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This was the last Final Fantasy of the 16-bit era. Despite its limitations, or maybe because of it, even the graphics and music are still enjoyable. The creators knew the limitations of the system and designed the sprites in a cutesy style that manages to express so much with a limited palette.
And then there's the cast of characters. While most other Final Fantasies have a wide cast of characters, most of them also seem to have a few fixed "lead characters" - like Cloud in FF 7, Squall in FF 8, Cecil in FF 4, etc that you have to use through most of the game. This one, however, has 14. 12 of them have deep backstory and development. Even if you don't like them all, you're almost sure to find someone within this cast you can connect with. And there is no real lead - there are parts of the story where certain characters are required, but any of the characters you have can be your "main" character for most of the game.
Moving on to the story - it's hard to say without spoilers, but there is something huge that happens in the game that rarely occurs. That's when you really discover the theme of the game, and where the character development really shines.
Some people complain about the main villain - yes, he's basically a powerful psychopath, and that's rather simple. I don't mind it. I look at it like a force of nature - it's like struggling against a hurricaine. It doesn't really matter if the hurricaine isn't particularly nuanced or intelligent, you can still relate to the protagonist's struggle and development in the story.
And the gameplay? Again, great. I love how the uniqueness of the characters carry through into battle, while still letting you power them up through learning magic. It's a half-and-half blend between having completely unique characters you must use in one particular way (like FF 4 or 9) versus completely customizable characters that end up all being the same because of the "one ideal build" (like FF 5, 7, 8).
There's a whole wide world to explore and plenty of secrets to find like any good Final Fantasy. And despite having so many characters, they are all unique and memorable. A true classic of the Final Fantasy series and gaming as a whole.
I think you (and many other critics) really oversell the character development in FF 6. I was really skeptical that a 20 hour game could provide credible character development for its of 14 characters, when the more modern Dragon Age Origins struggles to do the same with 10 in a 60-80 hour playthrough. It really depends on what you define as character development. In FF 6's case everyone has a tragic backstory they have to get over, and which they sort of do in sidequests, often times not connected to the main plot. This results in the problems coming off as set pieces rather than a cohesive story. Some are barely quests to begin with, Setzer doesn't really even have character development, just a reflection on a lost love that makes him seem less shallow.
You say there is no lead but many of the characters in FF 6 feel like party filler. Edgar and Sabin have a reunion as brothers and a brief tiff with Kefka, and then do practically nothing for the rest of the game. Same goes with Cyan who is one of few characters whose problems are actually connected with the plot. Sure there is an epic scene where Sabin, Shadow, and him fight in robot suits to avenge his family, but after he joins the group, the only thing he does before the time skip is raise an objection to Celes joining.
Which brings me to my next point, character interaction is practically nil. Once your party roster fills beyond five characters, there less party characters conversing in cutscenes and more standard avatar speaking for the rest of the group. In the meeting with Gestahl, your party just casually agrees to cooperating with the Empire, when Terra and Cyan should have some serious objections to this. The same goes for sidequests, its less about other viewpoints allowing a person to examine their own flaws and more about a specific scenario being tailored to having the character confront his flaws. Its less a team and more a series of short stories. Even the more controversial FF 13 put more effort into interaction colluding with character development than FF 6.
You can say FF 6 was good for its time. But best does not translate into "best in proportion to the time it was developed". It means best. FF V and FF XV had better character interaction, so when bad things did happen to a character it affected all of the characters. FF 7 had characters more strongly connected to the plot, so there was less danger of characters being shelved.
The magic system was also really annoying when combined with the large cast. In order for characters to be competent they had to train spells which was time consuming. This results in players choosing between 4 to 6 characters to use and shelving the rest. The esper stat bonuses make the gap between favored party members and new insertions, all the wider. The system discourages experimentation with party builds, particularly with higher effort characters like Gau, Strugo, Relm, Gogo, and Umaro.
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