Final Fantasy VI
Like previous Final Fantasy installments, Final Fantasy VI consists of four basic modes of gameplay: an overworld map, town and dungeon field maps, a battle screen, and a menu screen. The overworld map is a scaled-down version of the game’s fictional world, which the player uses to direct characters to various locations. As with most games in the series, the three primary means of travel across the overworld are by foot, chocobo, and airship. With a few plot-driven exceptions, enemies are randomly encountered on field maps and on the overworld when traveling by foot. The menu screen is where the player makes such decisions as which characters will be in the traveling party, which equipment they wield, the magic they learn, and the configuration of the gameplay. It is also used to track experience points and levels.
The game’s plot develops as the player progresses through towns and dungeons. Town citizens will offer helpful information and some residents own item or equipment shops. Later in the game, visiting certain towns will activate side-quests. Dungeons appear as a variety of areas, including caves, sewers, forests, and buildings. These dungeons often have treasure chests containing rare items that are not available in most stores. Some dungeons feature puzzles and mazes, which require the player to divide the characters into multiple parties.
Combat in Final Fantasy VI is menu-based, in which the player selects an action from a list of such options as Fight, Magic, and Item. A maximum of four characters may be used in battles, which uses the series’ traditional Active Time Battle system, or ATB, which was designed by Hiroyuki Itō and first featured in Final Fantasy IV. Under this system, each character has an action bar that replenishes itself at a rate dependent on their speed statistic. When a character’s action bar is filled, the player may assign an action. In addition to standard battle techniques, each character possesses a unique special ability. For example, Locke possesses the ability to steal items from enemies, while Celes’ Runic ability allows her to absorb most magical attacks cast until her next turn.
Another element is a powerful attack substitution that occasionally appears when a character’s health is low. Similar features appear in later Final Fantasy titles under a variety of different names, including Limit Breaks, Desperation Moves, Trances, and Overdrives. Characters are rewarded for victorious battles with experience points and money, called gil (GP in the original North American localization). When characters attain a certain amount of experience points, they gain a level, which increases their statistics. An additional player may play during battle scenarios, with control of individual characters assigned from the configuration menu.
Characters in Final Fantasy VI can be equipped with a wide variety of weapons, armor and accessories (known as “Relics”) to increase their statistics and obtain special abilities. Most of this equipment can be used by several different characters, and each character may equip up to two Relics. Relics have a variety of uses and effects, some of which alter basic battle commands, allow characters to use multiple weapons, provide permanent status changes during battle or use protective magical spells in response to being near death.
Although only two characters start the game with the ability to use magic, almost every character can learn to do so. Characters may equip magicite, which enables the summoning of espers, this game’s incarnation of summoned monsters (including several recurring summons such as Ifrit, Shiva, Bahamut and Odin, along with many new summons exclusive to Final Fantasy VI), as well as that of specific magic spells. If a character has a piece of magicite equipped, he or she will gain “Magic Acquisition Points” after most battles. As a character gains magic AP, he or she gradually learns spells from the magicite equipped and will gain additional statistic bonuses when leveling up, depending on the magicite.
Final Fantasy VI takes place on a large, unnamed world. During the course of the game, its geography and landscape change due to various developments in the game’s plot. During the first half of the game, the world is divided into two major continents and referred to as the World of Balance. The northern continent is punctuated by a series of mountain ranges and contains many of the locations accessible to the player. Halfway through the game, the world’s geographical layout is altered, resulting in its two large continents splitting into several islands of various size situated around a larger continent at their center. This altered layout of the game’s locations is referred to as the World of Ruin.
In contrast to the medieval settings featured in previous Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy VI is set in a steampunk environment. The structure of society parallels that of the latter half of the 19th century, with opera and the fine arts serving as recurring motifs throughout the game, and a level of technology comparable to that of the Second Industrial Revolution. Railroads are in place and a coal mining operation is run in the northern town of Narshe. Additionally, several examples of modern engineering and weaponry (such as a chainsaw, power drill, and automatic crossbow) have been developed in the Kingdom of Figaro. However, communication systems have not reached significant levels of development, with letters sent by way of carrier pigeon serving as the most common means of long-distance communication.
One thousand years before the events of the game, three goddesses who served as the source of all magic in the world were at war with one another in a conflict known as the War of the Magi. This quarrel released magical energy into the world, transforming any human touched by it into an esper, who were used as soldiers by the goddesses. Eventually repenting of the war, the goddesses returned free will to the espers and turned themselves to stone. Their only request was that the espers ensure their power remain sealed so that it could not be misused again. After the war ended, the espers departed to a hidden land, taking the statues of the gods with them and sealing the entrance to their world, leaving behind the remaining humans. Cut off from magic, the humans build a society based on technology. At the opening of the game, the most powerful technology is in the hands of the Empire, a cruel and expanding dictatorship led by Emperor Gestahl and his court magician Kefka. Approximately eighteen years before the events of the game begin, the barrier between the esper’s land and the rest of the world weakened. Soon after, Gestahl takes advantage of this and attacks the espers’ land, capturing several of them.
