Ah, there is nothing sweeter than nostalgia. While Final Fantasy IV was indeed my first introduction to the Final Fantasy series, it is here in the sixth installment that my heart truly lies. I’ve written about it before and how the message of this game was really there for me when I was growing up, but there’s also just something magical about it in my eyes. Something that no other Final Fantasy got right before or since. That special je ne sais quois that VI had. Hmmmm. Warm fuzzies. Anyway, let’s get into it shall we?
The tale begins on the outskirts of the mining town of Narshe where two Imperial Magitek soldiers – Biggs & Wedge – alongside our currently mind slaved and soon to be protagonist 18 year old Terra. They are assaulting the town to find a magical being called an Esper that was said to be frozen in ice somewhere in the minds. However, when they locate it, Terra reacts to it and the Esper kills Biggs & Wedge and triggers an explosion in the mine. Terra awakens sometime later with little to no memory but with soldiers hot on her tail. Her escape is assisted by the Treasure Hunter – Locke – and the King of the nearby Kingdom of Figaro – Edgar – who want to take Terra, who somehow possess the power of magic (not seen in 1000 years) to meet the Returners, a group of rebels that fight against the ever forcefully expanded Gesthalian Empire.
The tale then gets split three ways as Terra, Edgar and Bannon (The leader of the returners) try to return to Narshe, Sabin (Edgar’s wandering martial artist brother) gets swept by a river south to meet the wild child Gau and Cyan the only survivor of the Imperial poisoned kingdom of Doma, and Locke heads back into Figaro to find it under Imperial occupation and joining forces with the disgraced former Imperial general Celes. All three groups meet up to face often against a massive battle with the Empire to defend the frozen Esper. After claiming victory, Terra tries under Bannon’s urging to try to communicate with the Esper only for Terra to turn into a screaming pink demon monster and fly away.
This begins the next story arc where you have to find Terra and discover her true nature as a half-human, half-esper explaining her magical powers. This involves things like the famous Opera scene that you use to steal an airship and break into the Imperial MagiTek Factory where you discover the Empire’s secret technique to making unstoppable magitek weaponry: Draining captured espers dry. With Terra realizing who she is, the group meets back up together and decides that the Returners will use the machines of Figaro and the resources of Narshe to fight back the Empire. But they still need to manpower, so Terra as a hybrid goes to the Sealed Gate to the Esper World and beseeches them for aid. Instead, the Espers use the opening to raze the Imperial Capital and run amok across the world in a fit of anger. Returning to the Imperial Capitol, Emperor Gesthal wants to hold a truce meeting with the Returners to reach some sort of agreement to help stop the Espers from destroying the whole world.
With the truce in hand, the heroes travel to the town of Thamasa where they discover lots of people who can use magic. Indeed, the town is actually the descendents of the original Magi Warriors that fought 1000 years ago but now just want peace. They help to make contact with the Espers who explain that their strong anger got the better of them and they apologize for the damage they did. Returning to Thamasa to announce the peace between humans and espers however is interrupted by the Imperial Court Sorcerer, the insane clown Kefka who poisoned Doma and burned Figaro earlier. Kefka uses the opportunity – on orders from the Emperor no less – to kill all the Espers he can and trap their essence in crystal. The Sealed Gate bursts open again as others come to avenge their comrades only to be slaughtered by Kefka. The heroes flee on the airship to discover that the Empire had set the whole thing up. Meanwhile, Kefka and the Emperor entered the sealed gate and use the turned-to-statue magic gods of the Warring Triad to raise the floating continent above the world.
In one last ditch attempt to save the world, the heroes assault the Floating Island, battling the fierce Ultima Weapon and confront the Emperor. However, what they find then is that Kefka betrays and kills the Emperor and then disturbs the careful balance of the three statues of the Warring Triad, sending small sparks of magic flying off… that explode in massive Ultima blasts that rip apart the world below. Kefka cackles in delight as the world is destroyed. The heroes flee in failure. And that’s how the first half of the game goes.
I’m not going to do a synopsis of the second half because… it’s a lot of small plots building towards a big one and it would take forever. Essentially each character of the 11 or so total get their own subplot in the second half that all culminates with them marching up Kefka’s tower to confront the Mad Clown God.
This game is probably my ideal “perfect” Final Fantasy. The plot is never confusing, but it is incredibly epic. The characters are relatable, likable, and each have a fairly cohesive character arc through the course of the game and with such a large cast that’s a feat on its own. The game mechanics are solid but have a lot of depth and each character brings their own unique talents that are useful yet are only necessary when the game ensures that they’ll be in your party. Most importantly, it scales well. It starts off simple in both gameplay and narrative and slowly thickens things. This is just a really well made game.
In terms of a narrative, the fact that at the half way point the heroes fail and the entire set up is turned on its head was a brilliantly orchestrated twist. The Floating Continent FELT like a final dungeon. It felt like everything was coming to a head. This was going to be the big final showdown with the evil emperor! Then you don’t even get to fight Gesthal. At all. Then Kefka becomes a god. The world gets blown to smithereens and the rest of the game is pretty much spent helping each character find a reason to keep on going in a dead world. A reason to stand back up and fight again. For some, it’s easy and for others it’s very hard.
I know people constantly suggest VII or X as “great places to start” but that’s only if you want to get wow’ed by the pretty pretty (and oh they are) but for my money, if you want a solid story, beautiful music, fun and non-frustrating gameplay, wonderful characters you’ll learn to love, and just an overall better polished experience – play Final Fantasy VI as your first Final Fantasy. You’ll be glad you did. Unless you absolutely can’t stand to play a 2D sprite based game. Then you might have some problems. And for those who haven’t played it yet? DO IT. It’s on Steam, Android, and iOS. I’m not kidding. GO PLAY IT NOW. It’s a masterpiece!