Return of the Dark Sorcerer: A FFVI mod



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Posted by Gi Nattak on November 29, 2014 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (17)

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A bit about me:


When I was a young kid, I tried my best to limit my nerd level. It was futile, mind you—I was a total dweeb and should have simply owned it—but instead I would put up resistance to certain activities that I felt would put me too far over the line. For instance, I was into comic books, but refused to try Magic the Gathering. And I was mental about video games, but wouldn’t even give RPG’s a shot. It was all completely arbitrary. As if it made any freaking difference what type of game I was glued to all weekend.


Well luckily my RPGphobia came to an end when my fat little happy-go-lucky brother brought home Final Fantasy 3 from the video rental store one day. I was pissed. “That game is going to be sooooo boring,” I told him. “Aww man, you can’t even read! Mom’s probably going to make me read all that lame dialog to you!” But my flaming ginger friend Mikey was game (wink wink) for anything, so the two of them plugged in the SNES and had at it, whereas I went in my room and probably smashed X-Men figures together while making explosion sounds, or something equally badass.


After a while I got up and got water and peeked in the door at the dummies playing the boring game, then went back to my room. A bit later I went to the bathroom and peeked in again. To my absolute chagrin as the know-it-all older brother, what I saw was beginning to look interesting. Later still, I stood in the doorway for no reason at all and watched and watched. Finally I couldn’t help myself but swallow my pride, and play. And it was glorious. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I was introduced to my lifelong favorite game of all time, Final Fantasy VI (3 in America, but you knew that).


This story is only made more ridiculous by the sad fact that it happened almost exactly the same way a couple years later with an even nerdier game, Heroes of Might and Magic II, but that is a tale for another time.


If you’ve never played a Final Fantasy game before FF7, let me tell you this, they are 2D (pronounced “too-dee”;), as in flat. Also the characters and monsters are all very polite and will only attack in single file. Oh, and there are no black people. Other than that it’s the same. So since FF6 was the last “flat” game in the main line of Final Fantasies, it truly has the most detailed and beautiful sprites of nearly any game of the SNES era. And best music. And best writing. ANYWAY.


–The Point–


There are a lot of other people who have never let FF6 go from there memory, and perhaps cherish it even more than I do. Even to the point where they spend years of their lives working to tweak, rebuild, or otherwise completely remix and redesign the game from the basic building blocks of what defines it. These saintly people hang out at a place called and they sometimes even complete these labors of love.


The most recent project to clear the gate is Return of the Dark Sorcerer. RotDS is the brainchild of Gi Nattak, but he was joined by his friends Angelo26, Madsiur, Pocoloco and dozens of other FF6 hacking fanatics he met online. The game just finished up its fourth beta cycle and has released version 1.1 after a 3 year development cycle. I had a chance to sit down and play the thing this weekend and was ultimately surprised—in the good way. I also go to speak to Gi Nattak about the FF6/SNES hack scene and the process of making the game:


The Interview


IR: How were you first introduced to FF6? Why did you choose to hack that particular game?


GN: I was introduced to it by my friend Alex the year it came out. He was really into RPGs, Squaresoft of course, and I fell in love with FF6. His mother ran a day care service, and basically she didn’t have to do anything because we would all play and watch FF6, as well as other great titles. FF6 was always my favorite SNES RPG, I love everything about it and it holds a very special place in my heart. I chose to hack it for that reason, and also because it is the most hack-friendly game there is, due to the amount of documentation and utilities and community.


IR: What’s the FF6Hacking scene like as a whole? Is there any communication/collaboration with other hacking/mod scenes, or is it fairly encapsulated?


GN: In my opinion, I feel that it can be hit or miss… Meaning there is some collaboration when it comes to large projects, but it really depends on the scope of the project, and who is involved. We at ff6hacking have had a couple collaboration projects at one point or another, but the fact of the matter is, the vast majority of projects will never see the light of day. Making a hack of any kind is going to be time consuming, and the truth is that a lot of the more experienced hackers are not interested in assisting hands on with new, unknown projects. There are just so many new faces that show up on the scene with a grand project in mind, yet no real idea how hard it is, and they soon leave. So I feel that you must basically go it alone at first, ask questions and show initiative, and try to get others interested in hack. Overall, the community is very friendly, but there are always going to be some elitists out there.


IR: As far as 16bit and down games are concerned, to your knowledge does FF6 have the largest/most active hack community?


GN: Yes, easily. But, there are some die hard FFIV hackers that seem to be increasing lately with some new utilities that have been brought to the table.


IR: I’m sure there had to have been some lower productivity periods at times during the project. What kept you going through the years-long process?


GN: I’d like to think that I am one to finish something I start. It became a great hobby and I got to know a lot of really cool people that took lots of time out of their lives to help create and test this hack, and for those people doing that, I made damn sure that this hack would indeed be released eventually and not rushed. It’s been a lot of fun!


IR: Was there ever any (perhaps small) disagreement as to the direction of the game, or as to what characters/elements from the original should remain in the mod?


