I may have mentioned on this blog that we didn’t have a regular NES when we were growing up — not for a lack of wanting, believe you me. We had to wait for the SNES, which was certainly worth it, but that meant that my brothers and I were in a constant state of envy over our friends’ consoles and enraptured with them every time we could go over and play.
It was at a friend’s house that I first was exposed to Final Fantasy. We were having lunch and the TV wasn’t on, but I still sat down and poured through the Final Fantasy I manual like a parched man at a drinking fountain. Even by 1987 RPGs were incredibly captivating to me, and I loved the notion that you could make up your own party mix for the game, a party who would “grow up” at a certain point and evolve into a better class.
Oddly enough, that manual was it for me and Final Fantasy until 1997, when I purchased the PlayStation and a couple “killer apps” to go with it — Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil 2. Now, most gamers I know have their Final Fantasy preference, which usually corresponds to the first FF game they played, so you’ll understand that I’ve always carried a torch for FFVII. It was an incredible experience back in ’97 — a very cinematic RPG with lots of depth, a huge cast of characters, and hundreds of hours’ worth of gameplay. Yes, it looks laughably quaint and slow today, but when I first got it? I played it for three days straight. Seriously, I skipped work and everything.
Little did I know that Final Fantasy VII would become such a gaming touchstone, what with Aeris’ death, Sephiroth, Cloud’s hairstyle, limit breaks, and all the rest. Back then it was simply a fun game and I enjoyed it from start to finish.
Two years later I had graduated college and moved to Colorado. It was then that Square released Final Fantasy VIII, a title that we were all waiting for like crazy. They promised more realistic proportions on the characters and a more scifi world, although it soon became apparent that it was a far cry from 7. The Junction system was absolutely stupid, although there are a few masochists who claimed to love it. I also really hated the sour protagonist — and Square’s penchant for the brooding hero type — and so it became a forgettable experience.
The next year I moved to my current home of Detroit and picked up Final Fantasy IX. Along with Chrono Cross, this represented the glorious peak of PlayStation RPG goodness for me. FF9 was a tribute of sorts to the entire FF franchise, and I genuinely enjoyed the upbeat tone, the colorful look, and the easier-to-understand gameplay.
With the next installment, Square moved to the PlayStation 2, the last console I ever purchased (we’re not counting the Wii because, really, it’s a party trick, not a gaming console). I made the jump as well, although the PS2 never really caught on with me as much as the PS — probably because computer gaming just was more fun in 2001. While not a bad game, per se, Final Fantasy X felt like it was more about the looks than the story (which was weirdly vague and anticlimactic) or gameplay.
It was here that I lost my love for the series. There’s a lot to be said in favor of Final Fantasy as a historical franchise, but in my opinion the company never really grew up as fast as the rest of the genre. Turn-based combat got old, random encounters were annoying, linear gameplay felt confined, and the stories felt so confined to weird Japanese conventions that ultimately baffled me.
While I did dip my toes into Final Fantasy XI — it was not for me, I quickly decided — that was it between me and Final Fantasy. I haven’t felt the pull back for 12, 13 or 14, and while it’s not for me any more, I’m not going to badmouth games I haven’t played. It just feels as though I moved on and FF stayed still.
Also? Cloud is a really silly name. I can admit that now.