Thursday, February 6, 2014

Don't let the sprites fool you - Final Fantasy VI is a game you want on your smartphone

Full disclosure about your pal here at Kawaiian Punch - I work as a full-time games journalist specializing in the mobile and handheld space.  As such, I play a lot of mobile games.

I also happen to love Final Fantasy VI - as you might have guessed - and consider it to be the very pinnacle of immersive storytelling.  I've also played through it10 times to date across its various platform releases.

With all that in mind, I'm here today to tell you that you should probably warm up to the idea of spending $16 on the iOS or Android version of Final Fantasy VI because it's easily the best iteration of the game to date... even if it lacks a native controller.

"Heresy!"  You might scream or, "But Kawiian Punch, the new sprites are SO ugly!" you might moan... and those are both understandable interjections.  But neither changes the fact that you'll be cheating yourself out of what could be the greatest smartphone and tablet gaming experience you've ever had if you skip over this game for its controversial new visuals.

Sure, I *might* have said the same thing about Final Fantasy V last spring - and it's no mistake that I'm saying it again here.

FFVI for iOS & Android follows in the same vein as last year's FFV release and adds some really nice features that were missing - yes, missing! - from the original 16-bit SNES version.  Outside of the new additions and glossy new paintjob, however, it's still the same great game it was back in 1994.

Elixirs are still hidden in clocks, Kefka still evokes the same visceral feelings of impotent rage in players that he did back in the days before Wi-Fi, and Celes' aria in the opera house still ranks as one of the most amazing and captivating sequences ever produced in an RPG.

So, what's new then?

For starters, this version of FFVI is based on the excellent Gameboy Advance version which means there are new espers to collect and a bonus endgame dungeon to complete.

On top of that, the mobile port introduces a handy (and optional) auto-battle setting that lets you blast through random encounters with ease as your characters repeat the last sequence of commands you gave them.

Not only does auto-battle make leveling up more enjoyable, it takes the slog out of most of the game's dungeons and lets you pay more attention to the story since you won't have to tap Attack, Magic -> Blizarra, Attack, Bushido every single round of every sodding battle.

Make no mistake - you'll want to switch off auto-battle for boss fights or more serious random encounters but it's an absolute treat to use during tedious, "Oh no, not you again" random encounters.

Joining the auto-battle is an optional hint bar (hidden by default) which provides a clue as to where your dungeon-crawling ass should be headed next.

I remember spending hours if not days in the original SNES version backtracking to pick up a lost plot thread because I forgot where I was supposed to be heading.  The hint bar's a nice remedy to this frustration - assuming you're too lazy to fire up GameFAQs - although its usefulness all but ends in the World of Ruin.

This is due in no small part to the massive, open-ended nature of the game in its second half, but I swear the little Moogle only has 3-4 hints to give you in Act II and it's a bit annoying that it doesn't adjust to a granular level when you're locked into a sidequest area like Darill's Tomb or Cyan's nightmare.

And speaking of Cyan, the resident aging, technophobic samurai receives a *very* welcome update in this iteration.

Unlike previous versions of FFVI, you no longer need to babysit his Bushido gauge in order to select a skill.  This flawed - yes, flawed! - mechanic in the original game meant if you wanted to execute Tempest (QuadraSlice) or Oblivion (Cleave), you'd need to sit and watch his gauge for the better part of a minute allowing the enemies to score free hits on your party that you couldn't answer since the gauge overwrote your menu screen.

This is all changed in the mobile port of FFVI.  You simply select whatever skill you want Cyan to use and the gauge charges in the background. He can't act until it's done, which is fair, but other characters can - which is an extremely welcome improvement to the gameplay of the earlier ports of the game.

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All told, I really loved the original, beautiful sprite art of the SNES version of Final Fantasy VI - and I always will - but I approached the mobile port with an open mind (since, y'know, I had to review it...) and I was very happy that I did.

After a few hours with Terra, Locke, et al., I barely noticed the change in the artwork because I was so wrapped up in the beautiful story and excellent music which are - if we're being completely honest with ourselves - the reason why this game was so popular in the first place.

So if you've got the cash to spend and room on your phone or tablet, this is a Final Fantasy game that you absolutely owe it to yourself to play whether you've experienced the gorgeous world of FFVI yet or not.  It's welcoming to new players, challenging to veterans, and it's still the excellent game that it always was.

Note: while it's true the Android version launched with a crippling bug that would freeze the game during a certain pivotal cutscene, that issue has since been fixed and the game is now very playable.