Keep in mind, Nero, that your city is literally on fire right now!
That defense has never worked for me
Would you believe it's still business as usual in some of these buildings?
Empire or bust! The Magitek Research Facility is particularly interesting because almost everything about this place is mechanized, from the conveyor belts, to the hooks, from the elevators, to the enemies. Even the music has that special “machinery” touch to it. It’s a really depressing place. Take a look at Shiva and Ifrit up there. They’ve been thrown away and left to die surrounded by the bones of those who came before them. It’s truly heartbreaking. By this point, Kefka’s callous nature is more than obvious, but it doesn’t make this scene any easier to stomach. Although many Espers die while you’re there, you do manage to at least render this torture chamber inoperable. We also get our first look at Setzer. His Slot ability makes him unique (and if you’re not above exploits, the most powerful character in the game by far). When you choose Slot, the wheels of a slot machine start spinning. With each press of the A button, one wheel stops. There are many results, from minor healing to the entire party, to summoning a random Esper. You could even wipe out all enemies (including bosses!), with a spin of 7-7-7, but beware the dreaded 7-7-bar, which kills everyone on both sides of the battle. The team heads back to Zozo to check on Terra.
The Impressario is worried about losing his job if the show doesn't go well, yet this is the entire audience
The gang’s all here! And just in the nick of time because Kefka returns for another crack at the elusive Esper. Like before, when Locke and the Moogles had to defend Terra, this is another strategic battle, but this one is much more difficult. You lack the characters to field 3 full teams and the enemies are much stronger and more numerous. I honestly wish there were more of these types of battles as they’re great fun! When Kefka is repulsed, Terra approaches the Esper and goes Berzerk (Evil Otto says “hi!”), loses all control, and flies (!) away. Some party members stay behind to defend Narshe in case Kefka returns, the others sojourn to Zozo to find Terra. Zozo is great fun! It’s a town full of thieves and liars. One of my favorite gaming puzzles of all time is here. There’s a clock that you need to set. Because of the fundamental dishonesty of Zozo, you basically have to use the information they provide to eliminate various times until only one time remains. I’m astonished by how many people get stumped by this one. Kids these days… At the top of one of Zozo’s tower-like buildings, the party eventually finds Terra and… an Esper! Ramuh, a series staple, explains the process of Espers, Magic, and magicite. The Empire has other captive Espers and “I’m afraid it’s medical experiments for the lot of you.” Ramuh managed to escape, but 3 of his compatriots died on the way out. He hands their remains, magicite, over to your party. Your group decides to put an end to the Empire’s horrible treatment of Espers, but not in an annoying, preaching Social Justice Warrior way. The only problem is how to get there.
Siren is a perfect example of how this game is censored. She wasn't wearing those hot pants originally.
Actually, it's 6:52 right now, so you know this guy is lying. In fact, the clock on your computer/tablet/phone is likely lying to you right now as well!
Kamehameha! Or would you prefer Shinku-Hadoken?
Sabin’s scenario is incredibly long and runs the Gauntlet from some of the sillier parts of the game to one of the most somber. He almost immediately encounters Shadow. Shadow is a ninja who can throw things! I oversimplify, but this is a useful, albeit costly, ability. Shadow is a rich character. For the first half of the game, there is a 1 in 16 chance after each battle that Shadow will leave the party. His flakiness can make him a bit difficult to use, but he is valuable. The two make their way to an imperial base camp. The Empire is readying to attack the fortified Doma Castle. It is here that we meet the last of the generals. General Leo is an honorable, popular hero to his people. In combat, he is more than willing and able to fight, kill, and die in order to further the cause of the land he loves, but he shows a compassionate side and seeks to avoid needless bloodshed, both of his own soldiers and of his enemies. While hiding in the camp, Sabin and Shadow overhear him talking with some low level grunt who volunteers that he’d gladly give his life for the Empire, but Leo talks him out of taking such unnecessary risks. Later, Leo learns that Kefka plans to simply poison the water supply of Doma and kill them all, including some imperial soldiers that Doma is holding captive. Leo quickly rebukes him for his harsh ways. This contrast is extremely important! Leo clearly believes in some level of civility and rules of engagement, while Kefka does not. Leo values the lives of even his enemies, while Kefka isn’t concerned with his own side’s casualties. There is a reason that Leo is a popular character, both in the game world and in ours. Keep in mind that this is a very high level concept for a video game of the mid 90s!
