I have mentioned previously that my favorite video game of all time is Final Fantasy IX, which came out on Playstation in 2000. Ironically, if you had asked me around that time period what my favorite game actually was, only the first two words/letters of that response would be the same. I would be instead indicating that the game I know (and sometimes still call) as Final Fantasy III, actually Final Fantasy VI, is my all time favorite.
Like FFIX, I have purchased FFVI several times by now. I bought it on the original SNES, purchased the Playstation 1 release, got it on GBA when it was released for that portable system, snagged the sort of janky cell phone port to Steam, and pounced on this newest remaster for my Nintendo Switch. In addition to that, I have played almost every single modded ROM of this game that I have ever heard of (shout out to Brave New World, which is one of the best ways to play this game, or the Final Pony Fantasy mod, which not only turned all the characters into My Little Pony characters, but created a surprisingly deep character roster).
I would actually consider this version to be the most optimum way to play, for a lot of the same reasons I did last week’s Final Fantasy VIII port.
I’m actually not sure if I’m quite as wholehearted in this particular recommendation. I still think this is an absolutely brilliant way to play this classic game, but there are a few more flaws here that niggle at me as opposed to the remaster (which is kind of surprising, given that this feels like it had a lot more effort put into it).
The biggest issue for me is the updated graphics, as that picture’s kind of mentioning. They’ve decided to almost go for this HD-2D aesthetic that has become increasingly popular (and with good reason to my mind). So the characters and monsters are more sprite based, while some of the effects look a bit more advanced. In most cases, like above, I absolutely love the tweaks they’ve made to the spells. I’ve been playing FF6 for years now, yet when I activated the above ability for the first time in this playthrough, I was almost awestruck as they put noticeable effort into making the streams of water come from Strago’s mouth, washing over the enemies in this absolutely stellar manner.
In the case pictured above, those monsters died from the intense hit. The impressive graphics helped convey the weight of the action. The issue is that spells often have these amazing, jaw dropping effects and looks, when sometimes the damage they actually do to the party is minimal. I found myself tensing as this totally amazing special attack unfolded on the screen, only for my 1,000 HP+ characters to take ~20 damage.
In addition to that, I’m not entirely sure I’m sold on the spritework here. In some cases it’s definitely more expressive. Several characters have gotten noticeable face lifts: Gau, Strago, Relm, and Shadow all have much improved models from their SNES counterparts, looking incredibly expressive and really matching their portraits from the status screens.
But the characters all look a bit washed out and flat, missing the sort of grungy depth that gives the SNES original it’s lasting appeal. It’s not a great look when there are times that I would rather have thirty year old graphics appearing on my screen.
On the other hand, a lot of the upgrades are absolutely phenomenal, exceeding expectations on a truly grand scale. The above pictured opera screen is this great cinematic moment in the original that really helps to exemplify the scale the game is aiming for. We watch as Celes takes the place of famous opera singer Maria, working her way almost nervously through the various lines, the player keeping up. In this version, Celes/Maria is voiced, and the entire scene has been done in true HD-3D style, looking absolutely breathtaking.
I should know, I accidentally watched the scene twice, as I got so wrapped up in things that I missed a cue for Celes to walk up to a certain locale. So I can definitely attest that this is a truly impressive upgrade, even if I found the English singer they selected to be a little off (I’m not entirely certain that’s not on purpose, as the character actually doing the singing in game isn’t a professional).
The music here is therefore really impressive. They’ve offered this remastered orchestral version of the soundtrack that really uplifts most of these classic tunes. You can also revert to the old, classic soundtrack, which I did in a few location, if only to hear the differences and get that dose of nostalgia.
The gameplay updates they’ve done here are absolutely phenomenal. The first one I actually noticed and had way too much fun playing around with was the ability to move diagonally. I’ve been playing endless versions of this game for years, and this single slight change had me exclaiming for joy, loving that little twist (it shows up in all the Pixel Remasters, from what I’ve experienced).
Even better: the combat is a lot sharper. Enemies hit harder and seem to actually use something resembling strategy. The above picture shows the sort of first boss for the game, Whelk, a creature that lives in its shell. I have fought that battle dozens of times, and it’s usually something I can sleepwalk through. The original SNES game is definitely not known for pushing players. Yet in this version, I had a character die to Whelk, and it was main character Terra!
