Final Fantasy VI was released in Japan for the Super Famicom in 1994. It was the sixth game in the Final Fantasy series but the third one released in North America when it came out on the Super NES, so it is widely known as Final Fantasy III in the States. It was later re-released in America under its correct title when it was released for the PlayStation, Game Boy Advance, PCs and mobile phones.
The game takes place in the World of Balance (later the World of Ruin due to certain story events), which is divided into three continents: the mountainous Northern Continent, the imperial Southern Continent, and the wild Eastern Continent.
1,000 years prior to the time when the game takes place, the “War of the Magi” took place, where three feuding entities known as the “Warring Triad” used innocent humans as soldiers by transforming them into enslaved magical beings called Espers in order to fight each other.
The Triad eventually realized their wrongdoings and freed the Espers, sealed their powers inside three statues, and separated the statues and themselves from the realm of humans as a precaution, resulting in the extinction of magic and the progression of science and technology.
Cut to the present day.
An evil empire has recaptured the Espers and is using them as a power source to craft “Magitek,” which combines magic with machinery and infuses humans with magical powers. However a rebel organization called the Returners opposes the Empire and seeks to free the world from their subjugation, and that is who you fight for.
Terra Branford, a half-human, half-Esper girl who was a slave to the Empire before she joined the rebellion.
Locke Cole, a treasure hunter who joins the rebellion and is particularly protective of women.
Celes Chere, a fomer general of the Empire who was jailed after questioning their practices.
Edgar Roni Figaro, womanizing king of Figaro who aids the Returners while working for the Empire as a double agent.
Sabin Rene Figaro, Edgar’s brother who uses martial arts.
Cyan Garamonde, knight of the kingdom of Doma whose family and friends were poisoned by the evil clown Kefka.
Setzer Gabbiani, gambler and thrill seeker who owns the only known airship in the world.
Shadow, a ninja mercenary who aids both the Empire and the Returners.
Relm Arrowny, a young and artistic girl with magical powers and a tough exterior.
Strago Magus, Relm’s grandfather and a blue mage.
Gau, a feral child who survived the wilds of the Eastern Continent when he was younger.
Mog, a Moogle from the Mines of Narshe.
Umaro, a savage sasquatch from Narshe who is talked into joining the Returners by Mog.
Gogo, a mysterious master of mimicry.
Kefka, a clownish experiment gone wrong who was the first Magitek knight prototype. He is demented, completely insane and doesn’t give a second thought to killing innocent people.
Ultros, a villainous and comical recurring character who faces you in battle several times throughout your quest.
And Emperor Gestahl.
Thanks to Hironobu Sakaguchi’s promotion to vice president in 1991 and his involvement with other projects at this time, he was not as involved in the creative process of Final Fantasy VI as he was with previous games so instead of directing he was a producer.
As with Final Fantasy V, Sakaguchi collaborated with Yoshinori Kitase on the writing with Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito both serving as directors, Kitase handling the scenario and Ito handling the battle sequences.
The artwork in the game is credited to mainstay Yoshitaka Amano in addition to Hideo Manaba (returning from FFV), Tetsuya Nomura, Kazuko Shibuya and Tetsuya Takahashi, the man who would eventually found the game development studio Monolith Soft and go on to direct the Xenogears, Xenosaga and Xenoblade Chronicles series.
FFVI introduced the concept of the desperation attack. When a character was in critical status during a battle (their hit point count gets low), the chances of pulling off a desperation attack when you fight an enemy go higher. This time, the more danger you were in, the more likely you were to pull off a powerful attack at random. This was a mechanic that would be refined with later entries in the FF series.
The setting was more steampunk than medieval, similar to the 19th century and seemingly influenced by the second industrial revolution with themes of opera and art abundant throughout the game. This was the first time the series would go in this direction. Given the ephemeral nature of the Final Fantasy universe, it was not surprising when some games would be more fantasy while others were more sci-fi.
Final Fantasy VI received widespread acclaim and once again Final Fantasy was said to be leading the way in RPGs with a game that many considered the pinnacle of the genre and one of the best games of 1994, and it is often included in lists of the best video games of all time. The popularity is understandable because this was the best Final Fantasy game at the time. Not only did this have more characters and more customization than ever before, but the writing was as good as any anime and the story dealt with themes rarely depicted so honestly in video games, such as love, guilt, suicide and cruelty. The relationships between the characters are well-realized and the story is emotional. Other games would surpass it in the future but at the time it was special to see games that were treated as more than just games but also as art.
This game would be the last mainline Final Fantasy game for the Super NES and for any Nintendo system. For the ambition that the developers at Square had, the Nintendo 64 would not cut it. The second phase of Final Fantasy was beginning. They conquered the 16-bit era. Now it was time for them to conquer 3D.