I recently completed my first playthrough of BNW, and I think I owe it to the modders to provide some feedback on this huge project. Thank you for putting together a compelling mod for one of our favorite games. Since I played this at my leisure and didn't take notes along the way, this review will just be whatever comes to mind as best I can remember in order, along with scattered thoughts on the design decisions.
First, let me start by saying I am a "big" fan of FFVI. Not enough to spend a few years modding it, but I've played the SNES release several times, and the GBA release once. It's one of my all time favorites, so I was very intrigued by the idea of a "fixed" FFVI, without the gamebreaking bugs and perhaps some actual challenge. It has been a few years since my last playthrough of vanilla, so I went in forgetting a few details, like Shadow's location in WoR. I also tried to keep spoilers for the mod to a minimum, though I saw the thread on Magimaster, and may have ended up overpreparing.
WoB up to Zozo is pretty much the same. The tutorials are good, though I quickly forgot some of the things that Stamina and Vigor do. I actually went through the entire game treating Vigor as "physical attack" and Stamina as "status resistance, regen increase". Edgar's Figaro discount is missed, especially since there isn't too much of interest to buy, except for Tinctures, which brings me to my first criticism. Tinctures are too expensive. As stated in BTB's great article, magic was the be-all end-all of vanilla, and great effort was taken to make other forms of attack more viable. The high cost of Tinctures (1000G for a measly 50MP) treats magic like it is still the be all end all, and it makes it difficult to experiment with spells, since you only get 1-3 per Tincture. Only at the tail end of the WoR was I able to set aside enough money to max out on tinctures and go ham with Terra. I suggest either lowering the cost of tinctures, making ethers available for purchase, lowering the MP cost of black spells, or some combination of the above.
Serpent River is the first part of the game where I got wiped, namely due to Albatross just demolishing you if you use the wrong attack. Since you can have two of them in a formation, and have no way of knowing what will set them off, I feel the fireball attack is a bit too punishing. The battle for the Espers has some potential for challenge, but at this point (and through the rest of WoB) Locke was kind of OP and could carry almost any team through an encounter. One of the things I looked forward to a lot in this mod was seeing the dialogue changes - if certain lines would be clarified, or if any expanded material could make it in to build the world up even more. I was pretty disappointed to see that even the conversations during the march to Tritoch didn't really have anything new or improved.
The moment where you get the espers in Zozo is the first high point in the game. It's interesting to see who learns what. I also think it is interesting that some characters end up with only tier-2 magic. ELs are well explained, but as a system I think they are unintuitive. At first I tried to save them up, but as the difficulty ramped up, I just spent them on whatever I thought the character should be doing, always prioritizing speed when it was available. This seemed to work pretty well, and most of my characters ended up "well rounded" as opposed to the single-esper-centric "builds" I see in the character threads.
There are a few things to say about speed. It could be my imagination, but adding speed levels does seem to make the ATB noticeably faster, and keeps the battle moving at a good pace. Enemies are the complete opposite, though - I have absolutely no idea how their speed works. I would set slow on every boss, and couldn't tell any difference. It is noticeable when affecting player characters. This implementation of ATB is a bit sketchy, too. While doing top-level menuing, monster ATBs continue to fill, but if you go into a submenu like items or spells, their ATBs pause. This can situationally be very advantageous, and I found myself abusing it in a number of fights. At times it felt like abusing the ATB this way was the intended method of dealing with some bosses who acted too frequently.
The Magitek Factory is fun as ever, though I got wiped by a robot on that last screen after you get off the minecart (lol). I think the encounter with Kefka here is a good place for some dialogue changes if possible. Maybe make it more clear what the hell Celes does to bail them out. I think you could afford to spoil the player a bit more with exotic weapons/armor at this point, especially in the imperial storehouse.
Everything else in WoB feels pretty much like vanilla until you get to the FC. And OH BOY. The FC.
