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Soon we’ll be living in a world where Final Fantasy XV, The Last Guardian, and President Donald Trump are reality, crazy times indeed.

The first reviews have come out and I can palpably feel the relief in reviewer’s words as the game seems good enough to praise. However, a quick look back shows that the highly anticipated Final Fantasy XIII also received high praise for its launch (and we all know how that ended up, though still 83 on metacritic). I’m sure XV will be better, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

The attitude towards XV was a strange mix of anticipation and trepidation as the previous disappointments and extremely long development time made XV feel like a make-or-break title in terms of Square/Enix continuing Final Fantasy as a AAA console franchise. Their full-on mobile cash-in and Konami’s recent step away from expensive titles has changed the landscape. XV has certainly captured the focus of mainstream coverage and in this age could translate to more mainstream sales than XIII managed.

To celebrate this week I wanted to look back at my memories with a series that’s obviously very invested in its fanbase having fond memories of the series (World of Final Fantasy anyone?)

 

 

Final Fantasy I

At a friend’s house (who also showed me how DnD worked), I found this cartridge.

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He walked me through the first few hours and my mind raced with the possibilities of this epic world to explore and items to buy. I also noticed he had a Gameboy game with the same title but he quickly stated “that one sucks, just play this”.

I didn’t get more than that one night to play but it stuck with me and definitely made me jealous when the 16-bit era rolled around and I was drafted into the SEGA Genesis army.

Final Fantasy VI

You ever have that experience where you’ve known an elementary school friend for years and then meet their other friends? The ones that exist outside of your social circle save for the Venn Diagram overlap that is your mutual buddy? It seems alien at first, like finding out your parents have lives outside of your self-centered childhood. I certainly had a degree of jealousy to have a three-way hangout with my good friend Geoff and his other friend Pat.

To make me feel like more of an outsider, Geoff and Pat had spent dozens of hours bonding over a game I had never seen before: Final Fantasy III (VI). They spent so much time roaming the massive world, they even invented lyrics to “Terra’s Theme”

 

“Little poppyseed little Pummmmpkin

Little poppyseed little Pummmmpkin

Little poppyseed little Pummmmpkin

Carry on.               Carry on”

(They were young, it’s simple, but damn if it isn’t catchy)

Going back to my miniscule Sega games Sonic and E-Swat felt pathetically shallow compared to the grand adventure that seemingly went on forever as they sang together as only true best friends could do.

Final Fantasy VII – My Turn

Finally I had a console that could play this mystical and previously unreachable series.

I went to the local Blockbuster to rent this hot new game for the standard 2-days, but to my shock, it was magically labeled a 7-day rental. I couldn’t believe my luck and rented it before the evil manager could change it back and deny me five more days of fun.

Taking it home and inviting over my neighbor (with the same birthday) Gavin, we played through the first disc together. It was the first time I encountered anyone who wanted to watch a game. Games had always felt like rides that everyone wanted a turn with, but this was a special story that could be enjoyed by more than one, regardless of how many controllers were plugged in.

We got as far as we could in that week, getting extremely lost after visiting Red XIII’s village. Without the handy mission log of modern games, it was extremely frustrating to wander aimlessly, constantly interrupted by random battles!

After bonding with the game I set out to acquire it for myself. Not having a job or money, I scoured the classified ads for someone willing to trade. I eventually found someone who accepted my trade of a game I have zero recollection of.

Filled with excitement, I rode in the car with my mum, imagining the adventures I’d have. But when I got to this fellow’s house, he hit me with a devastating curve ball: He had changed his mind on the deal!

“Final Fantasy is still pretty new and the game you’re trading is already a Greatest Hits, so you can choose between these instead”

Me being young and him being an adult, I could only respect his STUPID idea and choose Resident Evil: Director’s Cut from the meager offering. Resident Evil is a classic as well, but try telling the Silver Medalist that second best is “pretty good too”.

After this setback, my limited attention moved on from Final Fantasy to more immediately satisfying games like Tenchu, Metal Gear Solid, and Wing Commander IV (bleh).

Many years later, I would return to VII when the PC port was released on PS4 and had a fabulous time combining the nostalgia of the first portion with the discovery of the last half. I know many think it’s cool to hate on VII but I found it held up well, (at least with liberal use of 3X speed).

