Final Fantasy 6 is one of my favorite games, so we are going to have seven different articles about Final Fantasy 6 over the course of three weeks. This week, there will be articles on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and then the finale next Wednesday (just to be confusing). The Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play will resume on July 17. Now we continue Final Fantasy 6 coverage with…
I had it in my head that when I finished Final Fantasy 6 Pixel Remaster, I would write some grand denouement for Final Fantasy 6. It is one of my favorite games, I have loved it since I was a child, and there are pieces of it that have been lodged in my brain since sixth grade. I have read here and there that Miyazaki’s works have influenced practically all fantasy to come out of Japan since the 80’s (obviously including this game), but, in replaying FF6, I realized that my own tropes and ticks are probably influenced by this narrative more than anything else (other chief influences: Xenogears, Breath of Fire 2, Chrono Trigger… I would say that I need to write the story of a time traveling furry that turns out to be Jesus, but I am moderately certain that is just the plot to Xenoblade Chronicles 3). I cannot ignore the fact that Final Fantasy 6 is somehow a part of my soul, and some essay about “the ending” or a roundup summary of the cast cannot do this game justice. In short, if Final Fantasy 6 cannot be found in Heaven, the afterlife holds no appeal to me, and I will wander this blighted earth until the last 16-bit save battery burns out of existence.
So when here on the site, I usually end the article with a list of “bullet point” observations that may not have naturally fit into the larger essay. Since I know I cannot properly do Final Fantasy 6 justice with just one, focused topic, I am going to transcribe some random thoughts on Final Fantasy 6 upon completing its attendant pixel remaster. It is marginally a different game! We’ll cover that at some point.
But for now, we will start with how The Moogle Narrator is the somehow the best thing that ever happened. Somebody had the idea to have Mog “host” a few tutorials here and there, and we get an odd Imp for Gau’s tutorial. And, on a superficial level, this is just kind of a cool thing, as it engages the audience a little better than a simple “now here is what you have to do to make this work” tutorial. You are going to listen to a teddy bear about how switching parties works, right? I believe all tutorials should be delivered by moogles across all genres and franchises.
That said, using Mog to choose your scenario during the “split” after fighting Ultros is inspired. It would be incredibly easy to make this momentary portion of the game a list with selectable characters, or some variation on the character select screen with an elementary pointer. But no, in a “room” where you can only take something like twelve steps, you are Mog making the decision on what scenario to follow. You can play with equipment, use the nearby savepoint, or… I don’t know… pretend you are an omnipotent bat boy that controls the fates of Locke, Sabin, and Terra. There is absolutely no reason you must have a playable character for this choice, but the fact that you get to inhabit obvious cool guy Mog for this moment is amazing.
You can understand why that white-furred weirdo was all over the North American advertising…
On an extremely related note, the Maduin Flashback is tops. The lore dump of the history of Terra could be a simple series of text boxes, but actively “playing” the story as Terra’s father is an excellent way to get the audience to empathize with the espers. Up to this point in Final Fantasy 6, you had screaming maniac Pink Terra, a mysterious ice sculpture, a friendly old man, and magic-spewing demons to represent the esper population. Hanging with Maduin in his pastoral village highlights how these mystical creatures are normal dudes that grow cabbages just like us. They might have wings, but they have routine lives and are in no way deserving of having their lifeforces sucked out through tubes.
The fanboy in me wants it to go another way, but I also admire the restraint shown through this whole sequence. Maduin is the focal-esper of this story, and while his village mates all seem very nice and relatable, they do not have names. There are maybe three espers in this whole sequence that even get so much as a title! And, considering you will eventually have an itemized list of every chunk of esper remains you will ever find, you damn well know that the designers could have casually included a few big boys here. Some espers must be preserved in the World of Balance (Odin, for instance, hasn’t left his basement in a millennia), but literally every esper you find with Ramuh or in the Magitek Factory could have been namedropped during this sequence. And that’s ignoring all the old guard that appear in The World of Ruin. Bahamut could be chatting about how he is itching to get back to the other world and fight that guy with the dooming gaze, or random espers could be spreading gossip of the great Crusader being sealed by dragons long ago. But no, this sequence is about Maduin and his baby mama, so this obvious mark for a lore dump stays on the target of the story of Terra’s parents.
Considering “can an esper (or half esper) feel love” is central to Final Fantasy 6, the section where we get a definitive answer and an origin for a main character is essential. And it is terrific that this section is given the internal reverence it deserves.
