You know I realized while writing all these little posts and reviews and talking about my experiences with the Final Fantasy series as I go back and explore the latter half of the series I never really played when I was growing up, that I’ve never actually talked about my actual favorite Final Fantasy game and exactly why its my favorite. I have to warn people here though, that the story I am about to tell might be profoundly troubling to some people, oh and there will also be spoilers. So let me tell you about how I came to love Final Fantasy VI.
Unlike many people I’ve spoken to over the years, my favorite Final Fantasy game is not the first one I played. Oh no. That would have been Final Fantasy IV (then localized to be Final Fantasy II) which I would stay up playing at my best friend’s house with pizza and bread-sticks and times of immense joy all around. But no, my first was not my favorite. For several reasons really. I mean, I never finished it. I never actually owned it for one, and it’s hard to beat a JRPG in a 3 day rental. Combine that with a very difficult boss and a very naive Vry who really had no head for strategy. Not to mention I never got far enough for the characters to stick with me as likable. Except Rydia. I always liked Rydia for some reason.
I actually received Final Fantasy VI for my 11th birthday. I was so excited about it that I almost got in trouble at school because I wouldn’t stop humming the Chocobo song in class. I just couldn’t wait to play the newest Final Fantasy game. Oh and it did not disappoint. I got to meet fabulous characters, beautiful music, and while I know the Woolsey translation is frowned upon by many nowadays, it was one of the best stories I was ever treated to in my short life. Oh, I couldn’t stick with the damn hobbits long enough to get out of the Shire in Fellowship of the Ring but I was hooked till the end by the time I actually got to name Terra (And you better believe I used all their real names).
The game was everything I had wanted even back then: good solid characters that you cared about and fourteen of them to boot! Eleven of which had fully fleshed out story lines and back stories that gave them a truly three-dimensional feel (the other three are really just optional characters. Though that is literally the only time you will EVER hear me say that Mog the Moogle is optional. Cause you are a cold-hearted monster if you don’t save that dancing furball.) There’s a love story that is so much more than ‘guy likes girl, girl likes guy’. It’s more like ‘guy likes girl, girl gets amnesia and shoos off guy, girl dies just as her memory returns, guy searches for way to resurrect girl and meets another girl, guy and new girl fall in love but new girl is afraid she’s just a replacement and also has trust issues, and so on.’ Then of course, there’s the little matter of the bad guy actually winning half way through the game. Holy crap, this didn’t happen when I was a kid. It blew my mind!
Of course, all these reasons why Final Fantasy VI is an amazing game that is well worth a play are well documented and can be found on any site that talks about it. Is it the best Final Fantasy? That’s personal opinion. I personally don’t feel that it’s ever hit that level of both technical and writing achievement since, but there are plenty who do. No, this isn’t why it’s my favorite game. If that’s all it took, there are games out there that have hit all those same notes and will never be a contender for my favorite game. Yes, not Final Fantasy. Favorite game of all time, hands down. That reason is not simple nostalgia either, though I’m sure it contributes a healthy bit to it. It’s because of what happens in the World of Ruin.
The World of Ruin is the second half of Final Fantasy VI. It’s not post-apocalyptic, it is just apocalyptic. The end of the world is now. The villain has risen up as a god in his giant tower of death and destruction and randomly smites people for no reason. Monsters of terrible power are now freely wandering around the destroyed world. Much of the world’s population is dead. But the core of the tale is what happens with the characters. You start out with Celes on an island, completely unaware that anyone but her and Cid, her pseudo “grandfather”, are left in the world. Cid falls sick and you have to feed him fish. Now, I know now two decades later exactly which fish to feed the old man, but at age 11 I didn’t have a clue. Hell, I wouldn’t even know what the internet was for at least 4-5 more years. So Cid dies, and Celes in her despair climbs the cliffs of the island and with a reprise of the Opera Scene from earlier, throws herself to her death as Cid said so many others before her had done.
This is when the game stopped being just a game. You ever have those moments? When you finally understand the material on a different level? I received this game for my 11th birthday. For my 10th birthday, I was in the middle of a 4 month stay in a mental health facility because when I was nine years old I had tried to kill myself on three separate occasions. One of those times was by trying to jump from a stairwell. Celes was no longer the player PROXY at that point to me.
I’ve never really talked about myself as a person much on that blog, and this is one of those reasons. It’s hard to explain who I am without invariably explaining that at the age of 10, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type II. Which in 1994, was damn near impossible to get a diagnosis for in a child. Bipolar Disorder happened to people in their twenties or older, not kids. So with that frame of reference, I’m playing this game 6-12 months after being diagnosed, my medication isn’t quite solidified and my emotions have more control over my actions at times than I do.
Celes, for those wondering who haven’t played (and shame on you), doesn’t die. She awakes on the shore to find a bird wearing a bandanna that belonged to one of the other characters, her love interest Locke. However, it is exactly what she needs to spur her to action and leave the island in hopes of finding the others. Thus kicks off a heavily emotional journey as you find each person trying to seek out something, anything, in this dying world to hold on to. For some, they seek out hope or giving others hope, or family and friends, or love. Even Terra, who could easily be argued is probably the first asexual protagonist in gaming, finds the love she was looking for. Not in the arms of another man or woman, but in the maternal protection of a group of orphaned children who are threatened daily by monsters looking for a meal.
All the while, you have Kefka – our god-king villain – sitting on his tower and blasting those below completely randomly. Oh, he might collapse your house, or kill that one random dude, or sink a ship. It doesn’t matter. They’re random. You don’t have to have done anything to the guy, or done anything at all to be targeted. Which is probably the greatest metaphor for life in general. It just fucks with you. There isn’t any rhyme or reason as to why. There’s no karmic balance to it, even in the grandest of schemes. Sometimes, bad things happen. That’s Kefka. That’s life.
So at the end of the game, after the journey as a whole and gathering your friends and allies you march up to the top of Kefka’s horrific tower and that is when you get this exchange:
“Why do people rebuild things they know are going to be destroyed? Why do people cling to life when they know they can’t live forever? Think how meaningless each of your lives is!”
“It’s not the net result of one’s life that’s important! It’s the day-to-day concerns, the personal victories, and the celebration of life… and love! It’s enough if people are able to experience the joy that each day can bring!”
For an emotionally unstable, sometimes suicidal, 11-year old Vrykerion… this was a very powerful sentiment. Kefka was saying everything that my brain was bombarded with so often. Thoughts that would leave little Vry crying in his bed at night until the wee hours. Then here were the heroes, my ‘proxies’ that I learned to identify with back on that island when Cid died. They were saying that those things weren’t important. The important part was to just to live each day and experience life. To enjoy living.
Final Fantasy VI changed my life. I could even go as far as to say that it saved it. It gave me exactly what I needed, when I needed it the most. And I don’t know if I would be here today if it wasn’t for that experience. That’s why it’s my favorite video game.
Thank you all for reading. From the bottom of my heart. It means a lot to be able to share this story with you all.