Final Fantasy VI is a Timeless Masterpiece (Complete Review)

Here we are, ladies and gents and non-binary friends! One of the most influential and iconic RPGs of all time! If you were to ask someone what the best Final Fantasy game was, a lot of people would say this one!

Of course, there are people who would say VIII is their favorite, so you never actually know what answer you’d get.

All the prior games in the series pale in comparison to Final Fantasy VI! Everything about this game, and I do mean everything, is a major improvement over all that came before it! The story, the characters, the depth of gameplay, the music, the visuals, all of it is the culmination of everything the series has been building towards!

This is a big game. Which constitutes a big review. But since I want to get this out at a somewhat reasonable pace, I’ll be splitting it into three parts. What can I say? I love this game and I want to give it the full credit it deserves!

With that said, let’s get started! This is Final Fantasy VI!

Strap in for the adventure of a lifetime!

Part One: The Story

One thousand years after the War of the Magi, magic has all but faded from the world. Now the Empire, armed with its superior Magitek, is the leading power, hell-bent on world domination using the powers of the magical Espers. Our protagonist, Terra, is enslaved by the Empire and forced to use her magic to further their aims. That is until a meeting with a frozen Esper sets her free and sends her on a quest to meet the Returners, a rebel force opposing the Empire. Will Terra and her friends be able to prevent another War of the Magi and save the world?

This is where the character writing in this series really starts to kick off. Every single member of the cast has their own unique backstory, motivations, and emotional struggles that they grapple with throughout the entire game. From Terra to Setzer, from Shadow to Celes, the cast of this game has some insane depth for an SNES game!

Except for Mog, Umaro, and Gogo. But that’s what they get for being optional.

Admit it; you heard his laugh the moment you saw this sprite.

Kefka is one of the most memorable video game antagonists of all time. He’s just do purely diabolical, so cruelty manipulative, yet full of energy. The dude is a ball of pure energy and malice. Even his laugh has become iconic!

Some of the scenes in this game made my jaw drop! This is easily the most ambitious Square game of the time. And when the competition is Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana, that’s saying a ton! This game still blows even modern titles out of the water!

My personal favorite is the scene with Celes and Cid right after the world is remade. Cid is sick and all you can do is go to the coast and get him fish to ward off his condition. You can go elsewhere to try and fight enemies, but anything you run into dies on its own almost immediately. All you can do is keep bringing Cid fish, preventing his dialogue from progressing, keeping him alive. Delaying the inevitable.

Until the fish stop coming. The one thing you could do and you lose even that. Now you have to watch, powerless, helpless as the one companion you have finally succumbs to his illness. You feel every bit of Celes’ helplessness, terror, and despair.

Then, as one last kick to the nuts, you have to walk her up to the cliff. Once at the top, control is taken away from the player. Now, you’ve lost your ability to even control the game. All you can do is watch as the only character you’ve got left hurls herself to her death. You’re powerless to stop it. You cannot save her. Just like you couldn’t stop Kefka and save the world. Celes jumps and you are plunged into absolute despair, totally defeated.

Friendly reminder that Nintendo approved to publish this game. In the 90s. At the height of their family-friendly mandate, they released the game where a main character tried to kill herself.

But Celes survives. And lo and behold, she is given her first sign that the other party members are still alive as well! Suddenly, the crushing despair and defeat is swept away, replaced by a faint but powerful glimmer of hope! You take a raft Cid prepared for you before the end and sail off, your adventure beginning anew as you pursue your friends with renewed vigor and determination!

This is how you write a video game story! It perfectly balances narrative and gameplay, creating an emotionally engaging experience you couldn’t get in any other creative medium! The sheer creativity and resourcefulness the developers of this game must’ve had to put a sequence like this together on the SNES of all things is extraordinary!

Final Fantasy VI is stuffed to the brim with such sequences! The opening scene, Sabin and Cyan’s journey on the Phantom Train, Locke’s disguise-hopping escape from the Empire, Celes’ performance at the opera house, Terra’s struggle to protect her adopted children, this game is loaded with moments that wonderfully blend character writing with gameplay!

If you didn’t love Celes after this scene, then you’re wrong. Sorry, I don’t know what else to tell you.

It all comes to a head in a simple but satisfying ending. After one of the greatest final bosses in video game history, every character gets their moment to shine in one last hurrah. Then we’re treated to a wonderful little finale as everyone basically flies off into the sunset, the day won and the future bright. It’s not utterly jaw-dropping, but it’s a solid enough conclusion to the narrative.

Hey, I’ll take a simple, good ending over an overly-complicated bad one.

Honestly, I can’t think of anything particularly wrong with the narrative of VI. It’s solid all around, with one of the strongest casts of characters in any JRPG and a story that’s gripping from start to end. It’s a masterclass in video game writing that few games to this day can match!

