Happy 24th anniversary to Final Fantasy VI. The sixth entry in the lauded Final Fantasy series is arguably Square Enix's first RPG for adults. I'll take that a step further and suggest Final Fantasy VI was its only adult RPG for some years following.
I'm not saying Final Fantasy VII is a childish follow-up, and I'm not saying it's devoid of hard-hitting moments about growing up and fighting for your place in the world. Nor am I saying Final Fantasy VI's adult themes are delivered flawlessly through the two-frame pantomimes of its super-deformed character sprites. But looking back on the classic SNES game across the stretch of Final Fantasy titles that've come to life in the past quarter-century makes me appreciate how in 1994 Final Fantasy VI straight-up asked my awkward, hormone-addled 14-year-old self, "What is the point of living?"
Sure, Final Fantasy IX asked the exact same question a few years later. But unlike Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy VI doesn't offer you a warm smile and deep camaraderie while you seek your answer. Instead, as soon as you think you've figured everything out, Final Fantasy VI turns the world inside-out, rips you away from your friends, and poisons the archipelago that's set adrift after Armageddon. "OK," it says, "everything you love in this game is currently dead or dying. Now tell me what the point of living is, smartass."
At the time, Final Fantasy VI's heavy narrative was a big, thudding step away from the series' usual challenge to save the world from black entities and corrupt rulers. In fact, I still think one of the most striking things about Final Fantasy VI is how its story veers away sharply from the usual business about a war-hungry Empire to the literal end of the world. Once Kefka becomes a chaos god and people start dying of disease, hunger, and the mad clown's twisted whims, the Empire becomes something of a nostalgic memory. Shopkeepers long for the days when occupation was their biggest worry, and townspeople joke about how the once-priceless Imperial artefacts left behind (Magitek armor, for example) are nothing but useless relics now.
Unsurprising of such a famously dark game, Final Fantasy VI makes you work for anything resembling a happy ending. You begin the second half of the game as Celes, who wakes up on a solitary island filled with poisoned and undead animals. She accidentally kills her father figure, Cid, by feeding him sickened fish (unless you're nimble enough to catch those yummy fish). Believing she has nothing left to live for in a world that's teetering on the edge of oblivion, she attempts to kill herself.
But her attempt fails, and she's offered a faint glimmer of hope: A tiny fragment of evidence suggesting one of her friends is alive. Then she learns Cid built a raft, so she can get off the island. Neither catalyst is the divine messenger or cloud-skimming airship that typically propels an RPG hero towards their goal, but in a world that's little more than Kefka's playground, they're all you get.
From there, you and Celes share a journey to re-discover the meaning of life in a grey, ashen existence. You're quite alone with the former Imperial General for some time, and zombified enemies are everywhere (oh, you didn't build up Celes' levels in the World of Balance? Sucks to be you. Bust out that Fire magic). Your friends crawl out from under the rubble of the world one by one and rejoin you, each adding their own reasons for fighting against seemingly impossible odds. Sabin and Edgar still have a Kingdom to protect, Kefka or no Kefka. Terra wants to make the world safe for a young couple who conceived a kid shortly after the world fell. Setzer is initially driven to despair and vows to give up flying, but he comes to realize he's the only one who can help the party reach Kefka's tower—that looming, chaotic "monument to non-existence." And Mog just comes along because Ramuh told him to, kupo.
Final Fantasy VI isn't just an adult game because it asks big questions about the meaning of life, however. It continues to ask a lot of little questions while you're on the road. By now, we're all aware of the comparatively tiny things that needle at us while the world crumbles around us. The planet might not sustain us for much longer and we're teetering on the edge of immeasurable conflict, but the rent is still due. You still need to find something to eat. Your friends need you. Your detractors still nip at your heels. It's true for Final Fantasy VI's crew, too. Locke needs to work through the guilt that keeps him from fully living life. Celes needs to learn to trust her comrades. Terra needs to come to terms with the wilder side of her half-Esper heritage. Cyan needs to shed his guilt over his family's death. Not every problem vanishes along with the black clouds and the bad guy's corpse.
(Well, Terra's Esper half technically vanishes when Kefka dies, and she—you know what, never mind.)
