Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: February 8, 2007
Of all the fond memories I have of my Super Nintendo, none can match Final Fantasy III. The recollection of coming home and putting that game into my console sticks with me even to this day. Sadly, neither my Super Nintendo nor my cartridge have survived the passage of time, so any desire to replay Final Fantasy III meant I was forced to play the tragically sub-par PlayStation 1 port, which is now called by its correct name, Final Fantasy VI. You can only imagine the smile that came to my face when Square Enix announced their plans to port all three of the Super Nintendo versions of Final Fantasy to the Gameboy Advance ... with extras. While I love Final Fantasy IV and V, this was the big one for me, and thankfully, Final Fantasy VI Advance was worth the wait.
One thousand years ago, humans used a race of magical creatures called Espers to wage war against one another in an attempt to dominate the world. This war, called The War of the Magi, devastated the planet, and eventually the Espers fled to another world, while humans struggled to rebuild their society. A millennium later, humanity is now a society dominated by steam technology, but the Gestahlian Empire seeks to reawaken the lost power of the Espers in a bid to control the planet. Final Fantasy VI opens up as a frozen Esper has been found in the arctic town of Narshe. A trio of Imperial Troops has been sent to collect it, one of whom is a mysterious girl with the power of magic....
Final Fantasy VI is rather unique among the Final Fantasy franchise in that it doesn't have a designated protagonist. Rather, the plot's focus tends to switch from character to character as the plot advances. Although the story begins with Terra, the aforementioned mysterious girl, there are long stretches of the plot where the player's view is focused on other characters, such as the "treasure hunter" Locke or the former Imperial general Celes. As such, Final Fantasy VI rarely has a set party of characters. Except for a few occasions, you are free to select whomever you want from your pool of available characters. On some occasions, these characters may even split up. There are actually a number of dungeons that require you to divide your team into three parties, which you can switch between at will.
One of the most interesting aspects of Final Fantasy VI is that each character has a unique set of abilities. Although each character can learn magic by equipping a Magicite crystal, their custom abilities mean that every character isn't a functional clone of another. For example, Sabin the Monk can use special Blitz attacks by performing Street Fighter-esque button combinations, while Celes the Rune Knight can absorb any magic attack with her Runic.
The only complaint I have about these unique abilities is that they are poorly balanced; certain characters have significantly more powerful skills than others. Cyan's Bushido technique, for example, requires an incredibly long charge time for an attack that isn't significantly more powerful than Sabin's instant-use Blitz attack. Even though you can teach magic to these lesser characters in order to balance out their natural weakness, some characters will just outshine others. This isn't to say that you can't use the characters you like. Anyone can become a powerhouse with enough effort, but some just have an easier time than others.
Combat in Final Fantasy VI is basically what you'd expect from an early Final Fantasy title. Players and enemies take turns hitting one another or using their special abilities until one runs out of HP. It isn't the most complex system, but it works quite well. The variety in the characters and enemies does a wonderful job of preventing battles from becoming too repetitive. Likewise, the game adds a number of challenges in order to keep things fresh, such as a tower where only magic can be used, or a dungeon where most of the enemies have Reflect cast on themselves naturally.
For the Game Boy Advance release, Final Fantasy VI received a few upgrades, the most notable of which is the retranslated script. While some purists are sure to lament the loss of some of their favorite lines, the new script is a true blessing, for the most part. Certain elements of the script that made little sense come across much clearer, and the retranslated script manages to retain all of the charm and character that made the original Final Fantasy II so enjoyable, and even the most die-hard Final Fantasy fan should be pleased with Square Enix's effort. Beyond the script, a number of new enemies, equipment and Espers have been added to the lineup, as well as a brand new dungeon. These new features don't do much to change the game, but their presence is appreciated, if just for the chance to add a little more to the adventure.
Final Fantasy VI is a good reminder of how simplistic sprites can be as effective at displaying emotion and character as even the most detailed and advanced 3D models. Despite the dated graphics, Final Fantasy VI still holds an amazing charm that even modern games have trouble matching. From the playful wag of Edgar's finger to the infamous Kefka's laugh, these simple animations breathe life into the characters. That is not to say that all is good in the land of Final Fantasy VI. Although the Super Nintendo-to-Game Boy Advance port job is a significantly better effort than Final Fantasy IV, it isn't perfect. Any scene with a large amount of sprites on the screen will suffer from noticeable slowdown, as will certain combat animations when facing a large amount of foes. Likewise, with Sprint Shoes equipped, dashing through a town can be accompanied by momentary lag. These problems are minor at best and rarely come up, but they are noticeable.
Final Fantasy VI's music is difficult to discuss. Back on the SNES, Final Fantasy III pushed the system's audio capability to the limit. As a result, it houses some of the most memorable songs in Final Fantasy history, despite the simplistic nature of the hardware for which it was designed. The Game Boy Advance's sound capability isn't quite up to the Super Nintendo, and it becomes obvious if you've played both games. That isn't to say that Final Fantasy VI sounds bad; it just doesn't sound as good. Putting on headphones can do a good deal to fix this problem, but in the end, those hardcore purists who played Final Fantasy III until their controllers broke are going to be a bit disappointed. However, for those fresh to the game, be prepared for a treat. From the dramatic opening melody to the beautiful opera song, Final Fantasy VI's music is a true treat.
The Game Boy Advance had a great run. From Castlevania: Circle of the Moon to Final Fantasy VI, there are few systems that can boast such a lifespan. As a sendoff to the aging Game Boy Advance, Final Fantasy VI is a worthy swan song. With a wide cast of enjoyable characters, a surprisingly interesting plot, and an enjoyable battle system, Final Fantasy VI is the perfect title to bid adieu to the tiny system which has given us years of enjoyment.
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