GN: In terms of the new events, there was very little disagreement in terms of what should be done. Both Angelo and I (and later Poco Loco with some specific character events) both share similar ideas and were always on the same page tossing around ideas when we were in the planning stages. We both wanted to create some behind-the-scenes story elements to the original. And we rarely would shoot down each other’s ideas. If he wanted to put an idea he had in I would be fine with that, regardless. I alone came up with the main radical story change that I will not divulge here, but luckily it seems to have been accepted well enough so that nobody thought it sucked bad enough to tell me to change it! The character choices are pretty random, and mostly again that was my decision from the start. I just went with it, so to speak.


IR: What would you say the biggest highlight of the whole experience of making RotDS was?


GN: Meeting and working with my buddies Poco Loco, Angelo26, and Madsiur, and everybody else that I had the pleasure of getting to know along the way. Learning the inside and out of FF6 and every possible detail the game has to discover would have to be a second.


IR: What other projects are you working on now?


GN: Getting a job! Seriously though, I’ve been wanting to get started on a Secret of Mana hack. But I’m still wrapped up with RotDS!


Gi Nattak’s rinky-dink site is down right now because of the influx of people trying to download the game, but you can download it here (link forthcoming). It’s free, so you should definitely play it yourself, but I can give you an idea of what you’re getting into.


The Game


It starts with quite a long intro, so be prepared. Well, actually there is an option to skip it, but who does that? Going into the experience, I was under the assumption that the game was going to share little except the spirit of its inspiration, but what I found is that it is really more of a remix/mashup of the original. Kefka still remains as the antagonist (thank good, er, badness). He has different hair and his laugh has changed pitch, but he is still a huge asshole (maybe even more so, if you can imagine). Cameos and references to other games are numerous. For instance, Professor Oak has taken over Cid’s job as reluctant science lackey to Kefka; Metroids and Mr. Saturns float alongside espers in research tubes—but although the game is funny at times, it never dips too deep into parody. You will recognize both people and locations, yet they are… different. It most closely resembles a “parallel universe” situation, with threads of other games getting tangled in to this alternate timeline of events. The music is a mix of injections from other games, and original compositions which try hard to walk alongside the original tunage. Let’s just say that it can’t compete with Nobuo Uematsu’s masterpiece, but that was to be expected of anyone, bar the next great game composer on the planet.


Overall the game is great, and is a must-play for any retro RPG fan out there.

Preaching the Truth from the Edge of Kefka's Tower: A Hymn to Final Fantasy VI

Posted by Gi Nattak on January 9, 2012 at 3:20 AM Comments comments (1)

By Sergei Servianov


Whenever I think back to my wasted youth, I can't help feeling a tang of bitterness at not having had my fair share of sex and adventure. There wasn't much of that going on in my teenage years; nothing at all, actually, if we're talking about sex. There was a lot of shame in those days and that makes me want to curse the RPGs.


I want to curse them, but I can't quite bring myself to do so. I'm listening to the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack right now and realize that you can't quite argue with something this good. Sex is one of the few things that makes life worth living, I love fucking... Even so, you can't refute Final Fantasy VI , because the argument that it presents is unimpeachable. Yes, of course, the cool guy faction in my crania sniggers at this, they're mocking me as I write. But they are wrong. They know all too well about what can satisfy the body and the steps that need to be taken to make it so. But they are the enemy and will always be the enemy. Cool is the enemy of all that is good in this world. Cool will never understand the beautiful and runs from the truths of this cold, dark universe like a cockroach running from light. I'll ally with the cool to get laid, but that's as far as my allegiance will ever go.

Final Fantasy VI is pure refutation, an argument in 32-meg form against the vileness of this world. There are few artifacts of our generation that have withstood the test of time as well as Square's Super Famicom masterpiece. I can't imagine a single twelve-year-old of my generation with any soul at all smirking at it. It's way too serious a work for that to happen. It was something that millions of people would play and declare allegiance to. And it deserved all of it. One of the few videogames that did or does.


Where else could we have found such art? Movies? Well, the Americans of my day didn't have Miyazaki's stuff on file, so that was out. The Disney films seemed pretty profound in those years, but they haven't aged well. I have a hard time justifying my obsession for the Lion King back then. Music? There was no proper music for those who hungered for more. Classical music, you say? Well, classical music was boring and didn't talk about anything that we wanted. There was something cheesy about it, too. It didn't seem serious at all. Comics? We didn't have manga back then and the stuff that we did have was beneath contempt.


No, it was in videogames and in videogames alone that we could've found our arguments.


You just couldn't help but love those characters. They were better than most of the people you went to school with. They probably still are. They had honor and meant what they said. And their wonderful personal themes, composed by Nobuo Uemastsu at the height of his power, were something that you hoped you would have for yourself one day. I know now that that's impossible, but how great it is to imagine walking into a bar and hearing Shadow's reedy music playing in your head, drowning out the shitty rap that's trying it's best to make the bar seem like the “decadent club scene” from a bad American action movie.


