Final Fantasy VI was released in the United States in 1994. At that time, it was known to Americans as Final Fantasy III, the result of Squaresoft having only ported Final Fantasies I, IV, and VI to English. Considered to be one of the best games of its generation, it has been subsequently rereleased for the Playstation as part of Final Fantasy Anthology. The game took full advantage of the Super Nintendo’s hardware, using the sound chip to its utmost, presenting the world map in Mode 7 in order to simulate three dimensions, using some interesting graphics effects in battle (enemies’ death sequences are not done with a series of sprites) and featuring the most complex sprites and backgrounds of any game in the Final Fantasy series at that point by quite a long shot.
The game tells the story of a world recovering from an ancient war between those who could wield magic and those who could not. It’s set in essentially the Industrial Revolution, with steam power, armored fighting vehicles, and factories being a relatively new development. An empire controls much of the known world, led by the Emperor Gestahl as well as his advisor, Kefka. Although it is common knowledge that the Empire seeks to expand its holdings and is attacking and capturing outlying towns, it is not common knowledge that there is a secret program led by Kefka to revive magic in order to build an unstoppable army of Magitek-armored soldiers. The eventual party consists of 14 characters, each with their own backgrounds (most highly developed) and personal reasons for hating the Empire:
One of the major additions that Final Fantasy VI made to the series was having the sidequest portion of the game be the main determinant in how well your party performed at the end of the game. In previous games, although there would be some focus on sidequests late in the game, you would have most of the powerful items and spell simply by going through the game normally and then levelling up quite a bit at the end. Final Fantasy VI featured these side quests and more:
- Getting back characters in the second half of the game
- Edgar - posing as the leader of a gang of thieves
- Terra - acting as mother to a town of orphaned children
- Sabin - supporting a burning building so that the child inside can be rescued
- Cyan - hiding in Mount Zozo and forging letters from a dead soldier to his lover
- Mog - waiting deep within the caves of Narshe
- Relm - fighting a demon within a painting
- Strago - brainwashed by the Cult of Kefka
- Setzer - preparing to find a new airship in Daryl's Tomb
- Gau - on the Veldt
- Shadow - waiting at the Coliseum for somebody to bet a special knife
- Locke - within the Phoenix Cave searching for its treasure
- Umaro - hiding out in caves above Narshe
- Gogo - waiting within the Zone Eater
- The Coliseum (items can be gambled to win new ones)
- Sending letters for the wounded soldier in Maranda
- Transforming the Cursed Shield into the Paladin Shield
- Finding all of Mog's dances by visiting much of the world
- Helping Strago to learn all of his blue magic
- Having Gau learn all of the animals on the Veldt
- Defeating all of the Dragons
- Defeating Doom Gaze
- Exploring the ancient castle beneath the sea
- Defeating the Hidon
- Plundering the Fanatics' Tower
- Finding the good items at the Auction House
- Discovering Shadow's hidden past
- Helping Cyan come to peace with his family
- And a whole mess of others.
The game is enormous, the plot is expansive and well-written, and the battle system (apart from having one flaw, due to Final Fantasies always having one*) is well-designed. Each character has a special ability, ranging from Cyan’s sword techniques to Locke’s Steal to Gau’s ability to imitate the monsters of the Veldt, as well as the ability to learn magic spells and attack normally. There are a startling number of sidequests, taking up as much as twenty to thirty hours of gameplay. The graphics are crisp and detailed for the Super Nintendo, the music is very well-written (including an opera - see the Dream Oath Opera) and was later orchestrated for the beautiful album Grand Finale, and the game is just overall extremely immersive.
To put it simply, Final Fantasy VI is thoroughly a Final Fantasy game. It features everything that one would expect from the series - magic in several colors, thieves, brawlers, Moogles, chocobos, an extremely effeminate villain, airships, a point where the game’s world is essentially replaced with a completely new one, and a carefully orchestrated plot. Yet it still manages to be fresh and involving, rather than being bogged down in the standbys that Final Fantasy helped to create. If you consider yourself at all a serious gamer, then you must play this game.
*The flaw is that a character's Magic Block stat takes no part in the damage-calculation algorithm. Pump it up all you want; it makes no difference.