legacyofykesha

EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 18 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.

Last time I lead off with the term EverCrack. It was half-made in jest originally within the community. Yet with all things there becomes the reality of how a lack of moderation spins things from a single weekend binge to full on addiction. I’m not one to lightly throw around words so I’m not exaggerating when I use the term addiction. Setting a baseline of what I mean by it comes from my understanding of what being an alcoholic is. When the thing you have a compulsion towards begins to impact other aspects of your life usually hits that part for me. That’s when it crosses over from something you do a lot to something that’s harmful to your well being and should be considered an addiction. Losing your job because of a habit, withdrawing from social functions, so on and such. If you Google today EverQuest along with “depression”, “suicide”, or “addiction” you’ll have no shortage of personal stories. Even back in it’s heyday prior to being a target for corporate morality by the media, within the community there were plenty of signs of this perfect drug breaking apart people’s lives. I knew and played with people who’s marriages ended over playing too much, meeting new partners on EverQuest, choosing not to work and take odd jobs to pay rent/utilities, even a guy who brought his laptop to the hospital to play while his wife was in labor so he didn’t miss a rare spawn that only popped up once a week at random. There was no lack of dark tales to be told back then when players were shy or in denial about it. Today there are dozens if not hundreds more now that we’ve distanced ourselves from it.

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planesofpower

EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 18 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.

Eighteen years and still kickin’. EverQuest is no World of Warcraft when it comes to user base but it’s hard to deny an online only game having this kind of a lifespan is impressive. It’s doubtful that there are new players signing up daily. At best old users are returning during promotional times with free access of celebrational perks. Why is that? What kind of hooks has Sony Online Entertainment dug into us to keep us for so long?

Well a lot of it I feel we approached in the past two articles – The larger community surrounding it, as well as the intimate community within it definitely play a part. If that was it thought people would just have abandoned it for newer games or gotten bored long before EQ had time to build up steam. What we’re looking at is something bigger than just the social network serving as the blood pumping through it. The other part was more mechanically driven, controllable by the developers at SoE to ensure players always had something to do. As long as there were new goals, new progression systems, players would have a reason to come back and play with their friends. From the very start of the game leveling up gave you a now iconic tinny shrill sound of “DING!” that would wake the dead if played loud enough. It was somehow both soothing and terrifying at the same time hearing that at 3am on a Sunday night when you’re alone. Once you ran out of levels to gain they’d add alternate advancement systems, epic gear upgrades, and elusive spells or trinkets to keep you plugging away. No exaggeration, I eventually acquired an item that all it did was turn you into a skeleton aesthetically. I ended up selling it for $175 in real life. There was always another step you could progress your “toon” with from a gameplay standpoint, another carrot dangled in front of you to chase. As a player you were never left wanting or directionless for long. Putting a cherry on top of this deliciously inviting pie was the flagpole event and ultimate goal within the MMO genre: Raids.

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shadowsofluclin

EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 18 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Shortened down to either MMORPG or just MMO for most these days. Among hundreds or thousands of players on your individual server, it’s hard not to think about just how easily it’d be to be lost awash in the sea of other players. Modern MMOs lack an integral part of what made EverQuest so great though. A reliance on other players. There was a shifting of design that came along with World of Warcraft that reduced dependency on other players until you wanted to larger scale raids, which even those by comparison to EQ were dwarfed with a limit of 24 players instead of the 60+ EverQuest was known for requiring to successfully slay a god. Sure it made it convenient for immediate play not having to try and organize a hunting party manually, often by either hanging around the area you wanted to adventure in to meet up with other lonesomes or gathering the friends you’ve made previously through climbing through the levels in similar situations. Through those natural bonds formed playing together like-minded people would eventually start guilds or extend the invite into whatever ones they were already in to their new hunting partners. It’s akin to going through school and from a class of 30 other students and finding the few you clicked with. From there they’d bring you into their other social circles… And raids are like parties, including the immense fear and desire to run far far away if it was one of your first times there.

