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The Brightest in a Sea of Diamonds
Every once in a while, a game comes along that completely revolutionizes a genre, redefining what a videogame could and should be and standing in the annals as one of the greatest games of all time. Final Fantasy 6 is one of those games. For starters, it set benchmarks in music, storyline, and character development that some still say, as a whole, has yet to be surpassed.
Whatever your take, Final Fantasy 6 (from hereon referenced as FF6) did have great graphics. It fully utilized the SNES' Mode 7 graphics on the overworld, and environments were both colorful and well-detailed. Though the sprites were super-deformed and recycled (in the towns at least), each of the main characters are unique in design. Even the color scheme follows the tone of the game as you progress: in the World of Balance greens and blues dominate the environment, but in the post-Apocalyptic World of Ruin dingy colors such as brown and grey pervade.
FF6 is also a blast to control. Controls in most RPG's today are hardly ever a hassle; each button has an assigned task. But, in earlier RPG's interface was a big problem. FF6 remedied the interface problems present in FF4 and FF5, such as being able to see effects of equipment on stats and the expansive, but easy to navigate menu system. The only problem most people find with FF6's controls is that you can't move your character in eight directions, but this is not a real big concern seeing as it doesn't detract anything from the game itself.
FF6's battle system was very original in its day, and still has imitators in this age. It utilized the Active-Time Battle present in the previous two installments, but introduced a new system, which has come to be known and loved as the Esper System. The Materia System of FF7 and the Abilities system of FF9 can trace their origins directly to the Esper System. Also, every character had their own unique ability in battle--Locke the thief could Steal, Shadow the ninja could throw…and this kept everyone from turning into the same stale character, a problem that plagues RPG's with systems built too much on customization.
Another thing that many people do not realize about FF6 is that it was the first FF game to feature limit breaks. To see this rare occurrence, you just had to command a character to fight when they were kneeling in critical status during the battle, and you had a slight chance of seeing them do an attack that was 7-8 times more powerful than their regular attack.
The music to FF6 is, simply put, beautiful. Many consider this score to be Uematsu's magnum opus, and I am inclined to agree. Everything, from the foreboding opening theme to the dramatic, epic Ending Theme is incredible. There is an appropriate song for every mood in the game, and though there are a few bad songs (such as the Fanatic's Tower), these are very few and VERY far between, and easily made up for by the others. Also, every main character, and even some NPC's, receives a theme, and some, like the brothers' Figaro, have secondary arrangements! Needless to say, you'll be humming these tunes long after you complete this game.
Besides its music, the other thing that FF6 is almost universally praised for is its story. What starts out as a quest to uncover a frozen beast erupts into much more: a young woman's search for identity, a former thief's search for redemption, a traitorous general's longing for love, and many more stories are all rolled into this timeless tale. Never before in an RPG where the characters so developed, and given the size of the cast (14, and that's only the playable characters) the fact that almost all of them were given separate levels of motivation and back stories is an incredible feat. That is why, even today, the names of Locke, Celes, Shadow, and of course, the vile Kefka, are still held in such high regard.
Accompanying the plot are several side quests and minigames, which have now become trademarks of the FF series. Indeed, additions such as the Coliseum and Auction House were welcome distractions, and the non-linear second half of the game provided you with numerous opportunities to explore the characters' pasts through several side quests. As a matter of fact, it may be plausible to play this game again and then AGAIN to truly see everything, and it can take upwards of 40+ hours the first time!
Of course, the plot is also enjoyable because it is fairly easy to understand, thanks to a great translation. Though this game was subject to the PG-rated Nintendo Localization Code, it still touched on pressing issues like teen pregnancy, suicide, and even prejudice like never before in a videogame. The script further fleshed the characters out, especially Kefka, who was given some of the most quoted lines in RPG history (the best one of course being "HATE HATE HATE HATE!" and more hate!).
After all of this praise lavished on this game, it may seem that there are indeed no faults in it. There is one though, but it is prevalent in almost all pre-PlayStation RPG's…that is the all too frequent occurrences of the random battles. Though not too much of a pain on the SNES, playing the Anthology version on the PlayStation can be because of the added load times. Thankfully, Square included an item that can eliminate this slight annoyance completely. Also, though FF6 is not a cakewalk, it is by no means a difficult game; anything can be overcome with just a little leveling up, but it is still a good deal harder than the FF games that came after it.
With that being said, FF6 is without a doubt the crown jewel in Square (now Square-Enix's) crown and a mandatory play for anyone who would consider themselves an RPGamer. Almost a decade after its release its influence still resonates in the RPG genre, and many gamers, including myself, steadfastly declare it as the greatest RPG of all time. I cannot recommend this game highly enough.
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