When Final Fantasy VII debuted in 1997, there was a lot of talk about its mature themes. Unlike Final Fantasy VI's challenging content, many of Final Fantasy VII's themes are front and center for easy inspection. The rendered movies looked incredible at the time. Midgar is dark and damp, scarred with graffiti and criss-crossed with neon lights. The characters swear liberally. There are jokes about pimps, prostitutes, and gay bathhouses.
When game magazines talked about Final Fantasy VII's mature themes, that's what they referenced. The hype for Final Fantasy's dark new identity was helped along by Sony's aggressive ad campaign for Final Fantasy VII, as well as the series' hop from the SNES to the PlayStation. Final Fantasy VI was made to look and sound like kids' stuff, a Nintendo-censored game from the old and busted era of cartridges. Much as I love Final Fantasy VII here and now, I initially felt a little indignant when the "new" mature themes sold to me turned out to be badly-spelled swear words and jokes about cross-dressing. Long live Barret's hearty "Shi't!", though.
Ah, but this is a day of celebration, not a day of grumbling and finger-pointing. Again: Happy anniversary, Final Fantasy VI. I appreciate you more and more the older I become, and that's special. I hope someday you'll get the Fina Fantasy IV: Complete Collection-style remake you richly deserve.
This Week's Notable Releases
It's a pretty quiet week in terms of notable releases. There's not much in the way of major titles from publishers, so instead our biggest names this week are all smaller independent titles.
- Minit [April 3]: Minit is an adventure game roguelike where you play in intervals of sixty seconds. Our hero wakes up with the drive to save the world from a curse that causes each day to end after a single minute. Minit features a decidely Game Boy-style aesthetic, minus the green-coloring. Is this your next indie pickup?
- Penny-Punching Princess [April 3]: Nippon-Ichi Software offers another weird spin on traditional action-adventure game mechanics. Penny-Punching Princess places players in the shoes of a princess of a kingdom where survival is based on who has the most money. The Princess is out for revenge against the Dragoloan family, punching her enemies to death and adding up the spoils on her handy gold calculator. Using the gold found is each level, you can bribe enemies to work for you or pick up new combat skills. If you're looking for a quick Switch release to pad out the week, this is the one!
- The Adventure Pals [April 3]: You may have heard this premise before: a young boy and his shape-shifting animal friend go on wild adventures in a fantasy land of weird characters. The Adventure Pals is a clear homage to Cartoon Network's Adventure Time. The art style is more Behemoth than Pendleton Ward, but the idea is the same. The Adventure Pals is a side-scrolling adventure that was Kickstarted two years ago and is now ready for prime-time.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Dark World (Final Fantasy VI)
What can I say. Gabbing about Final Fantasy VI's themes of death and hopelessness is addictive. In my essay, I talk about how the game makes you earn your happy ending from rock-bottom, and I need to reiterate how true that is. Celes is alone. She needs to find a way off the Island she's stuck on. She needs to find her friends. She needs to find a reason to fight, to live. That "To-Do" list becomes even more difficult to complete when the theme accompanying your awakening is Dark World, one of the most hopeless pieces of music Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu ever composed.
The end of the world is inevitable in Final Fantasy VI. There's no way to prevent it. But you don't know that. The Cataclysm carries a suggestion of blame. Everything happens so quickly and the scene is so frantic, by the time the game slows down and settles on Celes and the solitary island, you're left wondering "Oh, jeez—is this my fault? Could I have prevented this somehow?" You can't, but the question keeps poking at you as you explore the blasted lands with Dark World at your back. Have fun!
Caty’s AltGame Corner
The first time I played Long Gone Days was a few years ago at Day of the Devs in San Francisco. I was enamored with the Chilean developers' anime-inspired art style for the game, its brutal modern wartime setting (complete with unsettling sniping sequences), and how it somehow squeezed all that into the RPG genre. Long Gone Days recently hit Early Access last week, available on itch.io and Steam, as the game will be improved and have things added to it overtime.
The game itself doesn't take its war setting lightly. The game has you navigating language and cultural barriers, struggling to keep your party's morale up via dialogue options, and clearing out areas with either a rifle or sniper. The game also features no random encounters, with every battle directly correlating with the plot of the game. If you've been on the lookout for a niche RPG that's very much still in active development, then Long Gone Days is essential to give a look. It's available on PC for $14.99.
