Since you, dear readers, are in my trust tree, I’ve already admitted here that I’m a recovering-ish video game addict. Well, I’ve had a bit of a relapse this week, and it inspired me to write about my biggest gaming obsession ““ one that spans most of my life ““ the Final Fantasy series.
If you don’t know much about Final Fantasy, then I’m actually quite surprised and impressed that you’re reading this article at all. Welcome! There’re definitely some misconceptions about FF out there, as evidenced by my experience on Sunday. I met up with a friend, and when my answer to “what have you been up to this weekend?” was “I played 10 hours of Final Fantasy XII,” he was kind of shocked. He had two responses: first was to say that he thought only “nerdy guys” played those games, and second was to ask me what Final Fantasy was about. This is, of course, impossible to answer, but as a whole Final Fantasy is about good vs. evil. But it’s so much more than that.
Basically, Final Fantasy is one of the granddaddies of role-playing games. The first one came out in 1987 on regular Nintendo. The format and style of the original Final Fantasy set the standard for not only its own sequels, but for the budding RPG genre in general. I never played this game; at 5 years old I was a little too young for it, but my older brother played it at friends’ houses and enjoyed it. When the American sequel came around in 1991, we both dove in to playing, and things have pretty much never been the same since. I was nine years old.
Side note: here’s a confusing bit. Final Fantasy, which is developed in Japan, sold two sequels, the Japanese FFII and FFIII, before releasing FFIV in the US. Because this was pre-internet, the awareness and understanding of video game releases may not have been what it is today. For whatever reason, they released FFIV in the US as FFII because, to American consumers, it was the second Final Fantasy. For the sake of simplicity (or not) I’ll refer to them by their retroactive, proper titles: FFIV and FFVI.
So, my brother and I were obsessed with FFIV and played it every chance we got, which wasn’t very often because our parents restricted our video game time to 30 minutes on weekdays. Which sounds generous until you realize that in Final Fantasy a save point is your only chance to save your progress. I can’t enumerate how many arguments we had with my mom over the save point issue. When FFIV was remade for the Nintendo DS a few years ago, my heart nearly exploded. Every moment, from my train commute to my downtime on nights and weekends, was consumed with the eye-crossing-ly, carpal-tunnel-y experience of playing it from start to finish. Let me say simply: that shit holds up.
Next came FFVI in 1994, also on Super Nintendo. I have never, despite being a gaming enthusiast, matched the open-mouthed state of anticipation that I did that day when the “Final Fantasy III” title screen came up. Final Fantasy VI is widely regarded as a fan favorite; it pretty much was at the perfect point in the franchise’s development. Great story, interesting characters, heart-achingly beautiful music, cool setting (steampunk!) and an unbelievably awesome villain in Kefka: it really had it all. And, unlike subsequent entries in the series, it wouldn’t strain under the weight of ever-improving graphic and sound technology.
Because there were no spoken lines, you could rename all your characters however you wanted to; their names were saved and inserted into the displayed dialogue. There were no load times, and cut scenes were nonexistent because there was nothing to “cut” to; there wasn’t enough memory for any animation.
Still, the series has continued to be incredibly popular. They made the move to the Playstation system, and now new installments, such as the recent Final Fantasy XIII, are released on PS3 and XBox. Still, the biggest criticisms thrown at Final Fantasy, which I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with as I plod my way through FFXII, are that they seem to stretch the length of games just for the hell of it, and that they take for granted that beautifully-rendered cut scenes of spoken dialogue are enough to make you care about the characters (they aren’t).
It’s kind of fun to watch them try and include the perennial elements that were easier in the simpler, cuter previous installments of the game, isn’t it? What do moogles and chocobos look like in high-end computer animation? What does Cid’s voice sound like?
I have this theory that most Americans’ lives are lacking in adventure. This is generally a good thing; we don’t have to struggle or fight for our survival, and while our government can be infuriating, it is not at any moment vulnerable to being overthrown. However, I think that this creates a restless boredom that goes beyond the sort of Saturday-afternoon boredom we’re accustomed to. That’s why any adventure story, and one as enduring and immersive as those within the Final Fantasy series, are so captivating. That’s why once in a while, it’s fun to escape my pleasant but monotonous life into a word of magic, heroes, swords, crystals, and moogles.