Editorial: Final Fantasy VI: Falling in love with classic games
Taking on the biggest classic of them all.
08.30.16 - 7:44 PM
Take this scenario: you're born just as the 32-bit era is ending; pixels are being abandoned for fully-rendered models; even voice acting is being introduced. It is a revolutionary era of gaming. I grew up playing games during this overhaul where discs replaced cartridges, and even though I fell in love with a few of the games of the day, the older I got, the more I felt like I was missing something, as though I'd missed a step.
While a lot of kids remember getting their first Super Nintendo in 1991, I got mine in 2003. In a crazy surge of nostalgia, my mum decided to buy me one and thrust the SNES controller along with Secret of Mana in my hands. Since then, I've always looked back fondly at the pre-PS2 eras of gaming. Some things nowadays are too realistic. I just want to lose my head in an adventure for a good 30 hours and fall in love with the world, and I get this feeling more from the previous generations of gaming.
That doesn't mean everything is rosy. When you pick up a classic for the first time, you're immediately hit with everyone else's opinions and nostalgia. When you put turn on your console for the first time, the weight of these opinions can crush you. Many of these have been formed long ago. So I'll often approach these games asking too many questions: What I I don't like the game? What if it doesn't live up to everyone's expectations?
I've never felt this more than with Final Fantasy VI. That's right, I've gone 22 years without playing this masterpiece. Truthfully, I was scared to pick it up. FFVI carries an aura around it which very few other games can boast. It's many gamers' most beloved RPG ever. I felt similarly playing Chrono Trigger and Xenogears for the first time. When I decided I was going to tackle this game, I thought to myself "Well, this is a tough hobby to have."
Luckily, FFVI is so easy to love.
How many other games can you think of that throw you straight into the plot? The first time I loaded the game up, I was mesmerised as Terra in her Magitek armour marched across the tundra towards Narshe. There was an impending sense of dread and expectation like something was guaranteed to happen. I was thrown straight into the action, a war between the Empire and the rebels, a fight to save magic and the Espers, and the struggle to survive in a world being torn apart.
The game's narrative has everything — revolution, rebellion, murder, betrayal, love — but condensed into a perfect 30-hour experience. The biggest draw for me is the lack of fluff around it. FFVI isn't padded out with filler; everything happens for a reason. Sure, there are sidequests, but they all build upon the foundations of each and every character. Everybody matters, and none of your party are left out of the proceedings.
The game is full of emotional impact. You're never given a moment to breathe in Squaresoft's adventure. From escaping Figaro Castle to the Opera, FFVI wants you to feel like you're part of this rebellion. Perhaps the biggest shock was the inevitable destruction of the world. The World of Ruin might be one of the worst-kept spoilers ever, but as Kefka stood between the three statues and laughed mockingly at my party as the world began to crumble at his feet, I felt an incredible amount of hate and upset. I'd failed to save the world. This was all down to me.
Terra and Celes, in particular, captured my heart. Terra's journey isn't just one to save the world, it's one where she finds meaning in life and living. Half-Esper, half-human, Terra finds solace amongst a group of children, and as her fight to protect their fragile lives leaves me feeling invigorated. In contrast, Celes' tale focuses on her love for one person. Celes loses everything before the world is destroyed, and it's only when the cataclysm takes place that she really breaks. Those scenes in the World of Ruin are some of the most difficult I've ever watched.
Of course, you're never going to enjoy everything about any game. I might love FFVI, but I don't like everything about it. Although the decision to make the second half of the game non-linear was incredible at the time, I found myself getting lost. I had to adjust to a new world map all while scouting the land for my friends. It's impactful plot wise, but I couldn't help but feel a little bored at times. With every character that rejoined, I had to spend a few hours grinding them and getting them up to speed. And with 14 characters, that's a lot of levelling.
Keeping everyone up to speed is important too, and sometimes this dragged on a bit for me. There are many dungeons where your characters split into two or three teams, and while this makes for some interesting gameplay, I felt happier sticking to one team and perfecting them. Some of the characters, while not wasted in the plot, felt very useless. I think in the end it works in the game's favour, because it leads up to one of the best final boss battles ever, but a bit more balance between the cast would've made this a little easier to stomach.
It's not my intention to tell you something new about FFVI. I know I've not said anything revolutionary in declaring my love for this game, but it just reinforces to me why I love playing the classic. Although everyone's nostalgia does play on my mind when visiting these games for the first time, I'm more excited about forming my own opinions about the experience. For me, nothing can replicate the feeling of loading up one of these classics for the first time. It's a gaming journey I plan on continuing, and FFVI has helped me further along.