Final Fantasy VI – Cuddliest Hit Squad

When we initially began the FF Marathon a few years back, I was glad to find that FFVI and The Compilation of FFVII were going to run flush with one another, with no spinoffs in between. If you’re really not familiar with the series, the short reason is that these are the games seen as the best in the entire series: FFVI closed the 16 bit generation and FFVII set half the course of the 32, making RPGs king of the hill for a whole five years before FPSes showed up, and they still haven’t gotten over themselves. And while FFX may be picking up ground as a favourite among younger players, I was glad to get the chance to see the old favourites, FFVI and VII, only one game apart, so I could make a fair comparison of them both. This is no longer the case: our intermixed FF and Persona marathons put Persona 1 (both storylines!) between FFVI and Crisis Core. But that’s what these journals are for, aren’t they? A record, of my original feelings, the playthroughs, and the experience.

FFVI’s playthrough was the first at my new place and barely even happened thanks to technical difficulties with Kyle’s Apple TV. Luckily, we found that the iPad’s screen is large enough that it’s not really a problem to play passing it back and forth like it might have been on the 3DS and DS. That’s more-or-less how we ended up playing the whole way through, Apple TV be damned.

Excusing the above title screen (which is from the PC remake), screenshots in this Journal come from Ironsharp’s longplay of the original SNES release of “Final Fantasy III,” available from World of Longplays (YouTube). Ironsharp notes that he used a bugfix patch to fix the Evade Glitch (which is like a FFI glitch in that it upsets the entire game around it, so I’ll discuss in a later entry), but otherwise these shots come from the original game.

Final Fantasy VI began with narration, saying how the world has been bereft of magic for 1000 years because of a “War the Magi” that almost destroyed everything. Unfortunately, some screwloose had decided to bring magic back, and we joined up with a trio of soldiers of some unnamed empire (we later learned its name during a character naming sequence of all things. It’s: “the Gestahlian Empire”). Two of these three soldiers were the original Biggs and Wedge, who you may remember from TAY (the original English translation of FFVI missed the Star Wars joke and called Biggs “Vicks” instead). The the third soldier was a green-haired “witch,” who was under player control. The trio were riding heavy “Magitek” armour, which are like mid-sized battle mechs. This Magitek gave them magical powers in a steam-punk sort of way, and the “witch” was marked “Magitek Elite” in the subscreen as her job class. Biggs and Wedge said they had control over the witch via a “control crown,” and that she wouldn’t even breathe without their go-ahead. They were pretty glad about that, because despite the death of magic in the rest of the world, the witch has magic in spades, and has murdered her way through a group of imperial soldiers in the past. Biggs and Wedge said she had killed fifty soldiers, though I swear the number kept changing depending on the teller. Which would actually be a nice touch.

The trio was examining the town of Narshe, a small mining town in the snow-covered north where a frozen “Esper” had been discovered in the mines. Narshe wasn’t loyal to the empire, so the plan was to storm the town to seize the Esper. Biggs and Wedge put the witch on point, which began the game’s famous opening sequence: a long march against the opening credits, complete with Super Nintendo Mode 7 effects to get an angled shot against the terrain. The armours were super tall in this sequence, certainly taller than the mountains. Otherwise they’re only twice as tall and wide as a grown human. As Kyle put it, “scale is everything.” Criticism aside, this opening assault is so impressive and critical to the game that they included it in the game’s logo, showing the witch in her Magitek armour on the charge.

By the way, in keeping with the FFMQ review, I have to highlight the official art that was cropped to create Biggs and Wedge’s character portraits. Pretty badass for some runaway Star Wars cameos.

The town itself was full of the kind of fantastic detail-work you see in late SNES projects, seen on the steam pipes and cobblestone. There, we were attacked by the guards and their dogs, noting that, in-battle, the guards looked even more like demons than the Palamecian army’s soldiers in the original FFII, and the dogs more giant monsters than any rottweiler. Don’t want to make us feel guilty about attacking the neutrals, Square? I think you lost your shot at that after we murdered Rydia’s mother, burned down her town, and in another game when we brutally euthanized our only friend so she wouldn’t turn into a medusa, but fine, take your time. Unfortunately for the Narshites, the Magitek armour gave our party special beam attacks that made them pretty much unbeatable even if the armour didn’t really work as armour. Yes, oddly enough your HP and defence is still based on the pilot’s equipment, and not the giant robot they happen to be sitting in. Even worse, the pilots’ equipment looked like it came out of Ceodore’s armoury: trashier than anything the game ever actually sells. Can you imagine the briefing? “Off to war with you, here’s your giant mech suit, proton beam and leather helmet.” Thanks assholes. At least our offence was good. The Narshites even acknowledged they were in trouble: the pause of hesitation after we wiped out their dogs before they went in a suicide charge was great animation work compared to the nonsense dances of FFIV.

