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'Final Fantasy VI' review: give change a chance, for old times' sake (Android/iOS)

by Mike Rougeau

February 20 2014

Final Fantasy VI has aged well, despite some controversial new additions. (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)

Gamers often find it difficult to accept change, especially when developers start tampering with classic games loaded with nostalgia. If something seems even slightly off, alarm bells start ringing in our heads, and we cry foul.

If you sense those alarms starting to sound over Square Enix's recent Final Fantasy VI remake for iOS and Android devices, the best thing you can do is fight against your nature and ignore them. FFVI is one of the best RPGs ever made. It's aged incredibly well, and whatever dents in its artistic integrity you may perceive here pale in comparison with the joys of playing it again.

FFVI has all the hallmarks of the Final Fantasy series at its prime: an intriguing story, a varied and interesting cast of characters, a deep, dynamic combat system, a huge open world, and dozens of really memorable scenes. Some, including myself, argue that it's the best game in the whole series. And all of that is preserved on smartphones and tablets.

Square Enix could have easily wrecked this game with microtransactions or other mobile baggage, like Namco Bandai did with the recent mobile port of Tales of Phantasia. They probably considered doing just that; the company tends not to mess with its classics too much, but keep in mind that this is also the developer that thought people might enjoy the abomination known as Final Fantasy: All the Bravest. But thankfully almost every change implemented in this new port is for the better.

Final Fantasy VI follows a now-stereotypical (not that it was in 1994) ragtag bunch of adventurers, from a common thief who insists that he's a "treasure hunter" to a disgraced empire general who joins the young rebels in their noble fight against oppression. In the game's world magic is a distant memory, whispered about in hushed voices, that almost destroyed the world. But as a ruthless empire rises to power its leaders search the land for magical beings called espers, frozen deep underground or trapped in alternate dimensions for millennia, hoping to harness their powers to take over the world. And so on.

The story moves along at a surprisingly fast clip. Your group often gets separated into multiple parties, and characters come and go as they please; they're not just your avatars, but living people with their own agendas as well. Each has unique powers and abilities, and eventually you'll be able to teach them all magic and manipulate their stats, so there's lots of room for strategy and customization. And big scenes and set pieces like the famous opera and main villain Kefka's various despicable acts have just as much impact as ever, if you can see past the game's unsubtle dialogue.

The touch screen controls work about as well as you'd expect. The best touch screen games, like Eliss Infinity, were designed with touch controls in mind. But games that were designed for physical controllers make due, and if you've played any smartphone or tablet games before it won't take you long to figure out how to get around. It helps that they included a choice between four-point movement and eight-point movement in the options. Battle controls have been adequately streamlined for touch use as well, and the "lag" that others have described has been totally overblown. It's really not an issue.

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But other helpful options, like conversation text speed, are annoyingly absent. They also left out the option to create custom colors for your menus and text windows, which I miss way more than I should.

There is, however, a music player right in the options menu that lets you listen to any song from the game's gorgeous soundtrack (which, by the way, still sounds great today. "Terra's Theme" has been stuck in my head for weeks).

Some of Square Enix's other additions are more controversial. The new sprites and some out-of-place 3D models in an otherwise 2D world don't look as modern as they were intended to, and they take some getting used to, particularly for old guard fans of the game. And on my iPad mini I found the black borders on the top and bottom of the screen slightly annoying, although they did allow me to see the time and a rough estimation of my device's battery life while I played. I've heard talk of slowdown, too, but after completing about half the game I can't recall experiencing any.

The new FFVI also has nav points and objectives, features that purists balk at. But those purists can ignore them if they want, and new players will find them helpful, so I don't really see the problem. Likewise, a quick save option and a button that fast-forwards through battles help alleviate the pain of playing a sometimes unforgiving 30-hour JRPG on mobile platforms, although infrequent but consistent crashes make level grinding harder if you can't save in between battles, like on the Lethe River early on. Luckily the game auto-saves frequently, and cloud saves are a big plus too.

It was thoughtful of Squenix to include other content added in the 2006 Game Boy Advance port of Final Fantasy VI, like new espers and a new dungeon. That makes the exorbitant $15.99 price tag (for a digital copy of a minimally altered 20-year-old game, mind you) seem slightly more reasonable. At least the newer content provides yet another reason for fans of the original to do it all over again.

Final Fantasy VI has aged significantly better than many of the games you may remember just as fondly. Even if you're a purist you should be able to look past the changes made in this version. The one thing that should give you pause is the massive price tag, but if you can get past that lone barrier then there's no reason not to enjoy this masterpiece one more time.

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