Final Fantasy VI Advance (GBA) (played on my DS Lite)|
Incredible. Just incredible. Yes, yes the game's more than a decade old and it has 2D sprites and tinny 8-bit music, but.... Wow!
Ever since Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation first introduced me to the world of JRPGs, I've been struggling to find a game that lived up to FFVII's mastery of storytelling, character, gameplay and emotion. Sure, the subsequent games in the series came close - FFX probably being my own personal highlight - but clearly I was heading in the wrong direction.
FFVI is maybe, just maybe, the best in the series.
Overcoming the 2D graphics is the first step. I think that was probably helped by playing it on a handheld. Those old-school SNES stylings don't feel as out of place on a small screen.
And the music - yes, the sound quality is poor, but Nobuo Uematsu's glorious melodies shine through. Terra's Theme in particular is now a regular favourite on my iPod; the aria that accompanies one particularly memorable scene in the middle of the game being another.
But the chief reason FFVI works so well is the design decisions Square took. And it's incredible to think that they haven't returned to this successful formula.
- Characters: Every one of the main cast (the two optional recruits don't really count) has a fully fleshed out back story that fits in the game world. There's no shoe-horning in of extra bodies to fill up space in the party roster. And any one of the main 4-5 leads could lay claim to being the "main" player character. The fact that you can project yourself onto Terra or Locke or Edgar or Sabin or Celes (or, or, or...) means that you don't have to end up feeling forced to assume the character of someone whose character traits don't fit with your own - such as you did with Squall (FFVIII), Tidus (FFX) or Vaan (FFXII).
- Levelling and progression: Almost in contrast to this freedom of characer projection, each one has a distinct playable personality. Locke can steal; Terra uses magic; Sabin's Blitzes; Edgar's Tools - which makes each one different to play and therefore more or less useful in differing circumstances (such as one dungeon where physical attacks are not allowed). Some RPG fans might complain about this restraint, but it works spectacularly - you'll want to try out ever character and level them all up, not just the 3-4 you intend to keep in your main party. Spells are learnt by equipping Magicite, each of which also allows your character to summon a corresponding Esper in the traditional Final Fantasy way. Again, this makes learning spells and trying out new Espers fun and there's a great amount of depth to the tactics you can employ by bringing different abilities to different party members. Customisation is there so you can divvy up healing, status-affecting and offensive magic if you so choose.
- Battle: The battle system is Square's staple ATB model - and it works. In my opinion, it's far more enjoyable and strategic than the horrible MMO-esque system used by FFXII and one of the best things I've read from E3 is that FFXIII will make something of a return to that. You're under time pressure, but you - not the computer - choose each move you make, so if you lose a battle, it's usually your fault, not the fact that some Gambit overruled the move you really wanted and cost you the fight.
Story: It'd be a spoiler to go into detail on it, but suffice it to say, this is one of the stronger FF stories in the series. Fantastical, but set in a very well realised world - nothing feels out of place here; even the chocobos! Kefka makes for a brilliant villian - very nearly on a par with the iconic Sephiroth from FFVII and it's certainly satisfying when you come to face him in the inevitable final showdown. Mention must also be made of the superb script - it hits all the right notes on humour, tragedy and emotion. By turns it will have you laughing, crying (well, almost - I'm a real man, after all!) and... thinking very deeply about love, loss and friendship. Cliched stuff? Maybe, but it was first class cliched stuff.
Any complaints? Some of the signposting towards the end of the game (after a certain cataclysmic event) wasn't so great, and I confess to using a walkthrough to confirm that I was progressing appropriately without missing any key details (reloading a previous save if I did miss something). That actually made sure I got everything out of this game that I wanted, but of course it's a matter of personal choice whether you use one or not. And... no, that's it! Random battles never felt out of place and I never succumbed to grinding up through the levels to complete the game (most of my characters were around level 45 which I reached naturally just by playing through).
All in all, it's right up there with FFVII - and though I thought I'd never say this, I think the balance of characters within the story and the slightly better spell-learning system just - and only just - tips the balance.
Yes. I really do think this is the best Final Fantasy ever.
#3532811, By Killerbee Recently Completed Games
Killerbee 5,016 posts
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