Square Enix, as they’re wont to do because they have literally no original ideas left, has released yet another port of yet another classic game. This time, it’s for Final Fantasy VI, which is only good because they finally stopped pimping out Cecil and his FF IV gang for a few minutes to put out a game they haven’t put out in a few years. It’s fortuitous timing; this is the 20 year anniversary of the original game, and it’s the first release of the game in seven years. And while the port of this game isn’t quite as intricate as those of Final Fantasy III1 and IV, which were both ports of their respective DS versions, this is still spruced up a bit from the original, with more graphical detail, a quicksave option, and other goodies.
Of course, fans of the original have collectively lost their fucking minds.
Kotaku summed up a lot of fan angst with a piece simply titled “Oh No, Square Enix, What Have You Done to Final Fantasy VI?“. With a provocative title like that, you’re bound to click, and the article itself has Jason Schreirer calling it an “atrocity against (his) childhood”. Others pitched in on the comments with other complaints, because HOW DARE YOU GO AGAINST TWENTY YEARS OF CONVENTION.
I want all readers to picture this: pretend you didn’t grow up during the 1990s. Pretend you’re not my age, 34 in May, and are instead fourteen years old, which is what I was when the original came out. Now, look at some in-motion shots of Final Fantasy III on the SNES, and compare them to Final Fantasy VI. Again: pretend you are seeing both for the first time
Answer the following question honestly: which one looks better to you? Do clear lines and some very nice 3D spell effects actually look worse than resized pixels and Mode 7?
Once the game is seen in motion, it looks good. Even the sprites look pretty good; if anything, I’d argue that they look too good. A lot of the charm from the original game comes from the fact that the developers had to do a lot of work to obscure the blemishes that the limited hardware of the Super Nintendo created. People are simply not being reasonable about this; they’re reading their favourite game through rose coloured glasses, and it’s affecting their better judgement. The other major complaint I’ve heard – the question mark in the upper left hand corner that gives hints on what to do next – is even more baseless. Why would Square Enix actually choose to alienate newer players by not including something that has become a staple of modern JRPG design? If anything, this is a great blend of the original charms of Final Fantasy VI and modern design elements that are meant to keep players in the game, so that if they have to take some time off they haven’t completely forgotten what they’re doing in the game. I’ve had to restart many games because I simply forgot what I was doing, and FFVI is not the kind of game that one can just waltz in and out of, especially in the World of Ruin.
Beyond that, this is Final Fantasy VI, and it’s one of the greatest games of all time, regardless of genre. The story, characters, and other design elements that made it a favorite in the 90s still apply in 2014, and the game hasn’t lost a touch. There are minor quibbles with the new interface, but one can at least see the efforts that were went through to bring this game to the modern era. There’s a touch screen digital pad, and it now supports eight directions; a nice touch, but the controls are extremely finicky, and since it’s necessary to also push the screen to talk to someone, it makes even speaking with another character – especially one that moves fast – a chore. I’m not far in the game, but these controls, I guarantee, WILL have an impact in the second half of the game, particularly in one of the optional dungeons. Also, instead of using ATB gauges at the bottom, characters scroll up in the menu until it’s their turn. Selecting non-standard options at this point – anything other than fighting or magic, basically – is hard, especially at first, because it’s very sensitive to scroll down when in the middle of a boss fight. This battle system works best for those who keep their ATB to “Wait”.
However, those are minor quibbles. It is silly and a little childish to hate Final Fantasy VI’s port to Android simply because one doesn’t like clearer graphics and a finicky touchscreen directional button. There are many, MANY reasons to abhor this port beyond that, many of which are totally legitimate.
The main problem with Final Fantasy VI comes up in the very first scene of the game, where Biggs, along with Terra and Wedge, calls Valigarmanda an “espier”. One could write this off to a simple, one-off error, but the problems persist going forward. For one, there are entire sentences that seem to end early, as if they were only partially loaded, such as “It’s Kefka! He”, just like that. Even more problematic, the game simply doesn’t run very well. I have a Galaxy S3, which is not the latest phone from Samsung but it’s not chopped liver, either; any time my phone does anything, or gets any kind of notification, the game slows to an absolute crawl. Even in the course of the game, such as when fighting against a load of enemies or casting a spell with effects, the game becomes borderline unplayable and makes my phone literally hot to the touch. Finally, there’s the issue of the game-crashing bug that occurs when General Leo fights Kefka. It’s a 100% bug; the game is not beatable. It’s simply inexcusable.