Using the espers as a power source, Gestahl initiated a research program to combine magic with machinery and infuse humans with magical powers, the result being a technology known as Magitek. Kefka was infused with magic, becoming one of the prototypes in a line of soldiers called Magitek Knights. The process was still experimental in the prototype phase and as a result, Kefka’s sanity was impaired. At the opening of the game, the Empire is on the verge of rediscovering the full potential of magic by reopening the gateway to the world of the espers. However, the Empire’s rule is opposed by the Returners, a group of rebels seeking to overthrow the Empire and free its territories.
Final Fantasy VI features fourteen permanent playable characters, the most of any game in the main series, as well as several secondary characters who are only briefly controlled by the player. The starting character, Terra Branford, is a reserved half-human, half-esper girl who spent most of her life as a slave to the Empire, thanks to a mind-controlling device, and is unfamiliar with love. Other primary characters include Locke Cole, a treasure hunter and rebel sympathizer with a powerful impulse to protect women; Celes Chere, a former general of the Empire, who joined the Returners after being jailed for questioning imperial practices; Edgar Roni Figaro, a consummate womanizer and the king of Figaro, who claims allegiance to the Empire while secretly supplying aid to the Returners; Sabin Rene Figaro, Edgar’s brother, who fled the royal court in order to pursue his own path and hone his martial arts skills; Cyan Garamonde, a loyal knight to the kingdom of Doma who lost his family and friends as a result of Kefka poisoning the kingdom’s water supply; Setzer Gabbiani, a habitual gambler and thrill seeker; Shadow, a ninja mercenary, who offers his services to both the Empire and the Returners at various stages throughout the game; Relm Arrowny, a young but tough artistic girl with magical powers; Strago Magus, Relm’s elderly grandfather and a Blue Mage; Gau, a feral child surviving since infancy in the harsh wilderness known as the Veldt; Mog, a Moogle from the mines of Narshe; Umaro, a savage but loyal sasquatch also from Narshe, talked into joining the Returners through Mog’s persuasion; and Gogo, a mysterious, fully shrouded master of the art of mimicry.
Most of the main characters in the game hold a significant grudge against the Empire and, in particular, Kefka, who serves as one of the game’s main antagonists along with Emperor Gestahl. The supporting character Ultros serves as a recurring villain and comic relief throughout the game. A handful of Final Fantasy VI characters have reappeared in later games, such as Secret of Evermore and Kingdom Hearts II. Additionally, Final Fantasy SGI, a short technology demo produced for the Silicon Graphics Onyx workstation, featured polygon-based 3D renderings of Locke, Terra, and Shadow.
Final Fantasy VI begins with Terra Branford participating in an Imperial raid on Narshe in search of a recently unearthed frozen esper (later identified as Tritoch; Valigarmanda in the GBA retranslation) found in the city’s mines. However, the esper kills her controllers and the Imperial control over her is broken, but she is unable to remember anything about her past. Locke Cole, a thief, promises to protect her until she can regain her memories and helps her escape to the hideout of the Returners, a group of militants opposing the Empire. Along the way, they pass through the Kingdom of Figaro and meet Edgar Roni Figaro, the king, and his estranged brother, Sabin Rene Figaro, who join them. Banon, the leader of the Returners, asks for Terra’s help in their struggle against the Empire, and she agrees. Just as the resistance is preparing to return to Narshe to investigate the frozen esper, the Empire attacks South Figaro. Locke heads to the besieged town to slow the Empire’s advance, while the rest of the group makes their way via rafting down the nearby Lethe River. However, Sabin is separated from the group after a battle with Ultros, self-proclaimed “octopus royalty” and a recurring antagonist, forcing the various members of the Returners to find their own ways to Narshe in three different scenarios controlled by the player. In Locke’s scenario, he must escape the imperial occupied town of South Figaro without detection. Sabin has been swept to a distant continent and must find a way back while Terra, Edgar, and Bannon will continue to float down the Lethe River back to Narshe.
