SquareSoft aren’t clowning around anymore

final fantasy 6

Final Fantasy VI (1994)

It’s not uncommon to want the villain to win, you know. I suppose people might look at you funny if you cheered the bad guys in Schindler’s List or Downfall. But what about Mrs. Doubtfire? They fronted Pierce Brosnan as the homewrecker villain in that one, but what about Mrs. Doubtfire him- or herself? Lying scumbag he was, exposed himself in front of children and everything.

Then he tried to kill the so-called villain via a spicy ensemble specifically designed to attack Pierce’s allergies. Not content with that, he finally goes the whole hog and ruins his ex-wife’s birthday by humiliating her in front of everyone. Christ, it’s no wonder she was reluctant to give him any sort of custody of the kids, until he had a hit-show on his hands and some good dough rolling in. Some bad guys just always win, don’t they?

Or what about that film with Elizabeth Hurley as the Devil, Bedazzled? Crap film all round, not much argument there. But mate, if she’s on the bad side then you can smack my bottom and call me a devil worshipper.

And who doesn’t love Mr. Burns, even when he tried that unprecedented move of blocking out the sun? Or when he dropped all the Power Plant’s employees from the Softball team to make way for Darryl Strawberry and company? A wicked move, for sure, but anyone would have done the same, so you sympathise with him. Sometimes you simply must be a villain to get a result.

I’m giving away a bit of an old spoiler here, but let’s just get into it – the villain actually wins the day in Final Fantasy 3 (that is, 6) about halfway through the game. And when I say the villain wins, I don’t just mean he gets himself a nice castle and some plush shag rugs and is content to sit there until you come in and stomp all over him. I mean that he actually ends the world and kills more than one of your allies.

It’s like the guy from World’s Wildest Police Videos, Sheriff John Bunnell used to say through his dazzling white teeth when two sports teams would cause ructions in the local area – when they win, everyone loses. I’d consider Final Fantasy VI as the first game of the series where the villain is established right from the beginning and gets built up brilliantly over the course of the game.

It’s not like its arch-rival of the time, Dragon Quest, where the eventual final villain gets mentioned in passing a few hours from the end and then all of a sudden he’s in your face, which is something that used to happen in early Final Fantasy games as well.

This is also probably one of the more accessible Final Fantasy games to play first, if you were looking for a point to start getting into the series – in which case, I’m awful sorry for spoiling a big part of the game for you, although the map included with the SNES copy of the game already does that all by itself.

But don’t let that stop you; there’s so many secrets, sidequests and hidden scenarios in this game, and this is a prime example of one of those games from back in the day that spawned a million rumours. Unlock this hidden area, keep this guy alive, play as that glitch character. There was even a somewhat believable rumour that one of the most mysterious characters was based on an old American governor. Talk about speculation getting way out of hand.

Whatever about rumours and secrets, what we do know for sure is that this game gives you a whopping 14 party members, assuming you’re able to find them all. Bring in a guest and that’s a full rugby team, or how about a Gaelic football team? And it doesn’t go down the Final Fantasy 8 route either by relegating all but two of the characters to the sidelines.

No, nearly all of the characters in 6 have a little bit of limelight at some stage, right up to the game’s ending sequence where they all make a contribution. The end credits clocks in at over twenty minutes by the way, which is longer than some SNES games in their entirety.

The villain of the day here is Kefka, an insane jester who’s easily the most dubious clown since that Pennywise fellow for started. Kefka won’t lead you down any drains, but he’s got an iconic 16-bit laugh that you’ll have you giggling at first but which you’ll soon grow to dread.

What really brings him to life is the classic Ted Woolsey translation. Old Ted, the poor lamb, they’d hand him a humongous script – FF6 has a lot more text than Secret of Mana, after all – and tell him it had to be done in a matter of days, or it’d be his family. Well, he never actually came out and said they threatened his family, but it’s not difficult to read between the lines.

The script was retranslated for subsequent releases of the game, and I suppose that the key is to get the localised versions as accurate and faithful to the original release as possible. But come on, then you miss out on lines like Kefka’s “son of a submariner!”

The real villains here are the stuffed shirts who need everything to be original and proper. I say stick with the SNES release of Final Fantasy VI. Sorry, I did it again, I mean Final Fantasy III – there were some naming shenanigans going on here, although Europe weren’t to know about it.

The PS1 version has some severe loading times and even more glitches, while the GBA version has a few extra features and offers portability but suffers from that weakling sound chip. And you’ll just want to completely avoid the Steam and Mobile versions, which completely butcher the sprites – a very deadly sin.

After all, the graphics here are some of the best on the SNES. Personally I’m happy that all of the player character sprites have doubled in size from FF4 and FF5 – the little chibis you controlled in those games tended to lower the emotional impact, I thought. You’ve got a scene at the start of Final Fantasy IV where the main character unintentionally carpet bombs an innocent village and, I don’t know, it just doesn’t really strike a chord when it’s done by what looks like an Ewok in blue pyjamas.

Some of the boss sprites in FF6 look particularly amazing, especially the abominations that make up the final boss sequence, and it’s always impressive to get on a Chocobo or board your airship and fly through the land in that classic Mode 7 style.

Saving the best for last, the music. Bloody hell, by the end of the game, you really don’t know what to say. The composer, Nobuo Uematsu, never had any kind of formal music schooling. Yet he managed to get not just songs out of the Super Nintendo, but concertos, movements, suites, fugues, and whatever else classical music snobs talk about.

It’s not the kind of stuff you’d be listening to on your commute, or when you’re stepping up to those mighty 15lb weights in the gym. But for soundtracks that set the tone and atmosphere you won’t find much better fare on the SNES.

There it is then: the best role-playing, narrative experience on your Super Nintendo. The Final Fantasy series always tries to reinvent the wheel with each instalment, you know, with a whole load of new ideas, and this isn’t just the kind of game you can stick on and poke around in for a half-hour.

No, that wouldn’t be cricket, old boy. This one requires a bit of dedication, a bit of time to get immersed. That’s fair enough, but in order to get that, you’ve got to go cap in hand to that worst villain of all, the one who simply cannot be beaten: Father Time.

16 October 2020

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