Editor’s Note: 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 stopped last week’s session right after the Lete River. This week takes us up until Terra’s departure at Zozo. Next week we will cover up until the end of the Terra’s origin flashback.
Daniel George (Twitter): Before we begin, in the preparation stages for this week’s session I was informed about a number of differences between the SNES and PS3 versions of this game. The PS3 version has a bestiary? If so, have you been using it so far?
Martin Benn (Twitter): I have not been using the bestiary at all. It does not seem like this will be nearly as complex as the Witcher 3’s bestiary which was almost necessary reading for most encounters. Though it may have helped me a bit in some of the larger battles in the game during this portion.
DG: Fair enough. Have you at least tinkered around with the menu layout? I used to default to Blue every time, but recently I’ve been changing things up.
MB: To be honest, whenever I play something like a big RPG the only thing I change is the names of characters. I figure this game is long and unless something truly offends my sensibilities, then I am not usually in a rush to change anything else in the game. It has kept me from ever really enjoying playing those games that thrive on you changing outfits a ton. I just like things to be simple. As long as simplicity is the case, I do not much mess with menus or anything like that.
Short, But Sweet
DG: Back to gameplay, last we left off, both of us had a choice. I’ve played Final Fantasy VI so many times that I may have done each combination of choices, but which scenario did you choose to go with, and why?
MB: I chose to go with the main storyline of the seeming protagonist of the story. My character is named Domino. Terra is the uncustomized name and her story would seem to be the one the others stories converge upon. So I went to see what was happening with her story first.
DG: Excellent. Personally, ever since the first time playing through the game, I’ve done my best to get this scenario out of the way so quickly. The idea of branching our known characters apart so early in the game has always been a bold choice, but I just wish that they would have put as much effort into Sabin’s scenario (more on that later) than they did with Terra’s.
Either way, we make our way back to Narshe. The developers made the right choice with their design of this town, and I’m glad they choose to keep returning to here. Its desolate, cold demeanor makes for the perfect setting to contain so much strife and intrigue. Nowhere else will you find a town quite like it, although we will be seeing more varieties quite soon enough.
The first big challenge of this scenario is the light puzzle. How did you feel about path memorization?
MB: It was not too difficult. I might have messed up like twice. Once when going through and then the second time when I happened to be accidentally turned around. Things looked similar and I thought I had gone the wrong way somehow and ended up back in the puzzle again.
DG: Did you stop by to chat with the Moogles?
MB: I ran into the room with moogles. They were lovely looking creatures, but all I did was open a chest and keep it moving.
DG: Yeah, I thought there would be a bigger payout beyond the Moogle Theme, but besides a sword, there’s not much else to say…for now….
Ominous messages aside, beyond that chest sees you return to the old man’s house, where Banon shares the message that war is coming, and Narshe has to be prepared. It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s…as you mentioned, the vegetables of the dinner plate.
The Assassination of Doma Castle by the Coward Kefka
Which brings us to the longest, perhaps most adventurous, segment of the game; Sabin’s (Abe’s) campaign. I love just how quickly the mood is set from the get-go, with Shadow appearing right at the beginning to lend a helpful hand. Knowing what you know now, though, did anything seem odd about the man in the hut?
MB: About Shadow? Or about the man in the village I found Shadow in?
DG: The man in the village.
MB: I did not pay too much attention to the man in the village. I ran into someone in the village who showed me I needed the scuba gear to move on to the next part of the game. Then I sent off a letter for a wounded soldier. The old man is not even something that I paid too much attention to. Was he someone special?
DG: You’re jumping WAY ahead of where I’m thinking. If you pay attention to what he says, he mumbles about throwing “some kid” into a river. Other NPC’s mention it near the end of the campaign, but I always loved the foreshadowing that comes from throwaway lines right off the bat.
MB: Oh yes, I do remember that story of the old man throwing his kid in the river. I guess I just fast forward through all the other stuff in my head until I reach the point where the foreshadowing ends and the story starts up again.
DG: Moving on, once Shadow joins your party, it’s at the Imperial Outpost where things start to get a little grim. First off, we have General Leo, who seems to be the only man of the Empire who actually has a heart or soul. He genuinely cares for the soldiers that serve him, and looks to spare as many lives as possible.
