Tribute to Final Fantasy VI
So I recently collected some game soundtracks, and one of them was the soundtrack to Final Fantasy 6. Listening to these songs brings back vivid memories of the game, and that’s undoubtedly at least partially due to Nobuo Uematsu’s ungodly ability to bring about emotions through musical notes. Whether it be the mysterious uncertainty of The Phantom Forest, the relaxing homeliness of Kids Run Through The City Corner, or the crushing despair of Dark World, this game’s soundtrack never ceases to bring about an emotional response from me. In any case, listening to these songs has really caused me to reminisce.
What a wonderful adventure, that game was.
I’m not normally one to look at the past through rose-tinted glasses. Most of the games I loved as a kid I can acknowledge now are not all that amazing. And besides, when I finally got around to playing through Final Fantasy 6 it was, what, only three or four years ago? So no, I don’t think this is nostalgia. Final Fantasy 6 is a great game.
It doesn’t particularly stand out in the gameplay department. The gameplay was solid, but it wasn’t really innovative or amazing in any specific way. I think the storytelling was what really drove it home for me. FF6 has one of my favorite video game stories ever. Part of that is because of its interesting setting, its distinct and memorable characters and its epic, almost operatic tone, but most of it is because of a big twist right around the middle of the game that changes everything.
No, this is not one of those M. Night Shyamalan style twists where the support character was evil all along, or you were an evil dictator before you got amnesia, or the whole game was a flashback up to this point or whatever. It’s not some revelation where you find out some bit of information you didn’t know before, which changes your perception of the story. No, this is simply a plot event that changes everything up, and it’s one you could not possibly have foreseen without having consulted a plot synopsis or FAQ beforehand.
And that twist was so brilliantly executed that it sweetened the entire story for me, and it’s probably why I still hold up FF6 as a better storyteller than most games out there, including the good ones.
CAUTION: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Final Fantasy 6 has a fairly standard plot for Japanese RPGs. A ragtag group of adventurers is trying to stop an evil warlord from using magical artifacts to destroy the world. You travel across the planet, acquiring more warriors to join your collective party and encountering various empires, factions, feuds, betrayals, deaths, etc. All cool stuff, but pretty straightforward.
The main bad guy, Kefka, is a pretty interesting villain. Not in that he has relatable motivations or an intriguing backstory, but in the sense that he’s just really “out there.” He’s a ruthless dictator who dresses like a clown, commits genocide, and seeks to tear the whole world apart. You find out toward the end that his motivations are rooted in nihilism; he wants to destroy the world because he doesn’t believe any of it matters in the end. And you get the impression that he hates people because they don’t think the same way he does.
The most effective way I’ve thought of to describe him is The Joker crossed with Hitler.
But at about the halfway point something big happens: Kefka actually succeeds. He rearranges various ancient magical runes, which throws off the balance of the entire world. The whole planet is ravaged, continents are rearranged, cities are toppled, and many people are killed. Your party falls apart, and the character you follow is put in a coma.
One year later you wake up in the post-apocalyptic world. I was expecting to find all the characters hanging out one town over so we can continue the fight against evil, but here the game shifts from linear, story-focused RPG to open-world sandbox RPG. You’re only required to find two of the other characters of your former party, and it’s up to you whether you want to find all the other player characters scattered throughout the world (14 total) and do any of the other side quests that tie up the loose ends and subplots, or whether you want to just go straight for the big finale.
Seeing the world in its newly devastated state is heart-wrenching since you just spent hours and hours getting to know it, and especially since you traverse it now to the tune of Dark World. The way the story is told in the second half, combined with the gameplay shift, just gives you the feeling that the world is broken beyond repair and all you can do is pick up the remains. The gear shift is so poignant that it still makes my heart drop thinking about it now.
I remember the episode of Spoiler Warning where each cast member said what their most memorable moment was as a gamer. I asked myself the same question and almost immediately knew the answer: it was that moment when the world was torn asunder.
The only other game that’s come close to affecting me as much is Chrono Trigger. That game dealt with similar themes (post-apocalypse, dystopia, trying to save the world, etc.) but had a very different, arguably more interesting premise. You know, I’m starting to wonder if I just like seeing the world blow up.