As a late bloomer when it comes to my age and when I actually started owning my own video game consoles, I tend to be on the 3D side when “greatest game in the series” debates pop up.
Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask are my favourite Zelda games, I have far more nostalgia tied to Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64 than their 2D counterparts, and I was introduced to the Final Fantasy series with Final Fantasy VII while my favourite in the franchise notoriously stands as Final Fantasy IX.
Still, when I hear my friends who did own consoles prior to the Nintendo 64 tell me how Link to the Past is the greatest Zelda game ever made, and how they used to play Super Mario World so often they could beat it with their eyes closed, I do begin to wish I had the same appreciation for the titles that made so many fellow fans fall in love with the series.
I have tried to follow up this desire a number of times. I have played the first half of Link to the Past on so many occasions that I cannot count them. I have also enjoyed exploring Mario’s first romps in 2D whenever I get the chance. But my most die-hard efforts have fallen upon the Final Fantasy series. After my love affair with VII and IX, I tried to start digging back.
FFI, FFIV, FFV, and FFVI fall into a similar category as Link to the Past. I know the first 25-50% extremely well and have rarely been able to get past that point. But over the years I have been able to complete Final Fantasy II (unfortunately), Final Fantasy III (unfortunately), and get significantly farther in my playthroughs of IV and V. However, all the praise for Final Fantasy VI started to become almost like pressure for me. The times I had attempted to play it, I had never really been that into it. I enjoyed the iconic opening, but after that the game had just fallen off for me.
Then came the holidays. While my life used to be dedicated to mostly just sitting down and playing video games, the end of December tends to be the only time I can do that with such commitment any more. Realizing this, I decided to finally make this the time I played all the way through Final Fantasy VI.
At the time of this writing, I am still only about half way through. I have sunk 12 hours into the title and just completed the highly lauded opera section. With pleasure and some measure of relief, I can easily state that this is the most fun I have had with the game yet.
Now that I have dedicated proper time and energy to the game and story, I am amazed at how invested I am. The game was released in North America in December of 1994 and it outstripes so many modern efforts in terms of mood and character. The variety in characters’ abilities make it such that regular attacks are largely ignored in battle; a rare feat for any traditional RPG. Finally, I am starting to hear why so many people hold the soundtrack in such high regard.
I was always able to appreciate the music I had heard from FFVI, but now being more familiar with the entire series and really digging this playthrough, the OST is swiftly rising through the ranks of my favourites. More than any of the Final Fantasy games that were released before it, FFVI‘s OST seems to be born from the characters and setting. I plan to get into this further with a future instalment of The Nobuo Review, but while Uematsu had always shown skill, FFVI catapults his talents to their current legendary status.
Somehow, Final Fantasy VI is able to balance telling a rich story and properly developing a large cast of characters with exploration that is not overwhelming but also does not hold the player’s hand. Obviously, the production values are not as high as a modern day title, but I find myself consistently impressed with the level of detail and ambition I find in the game.
That is perhaps the most impressive and interesting aspect of my time with the title. The game is nearly two decades old yet despite its limited graphical and sound capabilities, it still has the power to captivate a semi-new-school gamer such as myself who had never given it a fair shot before.
Last night I went to bed three hours later than I had expected because I could not turn off my PSP. I needed to explore more. I needed to exploit the abilities of the espers. I needed to uncover Locke’s motivations for his incessant need to protect women.
So consider this yet another voice in the choir for Final Fantasy VI. A game that truly transcends its time.