That’s where the real charm came from with this game. You inability to succeed on alone in EQ’s world of Norrath lead to a lot of genuine friendships being formed. Both on the smaller level of having to group to the larger scale raids requiring guilds to get the best gear in the game. It always started as goofy light-hearted jokes and banter like sending a single character into the guild chat of ” . ” to see who else would join in the dotting. It was a universal shout out of “dudes, I’m ansy, who else is out there?!”. Sometimes it would lead to communal laughter as we shared jokes, other nights to grouping up together, once in awhile to a higher level player helping you out with something that was crushing you, and even potentially to a real life friendship or more. EverQuest has a well documented history of trust bleeding out beyond their fictional world ranging from general e-mail and instant messaging correspondence to marriage proposals and support groups. EQ served as a platform for social structures that I hadn’t even known existed, let alone experienced prior to that time.

A hunting party relaxing together

So how in the world did Tolkien-esque adventuring in a digital world manage such a feat? While there are literally countless variations that lead to these relationships I’m sure they all began in a similar fashion. When playing in that space and someone gives that extra moment to help you out with little to no reason beyond they wanted to. That special ting you get when someone recognizes you with no ulterior motive. They were just considerate of you in the way someone helping you pick up a spilled pile of books would. For me this happened when running from a higher level bear a few weeks into playing. Another player at the max level, a rogue of all people, saved me as I was cowering with a shred of health ready to accept death. Some playful conversation during that time and a parting offer of future assistance if I ever needed it. The encounter ended with a parting /wave and /dance emote for good measure. Well later on down the line we’d become good friends as we kept chatting. I still talk with her over 15 years later over Steam and exchange Christmas gifts or rum cakes. My story wasn’t unique either as others have posted similar stories of running into a baddy they couldn’t handle or didn’t know where to hunt for experience, then recall a helpful soul that extended their hand to them last time they were in a pickle. Perhaps then shoot them a /tell, a private message to them. Mentoring was huge within EverQuest and it was richer for it. From there on out it’s no different from making a friend anywhere else in the world. Slowly over time you lower your guard, put trust in them with your feelings, and eventually you’re sharing cat pictures with each other.

That’s the great part that’s been lost to time with online games. As much as EverQuest was about exploring the wilds, adventuring into decrepit catacombs, finding sweet loot, or being in awe at powerful magic spells – It was really held together and made special by dozens of chat channels. Without those communications of /gu, /tell, /ooc, /shout – There couldn’t BE an EverQuest. While as much of a game it was, it also served as a glorified Yahoo chat room. The different branches broke down to local area, across the entire zone, just to your party, to your guild, or individual messages. Navigating between the channels let you socialize with a deftness seen in Jane Austen stories as you managed your personal relationships with the guild, building new alliances in party chat, and making your presence known in the zone to keep your territory claimed. It was a social experience more than anything else. Occasionally players would forget which channel they were in and letting a bit of personality bleed into areas they didn’t mean to. You’d catch hints of friendships being built in guild chat when someone would share something personal to the group of 30+ others currently online, quickly trying to brush it under the rug with a simple “oops, miss” . It was a quick response that stood for “mistell” or “mispoke” implying that it was meant to go to someone else. While usually it’d be some off-brand humor that just wasn’t meant for a large audience, other times it’d be an embarrassingly candid message that was meant for private messaging. At points you could recognize that romance was developing between two players you knew and grouped with regularly. It sounds silly to read about now, but it was kind of wonderful back then to be a part of a world that brought people together. It was by no means uncommon to hear about players meeting up in the real world afterwards and moving in together while taking their relationship to the next level. Hell, even for preexisting couples EverQuest served as an activity to do together. It was no different than getting some buddies together to play cards with or throw an ice cream social… that’s still something people do, right? 