Final Fantasy VIII – A meditative hour

After finishing VII and immediately yearning for more, I fired up VIII hoping (like many did at its release) to find a similar experience, but instead found the complete opposite. Where VII dropped you in the middle of a thrilling bombing run before you could even realize you were the terrorists, VIII opted for a quiet awakening in a hospital bed and a tour of a school. While it’s a core element of Final Fantasy to change the game with each installment (and an RPG trope to begin by waking up), I wasn’t ready to dive into this world just yet.

Final Fantasy X

My concentration has always shifted from music to gaming, and when X came out I was much more interested in guitars (although I did enjoy KOTOR on the Xbox at the time).

A few years back however, I grabbed the remaster for PS3 at a stupid cheap price and gave it a shot. I got about ⅓ through and genuinely enjoyed the battle system and direction the quest was heading. It felt like a pilgrimage of self discovery towards a mysterious evil. Very epic.

Tidus was immediately unlikeable of course, the tone was a little too sunny and goofy for my tastes, and the shrine puzzles felt out of place. But as the hours wore on, the battle system kept me engaged enough to care about the group (I don’t have to mention how badass Auron was). Although I’ve yet to finish it, I have it ready on my Vita for when the time comes.

Final Fantasy XIII

After a few years of playing music on a cruise ship I was happy to be back on land and able to catch up on the biggest titles. I found FF XIII for ten bucks and eagerly jumped in, completely oblivious to the firestorm of criticism it faced.

The decision to ditch the traditional opening arpeggio and use mysterious digital pipes over an ominous marching snare had me glued to the screen. What was this mysterious world and oh my god did it ever look amazing!

 

I hung on for the 15-20 hours it took to finally hit the open world, fought an overpowered monster and felt I had seen enough.

The battle system was fresh and engaging although it felt like the toughest battles were restricted to one strategy. The environments were unbelievably gorgeous but felt disconnected from the characters and story. It was quite similar to George Lucas’ Star Wars Prequels: bland characters spouting overly complex lore while neurotically dense backgrounds arbitrarily existed behind them.

There are some that love XIII and have passionately criticized my (and many other’s) criticism and I’d love to read a passionate essay defending it if anyone is so inclined.

Final Fantasy IV and VI

Stuck waiting for my girlfriend, I had several hours to kill and luckily had FF IV on my phone. I began the quest and was immediately struck by the story and characters.

I love grey-area writing that provides proper motivation for both sides of the tale. After all, in reality, everyone thinks they’re right.

To play the dark knight seeking redemption was intriguing and I’d have loved to experience it back in 1991. To start with such a powerful dark ability and have that sacrificed in your transition to the light was a striking narrative choice that fit the video game medium perfectly.

A word of caution to those emulating IV. Do not use save states willy nilly, especially in the first climactic battle. I was too dim to realize I should have been defending and had save-stated my way into a no-win situation. After many failed attempts, I had to abandon my progress and moved on to sample FF VI.

Final Fantasy VI

After years of SNES-envy, I finally started my own quest in the game referred by so many as their “all-time favorite”.

The opening sequence is still effective and must have been a cinematic game-changer in 1994. I made liberal use of the emulator’s fast-speed to whiz through grinding and see as much of the story before my inevitable fall-off would occur.

I met the iconic characters, saw the opera, lived through Kefka’s big plan, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I didn’t bond with this game like so many others have but I’d certainly say it holds up enough for a first-time play through in 2016. The world building is impressive and there are too many iconic moments to not experience yourself.

Final Fantasy IX

Finally getting a Vita (I’m late to everything), I was excited to load it up with a backlog of PS1 classics. Final Fantasy IX went on sale and I couldn’t resist (late=cheap).

I was a fan of VII’s sci-fi themes and figured I wouldn’t dig IX doubling down on the ‘fantasy’ aspect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Most surprisingly of all was ViVi’s philosophical struggles of what it meant to live, definitely not what I was expecting to find in this fun celebration of the franchise’s past.

Since I’m a huge poser, I also haven’t finished this one ( how DARE I write about the franchise). I’ll get there someday, I owe it to ViVi.

 

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That brings us to today. XV is reviewing nicely but I can’t say I’m super intrigued to hang out with a boy band for dozens of hours. I’m happy to hear the combat is a strength (it should be considering how it dominates the game) and also pleased to read of the challenging side quests and the especially spectacular mission available after completing the main quest.

With so many games on the backlog (several of them FF games) I’m not sure if I’ll jump on the hype train or wait for it to drop in price. That aside, I’m happy to see the damn game is finally released and is by most accounts, a good game.

That’s all we asked for.

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