Mike's Media Minute
Ready Player One bowed at the box office this weekend, an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Ernest Cline as helmed by veteran director Steven Spielberg. So how did it do?
Okay. In fact, outside of its international take, there wasn't much notable about Ready Player One's opening weekend. The film made $53.2 million for the 4-day Easter weekend and $41.2 million for the standard 3-day weekend, which was largely in-line with expectations.
Some places are touting it as the fifth-biggest Easter weekend opening, but that's because most films don't open on Easter. The films ahead of it are Batman v Superman ($166 million), Furious 7 ($147 million), the Fate of the Furious ($98 million), and the Clash of the Titans reboot ($61 million). The closest comparison was G.I. Joe: Retaliation with an opening of $40.5 million, but the budget for that film was $130 million versus Ready Player One's $175 million.
Which is to say domestically, it performed fine. Not a flop, but also not really worth writing about. As an anchor here, Ant-Man, probably one of the more mediocre Marvel films in terms of performance, had a non-holiday opening weekend of $57 million and like G.I. Joe: Retaliation only cost $130 million.
As I said though, the international take saved the film from an average performance. The international gross came to $128 million, bringing the total worldwide take to $181.2 million. China was the big winner here with $61.7 million, while the rest of the territories were just solid. That's just under the Chinese opening numbers for Pacific Rim: Uprising, which collapsed in the region for this week; still those films performed better in the region than some other domestic winners like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It'll be interesting to see how the film legs out from here. Domestically, it has no real competition next week, while the week after offers Rampage, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. In China, it's seeing high audience scores, so it could continue to perform strongly there. Oh, and Black Panther is on course to hit $1.3 billion, landing in the Top 10 all-time worldwide chart. Domestically, it's definitely going to pass Jurassic World to take the #4 spot, which a chance at beating Titanic.
This Week's News and Notes
- Axe of the Blood God: Last week, we reported that Dragon Quest XI is heading West this year, but we won't be getting the Nintendo 3DS version. Instead, Square Enix is launching on our shores with a PlayStation 4 and Steam release. On this week's Axe of the Blood God, we discuss whether Square Enix is making a mistake by skipping the 3DS release in North America and Europe. The overall feeling our comments section is "yes".
- The USgamer Podcast: The USgamer Podcast team is complete once again! This week, we talk all about Dragon Quest XI, Ni no Kuni 2, and Far Cry 5. Mostly Ni no Kuni 2 and it's oddly serious bent. Also Caty and Nadia hate colleges or something. Subscribe here!
- After a rough launch in 2016, Hello Games is ready to offer the game's "biggest update yet". The new update is called No Man's Sky Next, which will also see the game ending its PlayStation exclusivity with an Xbox One release. Fans are pretty excited for what's coming down the pipeline, after previous updates fixed a number of content issues. Mike argues that games like No Man's Sky are indicative of a new industry, where developers keep evolving games until they find solid audiences.
- We sat down at GDC 2018 to talk about Nier: Automata director Yoko Taro in a lengthy interview. Taro revealed that Nier: Automata was almost cancelled because he had problems waking up early in the morning. This proves that Taro is people, just like you and me!
- With the 20th anniversary and the release of StarCraft Remastered, we also talked with StarCraft lead programmer Bob Fitch about the early days of the game. Game development is hard and things don't always come together, so when it does it's great to get a look back at what went right and what went horribly wrong. Speaking of horribly wrong, we also talked to StarCraft executive producer Bill Roper about how the game ruined his birthday one year.
- PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds will be launching a brand-new map today on its new extra test server. The map, codenamed Savage, is smaller than the game's previous two maps, measuring 4x4 blocks. The idea is to have a more aggressive style of play, with shorter matches, not unlike PUBG competitor Fortnite Battle Royale.
- The Nintendo Switch is still the new hotness is Japan, passing 4 million units in sales. That's not enough to pass the PlayStation 4 in the region, which currently sits at 6.5 million, but the Switch is selling much faster calendar aligned. It's enough that the two platforms of note for Japanese developers are the PlayStation 4 and Switch.