As a social experience it was exciting, personal, opened for growth as a person, and for new branching friendships. Life wasn’t the greatest when I fell into EQ and it provided a safe space to socialize in. I was in my mid-teens, moved away from my friends just far away enough to make it a rarity to hang out. EverQuest started off as a means to meet up with them somehow fairly easily and catch up. Countless times we’d hit a rut and have to pull in random players to fill out the group and from there just built our list of people to play with. It was the first time I’d seen a “friend list” in a game. Seems rather bold to just outright tell me who this list of others are in relation to me, right? Yet like I mentioned before those times served as a gateway to friendships I’ve made personally that’ve stuck over the years. I’d spend plenty of nights in game just chatting with any of those dozen or so friends I’d made – hundreds of miles across the US and bounce off things I was struggling with in real life. Romance problems, my father’s alcoholism, depression, loneliness. A year into EQ and I had a support network that felt more genuine than most blood relations I had. Feeling like I could open up without ridicule or judgement about things that were upsetting me was foreign to me. That was just the nature of the community that formed around this virtual world. Digital characters controlled by real people. It became an intimate clan connected by this fantasy realm of wizards, shaman, elves, magic, and frog-people. If someone didn’t log in for a few days or within their usual play schedule it’d be a cause for concern as e-mails or forum posts would try and reach out. “Does anyone have Punky’s phone number?!”. Whether friends in real life prior to playing, a married couple, or new adopted into the community at large – no one went at it alone in EverQuest. Someone always had your back. You always had someone to talk to.

I know it’s not an original thought to acknowledge how strange it is we can be surrounded by dozens of people in the real world and still feel alone. Fear of rejection, emotional desolation, or in my case as a defense mechanism. Throw me into a world inside digital space where I can disconnect at any time to just play for fun, suddenly all of that melts away to let you just be you for a little while. Spirits rise as you gain a sense of confidence. Your humor fills the welcome ears of others visiting Norrath if even just for a bit. Now the real world, real affections, real emotions are spilling into the play space until the two are indistinguishable from one another. This “game” became a social platform years before Facebook normalized online interactions or friendships. Looking back at it all I’m amazed at what it accomplished from a social aspect. As powerful of a structure as it was for building a vibrant community it wouldn’t have been as interesting as it was if it didn’t give you a reason to keep logging in every day. There were mechanics that kept us coming back and turned it from a weekend fling like World of Warcraft, into a long-term gathering place for friends to return to. Quest lines, guild raids, getting new gear, building factions… but all of this we’ll explore in the next part of EverQuest Remembered. For now let’s just appreciate the quiet moments found together over a digital frontier.

Kingdom Hearts 2.8… Here we find ourselves with another snippet of story of Kingdom Hearts as we slowly build towards the eventual end of Sora’s story. Well, at least the end of the Xehanort “Dark Seeker” story line as far as the director sees it. For the uninitiated, Xehanort is the villain that’s been behind the scenes orchestrating the entire series thus far. As with the Emperor in Star Wars, only late in the act had he been revealed as his minions are nothing more than marionettes akin to Darth Vader or Grand Moff Tarkin. Only in KH all the villains you’ve seen are pieces or clones of Xehanort… It’s kind of a thing, don’t worry about the details too much. So what’s under the hood this time, is the extended chapter meaningful, and do we even care? Fans have been eagerly awaiting to conclude the journey they began back in 2002 on a still young PlayStation 2.

The answer is yes. We care. I care. A million times yes.

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ScarsOfVelious

EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 17 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.

Welcome back. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the series up to this point and are still on board as we dig in even further to what exactly made EverQuest so special to so many people, particularly myself. The first of the series covered my introduction and awe to this new unknown experience, and the second addressed a bit more of the design and technical feats accomplished that laid the groundwork for both MMOs and RPGs from that point onward. We have a lot of expectations on what best describes an MMO – The tropes and mechanisms usually found within those games. Really what defines an MMO though shouldn’t be limited by any of those. At its core the defining characteristic is it’s a massively multiplayer game. You can’t have an MMO with it’s people. Today I want to focus on talking about that, more specifically the mass-scale of interacting with others playing the same game as you in real time. The community was large given the requirements and nature of the game back then, boasting over a half million players broken up into clusters of 1500-3500 chunks identified as servers. Each server was named after an important figure within EverQuest’s lore… Primarily deities and primal forces, with the occasional iconic NPC such as Firiona Vie who graces the cover of nearly every release of the game. Those servers would effectively be your home from creation until you quit. Years later I still easily remember my server and it’s history. I started on Saryrn (Goddess of Torment), which was a splinter off of Veeshan (Dragon God) and Bristlebane (God of Mischief) after they became overpopulated in the first year of it’s life. Eventually as the years went by and players left, worlds were collapsed, and my home of Saryrn was swallowed up by Bertoxxulous (God of Disease) sometime around 2012. This may seem like a bunch of random names but I’ll get back to the importance of this a bit later. For now though just known within each server there was it’s own unique community, with it’s own culture, it’s own player heroes, and it’s own list of wicked scoundrels. These all added up to create an identity for each server, which bled out into forums or message boards to further solidify the impression created by the experience of being enraptured in EverQuest.