Unfortunately, Kefka and the Emperor have other plans for the opposition at Doma Castle.
MB: I really like the Imperial Outpost section of the game. That was fun. You sneak your way through the outpost and fight people as you see fit. You even get a chance to stop the mighty Kefka, though he runs after once again underestimating your abilities.
General Leo was interesting because there are men in every war like him. He is about dignity and honor and he is only caught up in the nationalistic pride that keeps him fighting. Generally, his principles are that of a man who wants respect for his cause and he will do anything to get it. The heart and soul of any operation keeps it moving and that makes those people the most dangerous. Such a shame when you see good people caught up in bad business even with the best of intentions.
Back to the game, the resulting efforts of Kefka to annihilate Doma Castle at all costs is really sad, but we do get to meet a new character and a new fighting style!
DG: I wanted to touch on the cruelty of Kefka before we move on. Leading into this second time with our villain, he came off more as a clown. Now we see him for the cruel man he truly is, poisoning an entire civilization. It spurs Cyan, a sword of the crown, into a frenzy, vowing revenge for the sudden death of his wife and child. Considering the others’ reasons for fighting the Empire, we immediately see what people had previously hinted at.
Cyan as a means of gameplay, though, is not as impressive as his standing in the story. Have you taken with him so far?
MB: Yeah, so Kefka is a bit of a weird villain. Who bounces between extreme underprepared and completely over the top killing. I think he poses a pretty interesting challenge for the player because you are never quite sure what his weaknesses are.
I liked Cyan, or as I call him Kyle. The sword technique is pretty cool as a charging attack and a change of pace. I gave him a relic to increase his attack power so I liked him in my brief time playing with him.
DG: It’s a shame that he’s introduced to your proper party as an uncontrollable character, and then in a Magitek armor. Kinda cuts into his usage, a bit.
The next stop in our trip is the Phantom Train, which includes some very hilarious moments. Whether it’s grabbing a ghost buddy to kamikaze into enemies, eating a ghost dinner or suplexing a god damn train, there’s something for everyone. However, it does end on a dour note, with Cyan’s (erm, Kyle’s) family finally moving on to the other side.
How do you feel about Final Fantasy VI and the way it jumps from lighthearted romps to depressive sadness?
MB: I was kinda confused about the dinner thing. I kept trying to eat more because I didn’t know what to do next.
As far as the balance of emotions, it is an interesting balance to construct. For it was a bit sad to see his family go, but it was the first true sadness I sort of experienced in playing. While the main story is a bit conflicting I do not really feel sad. I just try to understand what they are going through as a protagonist.
I find that to be the case in many games though. I find the best vehicles of emotion are beyond the happenings of the protagonist. In that regard, I find Final Fantasy VI pretty amazing.
DG: Anger, sadness and joy have been the mainstays here, but I’m always a bit fond of the hijinx. And there are certainly plenty to be had with Gau, the wild child of the Veldt. I think the game’s funniest moment is when you finally “capture” him, and both him and Sabin (Abe) go toe-to-toe in a jumping match of fisticuffs.
The whole “Rage” skillset is, perhaps, my favorite in Final Fantasy VI. Not only do you get to use the skills of all enemies (and some bosses) you encounter, but new moves can only be learned on the Veldt. That means you can’t “Leap” anywhere else. There are only two places I truly grind up to this point in time; outside South Figaro and here. Perhaps it’s the “gotta catch ‘em all” vibe that has me obsessed with getting all those skills. Who knows!
What are some of your favorite Rages to use at this point in time?
MB: Oh, my favorite is definitely Templar, or at least I think that’s what it is called. It’s my main one I use since it casts a Fire 2 spell, or in the more modern final Fantasy nomenclature Fira. Definitely my favorite to cast since sometimes it casts spells on all enemies making very light work of all of them.
DG: I was always fond of Stray Cat, as the “Catscratch” ability does 4x Fight damage. At that point in time, doing 1-2,000 damage per attack just kept him truly viable!
With the exception of jumping into another river and a lively conversation with what is clearly a PG-ed prostitute and a boat trip home, we’re now at the end of this scenario. It goes on for a bit too long, comparatively, but at least it introduced a bunch of new characters into play.
Next: Escaping South Figaro & War Comes To Narshe