Some statements are very controversial. People get fired up having deep discussions about politics, social issues, or in an equally serious topic: video games. One franchise in particular brings up a quite provocative discourse, and that franchise is Final Fantasy. There are numerous articles and heated debates about which game has the best story, characters, and gameplay. Even after all these years, and all the iterations, most people can agree that Final Fantasy VI still holds one of the top spots on best-of lists.
A quarter century ago the world was torn asunder. A madman danced with ultimate power, and wreaked havoc on the world, simply because he could. This psycho clown obtained godhood and took a page out from deities of old and smote mortals with his ray of judgement, even if they were completely innocent. He looked at all emotions beside fear, pain, and hate as nuisances. This arcane monster is Kefka, and he helps make Final Fantasy VI epic. The game came out at the tail end of the SNES and was the last Final Fantasy in the 2D family. It needed to create an epic impact on players. Gameplay-wise, it didn’t stray away too far from its predecessors format too much. The player’s characters stood on one side of the screen, the enemies on the other. Once the action bar was full, the player chose a command. But, it still did a few things differently. It has the largest playable cast in a Final Fantasy series; it offers a far more serious tone, and features the best villain in the franchise, who ultimately wins.
In a world of machines and magic, a cruel empire is spreading its influence. The game opens with three soldiers marching on a town in mechs. One of them is a mind-controlled magical witch who obliterates the townsfolk, in search of the frozen Esper, a being of great power, who they hope can fuel their dictatorship with an iron fist. Once the three soldiers reach the Esper, it makes a connection with the young woman, killing her two compatriots in the process. This link knocks her out cold. She is then rescued by a self-proclaimed treasure hunter named Locke, who hopes she can help the Returners, the underground resistance against the empire. When she wakes up, she remembers two things, her name is Terra and she has committed atrocities. Torn between two worlds, she is lost and looking for a purpose beyond violence. It’s a powerful cold open, leading them on an adventure of self-discovery. Right off the bat, Final Fantasy VI took a darker turn and didn’t shy away from mature themes of death, forgiveness, suicide, and failure. Though it wasn’t simply a series of emotionally abusive moments, it does contain some light-jokes, and instances of optimism.
Not only did the series take a turn down a scarier path, it also stars a woman as one of the two main protagonists. This is a rarity for video games in general, and it won’t be replicated in a Final Fantasy game until 10 more years into the core series. Unlike other heroes in various mediums who have a call to duty, this intrepid heroine is forced into this quest. All she wants is safety and her memory. But, in the end she fights with all her heart, even when violence is the last thing on her mind. Throughout her journey she makes new friends, from royalty, turncoats, a ninja-assassin, and a moogle. Final Fantasy VI doesn’t force a hero on the player; it shakes things up by occasionally splitting the party. At times the character choice is restricted, but for the most part, it gives the player the decision to choose who they want to play. Their four person team are chosen from upwards of 14 colorful characters, all with a unique ability. Final Fantasy VI takes advantage of this large cast. There are a few dungeons that require the player split them all into multiple groups. This gives the player more inclination to switch the party up so no one becomes to under-leveled.
Everyone knows that a great story needs a great villain. Kefka is a spectacular character, because as mentioned earlier he wins halfway through the game. Other villains are attempting world dominance, or hoping for a taste of ultimate power, so they can accomplish anything their heart desires. Kefka didn’t want to rule the world; he wanted this power so he can destroy. Unlike the other villains who only had a taste of omnipotence and are stopped before they can cause irreversible damage, Kefka raises a continent into the air, and then betrays the Empire who brought him on, and razes the land beneath him. Then with a simple laugh, he creates the World of Ruin: a war torn post-apocalyptic landscape of monsters and fear. Kefka sits upon his throne laughing mad as he watches hope die. This devastation scatters the heroes around the globe, lost, confused, and heartbroken. Then part two begins. Whereas Terra was the focus of the first part of the game, the player takes control of Celes, a former general of the Empire. She wakes up from a coma in a small solitary island with her guardian, Cid. He explains to her what happened, and then regains that little bit of hope she refuses to give up. She travels on a makeshift raft, hoping to find her lost friends and convince them that the world is still worth living in.
What makes this scenario different is that even when Kefka is defeated, nothing is ever the same. There is no new world; there is no safety or peace. No one will ever see the green landscapes and beautiful blue skies again. At least they don’t have to live in the same amount of fear again. It’s no surprise that Final fantasy VI is considered one of the best SNES games. It brought a more serious tone to the series, gave the world a phenomenal villain, and made sure to not put the focus on a pretty boy protagonist. The gameplay doesn’t hold up after all these years, but the Espers, the Returners, and that 16-bit laugh are never forgotten.
(Note: Final Fantasy VI is available for multiple platforms, and has been re-released numerous times.)