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By: Ted McAuley
Iíve been a fan of RPGs for the majority of my life. Most of the RPGs Iíve played have been good, some are downright terrible. Others, like SquareSoftís reputedly lame and simple-minded Secret of Evermore--which, by the way, isnít as bad as they all say--are hardly RPGs at all. But itís not often that an RPG takes to flight, surpasses good, and becomes an unquestionably great gaming experience the way FFVI did. Itís even less likely for a game to stay there, above the rest, long after the game has been conquered and put back on the shelf.
FFVI doesnít feature mind-bending graphics like some of the newer games boast these days. Its sound isnít offered in Dolby 5.0, or DTS. You wonít find anyone who started their gaming lives with the Play Station 2 or Game Cube running backward in time to play something that ďjust doesnít look that pretty.Ē But FFVI is a game crammed with more heart and passion than most newer games are able to offer combined. It is truly a great game.
The story of FFVI relies on the classic structure of some of the greatest fantasy and science fiction novels ever written. Thereís a bit of Star Wars to launch its broad epic scope of an Empire gone bad, and enough Memory Sorrow and Thorn to move a thrillingly versatile cast of characters from the humdrum of day-to-day life to the denouement of all mankind. For anyone who appreciates a good story told well, hereís your game.
Closely tied with the story are the characters themselves. Itís a large cast, and the game gives you the opportunity to both care enough about each so youíre emotionally involved with them, and to also choose which characters you want in your party during certain quests of the game. I know, I know--what FF doesnít give you the option to choose between your party of characters? The real treat in FFVI is that each character has a motivation, a personal reason for fighting the Empire, and the fun starts when you can lead them down their own paths of discovery based upon what you know their character is seeking. So it becomes more than, ďCharacter Aís got cool spells and character Eís got gnarly combining abilities so Iíll send them off to fight together.Ē And while there is opportunity for this kind of straight-strategic reasoning, the characters pull much more of the weight than in most RPGs Iíve seen.
Interwoven with the story and characters is one of the finest RPG soundtracks Nobuo Uematsu has ever written. The epic score ranges from heartache to joy, fear to courage . . . and beyond. If youíre familiar with the OST to FFIV and V youíll hear a few similarities in this score, but these being only the composerís unique fingerprint; FFVI is a tremendous leap in complexity and passion, filled with startlingly effective themes and motifs. For the Super Nintendoís soundcard, (which has had many a muffled soundtrack--Mortal Combat 3 and Donkey Kong Country, just to name a few), the gameís OST sounds magically crisp and clear. Still, the Super Nintendoís only capable of so much, right? I recommend buying the actual OST, where youíll get every track in enhanced stereo sound.
Okay, so the storyís spectacular, the characters all get Academy Awards, and the score rivals the great maestro Beethoven . . . What about the technical aspects of the game, you ask? Let me start by saying a bit about Magicite: Be sure you know how they work before you begin this epic RPG! Unless, of course, you want to end up like me and start the game over halfway through. (Actually, I started the game over twice--the second time because I accidentally let Shadow die on the Floating Continent, and thatís just NOT cool). Magicite serves one vital purpose: magic learning. When you equip your characters with Magicite they learn spells. After a character has learned all he/she can from a given Magicite, equip them with another to learn more spells. Believe me, you donít want to end up at the foot of the Tower of Fanatics and not know magic. Ultima, Merton, and Meteor are especially powerful but hard to obtain, so teach your characters early and teach them well! This will pay off when youíre fighting Kefkaís final incarnation too.
The change-based battle system works basically the way it always has in any of the FF games. Its straightforward and effective design help to make the RPGís daunting number of battles a bit less tedious. The only challenge here might be pulling off some of Sabinís more complex special moves, (which you learn as you level up). Also, when engaged in a particularly trying battle, itís advisable to move weaker characters to the back row and allow the more advanced the opportunity to dole out the bulk of the attacks. In any case--especially when fighting Kefka at the end of the game--it helps to designate someone as your groupís Healer, and to cast your most powerful Cure spell on your entire party each time your Healerís turn comes around.
All in all, FFVI is a tremendous challenge. Still, you wonít need to spend a lot of extra time leveling up. If youíre having trouble it might be because you donít know enough magic. Another way to increase your level is by hunting through the Dinosaur Forest for a while--the Brachiosaur alone gives you as many experience points as four or five other battles would at once. A good tip might be to equip a gem-box so one character can cast Ultima twice in a row.
Iíll leave FFVIís replay value up to you. I donít tend to play a game of 30+ hours more than once--even if it is the best thing to happen to gamers since Mountain Dew. There are too many other games to be played, movies to be seen, books to be read, (and written, for that matter) for me to visit an epic RPG twice. However, the PSX version of the game has some really gnarly FMVs, and if you havenít seen some of the treasures at the end of that version of the game youíre missing out.
In my mind, FFVI stands as a cornerstone by which all other RPGs are measured. It is a game filled with emotions, ideas, and morals. A game wrought with war, intrigue, magic, and wonder. It is by far and away SquareSoftís greatest achievement up to that point, (and possibly ever). Certainly, FFVI will not merely stay in the heartís and minds of the gamers who played it for a short time, but for a lifetime.
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