I have been dreading this day. Ever since Square Enix started porting past Final Fantasy games to PC and – with a few exceptions – screwing them up in quite dramatic fashion, I’ve been terrified of the moment when Final Fantasy VI would hit our beloved system.
I really, really love Final Fantasy VI. Generally, Final Fantasy fans are split on whether Final Fantasy VI (confusingly known as Final Fantasy III in its original North American release, because Final Fantasy II, III, and V were never originally released in the west) or Final Fantasy VII (when Square Enix – then Square, or SquareSoft – gave up and started just giving the western releases the same numbers as the Japanese releases) are the best of the series. It usually comes down to where you started: Final Fantasy VII was the big breakout title for the series in the west, so lots of people started there, and that’s where their nostalgia lies. Those who were familiar with I, IV, or VI usually treasure them a bit more, with Final Fantasy VI generally accepted as the best of the older bunch.
For me, though, it’s Final Fantasy VI. It’s up there with Earthbound and Chrono Trigger as one of the greatest JRPGs in an era that was, in many ways, defined by great JRPGs – and growing up in that era, a lot of me is defined by spending hours upon hours going through them. I care about this game enough that, when it was announced as coming to Steam, I actually sent my Square Enix PR contact an email in which I would “start firing cats at the Square Enix offices, or something” if it turned out to be a crappy port.
So yes, I’m scared. I’d love for Final Fantasy VI to be completely remastered and redone with modern techniques, but that’s almost certainly not going to happen considering Square Enix are only just getting around to doing that with Final Fantasy VII, and that’s arguably less expansive than VI. But maybe we can at least get something more than a slightly ropey port of the iOS version; something which has clearly been designed around the PC interface and PC displays and so on. Is that too much to ask for? Is it?
Apparently – yes, it is. It’s not all doom and gloom, but there are a number of cringe-worthy and bone-headed mistakes, which means that this still isn’t the best way to actually play Final Fantasy VI on your PC. If asked for a snap recommendation, I’d suggest buying this to actually legally pay for the game, and then maybe go and find some sort of way to play the SNES or GBA version on the PC. I’m not advocating emulation or piracy, exactly, but if you actually want to play Final Fantasy VI on your PC, then… well… unfortunately, there are better options than this release.
Enough preamble. Let’s look at where Final Fantasy VI goes right, and where it goes wrong.
First up, the obligatory launcher in all of its glory:
Yep, that’s definitely a launcher. I will offer up bonus points for actually including a 33-page PDF manual, too, and one that isn’t entirely shit. It explains most of the basic concepts of the game, goes over stuff like how each character’s individual skills work, and talks about some of the more general things that newcomers might not know, like how undead enemies are hurt by healing spells and so on. You can get the gist of most of this through gameplay, but as a quick reference guide (albeit one that might spoil a couple of plot elements, like exactly how the Espers tie into things) it’s really nice.
As it’s not visible in the above screenshots, the languages on offer are English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese Brazilian.
You might’ve spotted something with the resolution options, though. Remember how all the initially released screenshots were horribly stretched 1920×1080 resolution pics? Yeah, that’s probably because 1920×1080 isn’t actually a selectable resolution. 1360×768 is your limit… and even then, the only resolution option that doesn’t force you into either letterboxing or pillarboxing is 720×480, as that seems to be the only 3:2 resolution there, and that’s presumably this port’s native resolution.
You can also run it in fullscreen, which will force it to work at your desktop resolution without stretching (which almost certainly means pillarboxing), but that’s not really ideal.
It also doesn’t help that this suffers from a lot of the same “HD-ifying” problems as Final Fantasy V did. Some of the tile textures are horribly iffy and match up terribly (there are loads of examples of this, but look at the lower parts of the pillars in the Figaro Castle screens later on in this piece for some obvious ones) and the block-color, blurred characters really don’t mesh well with the more pixel-y backgrounds.
This time around, the talking-head portraits are using variants on the original portraits rather than Amano’s art, so they actually look like the characters. Net positive, I’d say, although I always liked the Amano art. It still means three clashing art styles, though.
