasy VI...
The sixth game on the franchise (third on the US) manages to be more of the same, but better. It brings back the entire steampunk world we came to love. It's all there: the airships, the metallic forts, mechs, you name it. The gameplay feels familiar, despite some people arguing that this is the weakest gameplay in the entire franchise (i disagree). And yet, everything is new. It's undeniable the amount of love and effort that gone to this game. It's at least 30 hours long, and yet, they crafted a beautiful world (that by the way, don't have a name, which in my opinion makes it feel even more like a distant tale), with various places that are memorable. And it's a huge world, and it takes quite a nice amount of time to travel it. Well, at least until you got the airship.
FF6 left behind everything that was already on the other games, and crafted something totally unique. Even before you take control of the game, it already manages to show you that is going to be like no other FF. The haunting melody that plays even before you press start, will stick with you during the entire game. And when three mechs walk into the horizon while the credits roll? Just memorable.
This game also has fourteen playable characters, a big party i know. They could easily had gone for a smaller and easier to handle cast, but the development team embraced the idea of a big party and build everything around it. The design philosophy was that every character is a protagonist, with each one of them having a musical theme, little episodes among the tale (that in no way are fillers), and unique features, without ever making one of them stood out from the others, both on the story and the gameplay. And it feels great, no one is useless, and by the end of the game, you can use any members you want, and you won't feel like they are not up for the task.
The debut of AtmaWeapon (Ultima Weapon in the future)
It's also thanks to the robust Esper system that the game gives the player complete freedom on what role you characters will have by the end of the game. This feature is introduced to you after a few hours of game, and is the way to the heroes to learn magic. And they don't just allow them to learn skills, but also affect passive stats, like increasing Max HP, or increasing your defense, just to name a few. Want transform your thief into a mage? With effort you can!
The battle system is what you already know. Called Active Battle Time, the characters have a bar that is filled with time. When full, they can perform an action. This makes combat feels more fluid, since it's not just a wait for your turn to come. Now, in the setting of this game, magic is rare, so most of the party relies of other techniques, unique to each of them. Now, usually in rpgs battle can be boring and just an obstacle between you and the next piece of plot. FF VI does a fantastic job of balancing in this area, making important pieces of plot not so disconnect from one another, having just the right amount of battle to not bore you, but also to not feel like the game is holding you back.
The pacing feels just right, which was another of the devs concern, and let me tell you, they did a fantastic job. For example, while you are invading a bad guy's base, its all about fighting your way, while in a more critical moment of plot, the game allows you to safely watch it unfold, with little to no battles. It's beautiful, and yet, the player don't even realize it.
You can also play this game without a strategy guide. The NPCs give you just rigth amout of info to find everything, from the main quest to subquests, on your own. This still amazes me. The game is self-explanatory, and that only reinforces my belief that this game is perfect for newcomers, be it to the RPG or to the series.
With such a huge amount of characters, and do not forget the NPCs, you would imagine that their development would be mediocre at best. Think again. Each and every one of the people you will meet will leave its mark, from heroes to villains. They have their own personalities, goals, dreams, strengths and weaknesses, and they all lost something. Every FF has its own core theme, and here, its hope. Unlike many other rpgs, the tale this time is not only about saving the world, is about learning to live on it, despite all the struggle that is living, to overcome the loss, and always keep pushing forward. And while the plot is there and it is executed with perfection, is in the game characters that is the main focus. Is trough their fights and feelings that the tale truly shines.
As expected, the game does not focus on only a main character, instead, each of them has a role to play. This is specially reinforced in the moments where the party must split, often with some of them taking on solo missions, but none of it feels like filler; and is again reinforced by the gameplay. By having characters that are well balanced, you never get stuck, nor do you feel like that. In the second half of the game, this is again proved by the fact you can assemble any party you want.
It's also a very mature story, touching on themes like death, love, teen pregnancy and even suicide in one point. No other RPG before or even after FF6 had the guts to do the same. Even today, those are themes that are relevant to society, and that's one of the reasons for the story touch us so well.
The first half of the game is a little linear, while the second half is entirely build to allow you to make progress at your own pace, exploring whatever you want whenever you want. Without giving spoilers (for now), the game to me feels divided into three Acts, with a prologue. The prologue serves to give you the entry point, to set the quest and your goals. Act 1 works on those goals, with the heroes fighting to achieve said goals, while finding new allies and discovering the world and themselves. Act 2, is about heal. Again, without spoilers, the team must rise and overcome obstacles both from the present and the past. Finally, Act 3, is when the heroes are ready and in peace with themselves, the stage is set, and it's time to save the world (well, not really, but that you will see later).
The music in this game received the same care and attention that the other parts. FF VI's OST is often considered to be one of the best in the entire franchise, and it always pop up in best soudtracks lists. And it deserves all the praises it gets. Each and every element of it, from the choice of instruments, the tempo, the notes, it's all crafted to reinforce the narrative. It's one of the finest examples of "telling a tale without words" that i ever seen. Nobuo Uematsu said:
Can anyone describe the emotions we get from music? Music is not for thinking. It is meant for feeling. Don't use your head. Knowledge or experience is not needed in order to feel happiness from the white cold snow, warm smells of flowers, heart warming meal, blue ocean, or the touch of your lover's hand. Same applies to music. Just feel it.
If you wish to get in touch deeply with music, just try to set in with it. Music is a wave, as well as our feelings.
Believe in the music you are listening, and hand your heart over to it. It is like tuning a radio into the right station. When the wave lengths match (and only if,) you will understand everything the music is wanting to tell you. Keep the emotions you get to your heart, such as joy, sadness, happiness, and anger. Do not be ashamed of being moved by music. Praise yourself from being so honest.
You can listen to each character theme and they will describe to you their goals, hopes, dreams and in some themes, their losses. Nobuo Uematsu did a fantastic job, giving the right tone to the right moments. Every theme is unique, and a tale on its own, filled with symbolism, and a fantastic use of "leitmotif". For those who don't know, leitmotif is a "short, constantly recurring musical phrase that is associated with a place, event, or character" (I'll show you when the time is right, to avoid spoilers). But as an example, the theme of the final boss, has a little of the theme of said boss before being the final boss.
But the track the absolutely stands out is the "Aria de Mezzo Carattere". This piece is an opera singed by one of the characters in a moment of the game. Since the developers had not founded a way to SNES to perform actual voice tracks, they used a synthesized "voice" that harmonizes with the melody, and let me tell you, it still sounds beautiful. The song is about a lost love, and it's also a big part of one of the character's development. This entire cutscene is perfect, and is one of the best moments of gaming history. I will talk about every important piece of music when the time comes.
Even with so much that i already wrote, i still feel like i barely started touching the greatness of this game. But, i'm running out of space here, and this journey is far from over. I hope you enjoyed this, and please, join me on the next part, to take a good look at the entire story of Final Fantasy VI. This tale has just began...
This article is part of my serie "Gentleman's Treasure", where i endlessly talk about my favorite games, giving them a deep look at every possible aspect, preferably in a lot of articles.