Though I’ve often heard excellent things about it, the much-lauded Final Fantasy VI constantly eluded me. To be fair, I only got into RPGs during the PlayStation era and Final Fantasy VII, so I naturally missed out on the initial western release as Final Fantasy III on the SNES. Truth be told, I was constantly distracted by other PS1 games when FFVI was rereleased on that console, and I didn’t have a Game Boy Advance to play that version either. Despite my personal gaming goal to play all the main Final Fantasy installments, FFVI always remained that one unreachable lingering note in my gaming backlog. Of course, that was before the Pixel Remasters of the original six Final Fantasies were released, providing me a chance to play FFVI at long last! Having never played another version of the game for comparison, I can’t tell you in this review whether this definitive version is ultimately worth investing in compared to other versions. But, as a newcomer to the title? I can safely say that, like a Brachiosaurus’ Snort in the World of Ruin, the pixel remastered version of FFVI blew me well-and-truly away!
Final Fantasy VI sets its stage in an epic, sweeping fashion: the narrative quickly explains the devastating impact a horrific war involving powerful magic had on the world. The mighty and foolish Gestahl Empire is dangerously trying to gain control of that mysterious power once more to spread their dominance further. Two soldiers and a mind-controlled “witch” go to the city of Narshe after rumors that a frozen supernatural entity (called an Esper) was apparently unearthed there. What should’ve been a fairly routine mission goes horribly wrong for the empire when the young woman and Esper come into contact.
A free-yet-amnesiac Terra finds herself on the run from the empire’s soldiers, landing herself smack dab in the middle of a resistance movement as she tries to uncover the mysteries surrounding her ability to use magic. Her hero’s journey evolves from a simple quest of self-discovery to a battle to save the world and beyond, joined by a cast of incredibly likable and colorful characters. There’s the “treasure hunting” adventurer Locke, the flirtatious and inventive King Edgar, the gung-ho martial artist Sabin, loyal retainer and family man Cyan, imperial general-turned-traitor due to her conscience Celes, mysterious assassin Shadow, a feral wild child named Gau, a talking Moogle who likes to dance called Mog, the “still able to show these youngsters a thing or two” grandfather Strago, his artistic and precocious ten-year-old granddaughter Relm, and gambling airship pilot Setzer. This motley crew bands together against the empire’s machinations, with perhaps some help from a mimic and abominable snowman along the way. Their journey is easily one of the grandest FFs I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing through. Simply put, the narrative and characters making up FFVI are truly phenomenal. I had a blast uncovering twists and plot developments the more I progressed through the title.
From a gameplay stance, there isn’t much to fault FFVI with. The title takes the active time battle system of the previous five FFs and expertly fine-tunes it. Instead of the job class systems found in FFI, FFIII, or FFV, the sixth game seems to have taken its cue more from FFIV: every character has a job or role specifically attuned for them. Celes’ Runic ability allows her to absorb spells and negate their damage to the party as a whole, while Sabin’s martial arts mastery shines in his combo-laden Blitz commands. Locke steals, Gau takes on a “Blue Mage”-esque berserker role if players learn monster abilities for him, Mog tangos to damage enemies and support allies, Relm sketches copies of enemies, and so on. Each ability helps differentiate the characters from one another and the more generic “Attack, Magic” commands available to the party from the get-go.
Aside from Terra and Celes, most characters learn magic abilities by equipping Espers, FFVI‘s equivalent of summon spells, to their person. Espers are acquired throughout the game and equip to one character at a time. Not only do you gain immediate access to a powerful summon by doing so, but you gradually learn magic spells like Cure, Fire, Haste, or the devastating Ultima by fighting and accruing ability points with specific Espers equipped. Once a character masters a spell, it remains in their repertoire even if you decide to remove the Esper and use another. Equipping various Espers to a character, learning their spells before moving to the next, and spending time level grinding can make for some very powerful party members later on with a veritable arsenal of magic at their disposals.
The addition of relics to FFVI adds another layer to the combat system. Characters can equip the customary RPG weapons and armor, but relics are special accessories that imbue all sorts of beneficial supports to a character. This includes boosting stats, lowering MP usage, constantly having a protective barrier, or granting immunity to adverse status effects. Certain relics even alter attacks such as the Dragoon Boots that turn the standard attack command to Jump (which may have found their way onto Mog in my playthrough), or they allow you to attack or cast spells more than once. You can equip two relics per character, and they help provide further strategic customization to FFVI’s gameplay.
