The start of the affair: Final Fantasy IV

[Editor’s note: zeph tells us how much of an impact Final Fantasy IV had on his life for this month’s Monthly Musing topic. — CTZ

The Final Fantasy series has created many pronounced experiences for a large group of gamers. As we seen so far, and probably will see as the month goes on, there will be a lot of stories about how the Final Fantasy series was the start of the affair for many of us, and I was no exception.

For me, Final Fantasy IV was not the first game I ever played, nor is it my favorite game, but it was the first game that showed me that videogames were more that just a simple past time, they were stories with depth, emotion, art, and above all immersion. More after the jump.

The first time I ever experienced Final Fantasy IV was on a hot summer day when my mother agreed to take me to Blockbuster Video to rent a SNES game. Our family recently bought the SNES, and my brother and I just finished Super Mario World so we wanted to try out a new game to pass the time. We did not have Nintendo Power, so the only games that I knew about were the games listed on the backside of the SNES box, so I was basically looking at renting a first party Nintendo game.

The game that I had in my sights was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past because we owned both Zelda games on the NES and I loved each game. By the SNES era, I played a few RPGS (Zelda I and II, Final Fantasy I, and Dragon Warrior I and II) so I kind of knew what style of game I wanted. When I reached the SNES section at Blockbuster I realized to my terror that there were no Zelda games in stock! I was devastated. I had no idea which game to rent and only had ten minutes to choose one since my mother was finishing up finding a movie to rent. I remember frantically looking at every game’s box art and description trying to figure out what I was going to rent, but I knew I really wanted an RPG. When I finally reached “F” I saw a red and black box labeled “Final Fantasy II”, and I thought, “Cool, I liked Final Fantasy I, lets give this a try.” So my mother rented the game for me and we drove back to our house, unaware of the impending revelation I was going to have.

Our SNES and NES were located in the basement, which was a comfortable, and best of all, very isolated part of the house. Once my brother and I would head to the basement to play our games, we would not be bothered for hours on end. I remember placing the cartridge into the system and watching the intro screen. From the time the classic “Prelude” song played to the first adventure in the Overworld, I remembered that my mouth was completely opened, and I did not blink once. I still can vividly recall the airships flying over the world (MODE 7!!!) with the “Red Wings” song playing. If I had to give one word for that intro it would be “EPIC”.

At the time I considered RPGs as a really interesting game style. I loved the combat and the story, but probably due to technical limitations, I found that the stories were often limited and loosely connected. Final Fantasy I had four heroes, but there was no real connection for the characters to the world. Even in Zelda, all I knew was that Link’s job was to defeat Ganon and rescue Zelda. In the first five minutes of Final Fantasy IV I met Cecil, Kain, and Rosa, each with their own personalities and conflicts, which presented a totally new experience to me. I became completely immersed in the game, caring about every character, diving into each dungeon, and gasping at every twist along the way.

For some weird reason (and too this day I don’t completely understand) I always wanted to be Cecil as a kid. I loved the whole idea of his personal transformation from dark knight to paladin and often dreamed of actually being Cecil, and reliving the story as him during bedtime.

It was not just the story that made this game so epic and revealing, but also the graphics and musical score. Seeing 16-bit sprites with emotion was one of the coolest things I ever saw. It was amazing to me how a bunch of small pixels would be able to emulate human emotion so vividly and convincing. The 8-bit to 16-bit jump to me was the most pronounced and beautiful advancements in videogame graphics since 16-bit graphics to me do not age and look just as beautiful today as they did when they came out. Furthermore, Nobuo Uematsu’s music score was so mesmerizing I still whistle the songs “The Prologue”, “The Prelude”, and “Toroian Beauty” at least once a day.

All these factors wrapped up in a single 16-bit cartridge changed my life by showing me that there is much more to videogames than just the “game” part. Final Fantasy IV was my first revelation to the awesome emotional impact that videogames have by telling an immersive story that no book, no song, or movie can ever achieve. My life finally began to revolve around videogames starting at this moment. Since then, I have taken a carrer as a scientist in microelectronics and spintronics to hopefully further advance technology for videogames and also try to give back to videogames what they have provided me.

The Final Fantasy IV remake for the DS comes out soon and I am very excited. I am excited about the fact that many younger gamers will be able to finally live the same experience that I had about 13 years ago. Many gamers’ first Final Fantasy experience was during the post Final Fantasy VII era, which is a great game, but I often wish they would see the beauty of all the SNES Final Fantasy games, especially IV. Even though these remakes are often mired by people saying that SquareEnix is just milking their cash cows, I think of these releases as a chance for newer games to see some of the best classic gaming has to offer. I highly recommend anyone who has not tried these games out to give them a chance.

Even though Final Fantasy VI is often considered the best Final Fantasy game by many, Final Fantasy IV will always be closer to my heart. It was the first game that stole my heart and started my lifelong affair of videogaming.

P.S. Also, any game that has the line “You spoony bard!” is an epic win!

zeph