FC is the first low point in the game, that feels completely inferior to vanilla in pretty much every way. The random encounters are difficult but manageable - I'd say they are the limit of what could be considered "fair". But then you get to Atma, which is a bad gear check. Mind Blast is a truly random game over. If you're like me and couldn't find whatever item apparently gives Shadow access to Rerise, you're in even more trouble. Atma should be hard, as the final boss of WoB, but it took a LOT of tries to finally beat it. My team was Terra, Edgar, Locke, Shadow. I suppose I could have gone all the way back to the airship and picked up Setzer for Rerise, but I shouldn't have to do FC twice, and I imagine a lot of players will choose Terra and either Edgar or Locke for story reasons. Atma is a problem. What follows, however, is even worse. As mentioned before, I was very excited to see script changes which expand on the world and characters, and for some reason, the escape from FC is the only place that seems to have been a priority and it is awful. I can't begin to imagine what inspired that fanfic.net-esque emo exchange between Celes and that cutscene boss. The implication that Kefka gave her some power is also misplaced and never brought up again. Allowing Celes to use Shock is the only redeeming factor in the entire sequence. Believe me when I tell you that between the frustrating battles and cringey story changes, FC makes a very strong impression that leads to a lot of players not appreciating the rest of the mod as much as it deserves.
I got super unlucky with Cid in the WoR, and thought his death was now forced after three failed attempts to save him. I wasn't feeling as sympathetic for Celes coming right after her self-loathing on the FC. Getting off the island and heading towards Tsen had some actual danger for Celes, which was nice. It feels more like a requirement to grab Sabin here rather than skip ahead for the 3 character finish lulz. And it's worth picking him up, because Celes' "seriously?" comment when Sabin is fooled by Gerad is great, and the kind of enhanced personality I was looking for from both of them.
In general WoR was pretty brutal, and felt a bit unfair. Most of my characters entered in the low 20's, which gets you one-shot by quite a number of enemies. Stumbling onto Doom Gaze or any Dragon without picking up some elemental shields or powerleveling is game over. This is where the design philosophy of "take away the free stuff" falls apart. With so many characters and no shared experience, you have to rotate weak members in and out. As a result, you feel very weak throughout much of the WoR (and you are). Bosses take forever with these gimped parties. FOREVER. Hidon was the absolute worst boss in the game, much worse than even Atma Weapon. I generally went through the WoR with story oriented teams - Sabin and Gau rescue Cyan, Strago and Relm go after Hidon, etc. Even with Terra or Edgar around to babysit, oftentimes it felt like these were just flat out the wrong characters for those bosses. It felt like the bosses were redesigned around battle engine concepts, without consideration of player habits. It also seemed like they were balanced around the old experience sharing, not the new system where you can easily walk in on the red dragon at lv25 or less.
Fanatics Tower was an improvement over the original. It was actually the second to last place I visited in WoR, thinking it would be like vanilla with the reflect gimmick, and that I could barely handle random encounters in other places in WoR. It turned out to be surprisingly easy, even the Magimaster. Gem Box is something I wish I picked up right away.
The Colosseum, while more fair than vanilla, was also a lot less interesting, and very few bets felt like straight upgrades. I wasted quite a bit of time on battles just to find out that certain items just get swapped for a comparable item for another character. For some reason, a lot of nice gear could be exchanged for phoenix tears.
I mentioned it in another thread as well, but Schemp is the funniest thing in the game, and just a brilliant application of scripting. The Dream Stooges attacking each other was a great touch as well, but the crass language doesn't fit and ruins the novelty of the battle.
BTB's article talks about vanilla's Moogle Charm being an admission that the battle system isn't very good, and while that is true, it did serve another purpose - saving time. You're sure to run into a dragon or two that you can't beat until coming back later, and it is not fun to grind all the way through Narshe or Phoenix Cave a second time. There is also one part in Cyan's soul where you ride magitek armor, and the encounter rate is insane. A lot of frustration in WoR could be avoided by bringing it back.
The esper system breaks down a bit as WoR goes on as well. It's very exciting to find new magicite, but equally as disappointing to find out that it only applies to one character.
Kefka's tower was great. I entered with everyone between 28-34. Random encounters had that same feeling of "upper limit of fair" that FC did, and the encounter variety was fantastic. The bosses were all well balanced here - challenging, but didn't take ages to beat. I was surprised that Kaiser Dragon was very easy. When I sketched it with Relm and saw Ultima, I thought perhaps it was going to gear-check me and throw an Ultima at the very end, but fortunately it did not. Speaking of Ultima, it was great to finally get it in Terra's hands and start tearing up those last few encounters. It also made her feel very important in the final battle with Kefka. The final battle with Kefka is nearly perfect. Aside from Lode Stone being a little annoying on the first tier, all of it was balanced perfectly, and Goner is finally as scary is it should be when you have less than 2000HP. It felt great to finally cut loose and start using the X-Potions and Elixirs. Freely using Terra's magic in KT really highlights the need for better MP recovery options throughout the game.
(continued in next post)