I don’t like the way the characters look, but I’m more put off by the fact that multiple art styles are being used in a very jarring way. I’d be moaning if the entire game had that same weird cartoony style as the character sprites, but I have to wonder if it’d be less grating than the current solution of having them against rather more standard backgrounds. And if I had any art skills whatsoever I’d try to knock up some sort of example, but I’m only a master of Paint, and I use the word “master” very loosely there. On the plus side, it runs at a constant 60FPS, so that’s nice.
So let’s look at the controls. I didn’t bother setting up the Steam Controller or even trying this with the controller, because for crying out loud, I’ve finished Final Fantasy VI on a keyboard at least twice, and I wasn’t really expecting to play this port for more than about an hour. What I can say is this: the controls aren’t terrible.
I set them up in my usual “emulator” fashion, with the arrow keys controlling movement, RDFC working as the face buttons, and A and S as the left and right bumpers. I totally forgot to rebind Start and Back, but they’re really only used for pausing and… I actually don’t know what Back does. So okay, that’s all fine.
And it controls fine. It has the same slightly confusing eight-way movement that Final Fantasy V‘s port did (which you can disable through the in-game options menu) and I couldn’t figure out how to sprint (but I think that’s because I need an item first, if memory serves) but otherwise it played out okay. There are a few changes to the way it controls – one button will bring up a little Moogle tip telling you what your current main objective is, for instance – but for the most part, it’s as you’d expect. Not pleased that I have to wait for the text to gradually appear in text boxes rather than tapping a key to fill out the box, or just having all the text appear at once, but I can live with that. Mostly.
There are two large exceptions to that “it controls fine” statement.
The first is battle. You’ve got three choices of how you want battles to play out – two of which are identical but mirrored – and I don’t particularly like any of them.
The default option is to have your character menus slooooowly rise up from the bottom of the screen, as a kind of visual representation of their ATB gauge filling (for non-Final Fantasy nerds, you can only act in combat when that gauge is full). When it reaches its peak, you can select from your various attack/magic/item commands.
On the plus side, this lets you quickly move between the options of different characters. On the downside, there’s no real indicator of where the bar’s maximum actually is, and once again, giant buttons mean lots and lots of scrolling to get to where you want to go. The game literally manages to fit two options on screen at any one time. When you’ve got Attack, Magic, Item, Defend, a character-specific option, and quite possibly the options to change equipment or swap rows… well, that’s a lot of scrolling. The Cursor Memory helps a bit with this, but come on.
The other option is to go a bit more “classic SNES” and have one character’s commands filling the screen at any given time. This is the “two options that are mirrored” thing; you can have the commands run left-to-right, or vice-versa. The problem here is that “filling the screen” is, once again, something you can very nearly take literally. You also need to use an extra command to swap between active characters; I didn’t check to see whether you can use L and R to switch around, but I’d damn well hope so. Nonetheless, this is screen real-estate being taken up by buttons that have absolutely no need to be as big as they are.
On the plus side, this actually shows you how far each character is from their ATB maximum, rather than having you guess based on how high their portrait has risen up the screen to the unmarked limit.
There’s also a “fast forward” option, which speeds up battle and has every character repeat their previous action. Again: iOS port, so this looks like a fast-forward button in the top left, but it’s actually triggered with a keypress. Still, a nice feature, particularly when grinding through enemies you can easily kill.
Combat is workable, then, but still significantly crappier than it was in the original versions, and this is almost certainly down to this being an iOS port. Neither interface really works particularly well, for different reasons. I’m not quite sure what was wrong with the SNES just listing the options as plain text and having you select them by moving the cursor around (and you’ll have to move the cursor around here, obviously, because I’m not playing on a mobile phone or tablet). And God only knows what some of the weirder combat commands, like Sabin’s fighting game style Blitz inputs, are going to be like.
Also, targets are selected from a list rather than using the indicator on the field to select them. That might not annoy anyone other than me, but… well, it annoys me.
