Final Fantasy VI ReviewJoe Shaffer
I'm anticipating that, after this review goes live, many of you will be waiting outside my house with torches. Before any of you go to all of that trouble, I want you to consider a couple things:
First off, there's this.
Second off, do take note of the system I'm writing this review for: PlayStation.
Some might argue that the differences between the PlayStation rendition and the original SNES release of Final Fantasy VI are paltry. In terms of core mechanics, rule systems and campaign setup, they're absolutely right. You still command the same ragtag group of rebels in their attempt to combat a corrupt empire. The dramatic cutscenes that depict this plot are unchanged, save for a slightly improved script. While you might bemoan an insignificant change in some dialog, certain events actually benefit from this. The lines in the opera scene, for instance, read more poetically.
The sameness spreads beyond the story. Even the classic battle system remains intact, featuring the excellent active system used in Final Fantasy IV, which allows you to slice through enemy forces quickly. Dropping foes in this installment isn't limited to constantly selecting 'Fight' or 'Magic', as each warrior brings a special ability to the battlefield. Edgar, for instance, uses various killing tools like a crossbow that hits multiple targets or a chainsaw with instant-kill capabilities. One of my favorites is Gau and his Rage abilities, which cause him to slip into a trance and act as a particular enemy.
Everything else, from side quests to the locations of Magicite shards used to teach your characters magic, remains unaltered. For all intents and purposes the game is as it should be. Yet, something is still amiss.
While Square didn't monkey with significant chunks of the game, they failed to properly handle some key aspects when porting it. This is especially true about the game's sound effects. For instance, I remember watching the game's opening cutscene and grinding my teeth at the grating noise that passes for the soughing of the wind. Where before it had a ghostly effect that perfectly set the scene's mood, it now sounds abrasive and distorted. It basically shows that Square didn't care to polish or fine tune the finished product and just wanted to rush it to the PlayStation to make a buck. While I don't mind companies I support trying to garner fast money (after all, higher profits = more cash for great future projects), Final Fantasy VI is not the kind of game you treat with a fast money mentality. It's a classic and should be handled as such. I'm not asking for the sound effects to be perfect or exactly as they were before, though. I'd honestly settle for something much less irritating and mood-killing, just as long as it shows that the transition was handled with care.
Poor sound effects aren't this port's fatal flaw, though. That honor actually belongs to the game's ridiculous loading times. Possibly the worst cases of this phenomenon revolve around random battles. For starters, merely transitioning from the world map or dungeon screen to an encounter takes ages. First, the game goes into a very slow, tedious dissolve. From there, the screen goes black for a decent chunk of time before segueing into combat. You're still not out of the woods once you're in battle, as the game has to stop to load any time you execute an ability or spell that involves lighting effects. Take, for instance, Sabin's Aura Bolt. First, the game pauses for a goodish length just announcing the technique. From there, he jumps through the air, actually pauses mid-leap to load, and lands in front of the enemy to pause again before executing the attack. Sadly, we're still not done with the horrible load times. After claiming victory, the game initiates another painfully slow transition, followed by a long period of staring at blank screen before returning to the game. This may sound like nitpicking, but when you have to experience this repeatedly for more than forty hours, it takes its toll on your patience.
The constant loading results in an extremely laborious campaign, especially for those who have played the original SNES release. This is mainly because loading times add up, causing the game to feel long-winded at times. Because of this, certain dungeons take much longer to complete. This is especially so for the Cultists' Tower near the end of the game. In this dungeon, you must ascend a skyscraper brimming with spell-casting creatures. To make matters worse, your contingent can only use magic while traversing the tower. (Bear in mind that many spells require a decent amount of loading.) On top of that, the dungeon consists of four very long tiers without a single save point. To add insult to injury, you cannot magically escape the dungeon once you've killed the boss. You actually have to pad back to the entrance, easily doubling the time spent here. Where this dungeon took me less than an hour in the SNES version, I was stuck here for nearly two in the PlayStation rendition.
I'm not going to say that the PlayStation version of Final Fantasy VI is awful. If it's the only rendition you have access to, then it's worthwhile. However, if you own SNES, Wii, Game Boy Advance, or a DS with a GBA port, then you already have access to a much faster, less monotonous version of this otherwise excellent title. Stick with the original version or Final Fantasy VI Advance and don't bother with the tiresome, sluggish PlayStation model. Your free time will thank you.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.