01. Final Fantasy VI
The fact that Final Fantasy VI arrives at the top of my list should not come as much of a surprise at this point. You could have gotten to that conclusion by process of elimination, or by how highly ranked all the SNES titles in the franchise are on my list. But the largest indicator, in my opinion, is that for anyone who started on this series before the PlayStation 1 era, this is almost always the top game on their list. You do not get to modern RPGs without this game’s influence on the genre. But even beyond its impact on game developers, it still stands up today as an amazing game. Not only is this my top Final Fantasy game, but this is quite possibly my favorite game of all time. Yes, I do still love Chrono Trigger (commonly called the greatest RPG ever by many people), but I’ve always loved Final Fantasy VI a bit more, even when they both were released in very close proximity to each other.
Right from the beginning with those opening credits, I was completely lost in this world. They just did not make games like this back then, and in many ways, they still don’t. There was such a complex story and with so much of it completely optional (especially when you reach the World of Ruin). But even more impressive than the world story itself were how amazing all the characters were. You’re looking at the first game that ever caused me to go onto the internet. This game came out in 1994, my senior year of high school, and was called Final Fantasy III in the US originally. But the characters and story inspired me so much that I was reading fan fiction about these characters and even wrote some of my own. Another fascinating aspect to this game is that it cost me $80 brand new in 1994 money. It was so worth it, though.
There are 14 permanent party members in this game. Let that rattle around in your brain a little bit. That’s not even counting temporary party members, of which there are several in service to the story. The cast for this game is massive, especially if you manage to return everyone back to your party after the World of Ruin events (including saving Shadow’s life) and gain the new hidden characters there. Even more impressive than the cast size is how different each character behaves and fights. They all share the potential to learn the same magic spells through the Esper system, but each character has special abilities in battle that are exclusive to them. It can be really fun even now to experiment with new party combinations, let alone some of the weirder party combos such as 4 Imps with full Imp (Kappa) gear, which is shockingly powerful.
Even with a cast that massive I never felt that any particular character got the short stick. They all had their own motivations and played off each other very well. This can be a really tricky thing to pull off, but this game is definitely my best example of walking that tightrope in all of gaming history. Even with the romance between Locke and Celes, none of the other characters faded into the background. And there were some very fascinating connections that you could stumble upon, like the connection between Relm and Shadow, not just with her Grandfather. And even though the two brothers Edgar and Sabin had a strong story of their own, the other characters helped them get through those times together. One thing you should know about this game, if you haven’t played it yet, is that if you intend on seeing every bit of story and content you should plan on a good 80-100 hours. That’s leaving off getting to level 99 with everyone and earning all the super items, such as the Paladin Shield and the ultimate Espers.
We can’t continue on without discussing the enemies in this game. All the enemies in this game are truly great, from the Emperor to the foolish Ultros. But standing head and shoulders above all others is the ultimate Final Fantasy villain, Kefka (no, it’s not Sephiroth). Not only is Kefka an amazing character from his development to personality and dialogue, but he actually completely gets his way in destroying the world and becoming a god. The whole second half of the game is figuring out what to do about it after the final boss actually wins. This was totally new for any game, let alone RPGs. This whole game was just so cinematic and well written, the story still is capable of being amazing even after several playthroughs and after this many years since it’s release.
I could go on talking for pages and pages about how awesome this game is and how much I love it. But I do want to mention two more wonderful aspects to the game which I haven’t yet. The first is the character development, which was very innovative. The world of Final Fantasy VI was mostly a technological world and magic use was all but unknown. However, there was a race of powerful beings called Espers which were hunted down until they were all but extinct. Through their magicite remains, you can not only summon them temporarily, but they will also teach you magic that is in tune with their type (for instance, Ramuh teaches you Thunder spells). Any character could equip any gear or any Esper, but there were good reasons to have a caster equipped with rods instead of swords, and so on. So they gave you tons of freedom while giving you benefits to certain choices. And the other thing I need to mention is the music. This is probably my favorite gaming soundtrack of all time (only Xenogears comes close). The score felt like a John Williams movie score, with individual character themes and epic classic arrangement. Even beyond the all time classic Opera Scene, this game brought the amazing production values from top to bottom.
I cannot recommend this game enough. It just bleeds pure quality. But I would strongly recommend you do not play the version on Steam or iOS. To get the most out of this game the best version is still the SNES version, followed by the awesome GameBoy Advance port (which would be on top if it wasn’t for the sad state of the music transfer), and the third best would be the PlayStation 1 release. What that means, overall, is that we really need a great port of this game available on modern systems. The iOS version of this game is just terrible, it sucks so much of the fun out of the game. And I definitely don’t want a 3D remaster (like they did with Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV). I just want a (legal) emulation of the original SNES game on my modern devices, that doesn’t seem like much to ask. Square-Enix, I want to pay you again for this game, even with how expensive it originally was. Allow me the opportunity to throw my money your way.