So, while Final Fantasy V might be my favorite entry of the Pixel Remasters? I cannot deny what is a favorite of most people, and for good reason: VI. So let’s talk about the last entry in the series, and how it ends on a very strong note while making way for the future of the series on Playstation.
GET IT HERE: Steam Link
Genre: Magnum Opus JRPG
So, like I said. V is my favorite Pixel Remaster, but that doesn’t in any way devalue VI which is the favorite of most people, and for darn good reasons. VI managed to be a massive step forward in a lot of ways with its original release, and those steps forward continue to shine in the pixel remaster version of the game. VI has what is probably one of the best casts of any Final Fantasy, as well as a fascinating world that steps a bit more out of the usual Fantasy setting and brings technology into the forefront as a regular thing instead of just being some thing used by ancients.
Final Fantasy VI takes place in a world that was ravaged by a war 1000 years ago known as the War of the Magi: in which the dreaded power of Magic played a key role. At the war’s end, Magic was all but gone from the world, with technology such as Steam Engines replacing it. But the Geshtalian Empire seeks to revive that power, having already created an artificial version of it called Magitek, but it pales in comparison to the real thing. And unfortunately for the world, this Empire bent on world domination has begun to re-awaken the real thing with Magic infused soldiers. The key to the Empire’s power? An ancient race of magical creatures called Espers: And you begin the game as an imperial squad dispatched to the mining city of Narshe to retrieve one frozen and completely intact, supposedly from the War of the Magi itself.
Your squad consists of two imperial troopers: Biggs and Wedge (Names you’ll be seeing in FF a lot from now on) and a nameless girl who apparently has the gift of true magic, but wears a slave crown to ensure she obeys orders. The mission goes awry with the troopers dead, and the girl, named Terra, freed of her control but devoid of her memories beyond her name.
Terra is but one of many characters you’ll meet and use in your parties in Final Fantasy VI, but what’s interesting is that no one is truly a main character. One can definitely argue Terra is a central character and very important one in the cast, but at the end of the day, this is a story about everyone that makes up your team of heroes, not just Terra herself. A treasure hunter seeking to right a past wrong, a king who fights for his people and his brother who traded the throne for a life of freedom, an assassin who comes and goes like the wind, an imperial general who grew a conscience and betrayed her Empire…These are but a few of the heroes that make up VI’s massive cast of playable characters.
Final Fantasy VI actually takes an interesting blend of ideas from IV and V in terms of how its characters work: Every character is a set class or role, but you can still tweak and modify them to create builds via the new Relic equipment slots everyone has. Two slots for things that can do simple things like make someone poison immune, or grant them a new ability like Jump in place of their normal Attack command. And in some cases, they work best on certain characters: Jump for example benefits Polearm weapon users more than anyone else.
The other major character building mechanic is an item called Magicite you’ll discover a ways into the game. Magicite will allow anyone aside from a couple specific special characters to learn Magic, as well as provide stat bonuses on level up. With Magicite, you’ll be able to further define a character build by deciding what stats get extra growth, and what magic each of your characters will learn. It’s a bit on the grindy side, but incredibly rewarding to those willing to go the extra step in providing powerful new options to a character build.
What’s really impressive though is that despite having only 4 character slots for your party and way more than 4 to choose from at any given time, your characters will rarely feel benched or useless, as certain characters have strengths in certain situations versus others. On top of this, the late game features areas where you will actually have to deploy multiple teams of 4 characters, resulting in dungeons done by 8 characters and 12(!) characters total. So in the end, *EVERYONE* matters. Thankfully you’re given some hints and tools to ensure they can level up easily and quickly when you hit these points.
The combat is still FFIV style ATB, and that’s just fine. The combat plays out like IV and V, although you do get some more interesting boss fights thrown into the mix compared to V with some more mechanic heavy and gimmicky bosses at times.
Also, much like FFV, FFVI features a very open ended second half where most of the world (including its final area/battle) are open to you upon acquiring an airship. Much like V, you’ll want to scour the world for allies and equipment if you want to have a chance at beating its final challenges, and there’s a LOT to see and do in this second half for that purpose. There’s even some completely hidden areas and characters this time around that will reward those willing to search.
What really makes VI stand out though, at least to me? Is the story and how it manages to give everyone something to fight for and their own story to tell. Every character feels incredibly fleshed out with a backstory and some kind of incorporation into the story as a whole, complete with resolutions to their own struggles. This could easily have just been a story about Terra coming to grips with why she naturally has magic and what sets her apart from other humans, but instead she’s just one story of so many that this game tells, and they’re all honestly good ones in my opinion, although there are a few characters who I feel could have gotten better plot representation (Looking at you, Mog). But despite that, this game’s story is easily one of its strongest points: It’s as much about the overarching plot of the Empire seeking to use Magic to control the world as it is each of the heroes struggling against that Empire.
I also need to give praise to one of the best characters, and best antagonists in Final Fantasy: Kefka. He comes off as somewhat comedic when you first meet him, but you soon learn behind the clownish guise lies one of the most deranged, sadistic, and downright terrifying villains in Final Fantasy history. He lives to see others suffer, and he’s more than capable of making sure others do indeed suffer by his own hand or by the hands of imperial soldiers under his command. You will learn to love and hate him, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He lacks a significant backstory, but his overall personality, motivations, and actions make him one of the best bad guys in any Final Fantasy game, without question.
And then there’s the music. VI has one of the strongest soundtracks in the series. The quality blew IV and V out of the water on the SNES days, and now the Pixel Remaster has put it back at the top yet again with live instrument usage and some incredible new bits to the modern arrangements of VI’s timeless classic of a soundtrack. V might be my favorite game, but I cannot deny VI’s soundtrack is the magnum opus of the Pixel Remaster soundtracks as a whole.
Final Fantasy VI’s size is downright amazing. It’s a huge game, yet it manages to avoid having a lot of filler or busywork, with the plot almost always at the forefront as you progress through it, and an absolutely incredible second half that’s open ended yet tells a great story as well. The character building may not be as open as Final Fantasy V’s job system, but Magicite and Relics offer you ways to experiment and find builds that suit each of the heroes you encounter.
There’s one particular thing I have to point out about VI, which is both praise *AND* a gripe if you can believe it: and that’s one of VI’s most iconic moments: The Opera.
“Wait, an Opera? What’s the big deal about that?” Well, plotwise, it’s part of how our heroes plan to access a means of getting into the Empire, with one of the girls going undercover as an opera singer. How does that help them get to the Empire? Not saying. The big deal though is that the Opera was given a LOT of love. Specifically, it was given the HD2D treatment, which means the opera scenes are actually 3D environments made using 2D style tiles for the texturing, with 2D sprites for the characters, something that Octopath Traveler coined.
Along with fully vocalized lyrics for the Opera’s songs, the HD2D treatment is absolutely incredible, but it also makes one ask: Why couldn’t they have given the entire *GAME* this treatment? Seeing the subtle 3D camera work and 2D/3D hybrid presentation made the Opera even more iconic than it already was, but now I just can’t help but wonder what FFVI would have looked like if the entire game could have been done this way. Yeah, I know why it wasn’t: Budget and time. But still, when you get a taste of something that good, you can’t help but want more.
Despite that, VI remains an absolute gem of a game, and this PIxel Remaster shows why it is. Even if you’ve played VI to death, it’s worth playing this version for the music and HD2D treatment of the Opera alone. I cannot recommend VI enough, though to be fair I recommend all of the Pixel Remasters.
…Except maybe II. Final Fantasy II is still kinda meh.