I’m sure you’ve been waiting all week to finally figure out what my ninth-favorite video game of all time is, so I shall reveal it without any further ado. That game is Final Fantasy VI, one of the greatest JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) ever made. It’s also known as Final Fantasy III. Confused? Well, you won’t be in a second.
Final Fantasy VI was originally released in Japan in April of 1994 for the Super Famicom. It was released in North America in October of the same year for the American version of the Super Famicom, known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. As it was only the third Final Fantasy game to be released in the US, it was renamed Final Fantasy III. I will probably flip back and forth between the two names throughout this post, because I prefer to use the game’s proper name, but I can’t help but think about it as Final Fantasy III when I remember playing it as a kid.
I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated a game prior to its release as intensely as I did Final Fantasy III. I was 13 years old, and the Golden Age of Video Gaming was in full swing. I was already a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series thanks to Final Fantasy II (actually Final Fantasy IV), which came out in 1992 for the SNES. At the time, I had a subscription to Nintendo Power, and its preview coverage of Final Fantasy III pretty much had me foaming at the mouth to get ahold of that game.
I mentioned earlier that FFIII came out in October of 1994. I got that date from Wikipedia, and I’m questioning its accuracy now that I think about it. The reason I say that is because I remember the wait between when the game came out and when my brother and I got it for Christmas being almost UNBEARABLE. Then again, I was a kid back then, so it guess it makes sense that a two month wait would seem painfully long, especially since I’d been waiting a long time for the game to even come out.
I still vividly remember my first experience with the game. We may have had to wait until Christmas to actually own the game, but that didn’t stop us from renting it beforehand. The game opens with a scene showing three soldiers riding mechs through a snow-covered valley, while melancholy music plays and the opening credits roll. Anybody who has played this game knows exactly what I’m talking about. It is a haunting and beautiful scene, and it gave me goosebumps the first time I ever saw it.
The game starts off with you playing as a mysterious girl who is being controlled by a pair of soldiers. The soldiers are looking for something called an Esper, that has recently been unearthed in a city called Narshe. Once they find it, the Esper reacts to the girl, kills both the soldiers, and knocks the girl unconscious. When she comes to, you discover that her name is Terra and that she had been a slave of the Empire. She meets a young thief treasure hunter named Locke, who is a member of a rebel group called the Returners. Terra ends up joining the Returners and their struggle against the Empire.
That’s how the story begins. I won’t go into detail about what happens along the way, but I will say that it’s a story that pulls no punches and does not take an expected path. For example, although the story starts with Terra as the main character, the focus does not remain exclusively on her. There are at least a dozen major protagonists in the game, and they all get some time in the spotlight. Up until Final Fantasy XIII, which was released last year, it was the only Final Fantasy game to not focus on one main character. (Disclaimer: I have never played Final Fantasy XII, and I know nothing about it. It is entirely possible that XII takes this approach as well.)
Final Fantasy VI’s story is also unique in another sense. There are no shortage of stories out there in any medium where a power-hungry mad man tries to destroy the world. But FFVI is the only one that I know of where said mad man actually succeeds in destroying the world. Talk about an emotional kick in the gut! The villain in FFVI, Kefka, is definitely one of the best video game villains of all time. He’s ruthless, deadly, and terrifying. His only goal is to rule the world with an iron fist, and actually succeeds at that goal, at least for a little while. He’s also hilarious, and delivers some really fantastic one-liners.
Strangely enough, although the unexpected plot twist where the bad guy destroys the world is one of the really great moments in this game, the aftermath of that destruction is where the game starts to fall apart a little bit. For a long time, I debated with myself over whether this game was the best Final Fantasy, or whether Final Fantasy VII was. And I finally had to declare VII the winner, partially because the second half of VI is kind of boring. The game becomes much more open-ended, because you are basically reassembling the resistance group that was scattered when Kefka destroyed the world. And I just find it to be somewhat aimless and meandering, and, well, boring. Every time I’ve ever played Final Fantasy VI, I have a hard time getting through the second half.
But despite that, it’s still an amazing game, and a bona fide classic. When it comes to all time greatest JRPGs, there’s really only a couple of games that even come close to the same caliber of greatness as Final Fantasy VI. It truly is the gold standard for JRPGs, for 16-bit games, and even for video games in general. After all, there’s only 8 games that have ever been made that are better than it. Check back next week to find out about number 8!