As we pushed deeper, the Narshites attacked us with their… uh… shag-rug allies called Megalodoths. For some odd reason (having to do with a sort-of mini game we’ll be playing later in the scenario), the Megalodtohs were shown as bipedal outside of combat, like they were were-rugs instead of mastodons looking for a barber. Shockingly, these creatures are actually the second-most powerful creatures in the entire game in terms of Attack, outpacing even the superbosses. It’s funny how you have to tweak the data in a mostly pre-written sequence like this just to get the ideal numbers! It goes without saying that if anyone was going to kill us, it was these guys, but even they weren’t all that bad. This is the tutorial.

Our onslaught into Narshe gave us the opportunity to get used to a few of this game’s changes over FFV, both in terms of the originals and the smart phone remakes. I’ll be able to cover more of the fundamental game changes as they arrive, but changes between the cell phone games are a more immediate and obvious. Movement was now a lot more rigid than in FFV on smartphones, even though that seems like a counter-intuitive development at first. In the FFVI remake, you’re restricted to the eight compass directions rather than giving you free-movement like in FFV. Presumably this has to do with deliberate movement puzzles that appear later in the game. Similar to FFV and FFD, you could also scale back to traditional four-way movement. In combat, the touch buttons were now at the bottom instead of the right as in FFV and FFD. I prefer this new system, though Kyle feels otherwise. One outright advantage in FFVI’s combat is that you can finally see exactly when each character is going to act even when giving an order, as the buttons “rise” into place. One downside is that this leaves less room on the screen, which could be a serious problem on smartphones rather than pads and PCs.

In terms of changes between the original FFV and original FFVI, the first we were introduced to was being surrounded in combat, forcing you to fight off enemies on both sides. Not only does this really mess with your formation like IV and V, but you now take extra damage when attacked from behind, so it’s kind of situation that’s always bad news. I don’t remember it happening very often across the entire playthrough, which was honestly for the best.

Inside the mines we fought our first random encounters, weaklings that were clearly going to show up after we stopped being OP (also, being OP and killing innocents in a mine at the start of a game really reminded us of Breath of Fire III… yet it still feels somehow different?). We found our first save point inside and finally found one last guard who admitted they knew we were after the Esper and said they weren’t going to hand it over. He called in Ymir, a Lightning Whelk, which was a kind of giant snail that stored lightning in its shell for defensive purposes. Unfortunately for the Narshites, Biggs knew about Lightning Welks and spilled the beans, making this essentially like the Mist Dragon and Wing Raptor from FFIV and V respectively, but without the fourth-wall breaking voice from the clouds. The Whelk pulling in its head just gave us time to heal, and when it was out it got splattered by the witch’s Magitek Missiles.

In the next room we found the Esper (…and not the guard that had sent Ymir after us?). The Esper was a great frozen crystalline structure, probably meant to make up for the lack of actual Crystals in this game. Gasp! I know, right? They’ve been here in every mainline game except FFII but they’re gone now, and if journals continue to come out in release order, we won’t be seeing them again in their traditional form until FFIX! The frozen Esper reached out to the witch with its magic, and we watched as the Esper killed Biggs and Wedge seemingly by swallowing them in darkness. It didn’t look pleasant, whatever it was. With a massive strike of magic, the witch’s Magitek armour was destroyed, and she was knocked out.

The witch woke up in a bed in town, where a man revealed he had rescued her and taken off the slave crown but – we should have known – the witch had video game amnesia, only remembering her name: Terra. Her rescuer said the rest of her memory would come with time. Perhaps he has experience with these horrible crowns, raising all kinds of questions, but he was interrupted from saying more by guards come to arrest Terra. The man snuck her out a back door and we beat a hasty retreat across some bridges, but unfortunately the guards spotted us and made to cut us off. Unfortunately, the path led into a new section of the mines, which the guards would know far better than us. To make matters worse, we were attacked by wandering monsters.

If Terra’s job title, Magitek Elite, hasn’t clued you in, FFVI doesn’t use a traditional job system, not even to the degree of FFIV where everyone was locked into existing jobs from FFIII. That said, FFVI hasn’t grown up so much that you can’t see traces of the original jobs in its new characters. By-and-large Terra is a Red Mage, except she’s actually fairly good in combat, ala the FFI Red Mage more than the one from FFIII/V. She’s not exactly a tank (she can wield heavy equipment, but her stats don’t match) but she still absolutely belongs in the front lines, unlike featherweight fighters like Ceodore and Ursula where you always find yourself questioning their position in the ranks (and remember that TAY actually did back-rank Ursula during Yang’s Tale). Terra was one of the only party members in the game with magic, as magic was generally gone from the world. Magic in this game is strangely divided into three categories: Black Magic, White Magic and Grey Magic, a system never used again at any point in the series (although many of the Grey spells arguably belong to the same category as the Green Magic of the Ivalice games).

