Book Review: Final Fantasy VI, by Sebastian Deken
I’m old enough to call it Final Fantasy III.
Just for convenience’s sake, I’m gonna call it Final Fantasy VI, since, y’know, that’s the title of Final Fantasy VI.
Ever since I found out about Boss Fight Books, I’ve been waiting for a volume on FFVI, since it’s easily one of my favorite games of all time. I spent untold hours playing that game in a wood-paneled midwestern basement … at least until I loaned my cartridge to my cousin whose dog chewed it up. Even then, I’ve returned to FFVI in all kinds of formats over the years: emulation, the GBA port, and on the SNES Classic mini-console. I even went so far as to pitch my own take on the game, though Boss Fight Books decided to go in another direction. And honestly, Sebastian Deken did such a great job with Final Fantasy VI, I can’t blame them.]
One of the most enduring elements of Final Fantasy VI is its soundtrack, composed by now-legendary Nobuo Uematsu. Deken examines the game through its music, sometimes going into measure-by-measure breakdowns of particular tracks. While original music composed for video games had been a thing before FFVI, Uematsu’s soundtrack was a turning point, as well as a warm up for Uematsu’s equally legendary Final Fantasy 7 score. Honestly, this book could have easily been called Final Fantasy VI Soundtrack and published by 33 1/3rd books. In fact, Deken quotes the 33 1/3’s volume on the Super Mario Bros soundtrack, along with several other works on video game history and music.
Final Fantasy VI leans more towards the academic side of Boss Fight Books’ oeuvre– it’s not nearly as personal and nostalgic as many other books in the series. This said, Final Fantasy VI is hardly a boring read. Deken uses his extensive knowledge of music to contextualize the game, in particular its famous opera house sequence. In addition, Deken also lays out some fascinating ideas about the uncanny valley, comparing the stylized ‘chibi’ sprites of the characters to the 16-bit instrumentation of the music. In both cases, the player’s imagination fills in the gaps presented by the SNES’s technological limits– which in turn has allowed the game (and its soundtrack) to endure over the decades, where later, more photorealistic games have far less cultural cachet.
Deken also touches on the phenomenon of video game music being played in symphony halls, something that’s served to bring in new audiences (and money) that would have never gone to a classical orchestra otherwise. Which, honestly, is just another variation on the debate between what ‘great’ music is, and what actually puts butts in seats.
The only thing I can really complain about in Final Fantasy VI is that … well, it’s too short a book, for too deep a game. Deken focuses on the music of the game– which, don’t get me wrong, is great –but at the same time there’s lots of other aspects of the game to dig into. There’s the sprawling, ensemble cast, the steampunk setting, the unique (and sometimes broken) mechanics, and even how FFVI served as a ‘warm up’ for the pop culture juggernaut of FFVII. It’s all stuff that Deken mentions briefly, if at all. Then again, Boss Fight Books’ volumes tend to be on the shorter side, so there’s not quite enough room for an exhaustive analysis of every aspect of the game. I suppose if the worst thing I have to say about Final Fantasy VI is “I wanted to read more of it,” then that means Deken’s certainly doing something right.