Player control and how gamers want to approach situations is presented differently in FFVI, as you’re often given more freedom of choice than I’m used to in the series. You start the game playing as Terra, but at certain points have to decide between characters to continue the narrative. You even have the option not to recruit characters if you so choose, and choice plays a pivotal part in several events, such as a banquet where your responses are tallied and judged or a key moment involving an airship later on in the game. There is even a part in the final third of the game where things open up in an almost “open world” concept where you’re left to choose destinations and how many quests you want to partake in before approaching the final battle. The scope in FFVI is quite impressive, and I loved the way the narrative had a clear focus yet still offered the player freedom in how to approach it. There are even a few dungeons where you must control and switch between multiple parties at once, and I was especially impressed by how seamless and clever an approach this was in the final dungeon where you have to maneuver three different groups of characters around. Those familiar with previous Final Fantasy titles will no doubt be able to pick up the controls and mechanics for battle and exploration readily enough, but I appreciated the nuances that help FFVI stand out all the same.
Visually, the pixel remaster version of Final Fantasy VI is beautiful. The spritework is detailed, colorful, and expressive. By the sixth game, we all know what to expect from these Pixel Remasters: the default font is kind of terrible and the UI is pretty much identical to the earlier installments. Unlike the previous Pixel Remasters, however, FFVI even keeps some rather gorgeous character portraits for party members in the status menu. The game’s opening with Terra and the soldiers marching slowly towards Narshe over snow-covered terrain in Magitek armor is creditless, and some might think a bit on the slow side, but it is an aesthetic choice that can be very effective all the same. Likewise, the revamped graphics of the infamous opera scene could also be seen as somewhat jarring given how the rest of the remaster lacks those stylized adjustments. Still, it certainly adds a layer of haunting majesty to such a pivotal gameplay sequence. I love the attention to detail on display throughout the game’s imagery, as it really helps breathe life into each moment. As an added bonus, the pixel remaster also sports an art gallery featuring the game’s gorgeous concept art.
Of course, one can’t talk about “breathing life” into FFVI without discussing its utterly beautiful and powerful music score. The pixel remaster contains orchestral arrangements of classic pieces that are an absolute delight to listen to while playing. “Terra’s Theme” is just one of several incredible character themes I could listen to nonstop, and I couldn’t help but finger and toe-tap to the song that plays while traversing the Veldt. The battle themes are absolutely amazing and help keep your adrenaline going during fights, and “Dancing Mad” has got to be a personal favorite final boss theme of mine. There isn’t a song on the OST that I didn’t enjoy in some capacity, and I’m thrilled that there is the option to replay the soundtrack in an added music box extra. One significant addition to the songs in this version is the orchestrated and fully voiced “Aria di Mezzo Carattere” (in seven different languages!), though I could see those with a nostalgic fondness for the original having more mixed thoughts. Since the only version of the song I’d previously heard was a vocal Distant Worlds rendition, I didn’t necessarily mind its inclusion here. I thought the English language version of the song was quite fitting for the grand operatic feel that scene was going for. The music for FFVI is easily a high point of the game, though certainly not its only one!
Overall, there was a strong cohesive sense throughout the game’s script. There were parts that had me genuinely laughing (Ultros’ “five minutes” remark was a particularly loud guffaw moment), and yet it could take an emotional and heartfelt turn at the drop of a hat. This is a game where I couldn’t help but feel things deeply as I played. Terra’s musings about love and if she was capable of even feeling it resonated more than I thought they would initially, and I genuinely adore how that plot point ultimately plays out for her. Celes was a character I couldn’t help but cheer for, and I find the romance between her and Locke to be quite believable and well-developed. Cyan’s story just breaks my heart, but I love how its message about carrying on resonated throughout his narrative moments. Edgar and Sabin’s brotherly bond was extensively explored, and even a side quest involving Gau took a surprisingly emotional turn. There are numerous insightful moments with so many of the characters throughout the game; I just love the sheer amount of heart, hope, and poignancy found within the script. Kefka, in particular, is a standout villain in the FF series with some of the best lines of dialogue along with a great plot twist! He isn’t a villain archetype I often like, but here it works to great effect. The impactful story is also helped by a well-written, virtually error-free script.
…Of course, even with standout characters like Setzer or Shadow, we do have party members that sort of “exist” and seem to be more-or-less padding (poor Gogo and Umaro, we hardly know ye!), which is a shame given how well-incorporated most of the characters are for FFVI‘s large cast. But if that is one of the only things I can think of as a “complaint,” I’ll take it! I did run across a strange glitch during a dungeon where I could no longer save or exit an area. Fortunately, the game’s helpful habit of auto-saving every time you enter a new dungeon segment allowed me to load an error-free game again with relative ease. It never happened again following that incident and, for all I know, whatever happened has been patched since. Still, I should mention it here to give myself just one minor foible from a game I genuinely loved from beginning to end!
Final Fantasy VI is easily the “crown jewel” of the pixel remaster releases given how much effort Square Enix put into it comparatively, and is certainly now the definitive version of the game to play. I honestly wish it hadn’t taken me as long as I had to play FFVI because I think it stands as one of my all-time favorite Final Fantasy games! I wholeheartedly recommend playing it if you haven’t yet, as fellow newcomers to the title can’t go wrong with giving this version a try. Final Fantasy VI is a true classic with all the positive connotations of the word.