And speaking of espers, the existence of magic in Final Fantasy 6 might be the most restraint there has ever been in the franchise. Terra has magic right from the start. Once you get her out of her death machine, Terra can use “magic” as her main skill, and she has fire and cure. From there, a new player may correctly assume that there is a greater spell list available, but it works just like Edgar’s tools or Sabin’s blitzes. You will earn greater skills as you go, and you can guess that she will have a more robust spell list by the finale. This is not unlike Final Fantasy 4, where everyone’s roles were very regimented, and Kain was never going to pick up White Magic in the same way that Rydia was never going to jump. Pretty normal that the magical girl (and, eventually, the magical general) would have magic spells while Locke or Cyan had to showcase their specialties in other ways. Everybody has their place in this party.
And then, after traipsing over half the world, seeing the infamous scenario split, acquiring a healthy chunk of your party, and finding the lost Terra up in a tower of liars, you get magic. You get the whole esper system, magic points are introduced, and now everyone can learn the Sleep spell with a little effort. While this is technically only a few hours into the adventure, a whole lot of story happens before this point. Everything feels well and firmly established, and the fact that your party now has infinite options for customization is incredible. Siren, where have you been all my (Locke’s) life!? And it is a seamless system, too. You don’t need a tutorial on filling in a new sphere grid or learning how to properly farm magic points in some disconnected mini game: you just get a new kind of experience point, and it will be automatically applied to the multiplication tables of magic. Easy peasy!
And this never happens in the whole of the franchise before or since, right? Final Fantasy 1 and 2 had whatever level of customization available right from the start. Final Fantasy 3 and 5 both had crystal jobs that were available in less time than it took to learn the characters’ names. FF4 had its regimented cast that rotated in and out according to the story. Final Fantasy 7–10 all had their “ability customization” explained and functioning inside of the game’s first hour (sometimes with the most blunt “pay attention now” tutorials in history), and 12 and 15 were the same way. Final Fantasy 13 found a good way to “delay” the system of the game to match story progression, but, despite the time that must be involved to get there, it is hard to say that happened at any point other than “after the prologue”. I am unfamiliar with the intricacies of the MMORPG entries, but I was able to get a job inside the free trial period I had for Final Fantasy 14…
Final Fantasy 6, though? The delay of the introduction of basic mechanics combines perfectly with the overarching story of a world that is taking baby steps back to a magical cataclysm (these may be ill-advised baby steps, but baby steps all the same). This is a move that really sells the “world without magic”, and all it takes is withholding the cure spell from the majority of your party until after a world tour.
Considering how well-regarded Final Fantasy 6 has been in the popular consciousness, it is marginally weird that Square never tried such a thing again…
But speaking of trying themes again, it turns out my favorite characters are The Figaro Brothers. In the fullness of time, I do not know how I feel about this. I have always liked Edgar, because I always headcanoned his sexual misconduct as a sort of false front for a noble dude (basically, he is Bruce Wayne’ing his Batman-ness; this is 100% canon in his dealings with the Empire [until they burn the place down]), and, well, I did make him provide my yearbook quote…
I assure you, the sheer uncoolness of this picture was meant to pair with the quote
And he pairs well with Sabin, who is not usually my favorite archetype (the strong guy), but it is hard to downplay how much Sabin works as a character during his side adventure back to Narshe. He got washed away from the party due to overzealously attacking an octopus, wound up trying and failing to save a kingdom, and then suplexed the physical embodiment of mortality before joining a wild child for an extremely long swim. It is obvious we get this extended characterization because Sabin is the only POV character available for this section, but it works. Sabin really is a good guy who gets into “whacky” situations, and is wholly unequipped for a world where he has to survive a genocide event after being asked to repair a stove. He’s… just kind of a cool guy, and we never get a similar bit of development for Setzer or the Thamasa crew.
Oh, and I’ve always found Tools and Blitz to be indispensable through a healthy 75% of the game. That always helps me like a character more. Stopping to pick up the Bum Rush is always my Falcon’s first destination.
