In most stories, the more characters introduced to readers or viewers, the more convoluted and confusing the experience can get. Video games are not an exception, but due to the length of games and the involvement that players have in the growth of characters, getting around the problems a large cast can bring is easier if approached correctly. One game that has an extraordinarily large cast of characters, especially for the time it was released, is Final Fantasy VI.
Final Fantasy VI does a good job of introducing all the characters and making them all feel special to the player. Every character has a special ability that sets them apart, and all have some pretty excellent character designs as well, and plenty of personality. No two characters are exactly alike, even when they have similar stats or equipment restrictions. It’s not easy to get characters confused or mixed up because they are all unique in one way or another.
Most of the characters in Final Fantasy VI also fall into some of the stereotypical classes that the series is known for. Locke is a thief, Tera and Celes are red mages, Relm is a pure mage, Umaro is a berserker, Mog is a dancer, and so on. The fourteen characters available mean that the player has a large choice of combinations to fit their play style.
Want to power through the game using strong physical attacks and abilities? Gear up Sabin, Edgar, Terra, and Celes with the best weapons and armor available and just have them pound away at enemies. This also gives the player some good access to magic for healing if needed. Want a pure mage party that needs to draw upon magic spells to succeed? Choose Strago, Relm, Mog, and Gogo for some magic mayhem. Mog can tank damage as well as cast spells or dance, and Gogo can use all sorts of magical abilities that are usually exclusive to other characters. These options give the game a ton of reasons to come back and replay it even after beating it one hundred times.
The drawback to the system in Final Fantasy VI is that it’s very easy to over level characters and “break” the game, making it too easy. It’s almost hard to resist teaching every character every good spell in the game and leveling them to the point of one-hit killing enemies and bosses. This isn’t a BAD way to play the game if that’s how you enjoy it, but it hurts the uniqueness of the characters. It’s more fun to use strategy with the characters and their strengths than to just steamroll everything.
As far as the story goes, the writers at Squaresoft did a decent job giving almost every character a spotlight to get to know them. Some characters get a lot more attention than others, though. The characters that get less of a spotlight sometimes feel more like supporting cast rather than main characters.
Gau, for example, just feels like he’s sort of along for the ride. Other than giving Sabin and Cyan a method to escape from the Veldt, he doesn’t really do anything to add to the story. Even a character that feels as major as the aforementioned Sabin doesn’t really have anything to do after a lengthy quest to get back to his allies after an unfortunate dive into a raging river. Sure, he’s around to support the rest of the cast with his monk skills, but he doesn’t really drive the plot forward.
Terra, Locke, Celes, Edgar, and Setzer, have a much bigger influence on the plot in Final Fantasy VI. Everyone else, from a story standpoint, is really nothing more than filler. Again, some of these characters have interesting sub plots and may have an action or two that move the plot along, but the characters mentioned above have a lot greater impact on the story. Final Fantasy VI could exist without the filler characters, but could not exist without Terra, Locke, Celes, Edgar, and Setzer.
The way Final Fantasy VI fixes this is giving the player the choice of what characters to use at most times throughout the adventure. Cyan, for instance, may not be the most central character to the plot. But if player uses him a lot and develops a fondness for his surly disposition and sweet mustache, then Cyan really does become more important than he seems to be. Cyan may not see a lot of dialogue time throughout the game, but if he’s the one putting down bosses left and right for those that do talk a lot, he’s pretty important. That’s the beauty of a video game. The experience changes depending on the player.
While some of the characters in the game are more important to the dialogue aspects of the story, Final Fantasy VI is all about choice, meaning that the player can choose who is important. That’s really one of the biggest draws to this game, alongside the excellent graphics, music, and gameplay. If it’s been awhile since you’ve tackled Final Fantasy VI, give it another shot, and maybe try bringing a new important character along with you.