“Yaay, a Phoenix Down,” Kyle informed me as I was furiously trying to catch up with my typing. “A Phoenix Down while we’re alone! Keep reminding us as of our suffering!” Further into the tunnel, we grabbed a Sleeping Bag, which was a one-person model of the Tent item new to this game. Not much further in (though past a suspicious section of wall that we couldn’t open) we were cornered by guards and only escaped thanks to the floor giving out under us. Heroic competence! Terra collapsed into a flashback (and organ failure), where we the players were introduced to Kefka Palazzo, a certain clown man that, uh… well frankly, you don’t get an explanation for nearly the first hour. This game just… has a clown man. Enjoy? It seems our inexplicable harlequin is responsible for Terra’s slave crown, and also that incident with her burning her way through several imperial guardsmen, as we see Kefka giving the orders, though it’s possible this is an unrelated memory because what was going on at large was unclear.

In another flashback, we saw Terra witnessing Emperor Gestahl (an older guy with a lot of hair and even more facial hair) talking to his armies about the dawn of a new age. Nearby were some figures we’d get to know later: an older man and a blonde lady knight in a cape. The funny thing is, Terra was also behind the Emperor, near Kefka, as though she were a public figure. Why Terra had to be part of the imperial entourage, I can’t imagine. Are statesmen in this world used to making speeches with their zombified nuclear weapons on stage with them? When they’re so far back they can’t really be seen by the crowd? I got a partial answer when I learned that, in the SNES version, Terra stood even further back, and was only moved in the GBA/iOS to account for the GBA’s screen resolution, but why was she there at all? In any event, Gestahl proclaimed his empire were chosen ones who had brought about the return of magic and said they would claim their rightful dominion over the world. Also, everyone threw Nazi salutes. You can’t really read it any other way.

After the flashbacks, Terra must have passed out, and the game cut back to our rescuer’s place, where he was remarkably not under arrest for aiding and abetting. And lucky for him, as his house was the autobahn for lawbreakers this evening. In came Locke, a prototypical Thief, who self-identified as a “treasure hunter.” “Well that’s awfully presumptuous,” Kyle said. Locke’s character portrait had a pretty stupid-looking hat for a guy drawn with only a headband in his sprite, just the first of many portrait and sprite differences we’d be seeing across the course of the game. No one looked naked this time, at least.

The two characters discussed the situation, including the politics. According to the old man, Narshe actually had the “strength” to stand up to the Empire but just wouldn’t do it, which just didn’t mesh with the evidence. By “evidence,” I’m of course referring to the conspicuous red smear Kyle and I had just drawn up through the middle of town with just three Imperial soldiers. Food for thought. The old man mentioned a resistance group called “The Returners,” but hold that thought, first things to do first is to get Terra out of town before they lynch her. Locke agreed to get her out of Narshe to take her to the kingdom of Figaro. He caught up immediately with a jump cut, and even got ahead of the guards chasing for Terra! That arguably had more to do with the fact that he was the only bull-headed enough to jump down the pit after her, but a head start is a head start!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough of a head start, as Locke soon found himself cornered. Just then, Moogles showed up to rescue us, because they apparently lived here in the mines. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and all that. The Moogles asked us to “use them” so we could escape. Welp, you heard the teddy bears. Start chucking them at guards!

(I was joking when I first made that joke, but that’s basically what FFXV ended up using its Moogle Doll item for, isn’t it?)

The gameplay here was only just short of throwing the Moogles into the enemy like baseballs: considerably more strategic, but with just as little regard for their wellbeing. We had to team Locke up with the Moogles into three parties to stop the guards from getting to still-unconscious Terra across a maze of rocks. This involved switching between the three parties to position them in ideal bottlenecks, since we could only control one of them at a time. A nice system, though only used twice in the game.

The Moogles are actually quite interesting, mechanically. Individually they’re terrible, with the exception of one. Believe it or not, the others are actually internal “filler” for the game’s remaining party members! Let me explain: it seems the game was designed with only 15 or so character slots across the main party and the guests, so at the moment, your future party members have been overwritten by innocuous Moogles! A famous glitch allows you to actually “skip” acquiring a certain party member and carry on with her Moogle as your teammate instead! Another considerably more tedious glitch lets you swap out nearly anyone you please!

This section didn’t go so badly for Kyle and I. The Narshites were attacking with the same monsters as before, so the real challenge was cutting them all off and also making sure Party #3 wasn’t given any serious responsibilities, because they were awful. Kyle tried to bum-rush the Guard Leader that waited in the back, but no luck: every enemy group was defeated before he could get there. Frankly, the hardest thing about this fight was the background music, which was on an unfortunately short loop. I quote my notes: “Also Locke’s theme played during this whole segment and I had a lot of typing to do [while it played] so it makes me want to go throttle the Guard Leader myself.” The Guard Leader was a heavy-hitter backed by two wolves, we were at genuine risk against him, but Kyle pulled through with Locke and his furry posse.

With the Guard Leader defeated, Locke was able to open a secret passage and was able to wake Terra. Learning of her amnesia, Locke brashly promised not to leave her side until she had her memory back. She just blinked in response. It’s time to get underway.

Prev: Final Fantasy V: Legend of the Crystals – Hot White Beam
Next: Final Fantasy VI – Lions and Tigers

Screenshots in this Journal come from Ironsharp’s longplay of the original SNES release of “Final Fantasy III,” available from World of Longplays (YouTube).

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