04/02/2014

EPHEMERA: FINAL FANTASY VI EDITION

Recently, I embarked on another playthrough of Final Fantasy VI - that's Final Fantasy III if you played it as an American child, or Final Fantasy: A Psychotic Clown Has Tantrums, Destroys Everything if you're after a condensed synopsis of what happens in the game. Oh hey, that's probably a spoiler. This article will have other spoilers in it, so if you haven't played Final Fantasy VI yet then you really should get on that. Anyway, I wanted to write about FF6 but it's far too grand for me to give it the usual VGJunk treatment - Final Fantasy XVI would probably out by the time I finished - so instead, here are five glittering facets on the boulder-sized diamond that is Squaresoft's 16 bit masterpiece.

Biggs and Wedge: Dimension Hoppers

Let's start with something from, appropriately enough, the start of the game. At the beginning of Final Fantasy VI, brainwashed Imperial slave and regulation-issue Chosen One Terra is on a mission to recover a mythical god-beast that has been found frozen in ice (sadly it's not Captain America). She is accompanied by two soldiers named Biggs (Vicks in the first English translation) and Wedge, names that would become something of a running joke in later Final Fantasy games. They find the frozen esper, only for it to react to Terra's magical powers, an event that doesn't work out well for poor old Biggs and Wedge.


I'm five minutes into the game, and already there's a mystery here that I've spent far too long thinking about over the years: just what exactly happens to Biggs and Wedge? They're never seen again, so the obvious conclusion is that they're killed by the esper... but this is a Final Fantasy game, and if I don't see numbers popping out of someone then I have a hard time believing that they've been physically hurt. There's no bodies, either, so if the esper did kill them, it did so in a way that completely excised them from reality. That's pretty hardcore. I know they work for the evil empire and everything, but complete erasure from the universe seems a bit much and is almost certainly a human rights violation.
The other option, and this is the one I've always favoured, is that the esper is teleporting them somewhere, just to get them out of the way. It is with a not-insubstantial amount of shame that I admit I wrote some fanfiction about this very scenario many years ago. I was young, okay? And also a dork. A young, foolish dork.

Ki-Ki-Ki, Ma-Ma-Ma

One of the advantages of Final Fantasy VI's move away from the pure "fantasy" tropes of the earlier games in the series towards a more technologically advanced setting is that you get to see the king of a small nation using a chainsaw to attack a doberman.


You don't get that in your Tolkien knock-offs. The best part about this is that sometimes he puts on a hockey mask as an homage to Jason Voorhees, star of the Friday the 13th movies. Well, maybe not so much Jason himself - despite killing people with an impressive variety of implements ranging from guitars to the vacuum of space to his trademark machete, Jason has never used a chainsaw - but to slasher movies in general.


Someone at Squaresoft must have thoroughly enjoyed this concept, because it made a reappearance as one of Vincent's Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy VII. I prefer the FF6 version, though, because Vincent is a walking science experiment with gothic tendencies from whom you would expect this kind of behaviour. FF6's Edgar is, as mentioned, a king. A king who has a hockey mask on hand just in case he's called upon to dismember something with a chainsaw.

Disco Pyramid

After a series of convoluted but extremely enjoyable events including participating in an opera in the hopes of being kidnapped and punching an octopus, the characters of FF6 gain access to an airship. This allows them to fly to the Imperial capital, an experience for which the word "foreboding" doesn't quite feel adequate.


All I want to say about this scene is that it's great. Almost all the towns you've visited up until this point have been fairly small, bucolic affairs, so harnessing the power of Mode 7 to show the hulking metropolis rising up over the horizon, bathed in the glow of Batman-style spotlights, is a fantastic "oh shit" moment that lets you know that the whimsy of earlier areas is being put aside to make room for something serious.

A Grumpy Whale

Less serious: your characters' ability to summon a ruddy great whale.


