I’m sad about finishing Final Fantasy VI

This past weekend I beat Final Fantasy VI for the first time. This is only the second Final Fantasy game I’ve ever finished, with the other being Final Fantasy VII back when I was in high school. FFVI is a game that I have heard for years is a classic, one of the greats, one of the best role-playing games, if not video games, ever.

I really liked it.

I wouldn’t have gone on the journey to play through this game (which took me about 35 hours all told) without the motivation of listening to the No One Can Know About This podcast, who just wrapped up their season this game. The hosts of that show are on a quest to play through – and document their experiences playing through – every single Final Fantasy game. I tried playing along with them from in their second season, covering Final Fantasy IV, for a while but I dropped off pretty early on. For FFVI, since I have heard that it was so good, I knew I wanted to play along. I bought the game on Steam when I saw it on sale and started out at the same time that the NOCKAT season began.

Going into the game I didn’t know much about it except for that it was a pretty traditional Final Fantasy game in terms of its combat, and at some point in the middle of the game a crazy clown blew up the world.

Oops, spoilers, I guess.

Knowing about that mid-game apocalypse actually almost kept me from making it through the game. As I worked through the “World of balance” that you start in, the verdant, prosperous world, I knew that everything was going to come to an end. Every time Kefka, the demented clown antagonist of the game showed up, it was discouraging to know that he wasn’t just some blowhard threatening to blow up the world, he was actually going to succeed, at least to a point.

The first half of the game was a lot of fun, with a fairly well developed and linear story leading you around the world to meet new characters to add to your party. As I got up to the moment when Kefka would end at all, I found myself wary of moving forward. I liked this world… I didn’t want to see it end. When Kefka listed a continent into the sky, Ultron-style, I knew what was coming, and I put the game down – and stopped listening to NOCKAT – for a few months. I still wanted to finish the game, but knowing that Kefka was about to end it all made it really hard for me to find the motivation to do so. It was like, if I just leave the game here, then everything will be OK… No one will get hurt… Nothing will be destroyed.

Eventually, I pushed on – mostly because I really wanted to hear the second half of NOCKAT’s season – and ended up getting through the little bit of the story left before Kefka brought the floating continent crashing down onto the world and destroyed the vast majority of everything.

When the world ends, the game jumps forward a year, and you find yourself on a lonely island with a dying old man named Cid and an overabundance of fish. There’s an unstated mechanic here where if you catch fast-moving fish it increases an invisible health meter for Cid, while slow-moving fish push it down, and this goes on until you hit one end of the bar or the other. Without knowing that saving him was a possibility, I more or less accepted that he would eventually pass away, and just kept feeding him fish (both fast and slow ones)  to try to comfort him on the way out. Because I was moving his invisible health meter up and down, it took forever for him to die, which made this sequence feel like a weird performance-art piece about the futility of life, about how no matter what you do everything always ends.

I hated it from a game-play perspective, but emotionally it really got me.

After Cid passes, you set off around the world again, rediscovering your party members, and gather steam to try to bring Kefka down. I actually found this part a lot less engaging than the first half of the game, and I think there are a couple of reasons for it. First of all, like I said, I liked the vibrant world that the game started with, so seeing it run down wasn’t fun for me… it just made me sad. Secondly, it actually wasn’t as run down as I expected it to be. I mean sure, the colors were less saturated, there were a few less people, and a very large landmass was missing (having been dropped from the sky), but mostly everything seemed to be okay? There were still shops where you can buy potions, there were still people hanging around the towns, Figaro castle was still around (although you had to unbury it a bit), there were still inns… It basically still felt like a typical Final Fantasy world, just a little bit less happy and colorful. Finally, the last reason I found this part less engaging is that I knew I was close to the end. The excitement of realizing that I was actually going to finish another Final Fantasy game, finally, made it hard for me to want to explore the “World of Ruin”

It took me a couple of tries to take down Kefka. I ended up leaving after my first attempt at the last dungeon to go and I recruit more members to my party so that I had a stronger lined up, but eventually, I got up to do the final boss… And died. The final boss works oddly in this game; you actually select 12 party members in a lineup order, and then they apparently are able to cycle out throughout a multistage boss fight, but it was never really clear to me how that worked. In fact, on my second attempt against Kefka, I managed to beat him without ever losing any of the four party members I started the battle with.

I was done. I had finished a game that is considered one of the greatest of all time.

I’m not sure how to feel about that. I am a bit upset that the game is over… It’s not like I couldn’t boot it up and continue from my last save before the boss if I wanted to, but I know that I won’t. There’s a finality to finishing a story, even if you could relive the story again. I’m reminded of that sequence on the lonely island with the old man, where I tried to care for the old man who was slowly dying in front of me…

This was a great game, but it had to end. I’m glad that I experienced it, I’m glad that I finished it, but I almost feel like I am mourning the experience.

I beat Final Fantasy VI for the first time, and I really liked it.

But I’m saddened by the realization that I can never do that again.

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