Nintendo has been touting the latest port of Final Fantasy VI (for their GBA handheld) as the “definitive Final Fantasy experience.” Many a petty flame war has started since the invention of the Internet and message boards over just this topic. Generally, when arguing over a “best” Final Fantasy, top contenders include VI, which ended the Nintendo era, and VII, which began the Sony era. I’m not here to perpetuate those arguments, however; I’m here to rate this game for what it is, along with what new things have been brought to the table in the port.
There’s no question that the greatest improvement for the US audience is FFVI Advance’s all-new translation. Hardcore FF fans know and loathe the name “Ted Woolsey,” the man responsible for the first translation (when the game was released as “Final Fantasy III” in the US on Super Nintendo). The new translator, Tom Slattery (along with help from some other localization experts), made much needed revisions; however, rather than just starting from scrap, Slattery and crew made the difficult choice to keep some of the game’s inaccuracies intact for the US audience. In particular, I am referring to character names. Female protagonist “Terra,” in Japan, is actually “Tina.” “Cyan” is more along the lines of “Cheyenne,” and “Sabin” is supposed to be “Mash,” a much more fitting name for his character! Recognizing the game’s fanbase and the number of people who would be re-experiencing the game rather than playing it for the first time, the spelling of character names remained the same.
However, fixes were made across the board to items, towns, enemies, and Espers. Here are some examples:
– The “Atma” weapon is now correctly entitled “Ultima” weapon
– The Esper “Tritoch” regains its original, lengthy name of “Valigarmanda”
– Another Esper, “Starlet,” is now listed as “Lakshmi”
– One of the strongest magic spells, once known as “Merton,” is now appropriately called “Meltdown” (this may be one of Woolsey’s most shameful mistakes)
A list of names, tedious as it may have been, is just one facet of the work of translation done by the new team. The true work came with the game’s script. The script is relatively short compared to some of today’s larger RPGs (including higher-numbered FF installments), but what Slattery did with this script is truly a work of art. In the same way that FFIV Advance kept classic lines such as “you spoony bard!” despite their general inconsistency with the Japanese script, so too did Slattery and others keep some fan-favorite lines to keep the “dynamic translation” alive, but still fix up a lot of the problems from the Woolsey days. One scene, in particular, involved Edgar making a pass at Relm and then, after discovering her age (ten), chiding himself for flirting with every female he comes across and warning himself to be more careful. In the old, Woolseyan version, this entire scene was censored by having Edgar say a bunch of nonsense to fill the text box. Now, the censorship is done away with, and we see what we were originally supposed to see.
What I have mentioned so far are but a few of many revisions made to give English-speaking gamers a more accurate picture, but not totally destroying the game’s “feel” for those who had played the older translation. If you couldn’t tell by now, I have nothing but praise for Mr. Slattery and his co-workers on this project. I was so absolutely thrilled to experience this game in a way that was much more fulfilling than the SNES version. This alone keeps the “story” grade high!
But what of the actual plot, and what of character development? I’m tempted to just say, “if you don’t know by now, get with the program!” But I’ll give the basic rundown: 1000 years ago, a big war (“War of the Magi”) destroyed civilization and left the magical beings called “Espers” with no choice but to seal themselves away from greedy humans. Now, an empire (led by one “Gestahl”) has risen, and they plan on using that same power from the War of the Magi to take over the world. Oh crap, sounds like it’s time to save the world from trouble again!
Things get plenty more interesting after the introductory hours, but even from the beginning, there’s plenty of excitement. The game is split pretty evenly into two different halves, with a world-changing event happening to separate the game into two “acts.” In the first half, you round up the majority of the characters that will join your team (12 of the 14 are available before the game’s halfway point). The second half allows the player to choose whether to finish the true nemesis early on, or to round up your friends (who have since scattered across the world) and take on the big boss as a united team.
Who are these people, and who leads them? It’s tough to say who the “true” protagonist is in FFVI. Most would argue Terra holds that role, but there is good reason to believe that Celes holds an equally valuable role; even Locke is a contender (for those who simply must have a male lead).
The cast of playable characters is… well… I wouldn’t say “cookie-cutter,” as it holds a negative connotation, so I’ll use the more positive phrase of “setting the standard.” I don’t feel the need to give a brief rundown on all of the characters, because the majority of the readers of this site ought to know them already. What I’d like to point out, and I hate to say this, is that these characters could use some more “fleshing out.” At least, in today’s standards of plot-heavy RPGs, one would expect to learn a lot more about each character than what we receive in Final Fantasy VI. The “major players” get a lot of backstory, but there isn’t quite enough on some of the less notable characters, such as Relm or Gau. Subquests exist for nearly every character in the latter half of the game, and are set up to allow the player to learn more about them. Honestly, though, I wish there was more, especially with this being my third run through the game. First-timers may not find this point so problematic as I do, so please take this complaint with a grain of salt.
All in all, Final Fantasy VI is a heart-warming epic with a dash of darkness and madness to keep things interesting. The game’s “message,” like most RPGs, is that classic virtues such as love and courage are what we need to overcome the obstacles and evils of the world. You won’t find me arguing with that (it’s basically indoctrinated in most of us by now). The story of Final Fantasy VI, along with the new-and-improved translation, earn a 90% from me.
The port from SNES to GBA went rather smoothly in terms of graphics, with no real changes (good or bad). Compared to the past efforts of the group responsible for the programming side of the port (a small company called Tose), FFVI was their greatest success. Battle animations run without any slowdown, and nothing ever looked choppy or sub par. The graphics to VI, by the way, were just as impressive then as they are now (though they are now for a handheld). The still backgrounds during battle were some of my favorite images, and the battle animations are all excellent.
