Most will agree, this year’s E3 conference belonged to Sony Entertainment. During their presentation, they threw fastball after fastball. It seemed each of their announcements was to be the biggest news of the conference, and then they moved onto their next item. The Last Guardian footage finally made its way to the public, gorgeous new gameplay was revealed for Uncharted 4, and an intriguing new IP Horizon was showcased. But for me, one announcement stood head and shoulders above the rest: the Final Fantasy VII HD Remake was officially confirmed.
You see, FFVII is my favorite video game of all time. It isn’t the most mechanically sound game I’ve ever played, nor is it even the best RPG I’ve ever played. The magic system, while initially interesting, made the characters feel a tad homogenous. Indeed, the game is not without its flaws. That said, it is still an excellent game. The ATB system allowed the otherwise traditional JPRG combat to have a sense of urgency and pace. The story was absolutely epic, the cutscenes were ahead of their time, and the soundtrack was timeless. However, it’s not even for these reasons that FFVII holds such a special place in my heart. FFVII provided me with a landslide of video game “firsts.” It was the first game I poured literally hundreds of hours into, and the first game I experienced with others in a very social way. It was the first time I overcame enormous challenge in a video game, and the first time I recognized how capable video games could be as a narrative medium.
I remember the months leading up to FFVII’s release. I had bought an issue of PlayStation Magazine featuring FFVII on the cover. I poured over the ten pages of glorious JRPG goodness, salivating. I fell in love. I asked my mom if I could subscribe to PSM monthly as an early birthday gift, and she obliged. It was the first and only magazine I’ve ever been subscribed to. I remember around that time each issue of the magazine featured a two-page advertisement for FFVII, which was an image of Sephiroth disengaging the protective covering that hid the Jenova chamber. Of course, I didn’t know that’s what I was looking at, but I can still remember what I thought every time I laid eyes on that image: Bad. Ass.
It wouldn’t be long before I begged my parents to get FFVII for me. I couldn’t put it down. I put an embarrassing number of hours into that game. It was a first, for sure. Saturdays would go by in an instant. I remember my mom’s frustration: “Just because the game is there doesn’t mean you get to play it all damn day long!” I’d play before school in the morning, play when I got home, play when I wasn’t supposed to, and play all day on the weekends, as long as I could get away with. I was a fiend. Honestly, it’s a problem I still suffer from; the only difference is I now have a regular job and an awesome girlfriend to keep me in check.
Soon after I began playing the game, I entered my first year of middle school. It was there that I met my closest childhood friend, Brandon. We immediately bonded over a shared experience: Final Fantasy. It was the first time I would connect with someone through video games. It helped establish the depth and strength of our friendship in a way that may not have been possible otherwise. Brandon and I were as thick as thieves throughout both middle and high school. Another social connection I formed due to the game was less traditional. During the holidays, my mom would bring me to work with her, and there I met one of her co-workers, Jay. He must have been in his mid-twenties, while I was around ten. Jay was also playing through FFVII, and we hit it off immediately. He brought the official Brady Games guide into work and let me read it. That book kept me quiet and content all day while my mom worked. Jay noticed how absorbed I was and let me keep the guide. It was the first time I had connected with someone who was so different than me. Under normal circumstances, there seems to be no reason for a 10-year-old and 20-something to bond. But, thanks to Final Fantasy it was possible.
The game provided me other firsts, too. FFVII was the first game in which I got stuck on — and subsequently managed to overcome a challenge. I was stone-walled by the Demon Gate in the temple of the ancients, which caused me to walk away from the game for a solid couple of weeks. I remember picking it back up one day, not feeling confident, and somehow I managed to beat the bastard. The feeling of accomplishment was unreal. It colors the way I view video games today, as I now value accomplishment very highly. Today I believe that video games should require effort and hard work in order to beat them, and I now feel that not everyone is entitled to a victory screen just for paying the price of admission.
Finally, while playing FFVII, I cried over a video game for the first time. Not out of frustration, but over characters and story. FFVII was the first game I played that truly moved me. The journey you take with the characters is epic and heroic to be sure, but it is also extremely intimate. You get to know the characters deeply through learning Red XIII’s place in the world, seeing Cid’s compassion through him sacrificing his astronautical dreams, and experiencing the relationship between Cloud and Sephiroth through flashback… each character is fleshed out wonderfully, allowing the player to really live in that world. FFVII includes a masterful use and manipulation of player emotions in order to move plot forward in a way that is even today largely unmatched. For the first time, I saw video games as more than just games; I saw them as legitimate narrative experiences no different than film.
This game is so much more than just a game to me. It is a series of moments that will last forever inside of me. These moments and memories form the foundation upon which my identity as a gamer rest. It is for these reasons why FFVII is so special to me, why it has been my favorite game for almost 20 years, and will likely remain that way for the rest of my life. It goes without saying that I am quivering with excitement and anticipation for the HD remake of FFVII.
What is your favorite game and why? Let me know! I’m eager to hear your story.