I mean, I always assumed Bismarck the summonable whale was supposed to be huge, but if that image is anything to go by he'd be smaller than most real whales. That can't be right: these battle scenes definitely aren't to scale. I'm sure the human characters aren't supposed to literally be deformed freaks whose heads make up 60% of their body mass. No, I'm one hundred percent certain Bismarck is actually huge.


Bismarck is also kind of miserable-looking, with the protruding bottom lip of a spoiled child who's just been told they can't have any more cake and a snout that's wrinkled with displeasure. On top of that, he's surely named after the German battleship Bismarck, which was in turn named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, allowing you to go from magic flying whale to nineteenth-century Prussia in three simple steps. It's a bit disappointing you don't summon Otto von Bismarck himself, really. With his highly-strung nature and vaulting ambition, he probably would have seen a kindred spirit in Kefka.

Typing, Filing, Spraying Ink

Throughout the first half of Final Fantasy VI, you are occasionally attacked by a purple octopus who is either trying to eat you or is bent on getting revenge for you kicking his tentacled backside because he tried to eat you. His name is Ultros, and he is possibly the best thing in the entire game.


Then there's a giant cataclysm at the halfway point of FF6. The first time I played FF6 I was genuinely a little bit upset that this meant I wouldn't get to see Ultros again for the rest of the game - I'd fought him a couple of times and he wasn't exactly the staunchest of foes, so I didn't expect him to survive the end of the world... but he did.


In one of my favourite moments in all of gaming, Ultros ends up working as a receptionist in a fighting arena in order to pay off his vast debts. There could not have been a more perfect ending for a character who, despite being a vicious and cowardly weirdo, has really wormed his way into your heart by this point. It's almost Super Mario-esque in its resolution: I could just imagine the same thing happening to Bowser, with you knowing full well that Princess Peach will cancel the debt after a while, they'll go kart racing and play tennis but soon enough he'll be back to his usual bad-guy antics. It's a fitting punishment for Ultros, and a chance to redeem himself and settle down... but if you're honest, you're really hoping he'll go back to his old tricks as soon as possible.

18 comments:

  1. Gosh, there are just so many awesome moments in FF6... Really, I adore each little detail. Ultros is such a silly character, but his antics will warm the heart of even the most jaded gamer.

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    1. Oh, definitely: I could have easily chosen another dozen things to include in this article.

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  2. I have a copy of "Final Fantasy Anthology" sitting on my desk, still unopened despite being purchased over a year ago. I'm waiting to open it until I have a good reason to, like most people would save a bottle of fine wine. I want to be able to fully devote myself to "Final Fantasy VI", at least for a few days. I feel the game deserves that.

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    1. I actually didn't like the way FFA ported each respective game. But I'm just very nitpicky, so it's the little things that bothered me. For example, for some reason they truncated the spell names. In a downloadable hacked ROM (not that I uh... indulge in that kind of miscreant behavior...) when you summon Titan he uses "Rages of Earth". In FFA you get "ERTHRG". When you summon Phoenix you get "FENIXFLM". In FF6, it's pretty much the same only with really really long load times.

      Also, I'm sorry for being that guy/a party pooper.

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    2. Well, the PS1 version might not be the best way to experience FF6, but a) it's better than nothing abd b) being a Euro person, I was just amazed that the Final Fantasy VI ever got released in a form I could legally buy so I have sort of a fondness for it.

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    3. As long as it's better than nothing. All the other versions are far out of my price range, and there's just something about ROMs that makes me unwilling to play them for very long. It's not the legality, I think, but rather the fact that I'm given a game designed for, maybe, six buttons and a D-Pad and I'm given an entire keyboard to play it on. Now, in the event that I remembered to pick up a PC-compatible controller, the whole point would be moot but for now, I'm willing to put up with the little idiosyncrasies of FFA.

      I do sympathize with not liking the port because of its changes. Unfortunately, most of my Final Fantasy experiences have been through ports so I've gotten used to the nonsense they saddle the games with.

