I’ve been thinking a long time about how to write this review. It’s never easy writing about epic games. It’s easy to shit all over crappy games. Their flaws are obvious and sufficient material for a post. But Final Fantasy VI…
There are several things that make a game great, and some of these are typically embedded in reviews: music, sound, gameplay, controls, fun factor, graphics, plot, replay value, etc. But these things alone, even all done perfectly, do not predict an epic game. The one factor that is required for an epic game that cannot be crafted is timing. An epic game has to be released at a time when an entire genre is forming, and it’s at the forefront, pioneering it. Doing it intentionally is like trying to predict the rise of Microsoft before the fact. There are certain timing factors, the contemporary culture, the minds of the artists of the era, and the minds of the audience, that all have to be in sync. It is for these reasons that the Matrix was amazing, and its sequels failed. The timing was lost.
Instead of dissecting the game, and reading its guts to you like an English teacher with Shakespeare, I’m going to try a different approach. I’m going to tell you a story, a story about the timing of Final Fantasy VI in my life, and the resulting effect it had on me. I imagine that if I were to crowdsource this story, many other, similar stories would emerge. Collectively, these stories tell the true tale of why many believe Final Fantasy VI is the greatest game ever written.
I was 13 years old. My cousin was visiting. His parents were a lot more comfortable with video games than mine were. Games weren’t the bane of the world’s existence, and a threat to homework and success. As such, he was allowed to have a SNES (I was not), and he brought it with him. He also brought along a stack of games, and this new game he had just purchased for over $100 (Around $200 in today’s money). We played some Street Fighter II, and some Contra III, and some other fun two-player games for a couple of days. On the last evening he was here, we decided to try out this other game he had with him, Final Fantasy III. He told me that he had played it a bit and that it was rather long. It was the perfect choice for that night. He had a history of getting sick during long car rides, and the 8 hour drive planned for the next day was looming. He figured the best way to not get sick was to sleep through the whole car ride, and the best way to do that was to stay up all night playing FFIII with me. I happily obliged.
We brought a couple of comfortable chairs up to the TV, dropped in the cartridge, loaded up on snack food and pop, and hit the power switch. This haunting, operatic music gripped me suddenly, and latched my focus to the screen. I sat back and watched, transfixed as the intro played itself out on the screen. I was without words. Saliva dripped from my fallen jaw onto the carpet in front of me. I… I had to see what happened next. The movie segued directly into the gameplay, seamlessly. Suddenly, the plot was unfolding, and I was clicking through dialog, eating it up. The soldiers were controlling this blue haired girl, in some sort of mecha. Why? What did she do to them? Why were they so mean?
And then they turned, and began walking through the drifts of snow in 3D. The haunting, magical Terra theme played over the credits, and I realised that this wasn’t a game. This was a piece of art, with proud creators who deserved to have their names seen at the beginning, in case the impatient, impulsive North American audience didn’t have the attention span to make it to the end of their work. This instant marked a very important milestone in my lifelong love of gaming. It was the instant that I realised that games were no longer progressively more complicated versions of pong, without any purpose other than to sustain one’s attention for a few minutes. It was at this moment that I realised that games were a medium for storytelling, like books, movies, graphic novels, plays. It was at this moment that the acceptance bar for games suddenly jumped up. Square had set a new standard. And I had seen only the tip of the iceberg.
I lost track of time… The next time I looked at the clock, it was nearly 6AM. I had been devoured whole by a world of bum rushes, and tek missiles, and moggles, and Atma weapons. I had shed a tear for Celes’ ill treatment at the hands of the evil emperor, marking another first: the first time I ever truly felt empathy, and a connection to a video game character. My party had grown with character after character, each with a tale, each with substance, and purpose. I had read more plot, on the screen, than I had read in paper books in the past year. I had forgotten to blink – my eyes were drying out.
When it came time for my cousin to leave, I could barely tear myself away from the game. What would happen to Terra? Locke? Celes? Relm? Gau? Where would their adventures take them? Was the world really going to get destroyed by misuse of Magitek? My cousin departed, and I was left in withdrawal. I had a new mission in life: acquire a SNES and a copy of FFVI at any cost. And, when I eventually did, I spent many, many, many hours glued to the TV in my room. I’m sure I spent no less than 200 hours on the game, which, for that era, was an eternity. I can still hear Kefka’s teasing, insane laughter. I can still remember the elation when Terra first learned how to cast Ultima. I still, to this day, giggle at the thought of combining the Genji Glove, with the Offering, with two Atma weapons, raining down destruction on my party’s foes.
Final Fantasy 6 came along at just the right time to inspire the emerging adulthood of the children of the baby boomers. Somewhere between Generation X and Generation Y, there’s a Generation FF. Those who were fortunate to play FFVI during their formative years will forever be inspired by it, and forever demanding of games to live up to the potential of the era. It continues to inspire artwork, music, and game creation. It set a high bar, and game developers took a few years to catch up. Nowadays we nod dismissively at games like this, but we easily forget that it’s been a decade and a half. They were the pioneers of modern console RPGs, and deserve respect as such. They were no longer making games, they were making art. When Mozart’s notes jump off the page and into ballet; when Da Vinci’s paintings transform into cinema; when a game jumps off the TV screen and onto the canvas, we begin to understand that true genius is the ability to influence not only one’s own genre, but adjacent and opposing spaces as well.
Final Fantasy 6 meant something important to me. What did it mean to you? I want to hear your stories. How did it affect you? How did it inspire you? How did it change your view of gaming? And, yes, you can rule 34 it. Shame on you for thinking of it!
Verdict: Final Fantasy 6 not only defined a genre, but also entered the console gaming scene with impeccable timing. It inspired, and raised the bar on story telling in video games for the entire industry. It was a the predecessor to modern interactive story-telling RPGs. Its place in history is well deserved.