To this day I blame Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II in America, though I’ll use the Japanese numbering from here on out) for my beginning interest in nearly everything awesome. I had some help from Voltron, of course, and Optimus Prime. The reason I blame Final Fantasy IV is because it was my first video game with any plot. I was at my friend Andy’s house and he said to me: “Joe, I can’t beat this. Will you borrow my game and beat it for me?” I agreed, and from that moment on was in love. With Final Fantasy, not Andy.
For those of you unfamiliar with the video game series, I’ll give a very brief explanation. Final Fantasy is a role playing game (RPG) in which you follow the story of a set of characters (your party). It is not a hack-and-slash game or a shoot-em-up game or a sports game. The mechanics of the game play are generally considered very boring, even by old standards. Final Fantasy was about the story.
That bit of education complete, let’s move on. From time to time I like to work my way through the series. It’s a strange equivalent of looking through a photo album or reminiscing with an old friend.
Wait. Only after writing that sentence do I realize how utterly pathetic that sounds. Let me rephrase.
Because I consider the Final Fantasy series symbolic of my entry into the great and wonderful realm of storytelling, I occasionally like to start from the first one and play each game until I finish the latest entry. It serves as both a nostalgic trigger that just makes me feel good, but it also functions as an inspiration, something that reminds me of the feelings I got as a child experiencing what, to me, was a good story filled with adventure, romance, and killing things.
It was also a point of entry into music. Before I was playing any instruments, I was playing Final Fantasy. When I sat down at the piano for the first few times, before I ever had lessons, I put on the music from Final Fantasy VI and started learning how to play the melodies by ear. I have entries in my journals from fourth and fifth grade talking about how awesome the music was, in all of my little kid starry-eyed innocence. Little did I know that twenty years later (Oh. My. God.) I would win a competition for best Final Fantasy VI remix and be invited to participate in professional level composition projects with people that are much, much better than me.
Back to the play-through. I sometimes skip some of the entries that weren’t big influences on me. This time I started at Final Fantasy IV, and have finished the fifth and sixth games as well. I thought, at this sort of halfway point in the FF series, I would write down some of my thoughts about the game and their stories.
I mean, really. One of the characters in Final Fantasy V was named “Butz.” The translations were probably done by Google Translator (in truth, the Final Fantasy VI original translation was done in a week by one man, I believe, which is pretty impressive if you ask me). It created bizarre, iconic phrases like “You spoony bard!” and “Call me a treasure hunter, or I’ll rip your lungs out!”
The dialog of IV, V, and VI (hereafter known as the SNES trilogy, as they were the only games on Super Nintendo) comes right out of a bad Anime, right down to the consistent usage of people’s names followed by awkward ellipses (“Bob…” “Joe…”). There’s all sorts of deus ex machina moments, including the sudden appearance of a talking Octopus that has no actual bearing on the plot. The main baddie of Final Fantasy V is called “Ex-Death,” which makes me embarrassed to type, and in the last ten minutes of Final Fantasy IV you realize that the baddie you were supposed to fight wasn’t the baddie at all. It was some other guy you’ve never heard of using mind control. What?!
There are good things, though. Characterization is typically pretty good; you can believe that everyone has their own motivations, that everyone is the hero in their own story. But, in my opinion, that’s where Final Fantasy has always made its money. Its characters are always fantastic, and the sense of companionship that develops among your party drags you in with them, so you feel like you’re a part of it all. Ugh, now we’re back to me using video games as surrogate friends. I promise I’m not this much of a loser.
But, really, in today’s environment you would never get away with half the crap that goes on in an old Final Fantasy game. It’s a similar feeling to growing up liking a certain movie, and then going back twenty years later (Oh. My. God.) and realizing how poorly the special effects were, or how cliche the dialog, or how atrocious the acting. Yet, for some reason, you still like the damn thing. You buy it in DVD, Blu-Ray, hologram, direct-brain implant, and you go to RECALL to dream it with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because you love it. Because, in some ways, it helped you grow up. For me, it helped me learn what a story was, how to tell one. It also really helped me learn how to read quickly, since video game voice acting hadn’t been invented yet (and should never have been).
So, there are some of my thoughts in the middle of a Final Fantasy play-through. Are they kind of bad? Yes. Do I still love them? Yes. In five years, will I put Final Fantasy IV back into the console and fire it up again for another round? Absolutely.