I always want these games to be better than they are.
This one was just… meh. It’s wasn’t as mind-numbingly boring as IV was, thank God, but it also never really was engaging. By the midgame I was breezing through all but major boss battles on autoplay. The charcaters and plot were a mess. The pet characters included a dude who was big on marital kidnapping and a guy who literally keeps the beautified corpse of his girlfriend locked in his basement (I swear this is not an exaggeration), so it really could only hold itself up on mediocre gameplay for so long.
The plot here was just this side of coherent, in that I understood the discrete events but adding them up into worldbuilding was a chore. If the story didn’t even bother with that weird ~ancient war~ stuff it would have been easier to follow and would have made no difference overall, and every time the game tried to tie the past into the present things got convoluted, so I’m not really sure why it approached things that way.
Meanwhile, a rote story can be saved by good characters, but the main cast of this game was deeply unlikable. I’ll say this again: the ‘protagonist’ you’re constantly forced to keep around despite my desperate attempts to not have him in my party keeps the dolled-up corpse of his girlfriend in his basement. It baffles me that no one was like, “Isn’t this a little weird, guys?” I mean, the game is from the 1990s, not the 1790s. Then there’s the apparently-obligaory rape-y plotline where some dude attempts to kidnap an actress and force her into marriage, but you thwart him… and then ask him to join you??? Like, what the fuck? The game recognizes he’s a villain, but then turns it around and tries to act like he’s also some kind of cool guy, and just??? He even gets some weird romance-redemption plotline as though everyone involved forgot the whole kidnapping thing. Then there’s the Brock. Early on, one of the women NPCs in his castle says, “No women here are safe!” literally “We are not safe,” and the game thinks this is a joke but let me tell you, never have I been so terrified for a townie NPC. Then there’s Celes, who I wanted to like, but then she rolls out of bed one day and decides she wants to bang Mr. Corpse Bride for some unfathomable reason, and from there on out her whole story is this horrible, horrible shoehorned-in romance.
Sabin, Relm, and the old dude were inoffensive, and I liked the idea of Relm a lot, but the game had no idea how to ensemble cast. There were 12 party members total, and only about 5 of them actually had characters. Everyone who I haven’t mentioned was a gimmick character, including the literal Yeti, because why the fuck not.
The only exception to this is Terra. I really liked Terra, and despite the game’s insistence that Corpsey was the protag, it really was her, from both a plot and character perspective — the FFVI wiki even lampshades it. See, there are humans, and there are “Espers” though the game will waffle on what exactly Espers are or what their origin is. Humans can apparently like, absorb Espers and obtain magic powers from them, so obviously they do, and as a result Espers lock themselves away in a separate dimension. But Terra is the result of a human stumbling into the Esper world and making a life there — she’s half-human, half-esper. And so, with an evil kingdom again trying to capture espers and abuse their power, she needs to not just stop the damage from happening, but unite both of her peoples. She was really great!
…except that, and I swear I’m not exaggerating here, the peak of her plot arc is a HOW DO YOU EMOTIONS wherein she randomly finds some children — not her children, to be clear, just random children — and decides she can no longer fight with the party because she has to take care of children. Boyfriend and I were laughing our asses off about this for days. She just stumbles across kids — or IDK, maybe her Uteran Homing Device kicked in and guided her to them (we ladies have those, because BABIES) — but either way she refuses to fight until the children grow up or something, because I guess making sure the world is saved for them to live in is secondary? Then the town is attacked and THE POWER OF LOVE makes her realize that if she doesn’t save the world the children’s lives will be kind of shitty and then there’s this weird revelation about how THIS STRANGE EMOTION SHE WAS FEELING was actually love for the children. She then brings this up in her monologue speech to the villain at the end, so the game ends with one woman bravely declaring, “I have found my purpose — babies!” and the other one, “I have found my purpose — a boyfriend!” and if I personally had sat down to write the most over-the-top terrible plot arc for a female character I could I could not possibly have come up with something this hilaribad.
Am I… not supposed to agree with this?
And then the whole final boss battle is a Very Shonen Lesson about dreams! and friendship! and for me, presumably, staying in the kitchen!
That’s not even getting into the awful ending. After the defeat of the final boss, all of the Espers die. All of them, presumably even the ones that were locked away. And no one seems to take issue with this, despite human/esper peace and saving the Espers theoretically being their goals. Terra manages to survive, I shit you not, because she loves the children so much. Somehow this turns her human and she’s presumably a just mothering from there on out. As if to drive the point home, the games ends with one of the older girls giving birth (because teen pregnancy, woo!). The ending is a complete mess.
The gameplay was… meh. It was mildly enjoyable in the most bare-bones, typical jRPG sense. I did like the magicite method of learning magic attacks, I thought that was pretty cool. But the cast was like 70% gimmick characters who were completely useless, so you just ended up taking the same few with you the whole time. It was too easy to get the main party badly overpowered.
Meanwhile, after about 2/3 through the game, it just kind of throws its hands up in the air and gives up. The last third of so has no clear method of progression. You just wake up, and then wander the world aimlessly trying to find other party members until you have enough to go tackle the final boss. There’s no really story, few hints as to how to get everyone back, and no real reason for what you do aside from “if I don’t have enough party members I won’t win.” It’s like the devs just stopped caring and said, eh, let them do whatever the hell they want. It was so bizarre. This is supposed to be the tense time leading up to the final confrontation, but there’s literally nothing.
And… this pains me to admit, but I actually did not finish the game. See, the final dungeon forces you to split up your characters into four parties, using all but one character, which mean you inevitably end up with shitty parties and they never cross paths, and there didn’t seem to be a way out after I saved late in the dungeon. So I had my worst party get stuck at a save point near the end where I couldn’t defeat a boss, and even if there was some way back I didn’t want to go back and do the long-ass thing all over again! AND there was no way to even know beforehand which party would be facing bosses and when, so without getting through the whole damn thing there was no way to plan! After hours and fucking hours of grinding to level them up having no effect on my chances of winning, I got so frustrated I just watched an LP of the end. The final dungeon was a complete nightmare. The whole endgame was. It left me with a really bad taste in my mouth about the whole experience, which I would have rated as ‘mediocre’ up until that point but now thoroughly resent.
What else? Well, on a positive note, I liked the portrait art a lot. And also the monster design, I thought there was a nice grotesqueness to everything that lent it some good atmosphere. Especially the more humanoid boss and Esper sprites, they were just really well done:
It also bares noting that the feminine, bemakeuped man is the Ultimate Evil, because of course he is. Not the dude who gave him power in the first place, he’s a woobie.
(Also, this is neither here nor there, but why are all the bad guys in old FF games apparently Italian? Did 1990s Japan have some weird obsession with mobster movies? Even Pokemon was run by the mafia.)
So, I have now played two of these games, and am still at a complete loss as to why this series has any following. That said, Boyfriend just started VII, and to my relief it looks kind of futuristic, not the bland nonsense pseudo-fantasy IV and VI were, so it promises some originality, at least? But ugh, I badly need another wRPG first.