Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Top 50 Games - 31. Final Fantasy VI
You know how I know that my life is good? One of my biggest regrets concerns a video game. Specifically, the tear-jerking fact that I never got into Final Fantasy VI when I was at that perfect age. I was captivated by FFVII, and I bought Final Fantasy Anthology, which contains VI, for relatively cheap. I booted it up on my Playstation, trudged through the snowy coal city of Narshe, got to Figaro Castle, and then I got stuck. I didn't know where to go next and I was not at this point in my life using the internet. Frustrated and bored, I hastily sold Anthology back to my nearest EB Games. Only recently have I realized the error of my ways. Honestly, if I had persevered and been able to have sunk my teeth into this meaty RPG, it's likely that it would be among my top 5 favorite games ever. Playing this game now is intensely bittersweet; I hear those brilliant Uematsu melodies and imagine humming them on the playground at 11 years old. I breeze through a boss fight now and picture myself struggling against a seemingly insurmountable foe. I gain access to the airship and think of the freedom I would have felt coursing through me as I navigate the Mode 7 world map. Take away my personal feelings toward FFVI though, and you're left with what may be the greatest RPG of all time. The combat system, while surprisingly easy, bellies a lot of varied options, and is approached elegantly. Features like magicite and relics make more sense than most series additions since, and contribute to the title's addictive depth. The steampunk art style and its slightly muted color works very well to establish a compelling universe. The Star Wars-like story is interesting and entertaining without being too complex or too simple. There are two areas of the game that shine most brightly, however: the characters and the soundtrack. While it's a bit hard for me, at my age and without a very extensive background in 2D gaming, to get into the heads of the 16-bit sprites and empathize strongly with them, I can, even at a passing glance, like almost all of them. From "treasure hunter" Locke to noble warrior Cyan to maternal and pure Terra to my favorite (and most others'), the slightly ethereal but strong-willed Celes; every character in Final Fantasy VI is adorable without being cutesy, cool without being (too) gimmicky, and each one is given the time and care needed to really get fleshed out via flashbacks, etc. The first time that Final Fantasy VI really moved me was during a scene in which Cyan watches, helpless, as his murdered wife and child board the Phantom Train and depart for the other side. Cyan runs down the platform after the ghostly locomotive as his son says goodbye and assures the proud knight that everything will be okay. It's fair to call the large main cast, of which there are pretty much no duds, the best in the series (before Tetsuya Nomura got his greasy Tokyopop paws all over the character designs and went batshit for zippers). Probably more impressive, however, is the game's music. Arguably Nobuo Uematsu's finest hour, the soundtrack for Final Fantasy VI is a work of breathtaking scope, majesty, lushness, melody, and emotional weight. The use of leitmotif for the characters is brilliant, infusing every one of them with musically represented personality and style. The overworld theme, Terra, with its melancholic beauty, is the best in the series. The real gem, though, is the Aria di Mezzo Carattere, which plays during the game's most memorable scene, at the opera house, and has now become one of my all-time favorite video game songs. Its unbelievably perfect melody, its surprisingly rich midi orchestration, its at-first funny but later disarmingly gorgeous synthesized voice, and its unforgettably emotional context all serve to greatly enhance the song itself, the scene in which it plays, the character (Celes) who sings it, and even the wonderful video game that houses it. The epic, enchanting, and heartfelt product of Square's RPG wizards operating at the height of their powers, Final Fantasy VI is truly one for the ages. Oh, and lest I forget to mention him, Kefka is pretty evil. In a good way, of course.