Final Fantasy VI: Why Sprites are Sometimes Better

As I’ve written in a past post, I have been trying to catch up on many of the old “Final Fantasy” games lately, and my next choice after “Final Fantasy VIII” (still left unfinished as of writing this, but I hope to beat it someday) was “Final Fantasy VI”, which I’ve heard is actually supposed to be as good as or even better than “Final Fantasy VII”, which is quite impressive, considering how amazing “FFVII” was. Well, after playing it, I can’t say it’s quite as good as “FFVII”, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because very few games are. Nevertheless, it is still a fantastic game, and I had a most wonderful time playing it.

As you may remember, I wasn’t a huge fan of “FFVIII”. I’m sorry, I just wasn’t. Fortunately, I found “FFVI” to be most refreshing because I really got the opportunity to see exactly what people were talking about when they said the old “FF” games were great. This game was indeed quite wonderful, with a good story and a lot of great characters, including the infamous Kefka, who I’ve heard is considered by some to be one of the best video game villains of all time, and I suppose I can see what they’re talking about, as he’s definitely…different, to say the least.

And I very much loved the gameplay, as well. I liked how each character had a unique move-set that only they could use, like Cyan’s various sword techniques or Sabin’s Blitz moves, where you input a certain sequence of buttons to make him do a certain attack. This really helped to make each character stand out from the rest, with some being more useful and some less (Edgar is my favorite because of his crossbow, which can hit all enemies at once; Gau is my least favorite, and if you played the game, you probably know what I mean). At first, most of your characters can’t use magic, but eventually they can, and I even liked how you would basically choose a set of spells to learn, and your characters would learn them once they gained enough magic points during battle, then you’d switch to another set and so on. Heck, even the Relics, which give your characters certain benefits, like automatic Regen or Shell when they are low on HP (well, it was called Safe back then, but it’s called Shell nowadays…or Protect…I get them mixed up) were a great addition to the game, as well. I eventually bought a Cure Ring for each character so they could have Regen at all times. It was awesome.

But, I don’t need to rant at you about how great this game is. Just go out and play it for yourself (it’s surprisingly easy and inexpensive for such an old and awesome game, because sometimes, the best things in life…cost about $10). What I am going to discuss is something that struck me as I was playing the game. This game is originally a Super Nintendo game remade on the PS1, with graphics akin to “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”, and though graphics don’t really matter tons to me, I was a little apprehensive about playing the game because…this wasn’t PS1 graphics or N64 graphics we’re talking about, it was…SNES. And that is an old console. What is it…16-bit? Yes, no, anyone? (By the way, does anyone know what “bit” graphics the modern consoles are…? A trillion? I don’t even know what bits are, so…)

Okay, you get the point. Oh dear, oh my, the graphics are going to be 16-bit (unless the SNES is not…) in this game, perhaps I’ll die. (That was kind of a rhyme, but I am well aware that it would have been far more effective if the second half wasn’t so much longer than the first.) Ahem, but you know what I realized…? Well, first off, the lower quality graphics didn’t end up bothering me. And then it got me thinking, are some games far better because of the poor graphics? In the past, I’ve heard people talk about how characters that look real can sometimes be much less relatable than the little sprites that look like a clump of pixels, but can emote in ways that would be, frankly, frightening in a more realistic character. Body movement and the characters’ tiny, little faces can sometimes be so much more expressive in a game with simpler graphics, and I think it really helps to endear the characters to us all the more. Relm’s face when she laughs or Kefka going on a tirade would be completely different in graphics more similar to those nowadays, and I think better graphics would ruin it.

Seriously, realistic graphics can ruin a game, I think. Well, not ruin, but it can really change how we relate to the characters, which in turn can change how we feel about the events in the game. Which is better, a realistic character with stiff movements and dead eyes or an emotive sprite? The correct answer is the latter, so if you said anything else, you have failed my very objective, and not subjective at all, quiz. But, I forgive you for it. Ahem, this game basically got me thinking a whole lot about how far graphics have come and how far they, frankly, haven’t come. Because we have old games out there that we can form a far more emotional attachment to than even the crazy realistic ones. And I think that the emotional attachment in a game is far more important than realistic graphics.

I’m not saying, however, that games should start going back to the lower quality graphics again. We’ve moved on, and you can’t really start going backwards in technology. The simple 8-bit, 16-bit graphics are a thing of the past, to enjoy in old games and nowhere else. Where it’s quite fascinating, I think, to see just how developers were able to work with simpler technology and still make interesting environments and emotive characters and frightening monsters. Now that technology has evolved, however, such graphics in a newer game are not going to generate the same fascination for me as a game from an older time would. Obviously. But, I do think developers can learn from the older style of graphics and see just what it was about those old games that made the characters, in some ways, so much more real and relatable than the ones that look like real people, but act like zombies before the decay sets in. (Speaking of zombies, did anyone notice when they misspelled the word as “zonbie” in the game?) It would be better to tone down the realism in order to get closer to the expressive nature of the old character sprites because it is largely the characters that connect a player emotionally to a game, and if you can’t connect to the characters, then it’s quite possible that you won’t connect to the game, either.

So, yeah, I just wondered, would “FFVI” have been anywhere near as popular if it had better graphics? If it was the same game in all other respects, but the graphics were on par with “Final Fantasy XIII”, for example, would it be the same? At the very least, I think it would certainly lose the charm that only old games have. “FFVII” had this same charm, as well, the sprites of the SNES replaced with chunky little 3D characters that felt strangely real despite how silly they looked, with their exaggerated shrugs and other such movements. It doesn’t matter that Cloud looks, frankly, terrible because he still made me care about him just as much as his far more realistic depiction in “Advent Children” did. Maybe more so, but that might be because the game was better than the movie (seriously, though, the movie was gorgeous, even if the story was incomprehensible).

In the end, I am quite glad “FFVI” had such simple graphics, as it gave the game a certain charm that I think really helped me to love it all the more. Some of the most successful game developers are probably those that know how to make the best use of the technology they have to work with. Rareware managed to make the graphics of “Donkey Kong Country” the best the SNES had to offer, while Squaresoft did a wonderful job with emotive sprites. Strangely enough, however, it seems that Square has forgotten how important relatable characters are, as their games nowadays have beautiful graphics, but dull characters. Maybe the graphics aren’t to blame in this situation, but it’s a shame Square doesn’t create characters that we care about anymore. Perhaps they need to take a look back at their old work and see where they’re lacking, so that maybe we can have “FF” games that not only have wonderful graphics, but relatable characters again, just like we used to have before graphics became such a big deal.

The Duck, Which Would Make the World’s Cutest Sprite

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2 thoughts on “Final Fantasy VI: Why Sprites are Sometimes Better

  1. Awesome to hear you finally went back and played FFVI, and even better to hear you enjoyed the sprites and could handle the older SNES graphics. As you know I completely agree with you about how emotion can be relayed to the player better through limited graphics and imagination, while sometimes realistic characters can be less relatable. FFVI really was an ambitious game for its time and you can see the mechanics and storytelling that laid the groundwork for FFVII on the PlayStation. Great article!

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    1. It really is a shame that graphics are so important nowadays, as it’s a rather superficial way to judge a game. The graphics of “FFVI” were so much less fancy than that of “FFXIII”, for example, but it’s clear which game is far superior. It really is amazing how expressive they can make those little sprites, and the limited graphics don’t take away from the game in the slightest. In some ways, they might even add to the game because good graphics aren’t the main focus.

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