July 3, 2012

The Gauntlet

No, this isn't a post about the classic arcade game of the 80’s and 90’s that took the world (and a few of my friends) by storm. This is a challenge I've decided to impose on myself.

Perhaps you've heard of a game series called Final Fantasy. Perhaps you haven’t (though, if you haven’t, I’m pretty surprised you found your way to my blog—congrats!). For all intents and purposes of this gauntlet, I’m going to assume you have, in fact, heard of Final Fantasy.

Growing up, I was a video game fanatic—I tried to get my hands on every single awesome game and gaming system that existed that I could convince my parents to get me (read: just about one—the Gameboy). I never had an NES, SNES, Genesis, or any other console until the N64 came out (which I spent my hard earned babysitting money on). And by then, the Gamecube was on its way, so I didn’t get as much longevity out of it, because I was very addicted to Smash Brothers Melee.

I’m actually really happy (now) that my parents brought me up this way and didn’t buy every gaming system (or thing) that my childhood self wanted—it prevented me from being (too) spoiled and taught me some important life lessons. An unfortunate side effect of this, however, was that I missed out on a few classic gaming experiences...

The Short List of Games I Haven’t Played
·         The Legend of Zelda: II
·         The original Castlevania
·         Earthbound
·         Super Mario Brothers 3
·         Metroid

And the list continues, mostly covering the important Sony and Nintendo games that defined the 90’s and early 2000’s.

I've caught up on a lot of the classic games that people from my generation grew up on (the first Legend of Zelda, Metroid 2, all the portable Super Mario games, and a slew of others), but the one major series from my childhood that I still haven’t played any of is Final Fantasy.

My first brush in with Final Fantasy came at the (now closed) Virgin Megastore in Union Square. As I descended down the escalator leading to the basement full of video games, I spied a young, blonde, spiky-haired lad on a television screen fighting enemies with an unwieldy, giant broadsword. As he defeated foe after foe that came after him, clad some of most captivating (though probably least effective) armor I’d ever seen, I thought he was the coolest character in existence and wanted to play any and every game he was in (including, as I would find out later, a fighting game called Ehrgeiz). I asked my friend what game was playing on the TV, salivating at the opportunity to play it on my brand new N64.

“Oh, him? That’s Cloud; he’s the protagonist* of Final Fantasy VII. You know, that new PS2 game?”

I immediately became crushed, as I didn’t own a PS2, and thought that I couldn’t play the game even if I had it, because I hadn’t played the first six Final Fantasy games. Years later, I would find out that didn’t matter, but at the time, it was a huge letdown.

An aside on the branding of Final Fantasy

How has Square-Enix not realized yet how terrible they brand Final Fantasy? I can’t imagine I’m the only person who’s been turned away from their series because they didn’t play the first several (now 13) different games that preceded the newest entry in the series. Even though they are stand alone games, they still refer to the older entries in the series. It’s difficult to pick up a copy of XIII and not feel left out of the loop if you haven’t played the twelve games before it. Maybe those consumers will eventually learn that you don’t need to know what happens to protagonist of Final Fantasy II to enjoy the story of Final Fantasy VII, but you end up feeling left out all the same.

This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the new trend of creating sequels to these games, spawning innovative titles such as “Final Fantasy X-2” and “Final Fantasy XIII-2.” How’s a newcomer to the series supposed to handle this without feeling intimidated by the entire process? Hell, it makes sense to me, and I still feel intimidated. Not to mention irate at the stupidity of a game titled XIII-2.

End aside

Let’s flash forward to the present. Now I’ve realized that there’s a lot of history in this industry I haven’t been a part of, and a lot that I have. My parents had an Atari and a PC, so I soaked up as many of those experiences as possible. Duke Nukem, Commander Keen, and the point-and-click adventures of the 90’s were what my childhood was built on. But I missed out on a lot of what Nintendo and Sony had to offer—which is why I’m going to make up for lost time.

The Gauntlet is simple: play and review every single Final Fantasy RPG that currently exists. That means from the original Final Fantasy (released in Japan, though ported to various mediums) all the way to XIII. However, since XI was online only, and I’m assuming that community is dead, I’m going to skip that one (for now). Also I heard it was terrible. Like, a friend of mine spent a year of his life playing it and only gained one level. I have better things to do with my life than that.

The plan is to play them all in order, but I might skip around a bit (XIII is just so pretty!). I’ve heard great things about some, and terrible things about others, but I’m determined to find out, first-hand, what each one is like.
I only wish all Chocobos were this cute. (Insert picture of cute little chocobo).

*Because, at the age of thirteen, we used fancy words like protagonist in every-day speech. We also wore bowler hats and had monocles.

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