If you’re a Final Fantasy fan, you’ve already likely been in a conversation where you’ve defended your own favorite entry in the saga to the death. I too have had many a conversation like this, and most recently, one Kyle Malone pelted a Final Fantasy VII-shaped article at me a couple weeks back, claiming that perhaps the most overrated Final Fantasy game of all time was the best.
Clearly, I think he’s more than a little wrong about the whole thing, as my own personal favorite entry in the series is none other than its predecessor, Final Fantasy VI (or Final Fantasy III, if you played it on the SNES back in the day). Now, don’t get me wrong, I very much understand that this opinion is just as clichéd as Kyle’s, but stick with me for a bit, and I’ll tell you why I’m right.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Why can’t he just tell us why Final Fantasy VI is great rather than tear down another classic.” And you know what? You’re right. But I don’t feel like it. So without further ado, here is why Final Fantasy VI absolutely trounces Final Fantasy VII.
I have to start out with the obvious here. As groundbreaking as the graphics were in Final Fantasy VII, they really don’t hold up incredibly well. And it’s understandable why that is. The game was produced at the dawn of a new era in the industry, when devs were switching up their pixels for polygons, and man does it show. The figures are squat, blocky, and completely unflattering. Save for some slick-looking FMVs, which still look awful by today’s standards, we are mostly left with a product that leaves far too much to the imagination.
And don’t get me wrong — there is nothing wrong with that. But the reality is as cool as we “imagined” things were in Final Fantasy VII, it was mostly a result of us filling in the gaps in our head than it was their graphics truly conveying something new.
Final Fantasy VI, on the other hand, was created near the peak of the 16-bit era. It was created as devs were mastering the art of a style that had been around for a LONG time. As such, we have a game that is a great deal more polished than its successor. Whereas it’s kinda hard to look at the squat and blocky figures in FFVII, the art and designs of FFVI are just as beautiful as the day it hit store shelves over a couple decades back.
Now, let’s talk about the music. I’ll admit there’s an extra bit of sheen on FFVII, thanks to it not being a cartridge-based game, but I’ll be damned if FFVI doesn’t hold up as one of the better soundtracks of the series to this day. All it takes for me fall back into those nostalgic memories is to listen to that moody, atmospheric overworld theme. Seriously, it never fails.
I’ll admit this one doesn’t quite fall in my favor. If there is one area in which Final Fantasy VII trounces Final Fantasy VI, it may be one aspect of the narrative. More specifically, the characters. Simply put, there are fewer of them for the gamer to juggle. And with fewer characters come fewer subplots, and with fewer subplots comes a more cohesive narrative that is easier for us to click with. All in all, the game has eight playable characters.
Final Fantasy VI, on the other hand, has over 20, and there are some that are much more engaging than others (and some you can unknowingly leave to die). While this is great for diverse combat, it does make it difficult to click emotionally with all of them, even when your party is split into their story branches.
That being said, I did find the characters like Edgar, Sabin, and Celes. The relationship between the two brothers was relatable, and the shades of gray shown off with Celes were incredibly impactful to me at the time. this brings me to the story.
Where FFVI really trounces FFVII is with the story as a whole. Sure, FFVII fans will always tout the death of Aerith (or Aeris) as the most emotional thing ever…but what about when the villain of the game full-on wins two-thirds through the game and you have to basically fight your way back against an opponent who has become a god. The sheer ambition of this piece is unmatched.
That whole last act of the game was completely unexpected for me at the time, as I thought the fight on the flying island is where we’d have our final confrontation with the baddies in the game. Little did we know that this is when Kefka would be taking his opportunity to seize control.
Final Fantasy VII‘s story wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, but it dabbled a bit in what I like to call anime convulsion. In short, it gets twisted around in its own mythos sometimes that it’s hard for us to fully understand. Call me simplistic, but FFVI’s more straightforward narrative allowed me to better click with everything altogether, making for a much more memorable experience.
The Sad Reality
Okay, I’m going to ‘fess up here.
My perspective is warped. They say you never forget your first time, and Final Fantasy VI was not only my first Final Fantasy game, but my first turn-based RPG. That means that its story, characters, battle system, and overall impact are forever embedded in my brain as particularly amazing.
With that in mind, I think there is also a good chance that the same could be said of Final Fantasy VII. Even if it wasn’t your first, it was the first to radically change the world of JRPGs for many impressionable young gamers, and is therefore untouchable.
When all said and done, it doesn’t matter which one is better. One was the end of an era, the other the beginning, and both represent two very different sides of the same coin. My recommendation: play and enjoy both, and don’t listen to anyone who insists one is better than the other.