But with the last hundred years of hindsight (how long has it been since Final Fantasy 6 was released? Oh… that’s all? Felt like longer), I now feel marginally manipulated by my affection for Edgar and Sabin. A significant part of the reason I like them is that they actually get a story, and have a clear (but fairly quiet) arc where two long-estranged twins learn to accept that they are very different people, but with common values. And, while some of this story could use a little bit of polish (if I could change one silly thing about Final Fantasy 6, it would be that initial appearance, “Young” Sabin would not have the same sprite, and look more like his brother before he leaves to become a bear-man), it is presented well through flashbacks and current events (“Hey, Edgar, let me borrow that trick coin I know you have”) that occur at a measured pace throughout the story. Many 16-bit RPGs followed the pattern of “introduce character – present character’s issue – solve character’s issue at the end game” with nary a word about these topics between the featured plot events. Here, it feels like Edgar and Sabin have a long simmering relationship, and, like how Locke and Celes grow into something more, the twins reach a natural end organically (well, as organically as is possible in a game where you must stop to murder a group of six mice with swords every few steps). But all of that comes through because they are frequently featured. In fact, my adult playthrough (that sounds dirty) caught a big whiff of “this is a writer’s favorite character”.
And who is responsible for Edgar and Sabin? Apparently Soraya Saga lists those two knuckleheads on her resume to this day:
And that’s the woman responsible for Xenogears and (a good chunk of) Xenosaga. And those are two narratives that I have… let’s say… overanalyzed a bit. So now I feel like I was tricked! She planted the Figaro seeds in my head, and now I care about a goddamned blue-haired space robot! Gah!
And it’s not like “king of a desert kingdom that has to disguise himself as a goofy thief to save his people” is an archetype ever seen again in any franchises… Rassin’ frassin…
Oh, and has anyone ever properly sussed out the solution to the Zozo-chainsaw puzzle? Or have we all been working off the same Nintendo Power guide since 1994?
While we’re marginally on the subject of Blitzes, we must address how the Pixel Remaster changed how things work, and now there is never any risk.
All of Sabin’s Blitzes used to be high risk, high reward affairs that praised a player for having muscle memory in an RPG. Choosing to “blitz” meant you had to memorize a motion sequence from a menu beforehand, properly recall said motion, and then actually perform that sequence with no immediate feedback. If you were successful, the attack would work. If you failed, you would waste a turn, and receive zero explanation of where you went wrong. This seemed “fair”, as many of the blitzes simulated magical attacks that always had an MP cost. Sabin gets to use his own version of Fira on the monsters, but only if he can properly recall/recite in the heat of battle. And if you are no good at “fighting game motions”, you have eleven (or so) other characters that do not require that skill. It is a surprisingly effective method of marrying Sabin’s “years of training” narrative to actual gameplay conventions. If you trained with Ryu, you can Aura Cannon, too.
The Pixel Remaster has changed this system. Now you select a Blitz from a list of available moves, just like regular magic or any other skill. Now the sequence is displayed on screen. Now you get an immediate “incorrect buzzer” if you enter the wrong command, and you are asked to start again. Now the only way to get an “Incorrect Input” waste of a turn is if you very distinctly and deliberately enter the wrong input, are told you entered the wrong input, and then hit confirm anyway. So, in the end, you are getting all the rewards of a Blitz (high damage, no MP cost of any kind) but zero chance of getting it wrong and wasting a turn. I haven’t tested it extensively, but it appears the battle even freezes during “enter command” time regardless of Wait or Active battling. It couldn’t be easier!
And, brother, do I appreciate not experiencing Blitz Stress every battle. It’s awesome. But still! It feels like something was lost here.
And on a related note, Doomgaze’s spiked tile for an aerial battle in the World of Ruin is now visible on the world map. You want to fight the bat-skull? Just steer your airship into the gigantic swirl of black that FuSoYa could see from the moon. This change has now saved hours of my life.
Unfortunately, the Pixel Remaster has done nothing to circumvent the “required” waste of time of visiting the Auction House in two different worlds, and waiting through seventeen auctions for “cute” items that you cannot hope to win while you just want your goddamned Golem esper to appear on the docket. Take your mecha-chocobo elsewhere, screaming child, I am trying to save the world here.
Apropos of nothing, I would also like to state for the record that there is a minecart level in Final Fantasy 6. While I feel the presence of minecarts in videogames have been exaggerated over the years, this could be evidence they were a requirement for the 16-bit era…
Goggle Bob’s Partial List of Unanswered Questions That Do Not in Any Way Matter!
· Ramuh distinctly notes that he fled the Magitek Factory, and your first magicite crystals are the friends he lost along the way. Ramuh also notes that he has been able to survive in Zozo because he looked like a human. So… were Kirin, Siren, and Cait Sith hunted and killed by the populace of Zozo? Wait! Siren is pretty human looking! And Cait Sith is just a cat. Did someone in Zozo kill a magical cat for no good reason? Or was it the empire? And can we get a prequel about Ramuh living in the liarest town that ever lied while he is telepathically communicating with moogles? There must be some good stories there.
