Monday, March 22, 2010

Final Fantasy: A Love Story

I first met Final Fantasy when I was a child. My older cousin had a copy of Final Fantasy III for the SNES and at one sort of family function or another he showed it to me. I don't remember much about her then besides my cousin explaining to me that she was "like Chrono Trigger" and that she featured moogles.

My real relationship with Final Fantasy began when I was in fifth grade and Final Fantasy VII was released for the Playstation. A friend of mine bought it and I spent many a Saturday afternoon watching him play it. In those heady days the word "materia" was probably spoken aloud more than "girls". I was intrigued by her, perhaps not "enraptured" or "taken" but intrigued, yes. I was probably still too young to really be smitten with a game like her then, and more than that I didn't have a Playstation.

So, in a way, I cheated. When Final Fantasy VIII came around, I would occasionally go to Hollywood Video and rent a Playstation console for the weekend and play twelve or so hours at a time, just to see her. She wasn't mine but still I tried. When VIII was released for the PC I bought it, and played it all the way through. It was beautiful, simply beautiful our time together. I was as in love as a boy could be. So innocent, so pure, not a care in the world, it was just me and my baby.

When the PS2 was released, I quickly put it at the top of my Christmas list, and lo one arrived on December 25th 2000. This was a big momentous move in my video gaming life, for my house had always been an exclusively Nintendo one. I rushed to show Final Fantasy what I had done. "Do you see Final Fantasy? Do you see? I did this for you! IT'S ALL FOR YOU, FINAL FANTASY! IT'S ALWAYS BEEN YOU!"

When I told her that, Final Fantasy and I finally became an item for real. I bought the then-new Final Fantasy IX as well as a Greatest Hits copy of VIII because I wanted the real experience of playing that game on a console, not my dad's desktop computer. I even bought my friend's copy of VII off of him secondhand for he had grown out of it, having beaten it at least four or five times.

Dear Lord were those months beautiful. I tell you there isn't a man alive who doesn't remember the first time he defeated Safer Sephiroth. I was in love, and Final Fantasy was mine, all mine.

We were together through high school. Final Fantasy X came for the PS2 for Christmas 2001 and I spent so much time with her, even if she was really easy and noticeably linear. I still had a great time with her. But somewhere along the way, things changed, things went wrong.

When X-2 came out in 2003, I was a bit confused. "What is this, Final Fantasy?" I asked her. "Why are you making a direct sequel? You never did that before? And why is Yuna a gun-wielding tart in hot pants now?" I played along, I thought it must just be a phase that game franchises go through. After ten entries, maybe she deserves the freedom to do something different for a change. If it makes her happy, it will make me happy. I liked the class system, that seemed cool. Very retro, right?

Then the bottom fell out, the rug was yanked out from beneath me. In 2004, I caught Final Fantasy cheating on me with Everquest. Final Fantasy XI was an MMORPG that required you to hook your PS2 up to the internet and buy a hard drive expansion for your console. These were things that video game systems, Playstations anyway, just weren't equipped for back then. I spent upwards of $100.00 of birthday money trying to get this relationship to work, but to no avail. I just couldn't do it anymore. "How could you do this to me? I gave you everything! Do you know how much of my life I've wasted for you to do this?" A lot of harsh words were bandied about. I think I might have called her "slut". I normally would never say that to a game, but I was so angry that it was like I was another man entirely. "Man"? Ha. I was just a boy. A boy with a broken heart.

It was after this that I broke up with Final Fantasy.

I think we both agreed it was probably for the best. We had both become different people since Final Fantasy VII. So when I went off to college I decide that maybe I had grown out of the RPG series of my youth. I should probably devote more time to playing Halo with the big kids, right? That's how people grow up, I guess. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

In college I flirted with and eventually started seeing MMORPGs myself. World of Warcraft and I spent a lot of time together, but it wasn't the same. I liked WoW well enough, sure, and we had plenty of fun. But there was still a piece of me that Final Fantasy took with her. I took to stalking her on Facebook and saw that she was wasn't with Everquest anymore but was still seeing guys just like him, Final Fantasy XII had all the smackings of an MMO but without the online factor. On top of that, it was a PS2 release. Ha! I thought. How dated. She's still living in the past while I've moved on! Clearly, I got the better half of this breakup.

I had barely given her a thought until about a week ago when I bumped in to Final Fantasy at Gamestop. She was there, sitting on a rack, in a shiny new package labeled "Final Fantasy XIII". She had grown up too, for now she was available for Xbox 360. I had really never given any thought to taking up with her again, I don't own a PS3 after all and I had always assumed that she would stay there forever. But then I remembered that she used to be a Nintendo exclusive, just as I had been when we first met. Games change just like people change. And it looked as though she had kept some of the things I liked about her, she still featured a stoic protagonist named for a meteorological phenomenon, a girl(!) named "Lightning" this time around.

So, maybe it was a mistake, but I took Final Fantasy home with me that day. We've been having a pretty good time since. I think she's a bit too reliant of cinematics and linear storytelling, but then so was Final Fantasy X, I suppose.

We've both grown apart from one another over these many years, but I think deep down on some level, maybe one of pure nostalgia, we're still compatible. I don't think I could ever love Final Fantasy like I did back in my teenage years, but I'd like to remain friends with her. We still have a great time.

I love you, Final Fantasy. I'll name my first daughter Aeris in your honor.