That pattern would repeat in a few fights throughout the game, particularly early on. I lost to enemies that I’ve steamrolled my way through over the past several decades. It felt like I actually had to think and put together what I know about the game to get a great party formation and to match the monsters’ planning. It never felt overwhelming, which some of the mods have done (there’s a famous one called Final Fantasy VI-T Edition that I absolutely hate for its arbitrary difficulty spikes). The system encouraged me to take advantage of what the game had to offer, and I did so with gusto.
Note that I haven’t really talked about the story yet. That’s because they didn’t really change a whole lot in that regard from the original. I think some of the script has been cleaned up a little, and there’s a few tweaks to the dialogue here and there. It’s still a pretty darn good story overall, with an engaging world, and this version seems to know that you don’t mess with a good thing.
FFVI begins with Terra, a young woman who was forced to fight for the Gestahl Empire. Something about how she was raised and what the Empire did to her has left Terra struggling to understand herself and her emotions, which becomes part of her personal arc throughout the game. It also gives her a reason to join with the Returners, a worldwide resistance movement that sends agents to rescue Terra from her situation as well as recruit her for the fight.
The game sees the bold Returners going against the Evil Empire in a classic tale of good versus evil. This has some definite Star Wars feeling on, and given that Biggs and Wedge are names that homage that series, I’m pretty sure that’s intentional. Along the way, you’re introduced to 12 main characters and 2 more secret characters (in actuality, 11 of the 14 are those you’re going to run into naturally, with a few more being slightly hidden).
Nearly every one of those characters has a decent arc and a reason for fighting against the Empire. Large portions of the story focus on fleshing out that cast and giving us their reasons for joining in the fight. However, there are a few too many characters here to really get great development. Additionally, the cast is incredibly uneven when it comes to gender: there are a whopping 3 characters who identify as female out of the roster. It’s an imbalance that wouldn’t really see a proper correction until FFIX (both VII and VIII had small enough rosters that having 3 females meant they were decently represented, though VII still tilted toward males, just not as much).
The dungeons have remained mostly unchanged, which means they’re also a bit uneven. This game has one of the best if not the outright best final dungeon I’ve ever gone through, in Kefka’s Tower. That involves splitting your cast into four separate parties and working your way through this meshmashed tower that does this brilliant job of looking cobbled together from parts, which is a great way to reuse assets while still making an engaging dungeon.
It also means that the Cultist’s Tower, one of the absolute worst dungeons in a game, is still very much present.
I’m saying not every dungeon’s a winner, and there’s a few places where this 30 year old game starts to show its age.
As a kid, I’d rent this game countless times. I actually found this strategy guide or advertising material chained to a counter in a JC Penny’s at one point. I poured over those pages, committing details of these characters to memory, thrilling at how diverse the cast is and this truly epic story they could tell. I didn’t get the game when it released, but I would rent it countless times, enough times that I’d all but carve my experience onto its save file. I still remember loading up end game saves from past players and marveling at what I hadn’t experienced yet (this was both a high and low point of early game rentals; you never knew if you’d find your save still on the game or some other player’s hard work there instead).
I would eventually get a secondhand copy for my own. I’d end up filling it with saves for my various playthroughs again and again, returning to the game countless times over the years. There’s a reason I bought all those versions. There’s a reason I played every mod I could find. I even wrote up the entire first half of the game as a lengthy Fanfiction/Rewrite I titled Final Fanfiction 6 (which I really should post somewhere).
This is an excellent way to engage with that classic game. It retains the great story while tweaking the gameplay to make it engaging for a more modern audience. Literal experience boosters take the grind out of grinding, and were much appreciated as I leveled my party for that last dungeon. Speed boosters were great in getting my way through earlier fights, or working through some of the more tedious dungeon crawling sections.
If you haven’t played FFVI, or any of the classics JRPGs, then this is an excellent way of getting to those games. If you had, it’s probably worth revisiting for the surprising updates to the visuals and music. I know that I will certainly be replaying this game again at some point in the future, and I encourage everyone else to experience one of the games that helped shape me to who I am as a gamer and critic, and what I seek out in the experience.
9 tempted to go for that perfect score, but there’s just a few minor annoyances here along with what I still see as sort of flaws that need addressing that hold it back; no denying its status as an absolute classic of gaming, and one of the standout JRPGs ever made