Today (Wednesday) was yet another pleasant vacation day, and I spent it doing something that I’d put off for no less than fifteen years – finishing Final Fantasy 6 for the SNES. I played the game first when it came out in 1994, but stopped close to the very end. I took it up twice again over the years on emulators, bringing it again to the same point, but losing interest both times. The last time I did this was in the airport, waiting for a flight after the 2008 RSA convention; I kept that playthrough on my laptop and dusted it off today.
As I believe ‘ending fear’ kept me from finishing (I’ve discussed this phenomenon before), as well as remembering that my first attempt at Kefka’s Tower in 1994 was ill-prepared, I decided to be extra careful in my old age and did some leveling, bringing all the characters over level 45, acquiring the Paladin Shield, and making sure I had at least a half-dozen characters that could cast Ultima.
So how was the ending? Gorgeous. Twenty minutes long at least. Worth the wait. If I can get a certain friend of mine (cough, cough COUGH) to do some podcasts discussing classic games, I think this one would be a good conversation starter, as it is prima facie evidence for games as art. Beautiful music, excellent gameplay, compelling story and characters, a great villain, top-notch visual design that cuts through the severe technical limitations of the SNES – what’s not to like?
I remember an incredible amount of detail from the story, far more than I remember from even a good novel or film. I have always been intrigued by how it doesn’t really have a main character. Nominally it would be Terra, but Celes is just as compelling, and then there’s Locke… it’s really, rather, about how each character’s individual narrative intersects and complements other character narratives, the same trick that all the good FF games pull, with wildly differing levels of success.
I find it difficult to put a finger on why this particular mixture worked so well. The overall structure and timing of the plot as the assembly, separation and reunion of a extended family would seem to have something to do with it, but I would not want to discount the genuinely pleasing friendships that spring up between otherwise very different characters, and their life-affirming effect when contrasted against the assorted baddies. And it never hurts, of course, when there’s a play within a play.