Final Fantasy 6 stands tall over most of the RPGs I played as a kid.
I grew up on console role-playing games. Today, there is a pretty big distinction between Japanese RPGS (JRPGs) and Western RPGs (WRPGs). For the Super Nintendo, JRPGs were the only game in town since all RPGs created by Western developers were made almost exclusively for DOS/PC.
JRPGs differ from WRPGs in a lot of ways but, most importantly, male characters have weird-ass and nigh-impossible haircuts.
A lot of the clichés in JRPGs are protagonist related. Unlikely hero, extremely young, parents dead, raised by aunt/uncle, clearly the chosen one, that sort of thing. Final Fantasy 6 is hardly free from any tropes—and this substantial list proves it—but it doesn’t contain a character that could be considered the protagonist.
Instead, players control a rebel force instead of following the destiny of a single character. The game boasts 14 characters (the most of any entry in the Final Fantasy series) and players are free swap members in and out of their 4-person party. This blew my mind as a kid. You mean I don’t have to use the former general of the Empire who was artificially infused with magic? And I can use a fucking yeti instead?
Chrono Trigger, another 16-bit RPG darling, hits a point towards the end where players are no longer required to include main-protagonist-and-red-haired-samurai-dude Crono in their party. But it’s hardly the same: the game favors Crono so much and he synergizes so well with every other party member that it seems stupid not to use him. It’s Playstation sequel, Chrono Cross, suffers from too many playable characters (45!) and some of them are simply…underwhelming.
But even compared to modern games, FF6 hits the playable character sweet spot. The game’s cast offers players a good amount of choices and, most importantly, players aren’t forced to use certain characters except for plot purposes during specific parts of the game.
Oh, and you can suplex a train.