At long last, the original 8-bit and 16-bit Final Fantasy titles are all on our beloved Android platform. It’s been a long time in the making, with ports of wildly varying styles and qualities, and Square has saved perhaps its most hotly anticipated for last. All these years later, Final Fantasy VI (originally released to American audiences as Final Fantasy III) still maintains a slavish following who laud it as the best in the series.
There are plenty of reasons to challenge that assertion, but it was certainly the sharpest change the series had seen to date, and the game that challenged the notion of what the name Final Fantasy even meant. The series had never been afraid to experiment with new gameplay systems, and narrative ideas, but they all preserved much of the same tone and visual style. Final Fantasy VI was a serious departure, and reinforced that Final Fantasy could be anything Square wanted it to be.
The most immediately apparent change is the visual style, which abandons the bright colors and tiny, square sprites of the old games, in favor of a darker, muted palette of browns and grays. It also incorporated a steampunk aesthetic, introducing technology to the series for the first time. Although its mechs and other high-tech objects were powered by magic (or Magitek), they marked a radical shift toward the sci-fi elements that would continue to creep up later in the series. Sprites grew larger, and the view zoomed in, allowing for more detail than the series had previously had.
Square Enix has remade these visuals using roughly the same approach as their Android treatments of Final Fantasy V or Dimensions. It’s still pixel art, but it’s been redrawn at a higher resolution in as close to the same style as possible. This doesn’t seem to work quite as well here as it has in previous releases. Final Fantasy VI used a very different graphical style than its predecessors, with a lot of subtle shading rather than sharp details, and some of it looks strange when stripped of the impressionistic qualities afforded by its low resolution. Sprites also seem to have a soft filtering to them that the backgrounds do not, which causes them to clash. Even the menus have been redone in a style that seems more cluttered and less intuitive than previous releases. While native widescreen support, redrawn battle backgrounds and enemy sprites, and a touch-based interface are all very welcome enhancements, it’s debatable as to whether or not the game looks better than the original overall.
Final Fantasy VI was more than just a new kind of world for players to inhabit, it also revised the series approach to structure and storytelling. Unlike Final Fantasy V, which featured a small cast of highly customizable characters, FF6 returns to a large, diverse cast, each with their own unique abilities. The Job System that allowed players to mix and match classes is gone, but remnants of it remain with equippable accessories that offer similar perks to Job Abilities.
This cast of characters is among the strongest in the series, and each has their own back-story to uncover. These characters include archetypes previously unexplored in the series, ranging from a ninja, to a feral boy, to a yeti. This affords players quite a bit of latitude to customize their team, and some of these characters are entirely optional. The trade-off, here, is that the game can feel more like a series of unconnected vignettes at the expense of the central narrative. Likewise, because the cast is so interchangeable, they’re largely characterized through flashbacks rather than their relationships with each other.
One can certainly debate whether or not FF6 was really an improvement on its predecessor, but it’s hard to dispute its impact. It transformed the trajectory of the series forever, arguably bringing it to the mainstream for the first time. The haunting soundtrack and memorable characters will stay with you even after decades have gone by. Square’s port does little to justify its premium pricing, but to those for whom FF6 remains a cherished memory, it simply won’t matter.
Despite dumbing down the gameplay, and trading in a strong central narrative for a large, colorful cast, FF6 is still as iconic as ever. Whether or not that nostalgia is worth $16 is for you to decide.