I have forever been a console gamer. I’ve tried to join the “PC master race”, but my fingers seem to be more wired for controllers than keyboards. I’ve had so many consoles throughout my life–from my Game-and-Watch, to my Famicon and my SNES–but I’ll focus on the Sony Playstation, which is celebrating more than two decades in the industry.
My first brush with the PS1 was in my friend’s house, who plugged in the very first Soul Edge. When the opening credits came, I was like “What sorcery is this?”
When my cousin bought home a PS1, it was down the rabbit hole for me. Thousand Arms, Wild Arms, Metal Gear, Clock Tower–I consumed everything all at once and it was awesome. (I still get teary-eyed with the opening theme of Thousand Arms, by the way.) And then came Final Fantasy VIII.
FFVIII made me wonder how the heck I missed FVII and everything else before that. The Final Fantasy series gave me everything I loved about RPGs–epic adventures, beautiful settings, and great characters that you actually emotionally invest in. While I downloaded emulators to play the older games on PC (since I didn’t have my SNES anymore), I ground through VII and VIII on PS1 and enjoyed every single minute of it. (Yes, once again, tears were shed when–spoiler–Aerith died). I was even emotionally affected with that Squall is Dead theory because after all those CD changes, card games, and Ultimecia forms, I just wanted to enjoy my friggin’ happy ending.
The thing is, it’s almost never happy. The Final Fantasy series has never been known for that. It’s always bittersweet, which oddly, makes everything more worthwhile. FFIX was one of the games that echoed that feeling the most on PS1, and as the title went back to its roots, the nostalgia was palpable. It was a fitting ending to the series’ run on the platform.
When I got my PS2, I immediately bought Final Fantasy X, the first game in the series that had voice actors. I jumped into it blind, not reading any review or consulting any walk-through–and really, that’s how most FF games should be played. The twist in the story felt like a pail of cold water over my head, and my sister and I couldn’t stop talking about it for a week.
The sequel FFX2 went a totally different direction, and since I was craving for a resolution for X, I went through it, walk-through and all (because it’s pretty difficult to get 100% completion without doing so). While it doesn’t have the best story line out there, it was a refreshing take on the genre–plus admittedly, the soundtrack and the ‘best’ ending made the run totally worth it.
One Final Fantasy spin-off that got to me was Kingdom Hearts, which has rightfully become its own entity. While I never got a PS3 and therefore missed FFXII and FFXIII, Kingdom Hearts filled the void in my–well–heart. I mean, how can a Square Enix-Disney mashup not be great? While the final boss wasn’t satisfying difficulty-wise, the game actually had the real boss in hidden it its Coliseum level: Sephiroth.
To beat him, you needed to memorize the pattern of his attacks (and jump-glide in the first two seconds of the fight to avoid a painful slash). It’s a very, very satisfying boss battle, and it rendered Ansem to meh-levels. At least you got Utada Hikaru’s ‘Hikari/Simple and Clean’ after you defeated him.
(Kingdom Hearts 2 was where Sora went bad ass with twin Keyblades, but this is about Final Fantasy, and I’ve digressed enough.)
Fast-forward to today, with my PS4 and my Final Fantasy XV. Nope, I’m not done with it yet, and yes, I am taking my sweet time. Sure, it took years and a title change for Square Enix finally get the game out, but despite some of the bad press and reviews that it got during the release, it’s still pretty solid for me (at least from where I last saved in-game).
What I’m currently loving about FFXV are oddly the long car rides. It gives you the sense of the stretch of time, almost like you’re actually traveling with Noct, Prompto, Gladio, and Ignis. Even their silences give you an air of “Hey, we’re stuck together in this adventure, might as well be friends,” and you know what? You actually invest in the characters enough to care about them, because the more the game unfolds, the more they grow. Noct, for example, isn’t your typical brooding lead (leave that to Cloud). He’s actually a pretty cool guy with a sense of humor, and most importantly, he’s normal. He reacts normally given certain situations, and normal isn’t always equivalent to heroic. The characters in this title are flawed and jaded, and humanly so, giving depth and a touch of reality to an otherwise fantastic story line.
I guess that’s what playing RPGs is all about: keeping one foot in what’s real and another beyond the border of one’s imagination. With a good story, the console controller disappears, and you’re immersed in a world where you slay literal dragons, and if you’re lucky, the figurative monsters that lurk in the corners of your mind. As with any great book, RPGs teach you in one way or another–they show you opportunities to practice courage beyond your free PS Plus games and urges you to be the hero of your own life.
Am I better for having played these games? Definitely. When you allow their lessons to make you a better person, then the hundreds people who have worked on them have done their jobs right. And with my deepest gratitude to all those who have brought this wonderful series into my life, I’d like to think that somehow, I’ve managed to do that.