Yoshitaka Amano’s character artwork has a stronger showing on this port, with each character’s portrait being placed next to each text box for dialogue. Amano’s artwork is also the staple for the marketing, including the game’s packaging and the website. This general emphasis on Amano’s artwork, which did not exist when the game first came to America over a decade ago, is something I appreciate very much.
The game looks good, and it looks really good on the small handheld screen. Graphics get an 88%.
FFVI contains some of Uematsu’s best tracks. The battle themes are strong, leaving a lasting impression. The character themes are all memorable. The whole soundtrack, in and of itself, is something of a milestone for those who follow the progression of videogame music. So, from the get-go, we all knew that the “Sound” section would be getting a high score.
However, the sound chip used in the Super Nintendo and the one used in the GBA are birds of a different feather, so Square Enix had to re-work the synth from the ground up. Had they not done so, the audio would have come out terribly (as we’ve seen in other SNES-to-GBA projects). The result of the extra work was, undoubtedly, a success. The music sounded fantastic, even through those tiny little speakers.
And, like the other “Advance” ports, a bonus “sound test” room with the entire soundtrack is available after completing the game. What more could you ask for? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m giving the sound a high score: 92%, to be exact.
The SNES control, which had four buttons on the right side (A B X Y), is now down-graded on the GBA, which only has the two-button system (A B) to work with. As such, the Start and Select buttons became the substitute X and Y on the GBA, though only in occasions that they were necessary. This was a tricky move, though Tose had to do the same thing for FFIV and V Advance. Luckily, no mistakes were made in the transition.
However, the original SNES game needed some improvement on control options, particularly menu navigation (where lots of scrolling is required) and in certain special button-entering situations (namely Sabin’s “Blitz” commands). Neither of these things were improved with the GBA release, and I was particularly frustrated to find my thumb too big to perform any of Sabin’s Blitz moves with even a fraction of success due to the nature of the handheld’s small directional pad. A little effort in this field would have meant the world to me, but it didn’t happen.
That’s why control’s not getting a perfect score, nor even a high score. An average 80% feels right.
When Nintendo advertised the FFVI experience as “definitive” for us RPG lovers, I think they were mostly referring to the Gameplay aspect. And there’s a reason for it too: this game offers some of the most fun you can have with a turn-based system. Few games before, during, or after its time have succeeded quite like FFVI in terms of balance, challenge, and strategy.
Each character has four equipment slots (weapon/shield/helmet/armor), two relic slots (rings/gloves/shoes/random stuff), and one “ability” slot (Esper assignment, to learn magic and summon the Esper). Each character has an ability all their own to use in battle: Terra’s “trance,” Locke’s “steal,” etc. Similar to VIII’s “Junctioning” and IX’s “learn abilities from equipment,” Final Fantasy VI allows characters to learn magic by equipping magicite (crystals containing the souls of Espers). Battles net not only experience points, but also the usual “AP” for learning spells from these magicite. Spells are learned at different rates, and some Espers will offer better rates for different spells. For example, Ramuh will let you learn Thunder at x10 and Thundara at x5, but Bismarck lets you learn Thunder, Fire, and Blizzard (all the level-1 elemental spells) at a rate of x20. Careful consideration and planning can work in your favor, with many of your party members knowing the majority of the available spells at all times.
Tose and S-E added a bonus dungeon to FFVI, just like they did with IV and V. In Final Fantasy VI Advance, the “Dragons’ Den” is a dungeon that puts the game’s final dungeon to shame in both size and difficulty. Like the game’s final dungeon, you must put up to 12 people in 3 different parties, and then have each party wander through the dungeon, hitting switches, sometimes staying on switches, to open new areas for other parties to explore. For anyone who attempts the Dragons’ Den, know this: while the bosses may not be exceedingly difficult, the level of frustration involved in solving the puzzles makes the game’s final dungeon a cakewalk in comparison.
Though I cannot confirm it, my peers and I have noticed that the game is a fair bit easier than we remember it being. Maybe we’re just that much better at games now, but I found literally zero challenge to this game, outside of the Dragons’ Den. This, of course, did not stop me from enjoying the game at all. In these times, it seems like most consumers (and producers) go by the rule that easier is better.
With that thought in mind, I have to say that I was terribly annoyed by the game’s encounter rate. There is an attainable relic for those clever enough to find it that completely cuts random encounters…but I failed to pick it up until after writing this review. Thus, I ran from over 150 battles while navigating the bonus dungeon (saving mp for the bosses: don’t call me a coward!).
But really, even these nuisances are subjective. The game’s impressive design, however, is able to be considered more objectively. Of course there is some bias here when I give such a high score, but is the game not deserving of it? I had so much fun playing through this game that I’ll probably play it another time through on the GBA, just to keep the memories of the game strong in my mind. Gameplay: yeah, it’s awesome, it’s 95% awesome.
What else can I say, other than “thank you” to the developers and publishers? Thank you Square Enix, thank you Tose, thank you Nintendo, and an extra special thank you to that Tom Slattery fellow who saved the English translation!
Now that Nintendo has finished their “legacy” of FF games on Nintendo handhelds (I through VI are all present and accounted for), I feel no shame in saying that this game is an excellent choice for purchase, and it ought to appeal to a wide spread of gamers. It’s also, probably, one of the last titles we’ll see published for the Game Boy Advance, with the Nintendo DS standing in its place. So, don’t miss out; I would urge any and every red-blooded RPG Fan to purchase Final Fantasy VI Advance and keep it in their collection of games.