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Final Fantasy VI Talks Part 1: Awakening

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As our own Rebekah was in the process of corresponding with Sparky Clarkson throughout a full playthrough of Baten Kaitos, it brought me back to some desires I’ve held since I co-launched GameSided back in June of 2013; introducing someone to Final Fantasy VI. What I consider perhaps the greatest RPG of all time (at least the greatest of the Final Fantasy series), I have played it to completion more than a dozen times.

Over the next several weeks, staffer Martin Benn will accompany me in a discussion about Final Fantasy VI as we progress through a full playthrough. For those looking to join us, we’ll be stopping this week’s discussion right after the Lete River concludes. 

March To Narshe

Daniel George (Twitter): Hello, Martin, and welcome to the magical world of Final Fantasy VI. The word “magical” is not lightly used, as the game starts you off with Vicks and Wedge looking over the mines of Narshe with our “witch” protagonist in tow. What were your first thoughts about the game, heading into the long march?

Martin Benn (Twitter): Well, the very first thing I thought was about the wonder that is the old 8-bit soundtracks. I’m not sure music sounds “better” per se nowadays with real orchestras and things being brought in for games, but the music and the early intro sequence had me surprised with how good I thought it looked and sounded. In some ways, I thought it looked better than Final Fantasy VII, which is obviously noted for what it achieved at the time, but it seems like FFVI was not actually far off from achieving similar heights.

The second thing I thought as we marched was just how ambitious the game already felt just from the introduction. I do not know everything the game will have in store, but it certainly feels more ambitious than many newer games in the same style we see today. I don’t think that same ambition exists with a lot of current developers who push retro gaming. Which is a shame because this feels pretty epic to begin the game even being over 20 years old.

DG: That escalating track set to the march is based on the Terra’s Theme track, and it will play a big part of the game’s themes and pacing later on. For now, it sets up a terrible dichotomy of a poor girl used as a tool for the Empire to cause destruction. It’s a huge part into what makes its opening sequence my favorite; who has the balls to take the main protagonist of a video game and make her the cause of so much pain and destruction to good, honest people so quickly? Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito do, and it’s their creative back-and-forth that brings life to what may be one of the best character-based RPG’s of all time.

It’s in that irony that such a powerful being can be humbled so quickly, as Terra cannot escape her uncontrollable actions in the quest to reach the Esper. Immediately after she is taken into safety, the Narshe troops chase after her, setting up the dashing entrance of “treasure hunter” Locke. Alongside the help of some adorable Moogles, he overcomes the incoming troops to dash out of Narshe just in the nick of time. Again, in the quest for something noble Locke, too, must kill the militia who are against the Empire in order to, you know, support the people who are against the empire.

Which brings us to Figaro Castle. How does Edgar, his family and the kingdom come off to you at first glance?

MB: The family obviously seemed rather on the rocks. The dad is dead. The mother is distraught. The brother left. The brother seemed a bit of an idiot initially, though I’m sure the mental anguish he was going through over losing his dad will be brought up later. Then here you have this king who is at once inspiring his troops to be ready for attack and then on the other hand, he is an idiot who hits on every woman in his kingdom to the point, they all mention it to you every time you talk to one of them. I definitely laughed at his expense there. It did not seem like this was the best place to go for help and assistance though. At least not until the end of the scenario.

One note about the thief… I mean, “treasure hunter” Locke and the Moogles. That seemed like it would be difficult, but they made Moogles the most useful they have ever been in any Final Fantasy game I’ve played outside of FF XIII-2 where they turn into your weapons.

DG: Yeah, I definitely found them very helpful. Mog, especially, as you can remove his Mithril Pike and Mithril Shield and equip them on your characters to make them more powerful than they otherwise would in the early going! It’s just one of those added bonuses for keen eyes that will pop up over the course of the game, and is the kind of stuff you’ll only find in repeated playthroughs.

Enter: Kefka

DG: But back to Figaro at hand. Not too long after you arrive, the maniacal Kefka steps on the scene, with boot-cleaning soldiers in tow. His cackle was such a popular character trait, they slowed it down and used it as an Easter Egg in Final Fantasy VII’s ghost hotel, located in a cackling pumpkin. From what we saw in the flashbacks from the beginning, he’s the left-hand man for Emperor Gestahl, and is coming to take back Terra as a tool of the empire. Locke and Edgar both want to shield her from this evil man, but even in their good-natured attempt of heroism want to bring her to the Returners as a means of bringing balance to the resistance.

Inner conflict is an ongoing story beat for Terra in Final Fantasy VI, and these first decisions are crucial to both advancing the plot and further solidifying Terra as an individual. Kefka will prove to be more than just a clownish figure, but do his early mannerisms prove to serve anything more than “evil personified” to you?

MB: Not really. The thing about getting older is after a while you’ve seen enough things. I’ve seen so many bad guys in games now where I’m less concerned with them as “bad guy.” I thought Kefka came off as like any other power figure in these kinds of stories. He overstates his own cunning versus the smarts of the people he is oppressing for his own goals. It is not necessarily generic, but from the beginning that is most of what I got from his appearance.

Generally, I am not a huge villain person though. I play games to see in what spectacular way we will win or lose the day. The villain I do it against would have to be REALLY outlandish for me to pay too much attention to him or his motivations. I hope for that to be the case. I would love for Kefka to just be this guy who does a ton of crazy stuff throughout the game that makes some sense but is overall insane to do.

DG: Trust me, Kefka will be sticking around for quite some time, always up to some sort of hijinks in one way or another!

Moving on before getting too spoilery, I found that the great escape from Figaro and the castle’s submergence was where I was absolutely sold on Final Fantasy VI as a game. Paired with a thrilling score, you really get a sense of urgency and thrill from dodging the Empire’s clutches once more. It takes us to the South Figaro cave, where there are a few items located in chests alongside some monsters.

I have a quick question, Martin. Did you take any of the items on the way in?

MB: Hmm, I’m not sure. Anywhere I saw a chest I took the stuff from it. So, yes? I can’t remember if it was anything special though. Far as I know.

DG: Stuff in the chests aren’t special now, but they will be. Final Fantasy VI likes to mess around in areas you need to revisit later on. What may be an ether here or a potion there will actually be different on a second pass through much later in the game. Same thing with a third pass through even later than that, rewarding patience as a virtue. Again, it’s one of those things where you’d never know it unless someone told you or you played through the game multiple times, but I always found the foresight exciting as a concept.

The game always likes to have you wait for another shoe to drop, and Shadow in South Figaro is definitely an intriguing character. Complete with a dog that eats strangers, the mystery behind him starts to unfold the further you get in the story. For now, though, he’s just another patron in a bar….erm, I mean “Cafe.”

Differences in localization is a common occurrence for Square Enix, and removing any mentions of alcohol is the first real instance in the English version of Final Fantasy VI. A mention of bringing an old man cider can also be found here, but there’s just more foreshadowing.

MB: See, I would have never known anything about that translation being different. Cafes and cider are real things, so I guess they did a good job bringing it to translation.

Next: Brothers Reunited, Discussing Combat & A Fork In The Road