Final Fantasy VI remains charming, endearing and surprising 25 years later

Squaresoft /

Twenty-five years ago in Japan, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy VI, sending off the 2D sprite-based RPG era off with one of the greatest ensemble casts in gaming.

Some of my earliest memories ever are from playing video games. Even as a very young child, I can remember picking up that oversized NES plastic gun and standing way too close to the TV screen, trying to shoot down those dastardly ducks in Duck Hunt. However, the first game I really attached myself to opened with a young woman and two armored soldiers slow marching in mechanized armor towards a dark, snowy, mountaintop town in the distance.

Final Fantasy VI turns 25 years old today in Japan, and I cannot remember a time when this game wasn’t a part of my life.

Countless people can give you 43 or so specific reasons why it’s one of the greatest games of all time, listing Kefka as one of gaming’s greatest villains, sharing the wonderful soundtrack from Nobuo Uematsu, speaking to the heart of its characters, heaping praise on its story and countless other anecdotes.

The game has been picked apart critically for its standout highlights, but something that isn’t touched on enough about Final Fantasy VI is how well it can surprise its players; both newcomers and those who have been playing the game at least once a year for the past few decades. This game both bucked tradition and provided unheard of depth to its gameplay, hiding secrets deep within.

This post will discuss Final Fantasy VI story spoilers, both minimal and large in scale.

This game shook the foundation of what we knew about Final Fantasy games. Sure, the idea of gods, creatures and a crew ready to save the world were tried and true, but you knew something was different when the opening screen did away with the image of a crystal and the series’ prelude. Final Fantasy VI is about the ray of light shining through the coming dark, no matter how dark things looked.

However, hidden well within the core linear story was the tease of non-linearity; the tease of alternative options. There are so many moments hidden within this game that require unreasonable trial and error to uncover; some that even I found only as recently as 2017.

Many players know about leaving the items in the South Figaro cave until the World of Ruin so they can mature into stronger, better items and equipment that can improve your endgame characters, but not as many know about pushing the narrative limits. As the Returners prepare to face off against the Empire, Terra is given a choice whether or not to join.

Most will say yes, agreeing to fight for the noble cause and eventually getting a Gauntlet accessory. However, fewer know that refusing three times cuts down the big preparation cutscene that normally follows for an alternate one, forcing the issue on Terra to join and giving her a more powerful accessory called the Genji Glove. Even fewer, including me, while writing this passage, know that you can refuse once, talk to a Returner in the storage room and get the Genji Glove before accepting the mission.

Final Fantasy VI Duncan's wife
Squaresoft /

Final Fantasy VI is sprinkled with these moments throughout, showcasing the surprising depth of this game that can have players discovering new secrets with each playthrough. How many of you know that once Sabin joins the team, you can walk all the way back to South Figaro and speak to Duncan’s wife to share the unfortunate news? I doubt many, seeing that if you walk just two screens forward, this cutscene is locked out as you cannot return to Mt. Kolts without Magitek armor chasing you away.

It’s not just with minor conversations or pieces of flavor text, either; Squaresoft was bold enough to start the second half of the game on a quest that you can pass or fail.

Do you know how amazing it is to experience something new for the first time in a piece of entertainment you’ve appreciated all of your life? That’s what Final Fantasy VI does on a micro level in addition to its genre-defying narrative beats told during its main story, firing synapses of your brain on multiple layers.

It’s not just with minor conversations or pieces of flavor text, either; Squaresoft was bold enough to start the second half of the game on a quest that you can pass or fail (and few knew you could even pass). Overwhelmingly, players trying to keep Cid alive as Celes in the World of Ruin will fail, as it’s very difficult to feed him properly without proper instructions. He needs fast-swimming fish, and they don’t always appear.

Final Fantasy VI Celes suicide
Squaresoft /

What normally follows is Celes taking a “leap of faith” after losing all hope, only to find solace in a clue there are other friends out there fighting to bring balance to the world. She then takes a life raft out to land as written in a note by Cid moments before his passing, setting the stage for the rest of the game.

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However, that’s not the only way to get off the island. If you try hard enough and take an exceptionally long amount of time searching for the fastest fish, Cid will make a full recovery, telling Celes she needs to search for others while sending her off as she rafts away.

Cid’s survival is based on a timer, where Cid starts with 120 HP and ticks down by one for every second he’s not fed fish. Good fish heal him, but bad fish hurt him. Running on a timer, utilizing hidden systems and drastically shifting the narrative tone; all built into one key phase of Final Fantasy VI’s second half, and the player can experience two drastically different feelings!

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Though many will look back at Final Fantasy VI’s 25 years with great fondness for the most memorable moments from the game such as the opera scene or choosing a scenario (kupo), I will be looking forward to the next great secret I’ve yet to uncover for the first time. There’s so much depth to this game; enough to keep me coming back year after year in appreciation for one of the greatest RPGs of all time.