· Did we have to get the Ultima Weapon so early? You don’t usually see a sword with HP-based variable effects until the end of a Final Fantasy, and never mind this is labeled as the ultimate weapon before the game even fakes its first “ending”. And finding it on the way to Esper Village even makes it thematically paired with approaching the ancient realm of war beasts. All that said, though, I have a hard time imagining Gestahl missed such an important artifact during his first trip. Bro was able to find the phoenix magicite all on his own! Of course he would be on the lookout for a blue laser sword while kidnapping a baby.
· What is the deal with Darill’s Tomb? I can understand Setzer setting up a maze to keep people away from one of the two airships on the planet, but it sure seems like a hassle anytime he wants to visit his old friend. An NPC claims that the crypt is ancient, but it is hard to determine if that is just window dressing for explaining the Growth Egg’s secret passage, or if this is legitimate world building. And is this place one giant dungeon meant to house one body? Or are the army of skeletons all the other corpses? Was Darill’s remains mutated into one of the monsters? Was she the Dullahan? Whatever is happening there, it had to be hell for Setzer to repair the Falcon in the first place.
· What happened to all the magitek nonsense after Kefka took over the world? Like, okay, we already covered that Kefka hoovered up a lot of it into his private citadel, but you would think there would be a warlord or two stomping around with (literally) magic armor. I understand how the narrative didn’t “need” magitek anymore, because the whole point was that this was something that could get out of control, and Kefka proved it would destroy the world… But still! Magitek was cool! And it is a shame the only time we get to play with it after the intro is in a dreamscape meant to highlight Cyan’s mechanophobia. I would take a lost Magitek soldier as a hidden character over Umaro. Would finally explain what happened to Biggs…
Gogo is Gogo, and nothing around them makes a lick of sense. Zone Eater is a giant worm that only surfaces on a single island in the World of Ruin. Zone Eater is literally incapable of killing anyone (it uses gravity and freezing dust, and does not have an actual attack that can reduce HP by anything but a percentage), but will eat your party if you give it enough time. Inside of Zone Eater is an entire dungeon. Zone Eater’s Belly is filled with difficult monsters that are generally human-esque. Multi-armed dudes, shambling corpses, ninja: that kind of party. There are also weirdly dressed humans that seem to exist exclusively to kick people off of bridges. Then we’ve got a room with a mobile ceiling (maybe meant to simulate Zone Eater chewing? Or digesting?), followed by a quick chest-based obstacle course (are the “chests” supposed to be an anatomy pun?). There are treasures for warriors and pictomancers scattered about, and, of course, Gogo waits in the central-most chamber.
And there is nothing else like this in Final Fantasy 6, nor is it ever remotely explained.
It would be the easiest thing in the world, right? Add a comment to any of the many Final Fantasy 6 rereleases that a circus troop got swallowed by the worm god. Or change Gogo’s airship dialogue to “I wonder if my worm buddies back at the worm cave are doing their wormiest”. Or, by the crystals, you could even make a quick change to Final Fantasy 5, and have Enemy-Gogo cast “be-wormed” on themselves. Conversely, while we have had a Gogo cameo or two in future games (is there a single bit of Final Fantasy Lore that is not referenced in Final Fantasy 14?), there was never a dang thing that explained The Worm Dimension.
Now, at this point, there have been interviews and alike that have confirmed that Gogo originally had a very different appearance/recruiting method. Apparently, there was going to be some nonsense where you would see a party member at a random bar out in the world, and the “joke” would be that your friend was hanging out without you, but, oh man, it was actually Gogo mimicking your buddy. The recruitment method would involve some level of luck, and you would have to already have that party member in your current gang, and then you would be able to confront the master mimic and reveal the ruse once and for all. While this is one of those ideas that sounds marginally cool (and is also a clearer reference to Gogo’s previous appearance), it is hard to ignore how it would be a complete pain in the ass to actually program and for the player to figure out what to do when. Dropping such a system was probably the right call.
So the most likely answer here is that Worm Daddy was probably just a mishmash of ideas that didn’t fit anywhere else. The Bridge Folk would fit right in in Zozo or the Mt. Zozo return, the collapsing ceiling is a classic dungeon trap that was likely orphaned in a game where the “instant kill” loss condition is not seen elsewhere, and even the “get eaten by an enemy” thing seems like a logical (albeit obstruse) inversion of the sneeze mechanic seen elsewhere in this world. So the most logical explanation here is simply that this was a developer’s graveyard, and Gogo simply became quing of the trash heap.
But what’s important is that Adlai Stevenson has never had anything to do with anything.