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Previously I’ve discussed my excitement for Final Fantasy 15. I had a lot of hope for what the game could be as potential overflowed from various trailers and news points scattered over it’s 9+ year development cycle. As it traveled from being Final Fantasy Versus 13 into it’s final form broken into a film, episodes of an anime, and finally a video game my excitement grew. Before any of that really became a thing to me, my initial interest of this game began back in 2012 on my birthday when Theatrhythm Final Fantasy received a DLC song for an unreleased FF Versus 13, Somnus. The song was gorgeous and the mood was tonally different from anything I knew of Final Fantasy.

That was the turning point where it went from something that I didn’t even bother watching trailers for, to digging up as much as I could via Google notifications. The game was pretty much assumed to be dead at one point as the news was sporadic at best while Final Fantasy 13’s series continued to disappoint at Square. It was out of sight and out of mind until the E3 2013 trailer when it rebranded as the 15th entry of the mainline titles, breaking away from the baggage of Lightning’s saga. Yes, it got a fancy roman numeral all of it’s own as “XV“. Either way that trailer captured my imagination as Square games all tend to do eventually. Later on they’d eventually pair a demo titled Episode Duscae in with their HD port of a previously Japan exclusive PSP game, FF Type-O, and I totally spent $60 on it to get an early poke at what FF15 might be. It’s been two years and I’ve still only put in about 6 hours into Type-0. Really, I could have paid just $60 for that 3-4 hours of content in the FF15 demo and be satisfied. Everything I loved about open world fantasy games (Dragon Age for example) was wrapped up in this actiony, exploration driven Japanese RPG ready for consumption. Super emo characters, party system, myriads of weapons, dungeons to explore, side quests, ridiculously spikey hair styles, and brutally cheesy themes like friendship conquers all. Everything I want from my JRPGs was on parade in a gorgeous seamless world to breath it all in with. This was the Final Fantasy I’d been dying for since 1999’s adventures with Squall & co. I loved it so much I went ahead and wrote an entire blog just about the demo.

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While 2016 was an absolute garbage year culturally, it was also an… interesting year for me personally. My career advanced which threw my lifestyle completely off-kilter. This lead to the majority of the back half of this year being lost to me gamewise, leaving a ton of upcoming or recent releases that in normal circumstances would be top contenders for going into my GotY considerations. Pokemon SunMoon, Final Fantasy 15, Dragon Quest Builders, World of Final Fantasy, Darkest Dungeon, TTG’s Batman, Battlefield 1, and The Last Guardian are all games I imagine will be high in my rankings next year once I have time to spend with them. Hell, Final Fantasy 15’s Episode Duscae demo alone was one of the most exciting things for me to play in 2015, and they’ve had over a year to polish the game since then. I’d be honestly shocked if it doesn’t take top nods from me next year. Both that and Persona 5 are expected to be high on this list for my 2017 wrap up. Oh yeah, then there’s also a little known obscure release called Mass Effect: Andromeda getting in on that as well. Next year is looking like RPG heaven to me.

