Okay, this is how a review is supposed to start for any “golden age” game re-release: I’m expected to tell you how the glory days of 16-bit were the peak of gaming excellence, and how fortunate I was to experience it firsthand as a bright-eyed adolescent in the nineties. And to some extent the nostalgia trip is probably truer for Final Fantasy VI than for most, as it comes from an era where then-unprecedented character development and epic storytelling were simply unheard of at the time.
For many readers that honor lay with its PlayStation sequel, Final Fantasy VII. For myself though FFVI is unquestionably the pinnacle of role-playing theatrics pushed by an ensemble cast. However, time can be the harshest critic when a classic is reintroduced not only to modern audiences but new mediums too. For Square Enix, porting over their classic Final Fantasy games has ultimately led up to this, the challenge now to not only improve but make a 20-year old masterpiece more accessible for the impatient.
Obviously one of the biggest changes with this update are the visuals. Many would have been content by a straightforward port with the necessary resolution enhancements but Square Enix has given the entire game a significant overhaul, from the backdrops, character portraits, and all the sprites. It’s definitely an aesthetic choice that some will love while others will lament the move away from its pixelated style. Personally I’m somewhat torn because the results are mixed between clean and blurred in an attempt to make everything look natural.It will take some getting used to if you grew up with the original SNES release or later PlayStation/GBA ports.
The rest of the changes are strictly technical to accommodate the touchscreen controls or to help streamline the grinding process, alleviating the lack of physical buttons. In battle the ATB (Active Time battle) system now allows selection of any ready character in a turn instead of tediously cycling through the row, as well as a “fast-forward” option for action-free optimization. Other familiar additions such as quick-saving, cloud saves, and in-game help prompts serve to keep the experience as painless as possible.
But there’s a double-edged sword for all this convenience, and the issues really show in this smartphone/tablet port. A virtual D-Pad is the only method of movement (MFi controllers are not supported as of this writing) and spotty tracking doesn’t do this game any favors either, especially when you factor in the inescapable lag in the equation. This is a consistent and unusual problem considering the game requires the latest iOS/Android hardware and firmware to even run at all. Touch-based controls in battle, while greatly simplified, also suffer from non-intuitive targeting and selection choices when things get busy. Fortunately, the learning curve for the nuances are easy to tolerate after an hour or so.
And yet, I’m still willing to forgive all the other shortcomings in lieu of this one; the leveling system of FFVI has been readjusted somewhat. Many won’t notice at first but the changes do make learning magic from Espers and acquiring new skills comparatively easier than before. It’s a more manageable playthrough for causal role-players at best, or a small babying crutch at worst. You’ll have to decide that one for yourself.
Blessedly the other essentials of FFVI remain intact and stand strong. The story, plot elements, and audio presentation are just as memorable, playing on the dramatic elements of murder, love, and even attempted suicide. And it all comes together with a grand soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu, which even today still stands as an amazingly orchestrated piece of work that carries much the game on its back.
As a remake Final Fantasy VI for iOS/Android does an admirable job of reintroducing a JRPG classic among a genre saturated with overcompensating Buster Swords and overt anime melodrama. Square Enix had their work cut out as FFVI has never been ported well from the original SNES version, but enough systematic, technical, and visual changes help relieve the stigma, despite wonky touch controls. It’s definitely better than the unrefined PlayStation reissue but still falls short against the GBA port. Love it or hate it, this game can be yours for $16.
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