Square Enix has stated that they are going to put out a patch to address these issues, but the damage is done. I can imagine that they put their “B” team on this port, and those guys, bless them, did a great job with limited resources. But then their efforts, the fruit of their labour, got punted off to a QA team that seems to have had two people who were drinking copiously in despair at the impossible job their company left them with. There’s also Squeenix’s corporate malfeasance to deal with as well, as for ostensible “security” reasons, it’s not possible to back up the game. It’s a stunning amount of tone-deafnesses from a company that has had their games pirated, emulated, hacked, translated and otherwise used and abused over and over for twenty years. NOW is their time to put the foot down? With people overpaying for a mobile game, twenty years later, on hardware that is designed with a rapid obsolescence cycle in mind? I am more than half way through Final Fantasy III on my old Android phone, but that phone doesn’t even boot up anymore; my save data is possibly gone forever. With games as long as these, not being able to back them up is abject cruelty.
Such is the pain of dealing with Square Enix, and the convoluted moralizing that goes into literally every purchase. On the one hand, when the company’s on, they are capable of really good things; how else can an MMO with a monthly charge win a prestigious site’s Game of the Year award in 2013? But on the other hand, for all of the talented developers at the company, the corporate direction permeates every single thing that they touch with their awkward touch, like a drunken jock thinking he’s charming a cheerleader. It affects my purchasing decisions in a way it never should; I considered not purchasing my third favourite RPG of all time2 because I didn’t want to tell Square Enix that it was OK to consistently put out ham-fisted, half-assed efforts. I wanted to make it known that if they put half as much effort into making their ports that they did into intentionally making the worst game of 2013, that this would arguably be the best port in history. On the other hand, that leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy when dealing with a company that could scuttle Tomb Raider because selling “only” five million copies wasn’t enough for them. This is a company whose executive once outright scolded fans of Chrono Trigger because they balked at coughing up $40 – the most one can spend on a DS game – for a port. They know that we revere their product from the 90s and 00s, and they hold it above us like a Sword of Damocles, punishing us if we’re just not devoted enough, and the older fans know that if we don’t give them what they want – way too much money for way too old games – then we either won’t get the cool things we want – like that Final Fantasy VII HD remake we’ve been asking so nicely for – or even worse, they’ll take what we want and pervert it. Ultimately, I bought the mobile version of one of my favorite games of all time simply so I could write this piece. Such is the lack of trust I have in Square Enix at this point.
That lack of trust, that utter disdain for the company that I am forced to do business with, is what makes recommending the mobile port of Final Fantasy VI very hard. Ultimately, it’s just not the best version of the game. A lot of the complaints are silly, but the ones that people are missing aren’t, and there’s still no guarantee that this game will see the support necessary to fix them. For anyone who simply must have the best version of Final Fantasy VI on their cell phone, they should probably either stick to a ROM image of the Super Nintendo or the Game Boy Advance versions. It’s sad that I have to say those words, but such is the way for modern Square Enix; they live off the past, and yet can’t surpass it.
1 – Chances are good that as soon as you saw the footnote, you knew what it was about, but for the few who don’t know the history: Final Fantasy VI was released in America as Final Fantasy III, because the actual Final Fantasy II, III (Famicom) and V (Super Famicom) never got released to a sceptical Western audience. Proper numbering canon took effect when what was then SquareSoft released Final Fantasy VII in 1997, as the Western world had grown more savvy by then. Final Fantasy III (the actual one) was first released in America for the DS in November of 2006, 16 years after its initial Famicom release, and probably about ten years after a translation patch for the game’s ROM image was released.
2 – Take a bow, Phantasy Star IV and Suikoden II