Yet we’re not here to talk about the future. This here is a retrospective on what I’ve played through 2016. Staying consistent with 2015 and 2014’s rules – Games on my list do not have to be released in 2016 to be eligible. The games on my list are limited to titles that have been played for the first time during this year. As previously discussed it’s increasingly difficult to qualify what’s a release this year versus another. Perhaps something released on PC in 2014, but was just brought to PS4 in 2016? Perhaps it’s a game that released in Japan in the 90’s yet is just now hitting NA as part of a collection? Between remasters, ports, rereleases, localization, etc – Applying an arbitrary year requirement on a hobby that often has us going back into yesteryear to experience the wide breadth of gaming is just asinine. I’m always working a backlog, I’m always discovering old games I never knew existed or had a chance to play due to time constraints, and always checking out remastered or enhanced versions of games I loved years prior. So my criteria is simply one rule… If the first time I’ve played it falls between January 1st and December 31st of this year, it’s fair game. This includes remakes/remasters as their own entry. Hell, this year almost had both an original release from over two decades ago and it’s 2016 release on the list. After all if I’m making a list of the games I’ve enjoyed the most this year, why not?

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RuinsKunarkLoading

EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 17 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.

In the last entry of EverQuest Remembered I spoke a lot from my own personal introduction to the game. I’m gonna switch gears a bit with this one and speak a bit more on the broader impact it made on the industry as a whole. Conceptually, mechanically, and socially EQ set the rules and language for both RPGs and MMOs that still influences today. It’s been nearly two decades, but it’s impossible to see the modern landscape of either genres existing as they do if Verant Interactive hadn’t created the template for all that followed after 1999. Technically Ultima Online released two years prior as the first commercially successful MMORPG yet EverQuest’s 3D rendered world lead the charge for what we’d refer to now as an MMO. Enough with the generalities though, let’s dig into the specifics of what I’m talking about here.

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EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 17 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.

EverQuest entered my life at a strange time and by a matter of luck. To properly start this story off though we need to go back to the year leading up to my discovery of this anomaly. In 1999’ish I wrapped up eighth grade and was well into the skatepunk / thrash metal scene. It’s when I got my first skateboard and saw Pennywise perform for my first time at my first Warped Tour… Ya know, back when people were throwing shoes at Eminem because he was a nobody rapper performing at a predominately punk festival. It’s was also the first year of dealing with my parents being divorced, being torn between two homes, and trying to make sense of it all. All of that fell to the wayside when I buried myself deep into those hobbies, spending less and less time with video games. Somewhat ironic since the driving force behind my interest in the sport and music came from playing Top Skater at the arcade and Tony Hawk Pro Skater at home. Skateboarding got me out of the house, among friends, doing a physical activity for like three or more hours a day. That first Warped Tour I went to was about two weeks after I started skating. I recall that clearly because after learning the basic trick of how to ollie (jump) I thought I’d try to do that over a parking block. And failed. Miserably. On my face. I was by myself so I’m not sure how long I was down for, but when I picked myself up off the ground and brushed gravel out of the scrapes I just dug into my face, my skateboard had rolled clear across the parking lot some 700 feet away. The next morning was Warped Tour ’99. Looking back on it my injuries somehow remained relatively low despite the careless abandon I flung myself around with back then.

Well eventually that came to an end. My mother moved out of state so I remained with my father. It’s where all my friends were so it made sense to me at the wise age of 15, despite knowing his battle with alcoholism meant it wasn’t the healthiest place for me. That alcoholism lead to us moving away from my friends anyways after my sophomore year of high school ended in the summer of 2000. It put me at a 30 minute drive away from my friends who mostly had no cars or even licenses. Effectively the summer was the last time I really had with them I thought as at that age, 30 minutes might as well be 17 hours. Whenever we could sleep over we did and skated as much as we could… until I jammed my ankle up and couldn’t walk on it for two weeks. Who knew picnic tables weren’t meant for jumping off of with a plank of wood? It was during the following downtime that I was introduced into EverQuest from a friend. I really enjoyed video games up to that point, but really I didn’t play a whole lot of PC games. I had stints with Diablo, the Star Wars Jedi Knight series, and Age of Empires, but it still felt weird sitting down at a desk to play games with a mouse and keyboard. He came over and showed me the ropes of it and explained that it was an account based game with monthly subscription fees, but you can log into your character from anywhere on any computer. Scott booted up his account so he could show me how cool it was. Looking back now I’m sure he was trying to sell me on it so more of us would play together, and possibly just because he was still fresh into it and eagerly wanted to get back to it instead of wasting time on other games. Either way it was the coolest game I had ever experienced at that point. I remember basically staying up all night until we couldn’t function anymore before going to bed. The next weekend he managed to wrangle up the account of another friend that was playing it, let me make my own character to play when she wasn’t logged in for a week or two. It. Was. Bliss.

