It feels like I was born with an NES controller in my hand, some days, and it certainly shaped which games I liked, and which games I didn’t like. Not only would my older brother relay what he read from Nintendo Power or pass on schoolyard rumors, but even my parents were playing and beating games before us and then with us. One of the games that I always felt a deep connection with was Mega Man, specifically Mega Man 3. I had friends in school burn me CDs of Mega Man music, I set my AIM avatar to a gif of Mega Man dancing, and I made some horribly cringey Mega Man sprite comics. It took me until the age of abundant lets plays to realize that I never played any games in the series besides Mega Man 3 and Mega Man X. Even now I love the blue bomber, but going back to play the game on the NES, I am downright horrible at it. Without save states, there are only a handful of levels I could pass. I can still give my friend’s tips and trivia while they play based on what I read in guides or had seen online, but I’m pretty worthless with a controller in my hand.
Now, I bring this up because lately I have been playing Final Fantasy games. Going back to the golden age, we had Final Fantasy. No number, just “Final Fantasy”. The one with Warmechs, my avatar, the four fiends, and BRAK, from Space Ghost. I love that game, and today, would still place it as my favorite Final Fantasy game so far, just from the memories I had playing it with my brother. I even love the strategy guide for the game, and can picture it more clearly than I can my first girlfriend. The music, the brooms, the map, and the ship game all fill me with a childish glee. However, in a quickpost, someone mentioned a ton of info on the game and I realized I don’t know too much about the mechanics - which is fine. Some of the spells just plain don’t work, some do the opposite of what they are supposed to do, crits are broken, and spells don’t scale with INT, plus I’m sure loads more. But it’s a warm bowl of soup on my mind’s cold snowy days.
"Play to win? That'll never work" - Videogames, 2020
I remember my brother pining after Final Fantasy VI for the SNES, at the exorbitant price of 80 USD - almost $120 in today’s money! When we got it, we played it to death, and I still remember so many of the details - Biggs and Wedge, the Ghost Train, Waiting for Shadow, and the great Kefka Tower. For a long time, I told people that Final Fantasy 6 was the best the series had ever been, and I kind of got lucky on that. For whatever reason, I never played Final Fantasy VII when it came out, we rented VIII, but then never played another one (except Tactics, which is sweet as hell). In high school, my friends all played Halo, so I wanted to have an XBox so I wouldn’t be left behind, and my whole life I had been a Nintendo fan, so a GameCube was a must. But I never had the PS2 growing up, so I missed out completely on FFX and FFXII (except for the super sexy picture of Rikku on posters everywhere). When I heard that FFX-2 was a game, I scoffed. The series had gotten stupid and bad, because X-2 should just be called XI. We had entered the post pixel era of Final Fantasy, and because I didn’t have the right console, I had to hate it or be jealous. What can you do?
Last year, I found myself in a depressed state with a puppy who wasn’t housetrained, and a lot of time, so I fired up Earthbound to see how well it holds up (very), and after that I decided to go back to the comfort food of Final Fantasy VI. About two days into it, I quit. It had so many open areas where I couldn’t figure out where forward was. There were treasure chests that you shouldn’t open because they are for later. I know from my past that there are so many characters that you have to level or abandon (only to have that bite you in the ass later), which is a feature I am not a fan of in any respect. I think that realization was the same thing as Mega Man:
I wasn’t a fan of Final Fantasy.
I was a fan of two games that I had played, but not the series as a whole. When I say "I like Final Fantasy" I just meant a very small exposure I had to something that was so much bigger. I had no right to argue that VI and I were the best ones during schoolyard fights, because I couldn’t compare them against hardly any of the others.
Because of my love for I and VI, I decided to keep up with the series when I got an Xbox and after I started building computers, and found myself marginally unimpressed. XIII is sort of a pariah of the series with how slow and plodding it was, and I admit I gave up on it well before the game opened up. XV is strikingly beautiful, but the combat just doesn’t strike me as an RPG. The real time battles with one party member under your control just doesn’t scratch the itch for me. Most notably out of the catching up phase, two years ago, I beat XII in such a thorough manner, clearing out all of the optional super bosses, and getting all skill based weapons (I refuse to get the right seed or try the airship lotto for the bow, etc, etc). I have to say, I fell in love with the game. The gambit system was really well done, the character interactions were neat, and the whole game just felt ‘good’.
