So let us travel back to 1997. A young Chris can be found drooling over those infamous trailers that made players think games could run looking like a Pixar moviewith nothing but cut scene footage. It took about a month of begging before I finally managed to secure this massive three disc game. Since then it’s stuck with me through my life, giving me probably about seventeen different directions I could share with you how much I fell for this game. Instead I’ll stick with three oddball memories as it’d grow into the classic I’d love for years.
Back in gym class for seventh grade, sitting on the floor with a split in my pants waiting for the day to end (don’t ask) – I was talking to my buddy about video games. Scott was going on about Final Fantasy VII, how awesome it was, how much time he spent on it, etc. He had previously played FF3 on SNES and enjoyed it a lot. The series was mostly foreign to me, having just dabbled in FF2 (SNES) a bit but never taking it too seriously. All the cool places he was talking about… Magic, dragons, crazy guys with silver hair and swords the length of a Buick. I was awe in listening to him talk about it because I knew I wanted to get it already. It was akin to reading reviews for a game you already preordered, eager for any taste of it you can. The TV commercials had won me over and now I just needed to wear my mom down into buying it for me. The final piece of that came into play when I found a coupon in some game magazine at the time to save $10 when buying it at Target, so I knew it was almost mine. Scott then explained to me “Oh dude, it’s so good. I can’t wait til you get it and play it. Just don’t waste your time with the healer chick Aeris, they kill her off at the end of the first disc.” – Done. Just like that. A game I was so eager for, that would eventually go on to be one of my top five favorite games of all time – Spoiled in the eve of me acquiring it and playing it for the first time. One of the most heart-wrenching moments of gaming written off as a random point of data just like “contains 13 towns to visit, fully rendered in 3D!” would be blasted on the back of a game box.
I was into gaming on a fairly light basis back then, mostly just something I did with friends. In the SNES days it was fairly common to just have turns in platformers. If the game didn’t have implemented support you’d kind of just pass the controller back and forth between levels or until you died. RPGs were something new to me though. After convincing a different friend, Danny, to play it with me because of the awesome guy on the cover with the huge sword, we boot up and… text? Lots and lots of text. And turn based combat. And text. Given there are no “levels”, it was just an endless sprawl of story. There was no dying so we never were forced to pass the controller. We ended up just trading the controller back and forth every hour. It was probably the weirdest way one could play an RPG. We’d swap out our party members for the ones we preferred, moving armor and materia around and just really making a mess of things. Me now would murder me then for the lack of min-maxing that I did in favor of “this sounds cool, I’ll try this!” We ended up dumping about 12 hours into it over two days as I distinctly remember crossing the ocean in a boat, Barret as a big ol’ marshmallow in a sailor outfit before saving in Costa del Sol. On the third day we tried to boot it up to an error message “corrupt file”. Sadly, that was the end of the journey for us as neither of us wanted to redo everything we just did again. Stupid dumb game, I’ll never go back to you!
Of course that was a lie and I totally started it back up again a week later, without Danny. Knowing what it was and having a fresh mind on what’s important I forged ahead… Now having learned to create two save slots in case of another corruption. This is a habit maintained all the way up to today. After catching up to where Danny and I had gotten to, I got past the moment that Scott had spoiled for me. Knowing it was coming it was hard to not notice the writing on the wall even as a 13 year old. I trudged through that moment at the end of the first disc fully aware of what was going to happen… yet I still got involved with the game. I was thankful that I was no longer co-op’ing the game with a friend and I could soak that moment in as much as a 13 year old could. Sure I was in adolescence, but that deep back then! The death of a main party member?! My main healer, potential love interest, and core member of my combat group? I was at a loss for what to do at that point to fill the role. As a jab back against the game I decided “FINE, I DON’T NEED A HEALER THEN!“. I rolled through the rest of the game with Cloud, Tifa, and Vincent as an aggressively combat heavy team punching and shooting through everything. Let me tell you, I can’t even begin to count how many times I died or fled from battle due to my lack of planning, strategy, or support. Just whack things to death or pray my limit gauge filled up at the right time. All the way to the very end I stuck to my metaphorical guns up until the final dungeon. I went up against Sephiroth and get simply obliterated… Like, in spirit and in game as he summoned a super nova that enveloped the solar system. I’d end up going back to my last save and grinding for what seemed like days to get powerful enough to beat him. At last, the game was complete!
Except it totally wasn’t and I continued to play it well past the 99:59 timer that the in-game clock locked at… and then 9 more times since then. Gathering all the secrets, exploring the hidden dungeons, breeding chocobos, and collecting optional materia like Knights of the Round. I only stopped playing when going on a road trip with my mom I thought that I could load my PlayStation disc into her car’s CD player to listen to the soundtrack. I wanted to hear my Cosmo Canyon on the road after all. That ended in disappointment as nothing but “disc error” popped up. Oh well. I tossed that disc into the glove box where it’d end up ruined by some makeup she had stored away. Lipstick or something smeared on the game in a way that for some reason I couldn’t un-gunk. From stunning commercial, to severe spoilers, ill-fated co-op, stubborn defeat, and eventual victory. Rest in peace, sweet journey of my childhood.