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!
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.