The Ties That Grind

Gaming as a kid is different than gaming as an adult. I know that sounds self-evident, but hear me out. First, as a kid I got maybe three games per year. I mean, yes, we traded around and rented games, but games that I owned that were mine were few and far between. Second, that meant that I considered my purchases carefully and I wanted the most bang for my buck. A game that was over in two hours or a game that lasted for forty hours? Talk about a no-brainer. And third, I didn’t have that many competing interests, i.e., work and wife and children. I didn’t have to worry about teaching a two year old to speak while helping an eight year old with his homework and simultaneously jumping on the trampoline with a four year old. It’s just a question of time.

And all of these things, the scarcity, the value proposition, and the time meant that when I finally did settle on a game, I went deep. All the items, all the secrets, maxed out levels, every side quest. I’ve forgotten more about Final Fantasy IV than most people will ever remember. You ever get the Imp summon? I did. Did you ever call the Nintendo Hotline to inquire about the handaxe weapon listed in the manual but found nowhere in the game? I did. Did you ever, by hand, map the levels at which Rydia learned every black magic spell? I did. Did you ever get the Adamant armor? I did … not. But not for lack of trying! Damn you, pink puffs!

RPGs in general were a natural fit for my game-buying equation. Also, my brother had no real interest in playing them, which meant he would bug me less often about sharing them. Bonus! However, starting in my mid-twenties, I began to cool on the genre. Thirty hours was a great length. But sixty? Ninety? I just couldn’t be bothered to learn all the crazy new fantasy names and words, job systems and magic rules. It just felt like a … grind.

The hero, the innocent, the pro, and the knave. Classic.

And then, somehow, that love was rekindled by none other than the weirdest-named game of them all: Bravely Default. This title makes no sense whatsoever. The plot includes multiple realities and a world-devouring Ouroboros. A job system is heavily featured as the way to build up your party and it has all kinds of new terms and rules. But, man, it sucked me in. In 2012 I put every eighty hours into Bravely Default. And I wasn’t bored for a second. Why? Because Bravely Default made some radical changes to the way you leveled up your team. Not only could you increase the literal speed of battles, you could basically put them on auto-pilot. You could pre-program your characters to follow a certain pattern, and with the 4x speed, this made learning abilities and leveling up a breeze. I could grind while watching a movie or reading a book, and then spend my attention on combining the new abilities and having fun with the story and the combat. It’s a game-changing mechanic that should be in every similar RPG going forward. It made me fall in love with the genre again.

Every town was unique and beautifully realized.

Aside from that main difference, Bravely Default is a special cocktail of things I love. For example, the world of Luxendarc revolves around the power of elemental crystal that have begun to darken and must be restored to light. Get it? “Luxendarc”? The staple RPG character who loses his memory is named Ringabel. That trope ring a bell? Aside from puns, the costumes and abilities tied to different jobs are fun and varied, the dialogue is lighthearted (mostly) and fun, the story is epic and crazy but not crazily obtuse. I had lost that lovin’ feeling, but Bravely Default assured me that it’s far from gone.

Kain’t Fight This Feeling

My first brush with Final Fantasy IV (then Final Fantasy 2) was watching my friends, Jordan and Chris, play it at their house. I had come over in time to witness them infiltrating Baron Castle and defeating Kainazzo, (original English name so don’t @ me, bro) imposter king and Fiend of Water. This was my first brush with an RPG and the graphics, music and story quickly sucked me in. I continued to play bits and pieces with my friends but they weren’t allowed to loan games so I could never get fully invested in the story, which just killed me.  I could tell there was something special there, and I wanted in. Continue reading “Kain’t Fight This Feeling”

Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation)

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.

Continue reading “Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation)”

It’s Squall Good!

In denial and still heartbroken over what I saw as Square’s betrayal of Nintendo, I never really got into Final Fantasy VII. I had also never had the funds before to dabble in video-game-system-polygamy, and I had already opted for a Nintendo 64, for better or worse, with Final Fantasy or without, ’til GameCube do us part. But time heals all wounds and bagging groceries on Camp Pendleton was a fairly lucrative job so I wound up in possession of a PlayStation sometime in the fall of 1999.

The events of my life in 1999-2000 were a perfect storm for falling in love with the angsty, teenage-soap-opera that is Final Fantasy VIII. To recap, it was my senior year of high school so there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel that could lead to almost anywhere, and the possibilities were intoxicating; in order to woo a certain young lady, I had begun watching Dawson’s Creek, then airing season 3, which to this day is a masterful mix of nostalgia, heartache, angst, and wanting, not to mention the best slow-burn love triangle in TV history (seriously, watch it); as a young Mormon guy, I was getting ready to serve a mission, which can involve two years of service in a foreign country. All of this created a fertile field for the story of two star-crossed lovers and their team of teenage diplomats/warriors who crisscross the globe to battle a time-compressing future-wizard and her cronies.

Continue reading “It’s Squall Good!”