The second control issue, hilariously, is when naming characters, and this is such an utterly bizarre and insane problem that I can’t help but laugh whenever I think about it.
Remember how I rebound my keys? Right. Well, the default keys are something bizarre like Enter, Left Shift, Right Shift, Backspace, X, and Escape (which, no, doesn’t instantly quit the game). However…
Well, Enter is the “confirm” option. It’s basically the B or A button on a controller, depending on how you like your Cancel/Confirm set up; for older Final Fantasy games, I tend to have it as the B button, so on my keyboard it’s bound to F. Might sound odd, but it’s what I’m used to.
When naming a character, you actually type their name in. Excellent. That’s an example of “proper” keyboard support, rather than forcing me to move a cursor through a big field of letters.
However, when you’re over the “Confirm Name” button, it still considers any of your letter keypresses to be you adding something to the name. Which means that, if your “Confirm” button is set to F, then…
I have so far encountered or heard about Terraf, Locke-, Edgarf, and Sabinf. In case you’re wondering about “Locke-“, that’s because Keypad Minus is my “Take Screenshot” key, and I guess the game has the original’s limit of six characters per name. And before you ask, yes, I tried basically every other key on my keyboard to confirm the names. I tried Enter, Backspace, Shift, CTRL, Space, Alt, Tab… but nope. It had to be F. Which means I’m adventuring with Terraf and Edgarf.
Staggering. Absolutely fucking staggering.
I suppose this means I have to either put Enter back to my “Confirm” button, or at least quit out and change it back to that when I’m about to hit a scene where I name a new character. I don’t actually want to do either of those things, though. I’d much rather Square Enix just patched the game so that I don’t eventually end up with Gauf, Cyanf, Umarof, Mogf, and Shadow. Although, er, I suppose Shadow is pretty safe, if I’m right about the six-character limit. And God help Gogof, which sounds like some sort of alien swear word.
My one remaining complaint is something that I’m pretty much resigned to, and that’s that the script has been changed from the SNES original. “Son of a submariner” is now “Son of a sandworm”, etc. Woolsey’s original version has a special place in my heart (as does most of the game, honestly) but eh, the revised script has been used ever since the GBA version, so complaining about this feels a bit pointless.
The advantage of this, of course, is that this version should have all the extra stuff from the GBA and mobile versions, with the Dragons’ Den (no, not that one) and Soul Shrine bonus dungeons. I say “should” because I obviously haven’t played through to the end-game, but I’d be very, very surprised if they’re not there. We definitely have the story-recapping Album, the soundtrack in the options, and so on and so forth, so I’d be willing to put money on their presence within this port.
As for the game itself… well, it’s Final Fantasy VI. It’s a shining, golden example of a JRPG. It has a unique setting with both medieval castles and magic and advanced technology; it takes its inspirations from a lot of different places (there’s a lot of opera and other Italian references); it’s got some of the best music of the entire series with fitting character leitmotifs and, indeed, a full opera segment in glorious pseudo-MIDI format; it has a simple combat system that allows for a lot of customisation and stat abuse; it has a huge amount of sidequests and multiple bonus characters.
It’s a game that rewards exploration and experimentation, and it does some things with its plot that simply hadn’t really been done before (and, thinking about it, haven’t been done since). I mean, hell, pretty much the entire second half of the game is made up of side-quests to assemble your party before the final dungeon, which you can access a whole lot earlier than you really need to.
I unapologetically love Final Fantasy VI. Granted, some of that is probably nostalgia letting me overlook a number of flaws and bugs, so I’m maybe not the right person to talk to if you’re after a proper objective look at the game itself, but most would agree that it’s a really well-made JRPG. I do not, however, love this port. It’s not awful, but the conflicting and poorly redrawn graphics, the bizarre combat controls, and that hilarious naming bug mean that – once again – this isn’t the best way to play Final Fantasy VI on your PC. And when you’re beaten out by simple emulation, you’ve got problems.