And we’re just getting started! There’s still so much left to talk about! How it looks, how it sounds, and of course: how it plays! We’ve only scratched the surface of what this game has to offer!

We’re gonna be here a lot longer than I thought…

Part Two: The Presentation

Final Fantasy VI has been released across multiple platforms over the years. From its original SNES release to a GBA version to the modern Pixel Remaster version, there are plenty of ways to play this game. And all of them bring something new to the table for the presentation.

Like the mobile port a few years back. That one was unique because it decided it would look like fucking garbage. What a bold decision!

Oh, God, Kefka, what have they done to you?!

Before we dive into the various ports, however, let’s talk about how Final Fantasy VI expanded on the style that’s been built across the SNES era of the series. Through IV and V, we saw the environments and characters of this series slowly expand, becoming more interesting, detailed, and beautiful.

VI puts both of them to shame. Stylistically, visually, this game is amazing! The usual medieval fantasy aesthetic of the series has been blended with steampunk sci-fi. This isn’t just the first step towards the aesthetic the series would take on for years to come, it still manages to look incredibly unique even today!

All of the character sprites are much larger and more detailed than they were in previous FFs. Gone is the chibi. Now the characters are taller, more detailed and varied, and animate much better than before. From Edgar’s little finger waggle to Cyan’s incredulous faces to Shadow and his adorable dog, each character in this game has a wide and varied set of sprites and animations.

Just look at how the light hits the clouds in the background!

The backgrounds are a particular highlight for me. This game has got some pretty damn good looking scenery! Whether you’re in a vast snowy field, a green plane, or an otherworldly continent, every environment is richly detailed and interesting. It feels like the game is playing over a series of paintings!

Even the soundtrack is a cut above the rest! Final Fantasy games always have good music, that’s a no-brainer. But the OST of VI is one of the best in the series, as well as one of the best in all of video games! From the opening theme’s church organ all the way to the massive suite that is Dancing Mad, the music in VI is a masterpiece through and through!

Legit, let’s talk about Dancing Mad. As much as I absolutely love One-Winged Angel, Dancing Mad is probably my favorite final boss track in any Final Fantasy game. This seventeen-and-a-half minute long suite so perfectly manages to capture what you actually feel while battling Kefka.

In its first movement, it captures awe and terror; you are facing down a demonic god and the track is letting you know it ain’t gonna be easy. Come time for the second movement, the dread is combined with a sense of horror, perfectly complimenting the sudden and disturbing change in Kefka’s appearance. The third movement takes on a more holy vibe, as the players face the mad god’s third form. It has an angelic purity, but there’s still that twisted undercurrent.

Then we reach the fourth movement. Here, everything is combined into one. The awe, the dread, the beauty, the divinity, all of it captured in a fast-paced, hectic tune that perfectly captures the madness of Kefka. As this final movement progresses, the tune only picks up in tempo, becoming faster and faster and louder and louder as the battle crescendos. It’s jaw-dropping to listen to!

As for the actual graphics, this is where things start to vary between ports. Not too dramatically different; the same core elements are always there, just with a few minor changes or adjustments. Each version is recognizably Final Fantasy VI.

Except, again, for the mobile version. That one just… dear god, that was really what we were stuck with for years!

This is from the GBA port. Pretty damn solid stuff. Just look at how messy Banon is!

The SNES and GBA versions are more or less the same, graphically speaking. The only real difference is that the GBA version adds character portraits to the dialogue, so it’s a bit easier to keep track of who is talking and when. Both are incredibly solid even today.

The easiest port to get your hands on at the moment is the Pixel Remaster. Unfortunately, this version of the game isn’t a one-to-one port of the original or even the GBA version. Rather, it’s a version of the mobile port that I keep complaining about, but they changed the sprites to actually resemble the original style.

Because of this, you’ll see a few instances with actual 3D models. Such as the Opera Performance with Celes, one of the most iconic scenes in the game. In this version, they made it a 3D sequence and even added voice acting to her singing! I like this just fine, and the singing itself was very well done. But I can’t help but wish we had simply gotten the original version.

While this port is still pretty good, there are some minor differences that kind of irk me. For one, everything just looks a bit too… clean. It’s hard to explain, but the newer version feels a lot brighter. It still looks solid, but the colors don’t quite pop as much as they used to.

You know what? It’ll be easier just to show you. Below, I have two images. The first is from the original SNES version. The other is from the Pixel Remaster.

Personally, I still prefer the look of the older games. Again, the Pixel Remaster isn’t bad; it’s a massive upgrade over the original mobile port. Still, it kind of makes me sad that a lot of the original charm is going to fade to time.

Or modders will put it back in there. That’s probably what’ll actually happen.

That aside, Final Fantasy VI still looks and sounds pretty damn good. Sadly, the best looking versions of the game are lost to time. If you’ve still got a SNES or GBA cartridge around (or you’re willing to hoist the black flag), you can still experience those! But for anyone going the easy route with Steam, they’ll get a good but not as incredible version.