Yes, THAT music, it's hard to write about it now because so many horrible people have expressed their appreciation of it. Yet, that's its strength and the strength of Final Fantasy VI as a whole. It is impervious to either praise or criticism. It merely sets up its argument, presents you with the greatest graphics, music, and story that you'd seen, heard, or read up to that time and asks you if you still want to continue on in the real world; a reverse Matrix.


Many a twelve-year-old heard that call, but few followed it wholeheartedly, boarded that Phantom Forrest train. Many more than was to be expected, though. I'm pretty sure that if you were to gather all the true believers in a single place then you could easily get a Tienanmen Square crowd scene going. I can imagine it now. Hordes of plump and skinny losers of all races, howling like mad, whacking the chained unbelievers on their way to the Gulag of the Cool with their FF VI cartridges, while a grinning “ice teeth” Hironobu Sakaguchi – Mao Suit, liberation cap – waves to them from the castle walls.


Though daydreams don't get you far in this world, so let's recall the characters, for our sake and theirs.


Make no mistake about it. They are still beyond you and will always be. If one can imagine a life as blissful and attractive as Setzer's, I'd like to hear it, lounging around a floating casino, taking his share of sex and drugs without a hint of nagging puritanism. As lame as it may look right now, that man was our libertine, our Byron. Then there's Shadow, a ninja loner, the idealized self-image of every boy that went through high school uncool, whose touching story of woe was presented with a minimalism that was ignored by RPG creators then and now. And like all good things, he was doomed to perish. You could never quite save Shadow, no matter how you may have wanted to. Or what about Edgar, who dresses like like a mix of a decadent 19th prince and a modern CEO, part chainsaw murderer, part ladies man. Kefka, while somewhat overrated as a villain, has many moments of delight as well, having the most fun of any JPRG character in history. Gleefully committing mass murder; an angel/ clown / punk rocker hybrid firing lasers from his trash tower. Yes, Square really sent in the clowns there and the clowns were scary. In fact, Kefka, despite being the villain, steals so many scenes, gets so many great lines – recall him laughing at your party during the final battle, calling them a bunch of walking self-help cliches – that you can tell that the creators' hearts were in the right place. It's no coincidence that Kefka's Tower is greatest piece of music on a soundtrack famed for great work. I don't know if it's scary or not that the appeal of Kefka is much more real to me now than as a child.

And then there were the set pieces. There are so many to recall that you can open up any random save from a copy of the game bought from a Japanese “recycle shop” and be assured of stumbling upon something wonderful. The big Moogle battle, the type of thing you kept in your head while playing Magic: the Gathering as a teenager, stuffed animals whacking werewolves on the head with maces. The struggle on the Floating Continent, with that great scene of Kefka kicking the Old Man of the Empire offstage like a bag of rancid garbage, followed by Shadow playing a lethal game of WMD goddess statue chess with our favorite clown.


Sadly, the same things cannot be said for many of the RPGs that came after it. Genius though it may be, Final Fantasy VI has given rise to many a false prophet ( though the critics rightly place the blame on the massive success of the game's Playstation sequel). The most offensive example of this is Xenogears: the pitiful banner of the most pathetic nerds of this Earth. It's so puerile that talking about it feels dirty and unsporting, like making fun of a cripple. It's just depressing to think about and that's that. It's not so much a game as the sad story of Hitler's Germany branded onto a CD: so much talent, so much great music and art wasted in the service of a laughable ideology, an insipid narrative.


Many other works have faired better. Persona 4 comes to mind, even though it's FF VI's direct opposite. It celebrates the cool, sneers at the nerds, and goes out of its way to glorify those loathsome high school days. As a counter-argument it works much better than I could have expected. Its music is poppy tunefulness compared to Final Fantasy's neo-romantic nobility, its story a big Yay !! for this world and its people. It's the closest that we've come in the Japanese RPG genre to “maturity.”


Make no mistake, I'm not mocking it. I love the game dearly, it's the only modern game that I can stomach playing these days. Though its worldview will most probably never inch out the one that Final Fantasy has instilled in me. I also have the utmost contempt for the perfunctoriness of its villain. It's a sad state of affairs that the game makers of today don't even bother making a halfway decent counter-argument against our world, won't even make the villain fun. The heroes' argument in Persona 4 boils down to the same thing that the popular kids prove wordlessly every day at school, “We're cooler and totally have more friends than you, loser.” A very bad way to cap off a game that had a lot of good in it.


The saddest thing is that we still don't have the vocabulary – nay, the poetry – to celebrate Final Fantasy VI properly. Most of the praise that this profound little anti-Earth has gotten is as clumsy as its criticism. The words aren't here yet, but we're coming close... they're somewhere, to be sure, stashed away in the brain of some basement-inhabiting uber-dweeb romantic, waiting for the right moment to emerge. Final Fantasy VI is like Lovecraft's Old Ones, bidding its time, influencing the aesthetics of the world in ways we can't – perhaps, won't live to – ever see.

The War of the Magi has never really stopped and Final Fantasy VI will no doubt continue its unseen jihad, unnoticed and unheard until our blessed day of reckoning. When the silly works of today will be nothing more than a footnote in the Final Fantasy-era of art history.