I’m not sure if I’m going to devote more than a day to this; I suppose, it depends if I have something else to write about on Thursday. Anyway, there are games out there that rank as legendary. Ocarina of Time, Chrono Trigger, Shadow of the Colossus, and, for today’s purposes, Final Fantasy VI. However, simply being a legendary game doesn’t mean that it is flawless. In fact, many amazing games have some pretty bafflingly bad aspects to them. For example, the pre-physical/special split in Pokemon had every type move be associated with a stat (Ex: all water moves were special), meaning that fire punch was a special move and Pokemon like Charizard were useless at their own type attacks. Sometimes the problem is a lot deeper, and sometimes it is more artificial or annoying. Either way, many of these games are held out to be gods in the eyes of many gamers, who overlook gaping flaws in design. Well I’m equal opportunity, and have no problem pointing out the issues with these games, so to be fair, I decided to start with a game that is quite near and dear to my heart: Final Fantasy VI. Now, several things before we start: 1 – I do not dislike the game, quite the opposite; 2 – this will be full of spoilers; and 3 – this will be more technical than usual posts, so maybe avoid it if you aren’t familiar with the game.
|Purist, or nostalgia freak?|
Final Fantasy VI is consistently considered the best Final Fantasy game ever made. The only real contender is Final Fantasy VII in terms of fan appeal, but it is really hard to gauge. Basically, the internet loves VI with a huge passion, but VII seems to be more popular offline. Released as Final Fantasy III in the west, it was many people’s introduction to the JRPG genre and the reason many people like, or, in some cases, used to like the Final Fantasy series. What you had with VI was a huge cast of diverse characters with a fairly basic stop the evil empire plot. What makes VI so special is how well that basic plot is told. A linear game, VI puts story and character development above gameplay, but manages to balance in the perfect amount of extra content and non-story segments to not feel like an on-rails game. Keeping with that, the game goes out of its way to make you fall in love with its incredible cast of heroes and villains. As such, VI is widely considered one of the greatest JRPGs ever made, and I agree with them, save for one glaring problem: The World of Ruin.
|Yeah, this was pretty bad too.|
Midway through the game, everything changes. Kefka gets his crazy on and totally destroys the world. I’m going to explain the reasoning behind this segment of the game. It is meant to show you that the villain means business and that the lowly clown should be taken seriously. It also is made to be a major plot-turning surprise. Along with the story emphasis, it kicks off a character collection sidequest where you can scour the globe in order to bring the band back together. While the first half of the game was linear for the most part, the WoR is totally open ended, allowing players to do what they want and explore where they want, when they want. With tons of extra dungeons and crazy items to collect before facing off against Kefka, it seems like the WoR should be really great, right?
|How could anything with a room full of tentacles be bad?|
The problem lies in storytelling. The WoR pretty much drops every semblance of a plot as soon as you get the airship. If you had enjoyed the large amount of character interactions in the World of Balance, you are out of luck. Instead, you have single one off missions to recruit characters which range from not bad (Terra), to pathetic (Strago). As soon as you get a character, though, expect them to lose their personality faster than you can say Chrono Cross. The WoB kept character interactions and development unique despite the large cast. For example, bringing Edgar and Sabin to recruit Setzer will have the muscle head learn about Edgar’s double sided coin, probably the biggest character point between the two. The WoR strips these out to such an extent that you might as well be playing a party of Umaros.
|Join Serge, lose your personality. It’s the Chrono Cross way!|
The worst part of this is that they could have done so much with it. Celes’ attempted suicide is one of the most dramatic and emotionally engaging moments in the story (Which is why you shouldn’t save Cid), and learning about the ruined world is interesting, as is meeting up with old characters. However, the game throws all of that out as soon as you get the Falcon. Instead of a focused, engaging story, you are done with the narrative. Why not do something with Kefka (It isn’t like his appearance at the top of the tower is a reveal), or have overarching storylines like the brilliant first act. Then there are tons of loose ends. The Returners push the story forward from the very beginning when Locke rescues Terra in Narshe, but they are completely absent from the WoR. It’s great to have secret characters and Gogo was a nice nod to Final Fantasy V, but there are countless better choices for a character than the abominable snowman.