Thankfully, the actual gameplay mostly remains untouched. Which brings us to part three and the end of this massive review.

Part Three: The Gameplay

Finally, we come to the crux of it. No matter how good VI’s story or graphics or music might be, it doesn’t mean a thing if the game isn’t fun to play. So, what does VI do to make it a game still worth playing to this day?

Where do I begin?

If you’ve played any of the Final Fantasy games we’ve already discussed before, then you pretty much know what to expect from the core of VI. Four party members, active-time battle system, random encounters, it’s all here and it’s all been refined to perfection!

Alas, my beloved class system from I, III, and V are gone once again. In its place, we have one hell of a varied party! Terra can transform to enhance her magic, Celes can absorb magic attacks, Sabin has badass monk shit (that requires fighting game style motion inputs, which just makes me so happy), Setzer has a roulette, Strago is a blue mage, on and on it goes!

Sabin can suplex a train. An evil ghost train. What more do you want?

There is an absurd amount of depth to some of these characters. Hell, Gau alone is so complicated that people went and wrote a whole damn bible about the kid! And you can freely customize the entire party to your liking by the end of the game, allowing you to create all kinds of wacky combinations of characters!

Furthering the customization options are the equipable relics. Each character can put on up to two special relics that give you special effects. Some are simple, like stat boosts or applying buffs. Others change moves, such as turning the Attack command into the Dragoon’s Jump move. These allow you to specialize each member of your team even further!

And we haven’t even talked about Espers yet.

Leviathan was the coolest summon in the SNES era, fight me Bahamut stans.

Throughout the game, you’ll come across shards of Magicite. Within each one is an Esper, a summonable creature you can use in battle. On top of that, each Esper has a list of spells attached to it; gain enough APB with each Esper and that character will learn those spells.

So get ready to mix-and-match Espers and characters until every member of the cast has a full spell list, then proceed to annihilate anything and everything that gets in your way. I hope you like grinding!

Trust me. You’d better like grinding. See, you can’t just stick to the four characters you like. Final Fantasy VI often forces you to control multiple parties at once. Hell, you need to divide your team into three separate groups for the final dungeon! If any of them are under leveled or underused, you’re going to have a rough time.

But with a bit of creativity and determination, you could still win. Believe me. I managed it, and my third party would get wiped out by a single hit from just about anything.

Most of it was luck, I’ll admit, but still; creativity and determination!

All of this makes combat in Final Fantasy VI the most creatively free and engaging in the series to date! Putting together your perfect squad is a ton of fun, and actually overcoming difficult battles with them using creative solutions is immensely satisfying! It can require a lot of grinding, like all the other games in the series, but that isn’t so bad if you’ve got something else to occupy your attention.

Ah, the orange clouds and ruby seas. What a beautiful way to end the world.

Now, let’s talk about traversal. Throughout the game, you’ll have three ways to get around: walk, rent a Chocobo, or fly your airship. Even this is a major improvement over the previous games! Before, you would change sprites and your movement would increase and you’d move over tiles. Now, riding a Chocobo or flying the airship is far more cinematic, using the SNES’s Mode 7 and altering the controls. You can even ascend or dive midflight or go inside the airship to talk to your party!

Unfortunately, I never found a good reason to ride a Chocobo. With the amount of grinding you need to do to max out your party, it’s simply too practical just to walk. Besides, it isn’t like your regular walking speed is all that slow. Then once you get the airship, you’ll never need the golden birds again. Throughout my whole playthrough, I only ever used them once!

Is this a game-breaking complaint? No. It’s hardly anything beyond a nitpick. But it did kinda make me sad, so I put it here regardless.

I like to imagine I’d be like the protagonists, but in reality, I’m just Ultros with fewer legs.

Playing Final Fantasy VI is an absolute delight. It’s combat has an insane amount of depth for such a simple system. If you’d like to keep it simple and go with the more straight-forward party members, it’s still a ton of fun to play. If you want to try some of the more complex members of the cast, you can find yourself with an experience that makes you feel like a genuine genius!

Yet somehow, someway, the devs managed to top that with VII. But we’ll get to that in due time.

Conclusion

Terra is a bit more blonde in the official artwork than she was in the game. Wonder why that is.

With that, we reach the end of Final Fantasy VI. I wasn’t expecting this review to turn into a trilogy when I first started, but I quickly realized that’s what it had to be. Even in this state, I feel like I haven’t talked about it enough.

This game is absolutely incredible. If you’re a fan of RPGs and you haven’t played it, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s aged remarkably gracefully and is still just as good, even better in some ways, than some of its modern competition.

And now, the Nintendo era of Final Fantasy is over. Now, it’s time to move on to the Playstation 1 games! Starting with one of my all-time favorite video games!

Followed immediately by one of my all-time least favorites. But let’s appreciate the good times while they last.

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