Eventually, the original party reunites in Narshe. Locke brings with him Celes Chere, one of the Empire’s own generals, whom he saved from execution for defying the Empire’s ruthless practices. Sabin brings with him Cyan Garamonde, whose family was killed during the Empire’s siege of Doma Castle when Kefka ordered the water supply poisoned, and Gau, a feral child he befriended on the Veldt. In Narshe, the Returners prepare to defend the frozen esper from the Empire. After the player successfully thwarts the Imperial invasion, Terra approaches the frozen esper, prompting her to transform into an esper-like form herself. She flies away, confused and horrified by her own transformation.
The Returners set out to search for Terra and eventually trace her to the city of Zozo, though they are still shocked by her apparent existence as an esper. There, they also meet the esper Ramuh, who tells them that if they free various other espers from the Magitek Research Facility in the Empire’s capital, Vector, they may find one who can help Terra. Vector is on the southern continent, to which the Empire does not allow maritime access, so the Returners go to the Opera House and recruit Setzer Gabbiani, who is believed to be the owner of the Blackjack, the only airship in the world. They then travel to Vector and attempt to rescue several espers, including Maduin, who is revealed to be Terra’s father. However, the espers choose instead to give their lives to transform into magicite—the crystallized remains of their essences that form when they die and allow others to use their powers—which they bestow upon the Returners. Before the group can then escape, Kefka arrives and causes the Returners, including Locke, to momentarily doubt Celes’s loyalty, much to her anguish. However, she provides proof to them of her support by covering for the group while the rest escape. The rest of the group then returns to Zozo, where Terra reacts to the magicite of her father, prompting her to gain knowledge of her past and accept herself as the half-human, half-esper child of Maduin and a human woman.
After reuniting with Terra, the Returners decide that it is time to launch an all-out attack on the Empire, and Banon asks Terra to attempt contacting the espers’ land in order to gain their support. Terra succeeds in making contact, and when the espers learn that the others captured by the Empire previously have now perished, they become infuriated and enter the human world, where they destroy much of Vector. When the Returners arrive in the capital, they find Emperor Gestahl claiming to no longer have the will to fight, inviting the Returners to a banquet to negotiate peace. Gestahl asks Terra to deliver a truce to the espers on his behalf, to which she agrees. Accompanied by Locke, Shadow (a ninja mercenary hired by the Empire for the mission) and Generals Celes and Leo, the player must then guide Terra to the remote village Thamasa in search of the espers, where they meet Strago Magus and his granddaughter, Relm Arrowny, who also accompany them.
Soon, they find the espers and Terra convinces them to accept a truce with Gestahl. However, during the negotiations, Kefka attacks the espers, killing each of those still alive and capturing the magicite that remains from their essence. Additionally, he kills General Leo, who is appalled by Kefka’s dishonorable tactics and attempts to defend the espers. The Returners reunite, now aware that the peace was a ploy for Gestahl to obtain magicite and the stone statue remains of the Warring Triad within the espers’ now-unsealed land. Kefka and Gestahl travel through the open gate to the esper world, find the Warring Triad, and prompt the island on which the esper world is located to detach and fly in the sky as an ominous Floating Continent. The Returners attempt to stop them from causing further damage, but despite their efforts, they are unable to prevent Kefka and Gestahl from gaining the power of the statues. Now empowered, Kefka promptly kills Gestahl and moves the statues out of their proper alignment, upsetting the balance of magical power and causing the destruction of most of the surface world. In the disaster, the Returners are separated from one another as Setzer’s airship is torn apart.
One year later, Celes awakens from a coma on a deserted island and learns that the world has been devastated by Kefka. Much of its human population has died and its plant and animal life are slowly being killed by sickness to punctuate humanity’s despair. Celes sets out from the Solitary Island to try and reunite with as many of her friends as she can find. One by one, in a series of mostly optional side-quests, the gamer has the opportunity to reunite the group, all still alive, as well as new allies Umaro and Gogo. Together, the reunited Returners launch a new offensive against Kefka, using the Falcon—an airship that belonged to a deceased friend of Setzer’s—to reach Kefka’s Tower and infiltrate it. Inside, the Returners battle their way through Kefka’s defenses and destroy the three statues, the source of Kefka’s newfound power. When destroying the statues, once the source of all magic, does not cause any noticeable reaction, the party realizes that Kefka has successfully drained the Warring Triad of power and has become the source of all magical power.
Making a final stand against Kefka, the characters successfully destroy him, but since the gods’ power had come to reside in him all magicite begins to shatter and Kefka’s magically-maintained tower begins to crumble. Terra leads the characters out as she begins to weaken due to her half-esper heritage. However, before her father’s magicite shatters, his spirit informs her that by holding to the human side of herself, she may survive the passing of magic. In the end, the party escapes Kefka’s Tower aboard the Falcon. Terra survives, and the group observes the world’s communities rejuvenating themselves.