Thoughts On Final Fantasy VI

 

Back in January there was some kind of mad Final Fantasy sale on the PlayStation Network. I took the opportunity to buy a copy of Final Fantasy VI for under a fiver, and decided to keep it in the bank until the day when I had finished Skyrim and was ready for another long RPG. That day came two weeks ago. This morning I woke up, had some breakfast, and tore through the final dungeon like Andi at a free bar. Here are my thoughts upon the conclusion of the game:

1) Sabin is still the greatest

Without question, my favourite character in the game is the train-suplexing absent king of Figaro. His Street Fighter-inspired Blitz ability is fun, pleasurably tense, and ridiculously useful - he has early-game attacks that can ignore defence and deal Holy damage, a non-magical group healing ability (which is handy if you cast Reflect on your party), and his multi-target attacks ignore Split Damage. The fact that his ultimate attack requires you to execute a spinning piledriver makes him an ideal match for a Zangief man like myself. 

He's also a really nice guy! And he plays a major role in many of the weirder scenes in the game - at one point he jumps into a river to wrestle a giant talking octopus, separating himself from the rest of the party, and then goes on a three-hour solo adventure where he crosses the Eastern continent, breaks an Imperial siege, travels to the afterlife and back, and then puts on a diving helmet and walks across the bottom of the sea to get home?!

Also, although it never appears within the game, his official artwork shows him sporting a formidable beard.

2) The rules are poorly explained

I don't like having to look things up on the internet. It's quick and easy to do, but it feels like cheating - because of the way I scan over pages, I find it difficult to look up what an item does without also taking in where you can find them, which enemies you can steal it from, etc. The problem is, FF6 tells you so little about what your items and equipment actually do that I find it impossible to manage my party without consulting a wiki. Item descriptions are all just a few words long, and (unlike FF7) there are no Status screens to tell you about your current weaknesses and resistances - Sabin was immune to Fire damage for most of my game, and I still have no idea why.

Other things that the game does not adequately explain: Mog's dances, Gau's rages, the fact Gogo can equip different commands, pretty much everything to do with Umaro, final attacks, how that whole coral subquest in Ebot's Rock is supposed to work (I guess you only carry the quantity that you pulled out of a chest last?), the properties of the status effects Vanish and Multi-Image, the way The Veldt works, and why Locke is so terrible at stealing even when he's wearing the Thief Ring.

3) 'Old-school' game design is awful

I came back from work on Thursday night and settled in to fight my way through the Cultists' Tower. I knew there would be a dragon somewhere, I knew there was a load of rare treasure dotted around, and I knew that I had an absolutely awful time trying to reach the top of the tower when I was a teenager. This time would be different. I carefully picked my party - Celes and Terra for their high magic power, Sabin because he is the king of the world, and Gogo for free spells - and tweaked their equipment to maximise their magical defences.

It was great! I cleaved through the tower and emptied its chests without meeting any serious challenge. I became a little confused when I reached the top and didn't find a save point or a boss, but things started to snap into place when I started heading back down the tower and walked into a pre-fight cut-scene. The boss was no more challenging than any other enemy I had encountered, except for his unique ability to change his elemental resistances at will - not a problem for me with my non-elemental Meteor magic. HOWEVER: Right at the end of the fight I triggered his 'final attack' ability, which turned out to be the most powerful attack spell in the game, ignoring my characters' high magical defences and killing the whole party, from full health, in one hit.

Two hours of my life, gone. A whole evening! I could have been writing my memoirs. I could have been bringing an end to war, or nursing a baby deer back to health. Instead I achieved absolutely nothing, because 18 years ago some Squaresoft designer decided it would be funny to transform an enemy from 'harmless' to 'instantly lethal' without giving the player a hint of warning. Furious, I switched my PS3 off and went to bed thinking about how Farmville never puts its players through this kind of bullshit.

4) DLC did not always exist

Gau, Mog, Gogo and Umaro have nothing to do with anything. I love Gogo, but the game would not suffer one bit if any or all of these characters were removed - mostly they seem to exist as experiments in wacky combat mechanics, and they contribute almost nothing to the story. Cyan's flashback quest is certainly relevant to his story, but would make perfect material for a DLC side-quest timed for release a month after launch ("Download the Doma Demons pack and explore Cyan's troubled past!"). The Dragon's Neck Coliseum, the Ancient Castle, the Zone Eater's belly, the Cultists' Tower... all of these side-quests could comfortably be tacked onto the game later for a few dollars more. Instead they are all included at no extra charge. Sounds wonderful, right? I think it provides an interesting alternative to moaning about DLC as it's used now. Consider that everyone who buys FF6 is paying for all these characters and quests that they (often) won't want even if they managed to find them.

Also, bear in mind how much of the game is outright broken. The Evade stat does nothing at all, with the game using Magic Evade to calculate your chance of dodging physical attacks instead. The Rippler ability (which is supposed to transfer status effects between party members and enemies) does such a thorough job that it affects hidden status effects such as Shadow's unique 'Interceptor Counter' ability, meaning he can be stripped of his faithful dog for the rest of the game. Bugs like these would have been fixed if the game was released on a modern, online-enabled platform. Instead, the only hope players have to enjoy fewer bugs is to buy a re-release of the game, years later, on a different console (and STILL many of the bugs endure). And on that subject, if this game did allow DLC, the extra content added to the GBA remake could have been added back into previous editions.

5) Final Fantasy games are all really irritating

I've had some really enjoyable evenings playing this game over the last two weeks! I've also had many more incredibly boring sessions of grinding and farming, which usually ended with me being killed by a wily Bracosaur. As much as I'd like to enjoy the good things in Final Fantasy VI, it never stops reminding me of the time I spent four hours walking down a corridor in Final Fantasy XII.

I don't want to play these kinds of games any more. I stuck it out to the end for FF6 because I almost finished it when I was a teenager and I wanted to finish the job, but no adult human being should have to takes hours out of their week just to grind enough experience to progress in their game. This is why I quit Dragon Quest VIII, FF12, Persona 3 and other tedious RPGs - there are too many more interesting things I want to do before I die.