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Playing Final Fantasy 6 For The First Time: A Newbie Goes Retro

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Posted July 13, 2011 - By Guest Writer


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It's difficult for experienced gamers to gauge the quality of classic games. When we play old favorites like Super Mario Bros. 3 or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, we're often so blinded by nostalgia that it's hard to look at them with cold, hard objectivity. Instincts guide our fingers through every jump, every sword swing. Memories permeate specific moments, plunging us back to our elementary school days. We don't just see Link riding Epona – we see Link riding Epona during the freezing winter of 1998, when the definition of bliss was a Nintendo 64 controller and a mug of hot chocolate. Our judgment is blurred.

Gamers constantly wax poetic about the Golden Age of the Super Nintendo (or Nintendo, or Atari, or Dreamcast, or any other system, depending who you ask), but were older games really that much better, or are we just seeing the past through rose-colored glasses? How do you honestly judge a game that took over your childhood? Do 8- and 16-bit classics still work in today's flashy 3D world? We put forth an experiment to see if they do. Read on to see how things turned out.

In order to try to tackle some of those questions, I decided to look back at one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time: Final Fantasy VI, which hit the Wii's Virtual Console last week. Of course, I couldn't trust myself to look at it with a fresh perspective – I've spent way too many hours absorbed in the adventures of Celes and crew – so I enlisted the services of my girlfriend, Amanda, promising I'd make her dinner in exchange for a few hours of RPG geekery. One Wii download and a few plates of penne later, Project Nostalgia was on.

A brief history lesson: Final Fantasy VI, the sixth main installment in Square Enix's ubiquitous Final Fantasy franchise, was originally released as Final Fantasy III in the United States. This was because only two previous Final Fantasy games had been localized for Western shores, creating a numerical inconsistency that went on to confuse countless generations of gamers. The game has seen several incarnations over the past two decades, including a port to Sony's PlayStation and a remake on Nintendo's Game Boy Advance. Question is, does it hold up today?

The first thing you notice about Final Fantasy VI in 2011 is that it looks pretty damn terrible on an HD TV. The second thing you notice about Final Fantasy VI in 2011 is that it's just the way we left it in 1994. The music is still as infectious, the translation still as goofy, the characters still as lovable and charming.

We started off in the steampunk-flavored town of Narshe, where protagonist Terra is under the not-so-positive influence of the Imperial Empire's soldiers. I gave Amanda a brief explanation of Final Fantasy VI's combat system (“It's like Pokemon, just faster.”) and set her on her way. She played around with a few buttons, beat up some baddies, and eventually made her way to the game's introductory boss battle, a slug-like creature named Whelk.

Then she died.

It took a few more tries, but eventually she defeated the beast. Soon enough, she was maneuvering through the caves of Narshe and beating up monsters like it was her job. By the time she'd made her way to the desert castle of Figaro and met a few more of the game's heroes, she seemed like an expert. She also seemed hooked.

“It's like Pokemon, just with an actual story,” Amanda said.

Amanda is no gamer – sure, she's dabbled with the occasional Mario or Phoenix Wright title – but you won't find her playing Call of Duty or Mass Effect anytime soon. So to hear her lavish compliments on Final Fantasy VI – lofty praises like “why can't more games have music like this?” – was pretty impressive. She dug it.

 

Final Fantasy VI Advance Review »


 

Of course, it wasn't a perfect experience. She was confused by many of the two-dimensional, sprite-based graphics – oftentimes she had trouble finding staircases or understanding the map's spatial relationships, which only seemed obvious to me because I'd grown up with 2D games.

But Amanda fought on anyway, entertaining herself by giving ridiculous names to her characters. She called Celes Buffy. Edgar's new name was Jafar. Shadow became Scaaryy. She stole a merchant's clothing, befriended a party full of ghosts, and somehow managed to defend Narshe from the maniacal Kefka and his Imperial soldiers.

By the end of our session with Final Fantasy VI, Amanda was skewering RPG tropes like a hardened cynic. She refused to take items from peoples' houses, calling it petty thievery. She questioned why enemy monsters would drop gold – “do rats carry money around?” She mocked character sprites for jogging in place as they tried to run from battle.

But she was impressed by the game's narrative strength, its ability to convey a powerful story with just a handful of pixels. She cringed as an evil guard slapped poor Celes in the face, calling her a traitor. She grew to detest Kefka for poisoning the waters of Doma Castle and almost shed tears for the knight Cyan and his dearly departed family. And she isn't even up to the game's more poignant scenes, like the Opera House, Setzer's heartbreaking backstory, and that one big cataclysmic event that happens at the game's halfway point. I can't wait to see how she reacts to them all.

So does Final Fantasy VI hold up to the Girlfriend Test? I think so. While the stories of some latter Final Fantasy games are almost embarrassing to read, FFVI tells a mature, nuanced, multilayered tale that just about anybody can appreciate. The game's mechanics aren't perfect, nor are its aesthetics, by today's standards – though Nobuo Uematsu's score is still absolutely sublime. But it's still playable.

Most importantly, Final Fantasy VI is a completely compelling experience – 17 years later, any newbie can pick up the game and instantly fall in love with its characters, setting, and charm. Give it a try.

By Jason Schreier

Playing Final Fantasy 6 For The First Time: A Newbie Goes Retro
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