This is a unique segment, especially for the time. As the party has been split into 3 separate groups, you get to choose any order you want in which to play them. It adds a fun little bit of direction and a slightly cinematic presentation to an already stellar game. Terra’s scenario isn’t particularly exciting. Disembark the raft, trek to Narshe, and enter through the caves you escaped from earlier. This can be a tiny sticking point for less observant players. The only way into town is by pressing a secret switch to the left of the entrance. Locke all but spells this out when he escapes with Terra, but I’ve heard people complain about how hard the switch is to find. I’d just chalk it up to our ever diminishing attention sp…
Remember this Moogle. He'll be important later
Terra's future's so bright, she has to wear shades
The Returners oppose the Empire. This is another thought-provoking aspect of the game. At one point, Edgar even remarks that if they force Terra to help them, they’re no better than the Empire. Make no mistake. This game isn’t some feeble, relativistic love-in, but it does make you think. The player, as Terra, must make a choice. Interestingly, choosing to NOT help the Returners actually provides the player with a superior award. You do end up opposing the Empire, but even then, Edgar reminds us that the Empire is evil, but not all of its citizens are. These are some incredibly deep concepts for 1994 and they remained despite some fairly heavy-handed censorship in this game. The Returners decide to seek an alliance with Narshe, while sending Locke to infiltrate the now occupied South Figaro. The rest of the party travels by raft, but Sabin gets separated.
taxes... Justin Bieber...
Locke escapes and Terra comes to. They know they can’t stay in Narshe, so they make for everyone’s favorite opera inspired Figaro Castle. Shockingly, the th--, er… treasure hunter, knows the king, Edgar. Edgar has access to Tools, which are incredibly powerful. Once you have a Tool, you have it. It is not a consumable item, nor is it a weapon. The Autocrossbow, Drill, and Chain Saw are particularly strong. This moment always makes me aware of the technological juxtaposition that Final Fantasy VI thrives on. This is a world with relatively complex mining machinery in Narshe and a semi-mobile, submersible (in sand, no less!) castle with many moving parts and even an engine! Giant, anime-esque robot mech suits are the norm in this world, fully equipped with laser beams and even missile launchers, yet most combat is still done with swords, knives, flails, and other simple tools. I’d say, “Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight,” but in this world, firearms technology has seemingly been skipped over entirely. It’s strange and often seems quite contradictory, but it’s incredibly endearing all at the same time. Anyway, despite Figaro’s alliance with the Empire, one of the imperial generals attempts to torch the place anyway. This is Kefka and he’s a serious candidate for the best clown in all of gaming, if not the best villain in all of gaming. Again, notice the juxtaposing of Kefka, who is simultaneously a general and a clown. No worries for Figaro, though, as it simply sinks safely into the sand, stranding Kefka and his crew.
Chung chung... Chung chung.. Magitek Armor!!!!
But you forgot the potato salad!
Kefka's laugh is so memorable, it even shows up in Chrono Trigger
Enter Locke, a th--, er… treasure hunter, who volunteers to help this strange girl. While he insists on being called a treasure hunter, his ability is Steal. He is quickly outnumbered and it looks hopeless until some unlikely saviors step in. Strange, white, fuzzy creatures called Moogles (unofficial mascots for the series) help even the odds. This moment perfectly illustrates the care that went in to crafting so many different types of gameplay. By now, a player will have experienced walking around in a town and a dungeon, multiple menu-based battles, and, almost certainly, some time in the menus. Each of these three types of interactivity are commonplace in RPGs, but now we get to set this game apart. While it’s certainly not the focus of the game, this battle has elements of strategy to it. You control 3 different parties of 4 characters each and must prevent the enemies from reaching the wounded Terra, who is just north of the above screenshot.
If you learn nothing else playing this game, at least learn that clocks are the perfect place to stash your elixirs.
For all you youngsters out there, you would know this game as a JRPG, but for those of us not-so-cool-kids who grew up in the 90s, these were just called RPGs. This game is everything an RPG should be. The plot is great, the characters are excellent, the settings are fleshed out and varied, characters are unique and customizable at the same time, and the music is truly stellar! I can’t say enough good things about this game. I know many people are excited about the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake, but Final Fantasy VI is a far superior game in every way. Yes, I said it. No, it’s not popular. No, I won’t take it back. Yes, I’m right. Final Fantasy VII’s characters are almost entirely interchangeable in combat because of materia. The only differentiation is who can do which limit break. Final Fantasy VI has nearly the level of customization as VII, while retaining the uniqueness of each of its characters. For that matter, Final Fantasy VI even pioneered the Limit Break, which, again, is the only thing that functionally makes any characters in VII different.
The eponymous Final Fantasy was released for the Famicom in Japan on December 18, 1987. It arrived on our shores in NES form during May of 1990. In the meantime, Final Fantasy II had come out in Japan on December 17, 1988, as well as Final Fantasy III on April 27, 1990. Given the long gap between the releases of the first game and the development of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Final Fantasy II and III were not planned to have North American releases, but, fortunately, the next entry was to be localized. Final Fantasy IV, one of the most popular entries to date, was available for purchase in Japan on October 29, 1991, and the USA version, hot on the heels of its Japanese cousin, arrived a month later. Now we have a difficult question on our hands. In Japan, this is the fourth game, but without II or III in America, we would say it’s the second. Keep in mind that the Internet wasn’t exactly widespread in 1991, so, counting on the public’s ignorance, the game was called Final Fantasy II on our side of the pond. Similarly, Final Fantasy V never saw the light of day over here, so when Final Fantasy VI was being translated, it received a similar treatment and became Final Fantasy III. When Final Fantasy VII arrived years (and a console generation) later, Square finally made the decision to standardize the names, so that game is known as Final Fantasy VII regardless of your time zone, and all Final Fantasy numbered titles have been aligned ever since.
Hmm… What’s going on here? To the uninitiated, yes, these boxes are for the same game. The top is the United States box art, while the bottom is for the Japanese. Pay close attention to the Roman numerals. Our game says it’s III, but the Japanese asserts it’s VI. Forgive me if I’m walking on territory you’ve already trod, but just in case you haven’t, here’s a brief history of the Final Fantasy series that will, hopefully, alleviate some confusion.
If all else fails use fire
“Peace for our time!” The Empire threw us a nice dinner, so it’s all good now. I guess the Returners never heard the phrase, “Trust, but verify.” Oh well. Under the guidance of General Leo, our heroes are off to Thamasa to try to talk peace with the rampaging Espers. The hilariously xenophobic Thamasa seems to be harboring some sort of secret. We meet the elderly Strago, who serves as this game’s blue mage. His command, Lore, allows him to perform otherwise unique-to-enemy magic spells. He pairs magnificently with Gau (like a Riesling and Taco Bell!), since Strago only has to witness the spell being cast. Even if Gau uses it on an enemy, Strago can permanently learn it! We also meet his adopted granddaughter, Relm. She’s an artist (don’t worry. She’s not one of those “performance art” types). Her ability to Sketch is somewhat similar to Gau’s Rage, but it doesn’t allow the full battle script (only 2 possible outcomes) and it only lasts for one turn. After saving Relm from a burning building (Geez. Is Yoshinori Kitase a pyromaniac?), the town opens up to our characters.
Do you seriously not think there's enough smoke here already, Clyde?
You can practically hear the banjos already
I thought you said your dog did not bite!
That is not my dog.
I was wondering the same thing myself
Been taking lessons from Edgar, have we?
How do you solve a problem like Maria?
So the West is Slytherin House?
The Jets and The Sharks
Continuing on, the party arrives at the Phantom Forest. This scene is a great reminder of the graphics this game tantalizes you with. I still appreciate the reflection in the water as you enter this place. Are there games with better graphics out there? Obviously. Does the SNES library have better looking games? Of course. Nevertheless, this game has graphics that place it in the pantheon of SNES greats and they’ve aged surprisingly well (and much better than FFVII). In this forest, the party eventually boards a train, but not just any train. This is the Ghost Train and it has to carry the dearly departed from this mortal coil to the next realm. Oops… Needless to say, our heroes scramble to get off the train as quickly as possible! This part is a lot of fun, especially since you can recruit some of the ghosts milling about on the train! They’re pretty weak, but still welcome additions. When they finally manage to disembark, we have one of the most heart-wrenching parts of the game. The train pulls in to the station and takes upon many recently deceased people. Poor Cyan is despondent as he sees his wife and son board the train… Few SNES games grapple with death in any meaningful way, but this game goes there. I won’t say it’s exactly bare knuckle about it, but it doesn’t exactly candy coat it either. It’s incredibly sad and if you really let this part sink in, it will affect you.
By now, this game is off the rails! Sorry...
Unfortunately, Leo is called away, leaving Kefka in charge. When the cat (Lion) is away… Kefka proceeds with his plan of biological warfare. Nearly everyone in Doma is killed. One of the few survivors is Cyan, a renowned Knight (Samurai originally) who has served Doma since the previous king. Cyan uses Sword Tech. This skill isn’t without its uses, but Cyan is an often maligned character by fans of this game. When you opt to use it, a separate time bar opens and when it reaches your desired technique, press A to execute it. It’s not a bad idea, but it prevents all characters in your party from choosing commands and the battles to take place in real time, so this can lead to lots of extra damage if you’re not careful. Still, I think Cyan is better than he is thought to be by much of this game’s fandom. At the very least, he is one of the best physical attackers in the game and the first level Sword Tech, Dispatch, is excellent. For a negligible moment of extra time (just pick Sword Tech and immediately press A), Cyan will perform a much more powerful physical attack, with the minor downside of not being able to choose the target. Poor Cyan has it rough. He has to witness the destruction of his beloved kingdom as well as the death of his wife and son. And, unfortunately, it gets worse for him…
Kefka obviously did not attend Lilith Fair
Locke’s scenario is quite fun! South Figaro is under martial law. Imperial soldiers are everywhere and make it difficult to get around town. In a truly unique move, Locke is able to steal the clothing of certain merchants and soldiers in order to disguise himself and move around town with ease. Along the way, he encounters another imperial general. There are only 3 of them (that are named anyway). We’ve already met Kefka and now the game introduces us to Celes. Strangely, she’s locked in the basement of a wealthy man’s house (I’m sure there’s a joke in here somewhere). Apparently, she is a treasonous traitor! Oh noes! In reality, her crime amounts to little more than not monolithically agreeing with everything the Empire says, although it is an Empire. Have you ever known an Empire to be good? “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.” Locke jailbreaks Celes and agrees to help her. Despite his occupation of th--, er, treasure hunter, he seems like a white knight to me. Celes, like Terra, can learn Magic. She also has the ability to use Runic Blade. She must be holding a bladed weapon to do this, but when she does, she will negate the effects of the next spell cast (even your own!) and instead absorb MP equal to the cost of the spell. You’ll likely end up using this ability before the two make it back to Narshe.
Ok, Citizen Kane fans. Go ahead and pick Rose bud. I dare you.
Immediately upon escaping that imperial attack, players enjoy a new type of gameplay – vehicle travel. In this case, the party escapes on Chocobos, another of the most famous elements all-but-required for a game to have Final Fantasy in the title. These large, yellow birds enable you to travel without fear of being attacked. After a brief pit stop in South Figaro, the party decides to track down Edgar’s martial artist brother, who is training on nearby Mount Koltz. Sabin’s martial arts abilities are not only key to his character development, but to his gameplay. When you input the Blitz command, you must then enter a Street Fighter style special move for Sabin to do. Like his brother’s Tools, you can Blitz forever, but if you input the move incorrectly, Sabin will waste a turn. Sabin’s master, Duncan, has been slain by his son, Vargas. Upon avenging his master (not with Aurabolt or Suplex for some reason…), Sabin joins and the group heads toward the Returners hideout. It’s so well hidden that it’s on the map that comes with the game!
Obi-Wan has taught you well!
and epic skirt chaser
This is Terra. She learns Magic naturally and also has the ability to Morph, where she shows her… oops! Not yet… She has no knowledge of her (incredibly intriguing) past. She does know, though, that she has to get the Hell out of Dodge! Were her former companions allies? Were they good people? What of these new pursuers? Before she has time to come to grips with her situation, she flees into the mines, where a weak piece of earth collapses and knocks her unconscious.
The ominous opening reminds us of the war-torn history of the world and the lingering effects it has today. We also see three heavily armed characters, one of whom lacks her own decision making power, approaching a mining town. Methinks these things are related! They ransack the town, looking for an Esper… whatever that is… Hmm… Do you get the feeling that maybe you’re on the wrong side here? Narshe, the city you’re decimating, puts up meager at best defenses (though props to them for trying) and you quickly reach the Esper. It dispatches the men and disarms the woman.
Chung chung... Chung chung.. Magitek Armor!!!!
I find myself asking this same question of my own leaders in real life...
That’s not an attack on VII, it’s a good game, just not as good as VI. But enough of that. The variety mentioned above is one of the major strengths FFVI has and it abounds. Join me, friends, and you will see the wide range this game offers in story, characters, gameplay, and so much more!
This week we have another Patreon request. If you have a topic you would like to see Zero Sum Gaming, or any other show brought to you by The Culture Cache, cover, drop by Patreon and let us know. Like Seiken Densetsu 3, this request comes from Xakor. Final Fantasy III is a true masterpiece. This game isn’t just one of my favorite SNES titles, but one of my all time favorite video games. Something tells me that Xakor and I may be kindred spirits! Thanks, Xakor! I hope to do this game justice for you! A quick note before we get started: I will be using the SNES Final Fantasy III to make this article (and the video to follow), so some names and other minor details will reflect that.
Our champions eventually find the roving Espers and convince them that the Empire is sincere in securing peace. Everyone meets back at Thamasa and all is well. I love the work that went into setting up this false ending! Look at how overjoyed everyone is, to the point of hamming and waving to the camera! Sadly, this never had its full effect, since the map supplied with the game clearly shows that there is more. What? You mean the horrible, evil, murderous, destructive, malicious, ferocious Empire that we’ve been opposing the entire time DIDN’T really want peace? Of course not… Kefka double crosses General Leo and murders many Espers in his lust for power. Let’s revisit Leo for a bit. The game really makes it a point to show what a decent man he really is, despite working for your enemy. Even Cyan, who clearly has more reason to bear resentment than anyone, is upset by Leo’s death, lamenting that he was their finest soldier. His moral dissonance is the jumping off point to extremely intelligent discussions that very few games (then or now) are capable of pulling off.
That's JB, even by Japanese standards!
South of Zozo lies Jidoor, the wealthiest town around. Even further south is the Opera House. Jidoor loves the Opera House and it’s often the talk of the town. When a mysterious gambler leaves behind a letter detailing that he plans to use his Airship (!) to kidnap the female lead of the opera, it makes waves, but also presents an opportunity. Celes looks so much like Maria, the singer, that everyone arranges for her to be kidnapped instead. Nevermind the absurdity of one of the flashiest people on earth telegraphing his kidnapping and entertaining the idea that it might somehow still work… Jokes aside, this scene is one of the most remarkable in the game. It’s well written and beautifully cinematic for its day. The simulated singing may not have words (or even anything that resembles words), but it is more than enough to show tone, pitch, and how long each note is held and it matches the text on screen beautifully. It honestly makes me sad when kids today fail to get the full effect this scene was designed to deliver because they can’t see beyond the technological limitations of the day. Even better, this opera is interactive! You must read the script and choose the right lines or get booed off the stage! I wish you could see what the rest of the show is! I honestly want to know the conclusion! This is the perfect opportunity to mention this game’s soundtrack. It is simply beautiful. There isn’t a single weak track no matter where you look. Tracks perfectly set the mood and tone to whatever is going on at any given point of the game and Uematsu really immortalized himself with this one. Interestingly, this is one of the first video game soundtracks I purchased and it’s one of the first I ever noticed being commercially available in the United States. There’s a reason for that. One semi-thwarted kidnapping later, the party has access to an Airship, The Blackjack.
Perhaps the party is a bit suicidal after that depressing scene. The plan (yes, they PLAN this) is to dive from the top of Baron Falls (I see what you did there!) to make their way to the Veldt. Their splattered remains are found by Gau, oh, wait. They survive that? Gau is the Mowgli of Final Fantasy. He lacks even the fight command, rather he has the ability to Rage. I think I have this ability as well! “I’m a rage-a-holic. I’m addicted to rage-a-hol.” (RIP funny Simpsons episodes…). Rage allows Gau to mimic the fight script of a chosen enemy, but only after he learns it by his other unique option, Leap. Leap only appears while on the Veldt. Gau can Leap to observe the enemy and when he returns, he will have learned the Rage of all enemies on which he Leaped as well as those in the battle in which he returns. Once you choose a Rage, you are committed for that battle. Unless Gau dies, he will continue to use that enemy fight script until the battle ends. Gau, surprisingly, manages to help Sabin and Cyan make their way along the Serpent Trench (a fictionalized version of the Marianas Trench) and, eventually, to Narshe.
Sabin has obviously not been to a drag show
Were you injured because you idiotically jumped from Angel Falls because a video game made that look safe? Call the law offices of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe today!
This man is clearly referring to Jim Carrey.
There. Now you got it.
But that guy over there just said...
Contrary to popular belief, the garrote is not the wire, rather, it's whatever you use to apply force to it
I love how Ultros knows it will take EXACTLY 5 minutes to drop this weight
his full name is Jeffrey T. Spaulding
No one will be seated during the giant octopus scene
The ghost is more trustworthy than this man
Geez, Kefka, lay off the haterade!
Terra is finally returning to her normal self, or is she? Really, it depends on what you mean by “normal.” Terra is half Esper. From this point forward, she can now access her Morph command to temporarily take on her Esper form, with tremendously higher stats. We get another addition to the party, Mog. He’s a Moogle and he can Dance. Dance is an interesting command. There are 8 in all, and each comes from a different background, such as a town or a forest. If Mog battles in an applicable area, he can learn the dance for it. In battle, he may choose any Dance he knows and, unless he stumbles, he will perform that dance for the duration of the battle. Each turn, he will randomly select one of the 4 different commands unique to the Dance you chose. Be careful about pairing him with Gau. Dance, like Rage, can’t be turned off once activated. Considering that you can only have 4 characters in your party at any given time, you don’t want to be in the position of 2 of them being beyond your control. Our protagonists decide to pay the Espers a visit in their homeland, but unfortunately, it doesn’t go well. The Espers decide to party like the Kennedys and head straight for Vector, the capital of the Empire. They make short work of it, to the point that Emperor Gestahl wants to make peace. While this is a far cry from moral ambiguity, it does raise some interesting points. The Empire is soulless and destructive, but are they now the biggest threat?
I bet that's an ACME brand 4 ton weight
Locke watches from Gorilla position
It also prevents all status ailments!
If you want peace, you must prepare for war
The world changes rapidly and drastically as an entire continent is lifted into the air. The Floating Continent is said to enshrine the 3 Statues of the Goddesses of Magic. They are perfectly balanced to prevent any one of the three from having too much power, but the slightest disturbance could plunge the world into chaos. It is on the Floating Continent that we see what truly separates Emperor Gestahl from General Kefka. Gestahl is Machiavellian and takes every opportunity to seize as much power as possible. This contrasts greatly with Kefka, who proves himself to be anarchic. Their disagreement ends with the inglorious death of the emperor. Kefka has the upper hand and the situation is grim for our heroes, but Shadow swoops in to save the day! He pins Kefka down with the statues themselves, allowing you the time needed to escape. This is important! When you return to the airship, you must wait for Shadow! If you don’t he will permanently die!
I want you to show me
Do you smell that? I think you may have stepped in some foreshadowing there...
Did they sneak a 1970s game show in here?
Buttercup's emptiness consumed her. Although the law of the land gave Humperdinck the right to choose his bride, she did not love him.
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You still have some foreshadowing on your shoes. I can smell it.
Wow. What a depressing game. Kefka is now deified, the world is destroyed… Or is it? Find out next week!