This left me with a rather large ‘blind spot’ in gaming history. A while back, remasters started dropping for the Switch, and I started picking them up, I guess in an attempt to fix that. I started up IX, and I instantly fell into hate with it. The blocky characters, the pre rendered backgrounds, you couldn’t tell what was a door, and what way holding a directional stick would have you go. Then, the combat is so incredibly slow, yet the game has ATB, which I will admit, I am not a huge fan of. I didn’t even make it to the play in the first act before I put it down. Then, as some sort of cruel tortue to myself, I decided if I didn’t like IX, I should definitely get the X remaster! Sometimes, you just can’t beat the hype of it all! Again, I started up the game, and quickly put it down. I didn’t even make it to Besaid. The cutscenes were jarringly unsynced, it was giving me touchscreen controls for a game I was playing on my TV, and because the exp flashed so fast, I didn’t even notice I was collecting it. Finally, you had the labyrinthian sphere grid which I felt as though the moment I placed a sphere, I had messed up the game forever.
What the Final Fantasy Frick is this?
Then, as all of you know, the coronavirus hit, and suddenly everyone has lots of time on their hands. I needed something to do, inside, preferably while I could listen to music, watch streams, or watch/listen to TV. An RPG would be perfect, but there weren’t any that interested me. What does interest me, is being as miserly as possible so I decided if I paid money for these games I might as well keep playing them. I didn’t even remember why I put down either of them, so I gave it another shot. I started noticing some cool innovations to the formula that X added: the bar at the right showing who will act when, being able to hot swap party members, creating your own character type by jumping to other character’s nodes on the sphere grid. While it didn’t break the mold in the same way that XV did, I started to feel something fresh and interesting. More and more characters got added to it, and the game began to weave a tale that I was genuinely interested in. As a note, I did know the Sixth Sense style spoiler already, but that made things all the more curious to me. How the heck are they going to pull it off was an interesting enough hook to keep me going through the game, and create theories of what was going to happen in my head. While delivering, it also gave the grandest of tropes: angsty high school football player and his friends kill the pope, his father, and god. I didn’t do anything with Blitzball, and I didn’t mess with the lightning strikes and other vaguely possible minigames to get the best equipment. I ignored the post game, because I was pretty emotionally done with playing the game at a certain point, and just wanted to see it through. But I beat it, and now I can talk about it, and properly evaluate it!
Fresh off the heels of that, I fired up IX again to kill another 30 hours. Being from a previous era, it was ugly, conversations terse, and most of all, still insanely slow. I picked up where I left off, and saw the play along with this super badass princess who doesn’t take any shit, and I was charmed from thereon out. Besides a well put together plot of political intrigue, all of the characters were very real. Annoyingly real. Usually, when you put together a party with an enemy there is some kind of ‘no, I mustn’t’ dialogue followed by them joining your party forever and that’s the end of it. Then there was Steiner who was a steadfast prick that you are a bandit in it for evil, and he will never support you, and is only there to rescue the princess when she needs it, otherwise you can die in a hole. He keeps that up for what feels like half the game. Somehow, that was really endearing, because the writers didn’t gloss over character motivations, which makes everyone feel so much more ‘alive’. God is it slow, though, so the saving grace was having it pointed out to me that you can speed up time in the pause menu. Otherwise, I doubt I would have been able to stomach it. After beating it, yeah, I get why people really liked the game. I see how it added to the evolution of the series, and kept in some tropes (extra terrestrial monkey stops global cataclysm, beats god in fist fight.)
The PS1 games did not age well graphically outside of cutscenes
Now, I feel empowered to keep digging more into the series to find out which games are my next favorite. I am leaning towards giving XIII another shot - the paradigm system and narrow hallways sound enough like X to me, and the pace and graphics will be a pleasant change. I could also see trying out VII - which I started on PC but gave up on very early in. I’m still not sure on VIII because I hear grinding isn’t the best idea on it, and grinding is a way of life for me. I could also see going back to XV, but the combat was dreadfully uninteresting, so that may be tricky. Finally, I would want to cap things off with going back to VI with walkthrough in hand, just to see how it is. After beating IX and X, I feel like a part of me has grown, and I can feel fully justified when I tell people which game I think is the best of the series.
All it took was for those games to finally come back to Nintendo.