Final Fantasy VI
This is the series I really had to restrain with my kind of followed one game per series rule. If I didn’t hold to that my list would have been 80% Final Fantasy, Zelda and Mario. So my barely followed one game a series rule is why several of Final Fantasies IX, XII, Tactics or IV aren’t on this list. While I like a lot of Final Fantasy games, VI is easily my favorite.
Final Fantasy VI is just about everything I want in an RPG. It has a decent array of character building options, a big number of well-developed characters to build and a story that is satisfyingly complex but never convoluted. Also, I played it at the perfect time for me. I was about thirteen when I first played it. I was aware of the series, having played the first Final Fantasy and having poured over what was then Final Fantasy 2 in Nintendo Power, but playing FF3 was a revelation.
I’m going to gush about the story, which these days seems almost laughably simple to me. It is a pretty simple fantasy story, but at the time it was the most sophisticated narrative I’d seen in a game. Even though the player’s party eventually has thirteen characters in it, nearly all of them have solid motivations for joining. You have the amnesiac girl with special powers, a JRPG stable to be sure, but Terra’s arc is different than most of those. There is the overprotective Locke, stealing his way through the world and trying to make up for past mistakes. The King doing what he can for his people, a mysterious Ninja, etc. From the start in the caves of Narshe, FFVI is just a breathtaking adventure.
One of the game’s favorite tricks is to split your party. It works on a gameplay level, giving the player a limited group to work with for the next few hours, but it also works in the story, giving each character a chance to shine and making everything seem bigger than maybe it really is. It also helps contribute to the feeling that the game has no true protagonist. It could be Terra, but her importance disappears less than half way through. Celes dominates a few hours in the second half. Locke is the parties biggest mainstay, but he usually one of the last to rejoin near the end. The way the story is structured gives us several characters who act as protagonist for some of the time, and it works.
Each of the characters has some special ability. Choosing your party makes a big difference on how you play. Then there is the esper system, where you learn magic from crystals. For the bulk of the game, choosing which characters learn which magic is pretty important. By the end, most characters will likely have the bulk of the games magic at their disposal, but they all still have their first ability.
I’ve beaten Final Fantasy 6 probably seven or eight times, and played through most of it at least ten times. I love these characters and their world. This game is largely the reason I love RPGs. It was the first one I played that really grabbed me. Plus, it has multiplayer. Playing this game with my brother controlling two of my party members was a lot of fun. Especially when we stopped fighting the enemies and started fighting each other.