A peaceful day in the East Commonlands.

A peaceful day in the East Commonlands.

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16-Bit Cloud Strife (FF Record Keeper)

16-Bit Cloud Strife (FF Record Keeper)

When Final Fantasy Record Keeper first launched, I thought it was a hoot. It gave me the opportunity to play through a Reader’s Digest version of all my favorite Final Fantasy games. At least that was the promise. I hadn’t played Final Fantasy 7 in a year or two at that point so I was intrigued on getting a quick tour of the story, world, and characters again. Mechanically it played like the SNES era titles with ATB turn-based combat yet it also brought post-SNES games back in line with cute little sprite versions of our heroes. Seeing locations recreated from settings I knew while listening to tunes from their respected games was great. As I grinded through those worlds to max out my little 16-bit inspired Cloud Strife sprite, I began to feel a small tinge of disdain for the game. For whatever reason it just didn’t feel special anymore… and not just for that game, but the worlds contained within it as well. My disinterest grew as I felt compelled to grind up in levels just to continue plowing through the missions. Eventually I’d get to just setting the game to auto-battle through encounters while I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Shmidt episodes in succession. The fun had died and once I broke from the compulsion to continue clicking character commands carelessly I uninstalled the game never to look back.

Despite It burned hot on my mobile for about a month or two I was never able to finish the story of FF7 I started in it. The chapters were broken up in an extremely non-linear fashion among the rest of the FF series, the furthest point they took me to was the raid on Shinra Tower just before leaving Midgar. Afterwards it forced me by design to travel to Final Fantasy 4, and from there to Final Fantasy 9, etc. It left me bitter towards the brand, a feeling that I hadn’t had before that. Even through Dissidia, Threatrhytm, and countless other spin-offs of the series I hadn’t felt this exhaustion towards Square or it’s IP. What the hell just happened? How did an unassuming mobile recap of some of my favorite games just turn me against them?

Musing on the experience or what I got out of it I realized the problem. It had taken one of the characters that was special to me, from a game I loved, and churned out a product that had none of the care or respect baked in. This wasn’t the first time either. “Well shit…” I thought as I went back through my head of all the games Cloud appeared in. Square has been watering him down for nearly a decade at this point. Every time they wanted to push a new product they’d shove Cloud into the code and shuffle the puppet on stage to detract from how bullshit it was. Seriously, take a list at all these games Cloud Strife has made an appearance in since the original Final Fantasy 7 back in 1997.

  • Before Crisis: FF7
  • Crisis Core: FF7
  • FF7: Advent Children
  • On the Way to a Smile: Episode Denzel
  • FF7: Dirge of Cerberus
  • Last Order: FF7
  • Ehrgeiz
  • Chocobo Racing
  • Itadaki Street Special
  • Itadaki Street Portable
  • LittleBigPlanet 2
  • Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
  • Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
  • Final Fantasy Explorers
  • FF7: G-Bike
  • Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U
  • Final Fantasy Tactics / War of the Lions
  • Kingdom Hearts
  • Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
  • Kingdom Hearts 2
  • Kingdom Hearts coded
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy
  • Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
  • Final Fantasy Record Keeper
  • Final Fantasy All the Bravest
  • World of Final Fantasy
"Remember when I was genuinely interesting, cool, damaged, and an anti-hero worth celebrating, kids?!"

“Remember when I was genuinely interesting, cool, damaged, and an anti-hero worth celebrating, kids?!”

Nice list eh? Sure you can break it down to a few core groupings like “Compilation of FF7” or “Kingdom Hearts”, but it stands that Cloud Strife is one of the most overused characters in the series. I’m sure I’ve missed something, but that list stands at a tall 27 games to date over 19 years, averaging more than one appearance per year. Hell, even from a  marketing standpoint there are multiple action figures and statues available with several depictions of his transformations through the years. With his prominence in Kingdom Hearts plus the planned Final Fantasy 7 Remake I don’t foresee his role as the brand of Final Fantasy dying any time soon either.