Alright, I think I’m ready to talk about the elephant rotting in Celes’s room: Let’s address the (potential) death of Cid Del Norte “Grandpa” Marguez.
There is a lot going on here.
First of all: Cid is supposed to die. No question, it is 100% clear that Cid dying is a perfectly normal part of the Final Fantasy 6 lifecycle, and Celes throwing herself off a cliff in despair is the exact right move at that point in the game.
Of course, I mean this from a “lowest point” drama perspective. It cannot be ignored that the whole thing is rather misogynistic (a grief stricken Strago joins a cult, Setzer turns to drinking, and Cyan pioneers the concept of being an internet weirdo; but none of the boys seem to even consider the ol’ suicidal “widow” route), and, while you can make the excuse that Celes always had the support network of an army behind her (even if that army included a moogle), the fact that this all seems to be intentionally related to Locke… Well, it ain’t great. Some more deft writing would have benefitted Celes, Cid, and Locke. More of an emphasis on how Celes distinctly regrets leaving things unsaid with Locke could have been a little more relatable than “where my man? I die now.” Similarly, Cid and Celes had exactly one interaction together in all the World of Balance, and Cid’s position at the time was “Huh? Celes?” like a dog that thought they heard their owner outside (and it is the mailperson every time). While he hastily explains their shared past before shoving the party into a minecart, the actual “present” relationship between Cid and Celes is practically nonexistent before the world goes sideways. And, again, this might have been remarkable with more focused writing (Celes immediately adopting Cid as literal family could have a couple of different motivations, but the text is just basically “You’re my grandpa now!” like Celes is a toddler), but the reality of it is trite and arguably too shallow for such a potentially deep character and moment.
But holy cow is the “game” portion of this fascinating.
Has anyone ever saved Cid on an initial playthrough? It seems vaguely impossible, as the deck is very stacked against Celes. Enterprising programmers have uncovered the exact mechanics of Cid’s life and death, and apparently not only must you fish the proper fishies, but Cid’s health decreases for every second Celes is puttering around. Couple this with the fact that the slow Death Fish are a lot more common than the yummy fish, and how you must speak to Cid and unload Death Fish to reset the pool at all… And, yeah, he doesn’t have a chance. FF6 Designer Yoshinori Kitase has stated that Cid is supposed to die, but the option of saving him was included so the player had some agency over the proceedings. So the obfuscation of mechanics for saving the old man is deliberate, and the difficulty included is calculated. Saving Cid is like… Well… It’s like trying to save a feeble old man with absolutely no help and a pile of potentially murderous fish. It’s thematically appropriate!
But, on a personal note, despite the fact that there is literally no reward for saving Cid in any capacity, I am incapable of not saving Cid. As of the advent of emulators, I used to savescum the best fish, but after a few decades, I now have it down to a science. I only kill Cid if I want to kill Cid. I am the master of Celes’s destiny. And on the rare occasions when I do want to see Celes taking a dive, I let Cid die, and then I reset from the previous save. I am pathologically incapable of moving on in this game knowing there is a yellow raincoat starting to smell back on Solitary Island.
I even know that Cid surviving is somehow sadder than if he just dies. Spending the entire length of The World of Ruin alone on an island with exploding squirrels sounds more like a waking Hell than anything Kefka could concoct. Does Celes even visit when she returns for that bird magicite on the beach? Does somebody else head the search party there? Our former general would really love to leave the airship, but she’s right in the middle of polishing Ragnarok, and… be a dear and go and see if there is anything left on the beach? Thanks. No, I don’t want to hear about the old man standing by the bed and weeping…
But… yeah, I think that’s where I’m going to end this. I could spend the next thousand words discussing the differences between Tonberry, Tonberries, and Master Tonberry, but… I think that’s just how Final Fantasy 6 is in my head. I understand why this game hit me so hard as a child: it is a good game (Gogo can customize his skills!) coupled with a story and concepts that could light my imagination aflame (Gogo is secretly Darill!). This is the game with the largest playable cast in mainline Final Fantasy history, and that seems apt: it is a gestalt of a bunch of weird little concepts and set pieces, and, while much of it is extremely shallow, it somehow unites into something more. When I was a toddler, I was excited to see the Voltron lions go-lion in a giant man with a blazing sword, and a decade later, I was excited to see how Strago, Locke, Mog, and Terra all combined into an amazing game.
So that’s my final word on Final Fantasy 6.
Next time on Final Fantasy 6: Psyche! Let’s read about reading.
Before “doink” was a household term