Nearly 30 years ago to the day, Square unleashed Final Fantasy 6 (known at that time as Final Fantasy 3 in North America) upon the world. “Unleashed” certainly feels like the most appropriate word I could use to describe the impact of that experience. For gamers in the West such as myself, not even the incredible Final Fantasy 2 (Final Fantasy 4) prepared us for the technical advancements and artistic ambition of Final Fantasy 6. In retrospect, I’d go so far as to argue that none of the previous five Final Fantasy titles (and their various spin-offs) properly prepared us for the triumphs of Final Fantasy 6’s cinematic presentation. 

That element of the game is on full display during the legendary RPG’s marquee sequence: an interactive opera that begins with an overture and ends with a boss fight. It remains a landmark moment for the medium that forever changed how games were perceived and created. 

On paper, the scene and its set-up are rather simple. Your crew needs an airship, and they’ve decided the best way to get one is to have one of your party members (Celes) pose as an opera singer in order to capture the attention of a wealthy man who will be attending an upcoming show. During that sequence, you must help Celes remember her lines and, eventually, do battle with an octopus-like monster who quite literally crashes the scene. Otherwise, you are merely watching a 16-bit rendition of a fiction opera called Maria and Draco play out. 

Relative to most console games of and around 1994, the idea of taking a detour from an epic adventure to visit an opera you only loosely interact with was certainly novel. It is, however, slightly more difficult to appreciate the significance of that sequence today simply by describing it. At a time when we are practically drowning in games with epic cinematic sequences that rival the presentation of what we see in movies and on TV, there’s something quaint about a trip to an opera in an RPG being a mind-blowing moment. 

However, you really do have to experience the scene itself to appreciate it.

In terms of pure creative craft, it’s remarkably easy to appreciate Final Fantasy 6‘s opera scene through the lens of modern expectations. In some ways, it’s easier than ever to appreciate the technical elements of that scene now that the style of games like Final Fantasy 6 feels practically timeless.

The design of the orchestra and audience, that sweeping score that fills your ears and burrows into your heart, the lyrics…there are numerous elements of that scene that either haven’t aged or have aged like fine wine now that concepts like pixel art are more widely appreciated on their own merits rather than as outdated technology.

Yet, the thing that’s easiest to forget about that sequence is also the thing that made it so impactful: the audacity of its classic artistry. 

Gaming’s earliest days were often a battle for legitimacy. As the industry’s hardware manufacturers continued to convince consumers that games and consoles were no longer the desperate cash grabs they had become in the early ‘80s, creators began to battle a different emerging argument: “Video games are not art.”

Yes, it’s an old and tired debate that is most often used today by those desperately seeking attention. In the early ‘90s, though, that statement was regularly being spouted by some of the great gatekeepers of arts and entertainment. At that time, it felt like the argument for games as art still could be won and needed to be won to further the evolution of gaming’s legitimacy.

Now, it seems like such a silly idea that you could ever change so many hearts and minds so easily (or that there was actually any need to do so in the first place). Still, that idea managed to take root. Those who saw and loved gaming as art wanted to point at something undeniably beautiful and allow it to make an otherwise complex argument for them.

Along came that opera sequence. It is, as noted, an almost inarguably beautiful example of video game artistry that showcased the kinds of visuals, sounds, and storytelling moments some of the most talented people in the industry were capable of creating. Yet, it was also an opera: as old-world of an example of “true art” as you will find.

For centuries, operas have been put on a pedestal as the often definitive example of what should live at the intersection of art and entertainment. Numerous creators in various mediums have, at some point, been asked to bow at the altar of Gilbert and Sullivan. That is not a knock against operas, their creators, or their fans. It is, however, a reminder that we culturally tend to cling to institutions rather than risking to recognize the legitimacy of emerging pursuits in their time. 

And so, the Final Fantasy 6 team made an opera in their video game. Not a full opera and perhaps not one that would be held in high esteem by the critics and fans of that scene, but an opera nonetheless. Though that scene playfully mocks the pretentiousness of operas in its ways (especially by the time the giant octopus crashes the scene), it is also filled with sweeping music, impeccable staging, grand performances, themes of love and loss, and so many other classically operatic concepts. It’s just that it’s all done in a way that feels true to the style and story of the video game it is in.

On some level, I believe that is what gamers latched onto at that time and even now. Final Fantasy 6’s opera sequence was a stunningly beautiful artistic achievement capable of bringing tears to your eyes. It was also something that had to be seen and played to be believed. You’d read about that scene in Nintendo Power or EGM and be compelled to see it for yourself just to witness and believe the glowing praise that accompanied the mere mention of it. For many, even our imaginations fell woefully short of the thing itself.

Spoiler alert, but that opera scene didn’t end the “games are art” debate overnight. What it did, though, was give those who supported that idea a clear rallying point and caused gaming’s greatest critics to at least pause long enough to retool their rapidly thinning arguments. In the long run, that scene arguably paved the way for some of the most notable future Final Fantasy scenes as well as those aforementioned modern cinematic gaming sequences that have become so common that we run the risk of taking them for granted. 

More than anything, though, Final Fantasy 6’s opera sequence is a testament to the necessity of constantly challenging expectations in arts and entertainment for the chance to invoke a powerful feeling that future generations will strive to recapture and recreate.

The post 30 Years Ago, Final Fantasy 6’s Opera Scene Changed Gaming Forever appeared first on Den of Geek.

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