Welcome to the first of Ross’ Retro Reviews, my original series of reviews on games that I missed out on growing up. Whether it was being too young, not having access to the games or simply not being interested at the time, there are classics to be played. While I will not be able to provide an authentic point of view for the time, I am aware just from being immersed in the industry for so long the kinds of receptions that these releases had. However, what I can speak to is how well the games hold up today and, I’m starting off with arguably the greatest game in its respective franchise: Final Fantasy VI. These reviews will be less formal and more conversational in tone (often with personal stories) and with this intro out of the way, let’s dive in!
Growing up, the Final Fantasy series always interested me. The franchise was huge by the time the seventh installment was released, but I did not play any of the PS1 trilogy at the time of release. This was partly due to my age and parental limitations as a ‘T’ rated game at the age of six was not going to fly. My parents aren’t incredibly strict, but six is pretty young. Up until the PS2, Xbox, Gamecube generation, I mostly played sports games with some others sprinkled in.
Long story short, the first Final Fantasy that I sank my teeth into and finished was 2001’s Final Fantasy X for the PS2 which is still a game I look back on as one of my all-time favorites. Now let’s fast forward to last year when I sat down with Chris to play his favorite game of all-time, Final Fantasy VII. While the full impact of how revolutionary the game was was lost on me, I did have a good time and plan to replay it again by myself at some point. For me, the next logical place to go was what was VII’s biggest contender to the crown of the best FF game: VI.
In early 2015, I believe, I bought FFVI on PSN and immediately began to play it on my Vita. And, even though I had seen it in various videos, that intro of Terra, Wedge and Biggs walking through the snow fields toward Narshe with that incredible theme in the background drew me into the world faster than possibly any other game to date. From that point, I played the game nonstop. I would gain new characters left and right: Locke, Edgar, Sabin, Celes and the list goes on.
The story and pacing in the first half of the game may be perfection for me. Every character you gain has a unique ability and, while I wasn’t a fan of them all, (Gau and Setzer) I still enjoyed using them with the awesome Esper system which lets you customize each party member how you like in terms of magic. Not only this, but you can also gain bonuses when leveled up while specific Espers are equipped such as a 30% bonus to total HP or MP. Not only this, but every single character has a unique ability that can be used in combat from Edgar’s ‘Tools’ to Shadow’s ‘Throw’ command making the entire cast viable in certain situations. Then came the second half of the game.
Spoilers for this game from 1994 in:
Halfway through the game, the main villain, Kefka, decimates the world and more or less wins. When you resume gameplay, the actual continents on the world map are shifted due to this event making you rediscover everything that you once had. The transition from the incredibly well-paced first half of the game to the open-ended nature of the second jarred me. Now I had to go find all of the other party members spread out across the map in any order I wanted. For many, this probably sounds great! And conceptually for me it does too. But it kills the wonderful pacing that had been leading up to it. I put over twenty hours into the game when I reached this second half, lost interest and put it down to not play it until February of this year.
At this point, while I remembered what the main plot points were, I wanted to go back through and play it to completion so I started a new game. Once again, I had the same wonderful experience until I hit the second half. But this time, I persevered. I traveled from town to town to try and find clues as to the whereabouts of my lost friends. Sometimes this worked and sometimes I was so utterly lost that I used an online guide. Eventually getting the party back to full strength was satisfying, and I subsequently carried out what I always do in JRPGs when I know I’m toward the end: grind.
I have a habit of blowing through JRPGs and then hitting a wall at the end being incredibly underleveled. Complete transparency here, through osmosis over the years, I knew that A) almost all of my party would have to be split up and used once I began the final dungeon and B) they would have to fight which would be bad as, like anyone, I favored a select few throughout the game. Commence the Google search of “best place to grind late game in FFVI” and there it was: The Dinosaur Forest. Using that area, I leveled up all 14 (yes I gathered up all of the optional characters) evenly, with the exception of Terra and Celes. They stayed in all of the time to help the lower leveled members stay alive in the beginning grind. Plus they were my two favorite characters, so I wasn’t upset when they ended up being level 75.
I proceeded to go to Kefka’s Tower and eventually defeated him and, when the credits rolled, I knew that I had finished something special. If that pacing from the first half would have continued, this could have quite possibly been my favorite game of all time after some serious thought. What I ended with was a fantastic 16 bit JRPG with lovable and well-designed characters, a story that drew genuine emotion out of me, a fun and varied combat system and one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. Is it my favorite FF that I have played? It’s currently in a battle with X which I plan on replaying at some point. But if you like JRPGs, I would consider this a must play. If nothing else play it to see a royal king put on a Jason mask while wielding a chainsaw or watching his brother versed in martial arts supplex a ghost train. This game has something for everyone.
Versions of this game can be purchased on the SNES, PlayStation, Game Boy Advance, Android, iOS and Windows.