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    4. I never actually looked at it from those perspectives before. Completely understandable and totally agreed it is better than nothing. (Incoming lif story) When these games first came out, I was a kid and we rented FF6. I was hooked but unable to finish it. Years later I downloaded an SNES emulator and was overjoyed to see they had had both FF5 and FF6. I played them before raising enough money working with my mom at a janitorial job when I was 16 to buy FFA. I was so excited, thinking they had made all these big graphical changes and improvements, cutscenes, etc. I was so disappointed that I think the little things stood out more. But anyway, I hope you don't wait to play too long. FF6 and FF5 are among (in my opinion) the best in the series.

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  3. Is it bad that I actually wish I could've read that fanfic of yours? Also, this article is amazing!

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    1. It is bad, yes, because that fanfiction was bloody awful. Thankfully it has been lost forever after years of hard-drive crashes.

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    2. Ah, we lucky fogeys who penned our embarrassing fanfics before the internet had provided convenient places to upload our masterpieces to preserve for future generations(to ridicule).

      I wrote a few wretched pieces in my youth as well. My BEST was a "bridge" story to connect Megaman and Megaman X, since Capcom clearly wasn't going to say what happened between them and I wanted to know. It was... pretty bad. My recollection says it suffered a lot from trying to include absolutely everything and everyone. But it suffered more from being a big steaming pile of overwrought angst. But at least it was a grammatically correct steaming pile of overwrought angst!
      I still stand by young me's decision to upgrade Roll into Megagirl, though.


      And as for setting a low bar... well, I had a Captain N fanfic. More accurately, I had a Captain N/Chrono Trigger/Sailor Moon crossover fanfic.
      I remember blessedly little of it, but the few bits I DO remember are every bit as wretched as the premise implies.
      So rest assured, someone out there had a worse idea than Sliders: Biggs and Wedge Edition.

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  4. And now I want to re-play FFVI. And FFV. And even FFIV. SIGH! Seriously, though, great job as always. I especially love Ultros' storyline in this game--it's the perfect amount of silliness for a game that otherwise takes itself pretty seriously.

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    1. Thanks very much! Yeah, I think I'll be diving straight into FFV once I've finished with FFVI, ha ha!

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  5. Reading this makes me sad that the iOS/Android release is such a trainwreck.

    The graphics for the characters are these pillowshaded mess, there's no commands for Blitz (god knows how your supposed to do INPUTS when you don't have a controller), the UI is a mess, and there doesn't seem to be _any_ QA going on. It uses the GBA script yet has spelling errors not present in the GBA version. First scene of the game, they misspell Esper as "Espier".

    Then again, Square's mobile phone division is a mess. Calling Gobez in the ingame menus "Golbeza", and calling Cecil "Load Captain" of the Red Wings when they already have English scripts to work with means they probably have to transcribe the whole script by hand. Which is no good.

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    1. Yeah, Square Enix's recent track record is pretty disappointing, especially on the Final Fantasy front - but people will keep buying each re-release of their most famous games, so they'll keep doing it. It sounds like Bravely Default is showing that there's still some "classic" FF-style work going on at SE, at least.

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    2. Bravely Default isn't even being made by Square, unfortunately. It's being made by the guys who did 3D Dot Game Heroes. (Silicon Studios I think.)

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  6. i wound up playing the ff5 fan translation a few years after ff3/6, and at the time assumed that gogo got warped from 5 into 6, and so obviously biggs and wedge got thrown from 6 into chrono trigger.

    i... guess that still kinda works.

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    1. Let's go with that, that's a nice way to wrap up the story of Biggs and Wedge - from the soldiers of an evil empire to playing carnival games in another world.

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    2. The third character accompanying Biggs and Wedge in Chrono Trigger, Piette, is also named after a Star Wars character, but a member of the Empire instead of the Rebellion.

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