|Seriously, fuck you Umaro.|
A large argument for the WoR being amazing is how inventive and novel it was. So rarely do villains actually win and destroy the world. However, this is simply not true. The WoR is a ripoff of Final Fantasy V’s merged worlds. Exdeath brought on the void and you have a new, interesting map to discover and a hunt for lost treasure and legendary spells. Of course V had way less of an emphasis on story, so the loss of a main narrative was hardly as bad as VI’s loss. With Sephiroth’s meteor (VII), time compression (VIII), and mist-covered world (IX), it isn’t like this type of thing is at all unique. In reality, Square pulled the same stunt, more or less, five Final Fantasy games in a row, and argument could be made that Final Fantasy IV’s underworld and moon world maps, were a precursor to this practice, or III’s World of Darkness. In reality, the WoR had a ton of emotional potential, but it was squandered as nothing more than a map swap.
|At least you can still visit towns in VI.|
Then there’s the character crisis. Celes steps up as the lead for the first half an hour and we get to see some real character development. Unfortunately, she is utterly meaningless as soon as you get the airship. All characters are, and this really hurts the game. Relm and Strago were major late-comers to the story, and never had the ability to get any real interaction between other characters. Unfortunately, the WoR happened and they will forever be last minute additions to the roster without any real purpose. Terra is the protagonist of the game, and she’s optional. Her story with the children and facing her feelings as an Esper is a good plot point, but it never really goes anywhere. Instead of getting some kind of development, she joins you and becomes another blank slate. Then there’s Locke, poor Locke. One of the most integral characters to the WoB is also the most skippable WoR character. He’s decided to stop being noble and simply try to cure his old girlfriend of death. His reasons are with his character, but there is no payoff. He shares very strong ties with the bulk of the cast, but they never follow up on this; the most we see is him saving Celes during the credits. I’m not even going to talk about Cyan’s fight with the Three Stooges knockoffs.
|The most embarrassing thing to happen to Cyan and he gets called Mr. Thou.|
But isn’t it fun to have so much freedom? Of course it is, but the WoB was able to balance freedom with strong story telling. There were always plenty of things to do and see, but the game never lost its sense of purpose. However, when Kefka’s up in his tower, and actively destroying the world, it seems like nobody has an ounce of drive. These are the same people who proactively broke into a secret research facility in the centre of the empire because they thought there was a chance they could help their friend. However, since Kefka has already shot his laser around a couple of times, I guess we should galavant around the world. I know, gearing up, getting ready and all, but there is so little dialogue in the back half of the game, I can’t help but feel jaded.
|When I’m done with this, I’m going to exit the plot entirely!|
Of course this is all forgotten as soon as you complete the game. VI possesses one of the best endings to any Final Fantasy that gives out resolution to character arcs like it was candy. Setzer lets go of Daryl, Sabin and Edgar bond, Terra accepts herself and her father, Celes and Locke get together, Strago still isn’t relevant, etc. However, wouldn’t all of this have been better played out during that huge segment of the game where nothing happens. Its an old trick that story tellers use. Give a great beginning to get them hooked and a great ending so they’ll remember it fondly; whatever happens in the middle doesn’t matter as much. Sure Mass Effect 3 learned the hard way about how effective endings are, but it doesn’t excuse the writers for simply dropping off.
|But there’s no ending for Bannon. I guess he just died.|
Does the WoR ruin VI? Of course not; it’s a very enjoyable part of the game. It’s fun to go around collecting characters and items, and you get to hear the Falcon music wherever you go. However, it is a major flaw because it simply doesn’t stack up to the absolute greatness of the WoB. Where is the raft scene? The scenario splitting? The opera scene? The Magitek facility? The peace dinner? These were all moments that defined this amazing game, and the WoR is devoid of a single standout section. The biggest problem is that the second half of Final Fantasy VI cannot possibly match the first half. It isn’t bad, but it is a serious missed opportunity.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer