The game's story focuses on a group of rebels as they seek to overthrow an imperial dictatorship. Final Fantasy VI was the first game in the series to be directed by someone other than producer and series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi; the role was filled instead by Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Itō. Released to critical acclaim, the game is regarded as a landmark of the series and of the role-playing genre.
Final Fantasy VI has more battle customization options than its predecessors and has the largest playable cast in the Final Fantasy series to date, excluding spin-off titles. It remains widely praised for its storyline and characters.
Like previous Final Fantasy installments, Final Fantasy VI consists of four basic modes of gameplay: an overworld map, town and dungeon field maps, a battle screen, and a menu screen. The overworld map is a scaled-down version of the game's fictional world, which the player uses to direct characters to various locations. As with most games in the series, the three primary means of travel across the overworld are by foot, chocobo, and airship. With a few plot-driven exceptions, enemies are randomly encountered on field maps and on the overworld when traveling by foot.
The game's plot develops as the player progresses through towns and dungeons. Town citizens will offer helpful information and some residents own item or equipment shops. Later in the game, visiting certain towns will activate side-quests. Dungeons appear as a variety of areas, including caves, sewers, forests, and buildings. These dungeons often have treasure chests containing rare items that are not available in most stores. Some dungeons feature puzzles and mazes, which require the player to divide the characters into multiple parties.
The menu screen is where the player makes such decisions as which characters will be in the traveling party, which equipment they wield, the magic they learn, and the configuration of the gameplay. It is also used to track experience points and levels.
In contrast to previous versions of the Active Time Battle system, the player is able to pick from any character that has a filled action bar and has not yet received any commands, rather than being forced to issue commands to whichever character had his or her action bar filled first. Another new element is a powerful attack substitution that occasionally appears when a character's health is low. Similar features appear in later Final Fantasy titles under a variety of different names, including Limit Breaks, Trances, and Overdrives.
Although only two characters start the game with the ability to use magic, almost every character can learn to do so. Characters may equip magicite, which enables the summoning of espers, this game's incarnation of summoned monsters (including several recurring summons such as Ifrit, Shiva, Bahamut and Odin, along with many new summons exclusive to Final Fantasy VI), as well as that of specific magic spells. If a character has a piece of magicite equipped, he or she will gain "Magic Acquisition Points" after most battles. As a character gains magic AP, he or she gradually learns spells from the magicite equipped and will gain additional statistic bonuses when leveling up, depending on the magicite.
Final Fantasy VI takes place on a large, unnamed world. During the course of the game, its geography and landscape change due to various developments in the game's plot. During the first half of the game, the world is divided into two major continents and referred to as the World of Balance. The northern continent is punctuated by a series of mountain ranges and contains many of the locations accessible to the player. Halfway through the game, the world's geographical layout is altered, resulting in its two large continents splitting into several islands of various size situated around a larger continent at their center. This altered layout of the game's locations is referred to as the World of Ruin.
In contrast to the medieval settings featured in previous Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy VI is set in a steampunk environment. The structure of society parallels that of the latter half of the 19th century, with opera and the fine arts serving as recurring motifs throughout the game, and a level of technology comparable to that of the Second Industrial Revolution. Railroads are in place and a coal mining operation is run in the northern town of Narshe. Additionally, several examples of modern engineering and weaponry (such as a chainsaw, power drill, and automatic crossbow) have been developed in the kingdom of Figaro. However, communication systems have not reached significant levels of development, with letters sent by way of carrier pigeon serving as the most common means of long-distance communication.
The in-game historical context of the story is mysterious to the player at the beginning of the game, but over the course of the first half of the game (particularly towards the end of this segment), the characters come to understand the situation as follows. One thousand years before the events of the game, three gods who served as the source of all magic in the world were at war with one another. This quarrel released magical energy into the world, transforming any human touched by it into an esper, each under the control of the gods. The gods, known as the Warring Triad, then used the espers as soldiers in their war against one another in a conflict known as the War of the Magi. Eventually, the gods realized their war had disgraced them, and in order to repent, they returned free will to the espers and turned themselves to stone. Their only request was that the espers ensure their power remain sealed so that it could not be misused again. When the war ended, the remaining humans and espers were burdened with differences in lifestyle, appearance, and beliefs. As a result, the espers departed to a hidden land, taking the statues of the gods with them and sealing the entrance to their world.
Gradually, the human race built a society based on technology while the War of the Magi passed into legend. In the present day, the most powerful technology is in the hands of the Empire, a cruel and expanding dictatorship led by Emperor Gestahl and his top generals, Kefka, Leo and Celes Chere. Approximately eighteen years before the events of the game begin, the barrier between the esper's land and the rest of the world weakens and a human woman passes through. Though most of the espers are distrusting of her and believe that humans cannot co-exist with espers, one named Maduin believes that they should at least try before passing judgment. The woman stays in the espers' world, and soon she and Maduin have a child named Terra. At this time, driven by greed to wield the legendary power of the espers, Gestahl takes advantage of the weakened barrier and launches a strike on the espers' land in an attempt to capture as many espers as possible. Despite the esper elder casting a spell to send Gestahl's forces back through the gateway and to seal the gate once again, many espers are captured, and Maduin, his wife, and infant Terra are also caught in the spell. Maduin and his child are captured, while his wife dies.
Using the espers as a power source, Gestahl initiated a research program to combine magic with machinery and infuse humans with magical powers, the result being a technology known as Magitek. The Empire allocated this concept of Magitek into large mechanical vehicles known as Magitek Armor, allowing a soldier to use the power of magic. Additionally, Kefka was infused with magic, becoming one of the prototypes in a line of soldiers called Magitek Knights that would later include Celes Chere. The process was still experimental in the prototype phase and as a result, Kefka's sanity was impaired. Another Magitek invention was a mind control device called the Slave Crown. As Terra grew older, the Empire would use this device to control her actions and use her as a weapon. Though the potency of Magitek is less than that of natural magic, as of the beginning of the game, the Empire is on the verge of rediscovering the full potential of magic by reopening the gateway to the world of the espers. However, the Empire's rule is opposed by the Returners, a group of rebels seeking to overthrow the Empire and free its territories.
Final Fantasy VI features fourteen permanent playable characters, the most of any game in the main series, as well as several secondary characters who are only briefly controlled by the player. The main character Terra Branford is a reserved half-human, half-esper girl who spent most of her life as a slave to the Empire and is unfamiliar with love. Other primary characters include Locke Cole, a treasure hunter and rebel sympathizer with a powerful impulse to protect women; Celes Chere, a former general of the Empire, who joined the Returners after being jailed for questioning imperial practices; Edgar Roni Figaro, a consummate womanizer and the king of Figaro, who claims allegiance to the Empire while secretly supplying aid to the Returners; Sabin Rene Figaro, Edgar's brother, who fled the royal court in order to pursue his own path and hone his martial arts skills; Cyan Garamonde, a loyal knight to the kingdom of Doma who lost his family and friends as a result of Kefka poisoning the kingdom's water supply; Setzer Gabbiani, a habitual gambler and thrill seeker; Shadow, a ninja mercenary, who offers his services to both the Empire and the Returners at various stages throughout the game; Relm Arrowny, a young but tough artistic girl with magical powers; Strago Magus, Relm's elderly grandfather and a Blue Mage; Gau, a feral child surviving since infancy in the harsh wilderness known as the Veldt; Mog, a Moogle from the mines of Narshe; Umaro, a savage but loyal sasquatch also from Narshe, talked into joining the Returners through Mog's persuasion; and Gogo, a mysterious, fully shrouded master of the art of mimicry.
Most of the main characters in the game hold a significant grudge against the Empire and, in particular, Kefka, who serves as one of the game's main antagonists along with Emperor Gestahl. The supporting character Ultros serves as a recurring villain and comic relief throughout the game. A handful of Final Fantasy VI characters have reappeared in later games, such as Secret of Evermore and Kingdom Hearts II. Additionally, Final Fantasy SGI, a short technology demo produced for the Silicon Graphics Onyx workstation, featured polygon based 3D renderings of Locke, Terra, and Shadow.
Final Fantasy VI begins with Terra Branford participating in an Imperial raid on Narshe in search of a recently unearthed frozen esper (later identified as Tritoch; Valigarmanda in the GBA retranslation) found in the city's mines. However, during the raid, her controllers are killed and the Imperial control over her is broken, but she is unable to remember anything about her past. Locke Cole, a thief, promises to protect her until she can regain her memories and helps her escape to the hideout of the Returners, a group of militants opposing the Empire. Along the way, they pass through the Kingdom of Figaro and meet Edgar Roni Figaro, the king, and his estranged brother, Sabin Rene Figaro, who join them. Banon, the leader of the Returners, asks for Terra's help in their struggle against the Empire, and she agrees. Just as the resistance is preparing to return to Narshe to investigate the frozen esper, the Empire attacks South Figaro. Locke heads to the besieged town to slow the Empire's advance, while the rest of the group makes their way via rafting down the nearby Lethe River. However, they become separated after a battle with Ultros, self-proclaimed "octopus royalty" and a recurring antagonist, forcing the various members of the Returners to find their own ways to Narshe in three different scenarios controlled by the player.
Eventually, the original party reunites in Narshe. Locke brings with him Celes Chere, one of the Empire's own generals, whom he saved from execution for defying the Empire's ruthless practices. Sabin brings with him Cyan Garamonde, whose family was killed during the Empire's siege of Doma Castle when Kefka ordered the water supply poisoned, and Gau, a feral child he befriended on the Veldt. In Narshe, the Returners prepare to defend the frozen esper from the Empire. After the player successfully thwarts the Imperial invasion, Terra approaches the frozen esper, prompting her to transform into an esper-like form herself. She flies away, confused and horrified by her own transformation.
The Returners set out to search for Terra and eventually trace her to the city of Zozo, though they are still shocked by her apparent existence as an esper. There, they also meet the esper Ramuh, who tells them that if they free various other espers from the Magitek Research Facility in the Empire's capital, Vector, they may find one who can help Terra. Vector is on the southern continent, to which the Empire does not allow maritime access, so the Returners go to the Opera House and recruit Setzer Gabbiani, who is believed to be the owner of the Blackjack, the only airship in the world. They then travel to Vector and attempt to rescue several espers, including Maduin, who is revealed to be Terra's father. However, the espers choose instead to give their lives to transform into magicite—the crystallized remains of their essences that form when they die and allow others to use their powers—which they bestow upon the Returners. Before the group can then escape, Kefka arrives and causes the Returners, including Locke, to momentarily doubt Celes's loyalty, much to her anguish. However, she provides proof to them of her support by covering for the group while the rest escape. The rest of the group then returns to Zozo, where Terra reacts to the magicite of her father, prompting her to gain knowledge of her past and accept herself as the half-human, half-esper child of Maduin and a human woman.
After reuniting with Terra, the Returners decide that it is time to launch an all-out attack on the Empire, and Banon asks Terra to attempt contacting the espers' land in order to gain their support. Terra succeeds in making contact, and when the espers learn that the others captured by the Empire previously have now perished, they become infuriated and enter the human world, where they destroy much of Vector. When the Returners arrive in the capital, they find Emperor Gestahl claiming to no longer have the will to fight, inviting the Returners to a banquet to negotiate peace. Gestahl asks Terra to deliver a truce to the espers on his behalf, to which she agrees. Accompanied by Locke, Shadow (a ninja hired by the Empire) and Generals Celes and Leo, the player must then guide Terra to the remote village Thamasa in search of the espers, where they meet Strago Magus and his granddaughter, Relm Arrowny, who also accompany them.
Soon, they find the espers and Terra convinces them to accept a truce with Gestahl. However, during the negotiations, Kefka attacks the espers, killing each of those still alive and capturing the magicite that remains from their essence. Additionally, he kills General Leo, who is appalled by Kefka's dishonorable tactics and attempts to defend the espers. The Returners reunite, now aware that the peace was a ploy for Gestahl to obtain magicite and the stone statue remains of the Warring Triad within the espers' now-unsealed land. Kefka and Gestahl travel through the open gate to the esper world, find the Warring Triad, and prompt the island on which the esper world is located to detach and fly in the sky as an ominous Floating Continent. The Returners attempt to stop them from causing further damage, but despite their efforts, they are unable to prevent Kefka and Gestahl from gaining the power of the statues. Now empowered, Kefka promptly kills Gestahl and moves the statues out of their proper alignment, upsetting the balance of magical power and causing the destruction of most of the surface world. In the disaster, the Returners are separated from one another as Setzer's airship is torn apart.
One year later, Celes awakens from a coma on a deserted island and learns that the world has been devastated by Kefka. Much of its human population has died and its plant and animal life are slowly being killed by sickness to punctuate humanity's despair. Celes sets out from the Solitary Island to try and reunite with as many of her friends as she can find. One by one, in a series of mostly optional side-quests, the gamer has the opportunity to reunite the group, all still alive, as well as new allies Umaro and Gogo. Each character has a side-quest that dramatically increases their power. Together, the reunited Returners launch a new offensive against Kefka, using the Falcon—an airship that belonged to a deceased friend of Setzer's—to reach Kefka's Tower and infiltrate it. Inside, the Returners battle their way through Kefka's defenses and destroy the three statues, the source of Kefka's newfound power. When destroying the statues, once the source of all magic, does not cause any noticeable reaction, the party realizes that Kefka has successfully drained the Warring Triad of power and has become the source of all magical power.
Making a final stand against Kefka, the characters successfully destroy him, but since the gods' power had come to reside in him all magicite begins to shatter and Kefka's magically-maintained tower begins to crumble. Terra leads the characters out as she begins to weaken due to her half-esper heritage. However, before her father's magicite shatters, his spirit informs her that by holding to the human side of herself, she may survive the passing of magic. In the end, the party escapes Kefka's Tower aboard the Falcon. Terra survives, and the group observes the world's communities rejuvenating themselves.
The soundtrack for Final Fantasy VI is the work of long-time series contributor Nobuo Uematsu. The score consists of themes for each major character and location, as well as music for standard battles, fights with boss enemies and for special cutscenes. The extensive use of leitmotif is one of the defining points of the audio tracks. The "Aria di Mezzo Carattere" is one of the latter tracks, played during a cutscene involving an opera performance. This track features an unintelligible synthesized "voice" that harmonizes with the melody, as technical limitations for the SPC700 sound format chip prevented the use of an actual vocal track (although some developers eventually figured out how to overcome the limitation a few years later). The orchestral album Final Fantasy VI Grand Finale features an arranged version of the aria, using Italian lyrics performed by Svetla Krasteva with an orchestral accompaniment. This version is also found in the ending full motion video of the game's Sony PlayStation re-release, with the same lyrics but a different musical arrangement. In addition, the album Orchestral Game Concert 4 includes an extended version of the opera arranged and conducted by Kōsuke Onozaki and performed by the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring Wakako Aokimi, Tetsuya Ōno, and Hiroshi Kuroda on vocals. It was also performed at the "More Friends" concert at the Gibson Amphitheatre in 2005 using a new English translation of the lyrics, an album of which is now available. "Dancing Mad," accompanying the game's final battle with Kefka, is 17 minutes long and contains an organ cadenza, with variations on Kefka's theme. The "Ending Theme" combines every playable character theme into one composition lasting over 21 minutes.
The original score was released on three Compact Discs in Japan as Final Fantasy VI: Original Sound Version. A version of this album was later released in North America as Final Fantasy III: Kefka's Domain, available exclusively through mail order from Square. Additionally, Final Fantasy VI: Grand Finale features eleven tracks from the game, arranged by Shiro Sagisu and Tsuneyoshi Saito and performed by the Ensemble Archi Della Scala and Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano (Milan Symphony Orchestra). Piano Collections: Final Fantasy VI, a second arranged album, features thirteen tracks from the game, performed for piano by Reiko Nomura. More recently, "Dancing Mad," the final boss theme from Final Fantasy VI, has been performed at Play! A Video Game Symphony in Stockholm, Sweden on June 2, 2007, by the group Machinae Supremacy.
While character sprites in the earlier installments were less detailed on the map than they were in battle, Final Fantasy VI's sprites had an equally high resolution regardless of the screen. This enabled the use of animations depicting a variety of movements and facial expressions.
Though it was not the first game to utilize the Super Nintendo's Mode 7 graphics, Final Fantasy VI made more extensive use of them than its predecessors. For instance, unlike both Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy V, the world map is rendered in Mode 7, which lends a somewhat three-dimensional perspective to an otherwise two-dimensional game.
The original North American localization and release of Final Fantasy VI by Square for the Super Nintendo featured several changes from the original Japanese version. The most obvious of these is the change of the game's title from Final Fantasy VI to Final Fantasy III; because only two games of the series had been localized in North America at the time, Final Fantasy VI was distributed as Final Fantasy III to maintain naming continuity. Unlike Final Fantasy IV (which was first released in North America as Final Fantasy II), there are no major changes to gameplay, though certain editorial adjustments exist in the English script. In a January 1995 interview with Super POWER magazine, translator Ted Woolsey explained that "there's a certain level of playfulness and ... sexuality in Japanese games that just doesn't exist here [in the USA], basically because of Nintendo of America's rules and guidelines". Consequently, objectionable graphics (e.g. nudity) were censored and building signs in towns were changed, as well as religious allusions (e.g. the spell Holy was renamed Pearl).
The localization also featured changes to several names, though some of these—in the case of characters—were necessitated by technical restrictions of only six letters per name (e.g. "Stragus" was shortened to "Strago"). Other changes were made for the game to meet Nintendo's aforementioned content guidelines (which Nintendo of America did to most games before the founding of the ESRB and its rating system, which went into effect on January 1995) and simply due to differences between Asian and North American cultures. For example, Terra's Japanese name, Tina, sounds exotic to Japanese people, but is a common anglophone name. Finally, dialogue text files had to be shortened due to the limited data storage space available on the game cartridge's read-only memory. As a result, additional changes were rendered to dialogue in order to compress it into the available space. This translation was done in only 30 days by Woolsey alone.
The PlayStation re-release featured only minor changes to the English localization. The title of the game was reverted back to Final Fantasy VI from Final Fantasy III, to unify the numbering scheme of the series in North America and Japan with the earlier release of Final Fantasy VII. A few item and character names were adjusted, as in the expansion of "Fenix Down" to "Phoenix Down." Unlike the PlayStation re-release of Final Fantasy IV included in the later Final Fantasy Chronicles compilation, the script was left essentially unchanged. Finally, while many fans continued to refer to the first "world" as the "World Of Balance" and the destroyed world as the "World Of Ruin", Square had begun to refer to the destruction event (that turns the Balance World to the Ruin World) as the "cataclysm" event, and in the bestiary unlockable, the game sorts the monsters as "Pre-C" (monsters that appear before the cataclysm) and Post-C (those that appear afterwards). This would continue throughout future translations, with the word being used more frequently to refer to the "world ending."
The Game Boy Advance re-release featured a new translation by a different translator, Tom Slattery. This translation preserved most of the character names, location names, and terminology from the Woolsey translation, but changed item and spell names to match the conventions used in more recent titles in the series. The revised script preserved certain quirky lines from the original while changing or editing others, and it cleared up certain points of confusion in the original translation.
Upon its release in , Final Fantasy VI received a positive reception from most major gaming publications. GamePro rated its fun factor at 5 out of 5, stating that "Characters, plotlines, and multiple-choice scenarios all combine to form one fantastic game! Electronic Gaming Monthly granted a 9 out of 10 and named it game of the month over Earthworm Jim and Mortal Kombat II, commenting that "RPGs with this much depth and realism come once in a blue moon". Additionally, Electronic Gaming Monthly later ranked the game ninth in its 1997 list of the 100 greatest console games of all time, and when it was re-released for the PlayStation, the same magazines rated it 4 out of 5 and 9.5 out of 10, respectively. For their part, Nintendo Power declared the game "the RPG hit of the decade", noting its improved sound and graphics over its predecessors, and the game's broadened thematic scope. Moreover, they suggested that "with so much story and variation of play ... fans may become lost in the world for months at a time". In their 100th issue, they ranked it as the 8th greatest Nintendo game, saying it "had everything you could want–heroes, world-shattering events, magic, mindless evil–plus Interceptor the wonder dog!" 100 issues later, they also ranked it 13th on their "Top 200 games on a Nintendo Platform", suggesting that it might be the "best" Final Fantasy ever.
In 2005, multimedia news website IGN ranked Final Fantasy VI 56th on their list of the 100 greatest games, as the second highest ranked Final Fantasy title on the list after Final Fantasy IV. IGN described the graphics of the PlayStation re-release as "beautiful and stunning", reflecting that, at the time of its release, "Final Fantasy III... represented everything an RPG should be", inspiring statistic growth systems that would later influence titles like Wild Arms and Suikoden. Moreover, they praised its gameplay and storyline, claiming that these aspects took "all ... preceding RPG concepts and either came up with something completely new or refined them enough to make them its own", creating an atmosphere in which "[players] won't find it difficult to get past the simplistic graphics or seemingly out-dated gameplay conventions and become involved ..."
The users of the gaming website GameFAQs chose Final Fantasy VI, in its translation as Final Fantasy III for the Super Nintendo, as the 10th greatest game of all time in 2005, while readers of the Japanese magazine Famitsu voted it as the 25th best game of all time in early 2006. RPGamer gave a perfect rating to both the original game and its PlayStation re-release, citing its gameplay as "self-explanatory enough that most any player could pick up the game and customize their characters' equipment", while praising its music as "a 16-bit masterpiece." Alternatively, they describe the game's sound effects as limited and the game itself as lacking in replay value due to having "one ending, one [fundamental] path through the plot, and ... [mandatory] sidequests". Additionally, they regarded the game's English translation as "unremarkable", being "better than some but worse than others", and offered similar comments for its gameplay difficulty. However, they referred to the game's storyline as its "... most unique aspect", citing its large cast of characters, "nearly all of whom receive a great deal of development", and the "surprisingly large number of real world issues, the vast majority of which have not been addressed by any RPG before or since, ranging from teen pregnancy to suicide." Overall, RPGamer regarded the game as an "epic masterpiece" and "truly one of the greatest games ever created."
Final Fantasy Collection sold over 400,000 copies in 1999, making it the 31st best selling release of that year in Japan. It received a 54 out of 60 points from Weekly Famitsu, scored by a panel of six reviewers. Final Fantasy Anthology has sold approximately 364,000 copies in North America.
In 2007, the Game Boy Advance re-release was named 8th best Game Boy Advance game of all time in IGN's feature reflecting on the Game Boy Advance's long lifespan.
Final Fantasy VI: The Interactive CG Game (also known as the Final Fantasy SGI demo, or Final Fantasy x (not related to the actual 10th game in the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy X) was a short demonstration produced by Square using characters and settings from Final Fantasy VI. Produced using new Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) Onyx workstations acquired by Square, the demo was Square's first foray into 3D graphics, and many assumed that it was a precursor to a new Final Fantasy title for the Nintendo 64 video game console, which also used SGI hardware. Square, however, had not yet committed to Nintendo's console at the time of the demo's production, and much of the technology demonstrated in the demo was later put to use in the rendering of full motion video sequences for Final Fantasy VII and subsequent games for the PlayStation. The demo itself featured Terra Branford, Locke Cole, and Shadow in a series of battles. The game was controlled largely through mouse gestures: for example, moving the cursor in the shape of a star would summon a dragon to attack.
Final Fantasy VI's PlayStation re-release is very similar to the original Japanese release as seen on the Super Famicom. With the exception of the addition of two full motion video opening and ending sequences and new effects used for the start and end of battles, the graphics, music and sound are left unchanged from the original version, though some have noted that the sound quality isn't as good as in the original. The only notable changes to gameplay (in addition to loading times not present in the cartridge versions) involve the correction of a few software bugs from the original, the creation or oversight of other bugs, and the addition of a new "memo save" feature, allowing players to quickly save their progress to the PlayStation's RAM. The re-release included other special features, such as a bestiary and an artwork gallery.