As I’ve said in my Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster review, the series started with even installments being focused on the story more than odd ones. Final Fantasy VI continues that tradition – it has more cut-scenes, more scripted sequences, and battles intermingled with dialogues. Characters no longer can change their job-class but there is a ton of them and you switch between the different groups through the course of the story.
However, the gameplay development wasn’t forgotten. In fact, some characters got skills entirely new for the series. Sometimes those skills are even necessary to win battles and you must figure out how. Actual puzzles must be solved to progress in certain areas, like in an adventure game. There are even side-quests and choices that can bring you optional rewards. All are tied to the main story.
It All Comes To This
The background for new Final Fantasy is actually quite different from previous games. Sure, they had some sci-fi elements like flying fortresses or guardian robots, but the setting was mostly fantasy with medieval-like surroundings.
Now, the world around you is filled with various tech, like mecha-suits and trains. And there is an explanation for that – War of the Magi, which happened thousand years ago was so devastating that the very magic left the world, just some artifacts remained and a few creatures called “espers”.
However, the Empire of Gestalt found a way to infuse a few people with magical abilities and make powerful mecha-suits that can use magic attacks too. With those unmatched weapons, they are conquering the world, not realizing that their own generals soon going to become the greatest threat to the world, like millennia ago.
One of the generals, anyway. Who, despite being a royal mage, infused with experimental magical power, looks more like a court jester. And acts that way too.
And this is my biggest problem with the story. Not just Kefka himself, but a lot of moments in the story that would fit more into a kids’ cartoon rather than deep existential drama. After one battle the guy was just kicked away to go by his own story path. In another, you get some stupid jokes.
And after those comedic antics suddenly one character has all his family killed, and the story dives into a serious and heavy topic. These tonal shifts between deep questions, silly comedy, and abrupt plot twists (usually made just for the sake of diverting the progression) make me feel very frustrated. Especially in the early game.
Stick To The Script
As for the gameplay, the core is the same as in FFIV and FFV. Your party travels around the world, enters dungeons filled with monsters, and rests in peaceful towns. When you meet enemies (as bosses or stumble on a random encounter) an ATB battle starts. As usual, in the game setting, you can choose if the game will pause while you giving orders and shuffling through menus, making it effectively turn-based. Or you can turn to pause off for some “thrills”.
There are, however, many additions and enhancements for the traditional basics. One of the characters, for example, has special abilities that require pressing the correct buttons. And since during that action time isn’t paused, you have to do it quickly like in the infamous QTE. Another character can block magical damage during one turn. Completely. And that’s required to win one of the battles.
Still, battles I like most are the ones that I could still win with ordinary tactics but figuring out the enemy’s weak spot or pattern made it far easier.
Some locations have actual puzzles, where you must talk to NPC and choose a correct answer or use a specific item. Or move along a specific path, hinted to you earlier. Again, my favorite spots were where those were optional – you can progress even without solving a riddle but if you do, you’ll get some boon or avoid more damage and fights.
There are a few points when the story splits, following different characters. Sometimes you can even choose party members for different groups. Or, depending on your earlier choices, you can get “recruits” to your party for a time. It’s not true non-linearity, as the plot will progress the same way nonetheless but, as I’ve said, I liked the variety of options and rewards for clever thinking.
Work in Progress
While there are no changeable jobs, like in FFV, you can customize your characters through equipment. There are two ‘Relic’ slots that can hold special artifacts, granting not only stat boosts but also additional abilities.
And later in the game, you’ll get ‘Magecite’ crystals, allowing characters to summon espers and learn magic. This does remind a bit of a job system but learning new spells takes a lot fewer battles (and thus time). So while at the start of the game you have only two characters casting a few selected spells by default, in the end, everyone will probably learn everything. Or at least those who will be in your main party will learn most of the magic.
The lack of balance is probably the biggest problem in the gameplay. Despite the variety of characters and their different skills, you’ll find that most of them aren’t that useful. Considering that only four characters in the party are leveling up, there is little reason to change party composition and spend time advancing those, whom you don’t need to use in battles.
A few times you battle entire armies, advancing on crucial position. And you can switch between groups on the fly to manage military forces. Cool concept! Except it becomes mute, when you realize – it’s just better to create one group with four most powerful characters, that would just stomp everyone.
It’s also annoying when you learn useful information after you could use it. Like having a free rest spot just after another location where you have to pay for the inn. Or some locations in general that you can’t return to, and you don’t know that until you leave or encounter some story event.
Luckily you can always reload but you’ll lose time. Honestly, it’s just better to finish the game and play a second time, knowing all the important missable moments.
Don’t get me wrong. Final Fantasy VI has it all – an engaging story with deeper meaning, colorful characters, and dynamic battles. Even grind this time is not that tiresome. If you won’t try to level up all characters and go for all achievements that is.
Back in its day Final Fantasy VI definitely was a breakthrough in the genre. With a brand new ‘magi-tech’ world, and cut-scenes scripted with great intricacy and style. There were quite a few experimental features in it that jRPGs rarely try even today. However, all that came at a cost.
Abrupt and awkward tonal shifts in the story. Lack of balance and counter-intuitive design in the gameplay department. Those are the reasons why I can’t give it a higher score – modern remake should be judged by modern standards.