When Final Fantasy 7 first rolled out it was highly regarded for it’s story complexity, specifically in the case of Cloud. While the amnesia angle has become a groan-worthy trope at this point, back in 1997 upon release it wasn’t as traversed. JRPGs in general were few and far between in the US, social media at least a decade away from taking off, and critical dissent of games even further. People were excited and enthralled by this new tale to explore. Cloud’s memories were uncertain, his past recalled was an amalgamation of lived events, a dead friend’s stories, and the dreams of who he wanted to become. The level of psychosis was a curiosity most hadn’t played through in a game before. Beyond that his demeanor was uncommon in the media at the time – Rife with self-doubt, spikes of brash arrogance, distrust of himself, and most importantly deeply vulnerable at a level unbecoming of a lead role. Half of the game was spent trying to discover the truth of who he really was and going on that journey chasing Sephiroth, a complicated man who had control over Cloud.. The air of darkness and uncertainty of Cloud’s origin made his story worth remembering… or at least intriguing enough to want to get to the next disc of the game. It was special. His story was crafted in a way that Square just doesn’t write characters any more. Afterwards they tried again with the next entry in the series featuring a heavily introverted Squall Lionheart. Sure he lacked social grace but for the most part he played the role of a confident hero. The player never had any doubts on who he was or what his part was in the grand scheme of things. The mysteries just weren’t there to inspire the imagination as much. Zidane, Tidus, Vaan… None came even remotely close to the level of interest generated by Cloud. Eventually we’d lead into Lightning from FF13, designed primarily as a female version of Cloud by Tetsuya Nomura. Throughout her trilogy of games she shares a lot of similar traits as Cloud… IE; self-doubt, reluctant hero, mercenary playing a role, uncertain ties to the villain, redemptive journey, and constantly edging on the side of darkness – but Lightning walks away feeling every bit her own character thankfully. Despite ya know, even being dressed in Cloud’s garb. My point here is despite how badly Square wants to recreate a character as cherished as Cloud, even after 19 years lightning just hasn’t struck twice.

Record Keeper’s existence is a crass cash grab by Square to capitalize on the days gone by them. Final Fantasy was once a name that meant undeniable quality. It’s had it’s fair share of fair-weather fans as well as die-hards. I’m not looking to label it as a fallen franchise by any means, but it’s hard to deny that it doesn’t quite have the appeal it once did, even in it’s home country of Japan. Offerings like Record Keeper seem like a harmless jaunt through memory lane at first, yet in time it became a sour note that drains the emotions I felt for those games. Every time I see Cloud now I’m just reminded of how far he’s come from being who I remember him as. Sure the original game hasn’t changed. Like Cloud himself though the memories of who he is through all the lenses I’ve seen him through at this point has left me uncertain with what’s the real Cloud Strife anymore. He’s been so diluted and devalued it’s hard to say what we ever saw in him. Maybe my original outing was misunderstood and all these new renditions are more accurately reflecting his actual nature? An unfortunate side effect of being bombarded by his appearances is I’m just starting to not care anymore. That ping of excitement in my brain from when I see an old friend has been replaced with the unsettling familiarity of when you cross paths with Ned down from accounting, unable to dodge his gaze and are forced to greet him with a feigned smile and small talk about the weather.

Thanks Square. Keep up the good work and I hope those quarterly figures are worth the permanent loss of integrity.

Of course then there’s one shot at redemption. I was in complete denial, a blubbering idiot when E3 2015 revealed Final Fantasy 7 Remake. The trailer was cut perfectly. I was filled with so many emotions as the narrator spoke of a promise and a that unmistakable silhouette filled the screen. This is how it should feel when things are done with care. Instead of an easy write-off or disingenuous tug at my purse strings, I’m left feeling like Square actually gives a shit about doing things right again. Final Fantasy 15 is reinforcing that hope that just *MAYBE* when the FF7R releases I’ll feel like once again, Cloud Strife is something special.

FF7 Remake

“The promise has been made”