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I just finished Final Fantasy VI yesterday (or is it III? Either way the one with Terra and Kefka). While I can see why the SNES version is sitting comfortably with a 93% on GameRankings.com, I found some flaws with the game. Namely with the characters.

Don’t worry, Kefka the insane clown was one of my favorites, probably because of my nearly crippling fear of clowns. It’s some of the heroes I have problems with. Read on to find out why I think the characters are Final Fantasy VI‘s greatest strength and its biggest weakness.

Quick question: how many characters are there in the ensemble cast of your favorite TV show or sitcom? Is the answer around five or so? Friends had six main characters. How I Met Your Mother has five. Scrubs had four main characters and a couple more really strong supporting characters. You get my point. Each of these shows had a just the right number of characters to get the audience emotionally invested in them.

Final Fantasy VI has fourteen playable characters. That’s more than enough to create three parties of four — something the game requires you to do at times. While some of these characters are memorable and surprisingly deep, others are mere throwaways that bog down the game. Having fourteen characters to manage and care about weakens Final Fantasy VI.

In the beginning of the game you’re introduced to Terra, a mysterious green-haired woman with the ability to use magic. After playing as her for a tiny bit, the game then introduces Locke the thief — no wait treasure hunter, as he calls himself. More and more characters are added slowly, and because of the nature of the plot, they all get split up and you play three separate scenarios with only a handful of them at a time.

While it feels a little constricting to have the game force you to use characters you may not enjoy using, it also forces you to focus your attention on them. It’s during these sequences that we get to learn a little more about Terra’s and Locke’s histories. To me, Terra isn’t that interesting, but Locke has a secret that haunts him, and I enjoyed his storyline.

By the time you get toward the game’s big twist climax event, your ranks have swelled to ridiculous numbers. The problem is that each of these new characters has their own unique command used in battle and their own history. The characters from the beginning — Terra, Locke, Edgar, and even I’d contend Celes, have been with you for a long time. You’ve had time to get to know them.

The new ones…not so much. They feel way more one note. Relm? What do we know about her other than she’s Strago’s granddaughter and that she’s kind of annoying. Strago? He’s old and uses Lores as his special attack. That’s about it. And they’re human! There are other characters–some optional–that aren’t even human. Mog? What’s his deal? Umaro the yeti? I don’t even know what the hell Gogo is.

This is the problem with any game, movie, or TV show that tries to focus on way too many characters or adds more and more of them mid-season, so to speak. But specific to Final Fantasy VI and RPGs in general is the fact that you have to spend time training/using all these secondary, less interesting characters. During the final dungeon you have to field three teams of four. That means I had to level twelve different characters, learn their abilities, and equip them with Espers so they could learn magical spells. These mechanics hurt the game in two ways. Firstly, it tries to force me to care about lesser characters. Secondly, it artificially lengthens the game by forcing me to grind with all my characters.

It was disappointing that I ended up feeling this way, because all things considered Final Fantasy VI is a very good game. While the plot is a little standard–band of rebels trying to stop an evil empire–the standout characters really make the game shine. If only the rest of the extensive cast had connected that deeply with me as well.

  1. I have to agree. Truthfully though if you built up a core team of like 6-8 guys and made them stupid uber you could just spread them out amongst the 4 teams and be basically fine even if most of team 3 were low level untrained weaklings.

    That said Gogo, Umaro, and to a lesser extent Shadow, are all secret characters so you don’t have to roll around with the full cast.

  2. avatar Kaeroth

    I think your point of trying to compare it with your usual show like Friends is not realizing the dimension of the story.

    Could they have developed some characters more? Yes. But the point always was that there isn’t even ONE main character (the sillyness of most games with this is beyond comprehension), but an entire cast of people from many wakes of life that happen to also be fighting the big bad guy, and fight together.

    Instead of being forced with some dull hero-wannabe protagonist, I’m free to pick whichever I want to make my main party, and none plays a particularly irreplaceable part in the cast – You can finish the game without ever getting Terra again, for instance. It’s tough as hell (As the split your-cast parts of the game become insane with few characters), but that gives you an impression of “this character is not the only one who can do it” that ultimately enriches the experience; most storylines have “chosen one” and “prophecies” that mark the main character as the only one who can do the task at hand, but it takes some good writing and design decisions to make it not-so.

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