Imagine walking into a room and seeing a four year old with a Super Nintendo controller in his hand, yet the TV is faced away from you. What game might you imagine that kid to be playing? The most logical guess would likely be a sidescroller, and more specifically I suspect many would guess Super Mario World
. Yet if that kid was me and you walked into that room, you would probably be shocked to find that I was playing Final Fantasy II
(Note: Yes, I'm well aware it's technically Final Fantasy IV
, but I wouldn't find that out until nearly ten years later)
To be fair, if I had to guess the first videogame that I literally ever played, it would probably be Super Mario Bros 3
. Yet the first game that I was enthralled with? Final Fantasy II
by far. While the translation may be subpar
by today's standards, I remember getting wrapped up in the story and its characters while I watched my older brother play through it. He had to read the dialogue out loud to me of course, as I wouldn't learn to read for another few years yet. He also had to teach me the general rules of the game, although grasping the generic RPG Battle system was surprisingly simple in retrospect.
So if I watched my brother play it, then why did I bother to play through it myself? In short, the world was so big and mysterious that I couldn't help but be captivated by it. The story of Final Fantasy II
is nice in that every character's place in the story is clearly defined, which allowed my young mind to grasp the emotional weight of what was happening without fully understanding it. For example, I didn't know why Cecil felt like he had to become a Paladin when he was so strong as a Dark Knight, but I could still share that moment of triumph when his transformation at Mount Ordeals occurs. I knew that he got stronger in the game (well... after you level him back up a bit anyway), and the soaring melodies and fanfares
of the scene let me feel the moment without actually reading it. This epic atmosphere was something that I just couldn't get from the other games I played at the time, even though I loved playing those other games as well.
The game never taught me how to read, but in a way I think it did help a bit. I only learned to play the game based on what my brother did, so much like the story I only had a very general sense of how things worked. Looking back, it's actually very strange. I never knew what each spell and command meant, but I somehow knew what they did. I knew that I should buy the items that make my characters dance in the shop screens, and I knew that fighting battles made my party stronger. As a young child, I never played games to necessarily win; I played games to have fun. In a way, this made the RPG formula perfect for my younger self. By messing around and fighting monsters for fun, it was easier for me to actually make progress in the game when I would decide to do so. Nowadays we would call this "grinding," but that's just what I did anyway. I'm sure the members of the gold farming black markets in many mmorpgs would have been happy to have me under their wing before getting cracked down for child labor laws (among other things).
In a way, understanding the game less made me more captivated by the world. Thanks to the power of the internet, we learn every intricate detail about a game within months of its release. This is why something like a hidden sidequest being uncovered in Final Fantasy 9
is a front page news story in this day and age. While there are definitely positives to having an abundance of information, there's an undeniable beauty to playing a game with absolutely no knowledge of what could be around the next corner. Events like traveling to the moon near the end of Final Fantasy II
absolutely blew my mind as a kid, and it made visiting and revisiting the world all the more intriguing. Keep in mind that, even though my brother was older than I, we were still young kids playing this game. In other words, very rarely would either of us make it far enough into the game without eventually getting stuck somewhere and moving on to another game for a while. This made anything that happens in the later parts of the game all the more exciting, as we'd become familiar with the first half of the game and eager to see what was still to come.
Today, I'm a huge RPG nut. I've moved on from Final Fantasy
to other game series, like Persona
. In fact, Final Fantasy II/IV
isn't even my favorite Final Fantasy
title. Yet when I think back to those memories of exploring a world that seemed so alien to me as a kid, I can't help but get all the warm fuzzy feelings in my gut. And every so often, when I'm especially spellbound by the adventure I'm having in a videogame, I can feel that childlike wonder flutter inside me as if it were all new again. That kind of magic has kept me gaming twenty years later.