*Warning, Spoiler for Final Fantasy VII below.*
Once upon a time, in the mid-to-late nineties, I went over to my friend Andrew’s house for a sleepover. Along with Andrew was his older brother David, and our friend Maresha, both of whom were silently sitting on the floor of the living room, looking up at his tube television, watching Andrew play a video game. Andrew’s mom let me in when I knocked, and the three of them were so entranced by the game that they didn’t even notice that I arrived. I sat down on the couch and said, “Hey guys.” David and Maresha glanced over for a moment as Andrew kept playing – “Hey.” I looked up at the screen to see what they were playing. I wondered what game could be captivating them in such a way. There was a battle going on, but Andrew wasn’t inputting button combinations to make the attacks happen; he was choosing his actions from a menu. I thought it was odd. The music was exciting, and the graphics were really impressive. Before I knew it, I was just as enchanted by the game as the others were, when suddenly, the attacking character disappeared and a massive blackish-green dragon came down from space and breathed an energy beam that leveled all of the enemies on the field! I was shocked, and I just had to know what game this was, so I asked Andrew, “What are you playing?” He looked over to me and responded, “It’s called Final Fantasy VII.”
Up until that moment, for the most part, I was a platform and fighting gamer. I spent much of my time practicing Street Fighter II Turbo and TMNT Tournament Fighters, as well as playing wrestling games and the majority of the Mario titles. I played through A Link To The Past – which, at that point, was my favorite game – but it was the only video game epic that I experienced on my own until then. Suddenly, things changed. Final Fantasy VII was different; it was huge. I had to have it. I remember trying to go to Andrew’s place any chance I could get, just to play it. “Mom! Can I spend the night at Andrews?! Come on, MOM!! PLEASE!!” It was crack. I wanted to level up the characters and materia; I wanted to decimate the poor unfortunate monsters who dared to step in my path; I wanted to see what happened next in the story… Wait. WAIT. “Did this mother fucker just kill Aeris?!? Nah, nah, nah – she isn’t dead. She’s coming back, right? Right??” I wanted to catch Sephiroth and take the pain of Aeris’ death out of his ass. Jumping on Goombas, saving Hyrule, or hitting Sagat with a Shoryuken didn’t matter anymore, because this mother fucker just. Killed. Aeris. I now had a very personal reason to beat this game, and I just wouldn’t rest until Sephiroth paid his dues. At that point, I was no longer a fighting gamer; I was no longer a platformer. I was a role-playing gamer.
At thirteen, I didn’t fully understand the true depth of this game, nor that my feelings about the story and the characters were the result of empathy. The game made me feel like I wasn’t just controlling the characters; it made me feel like I was one of them. When Sephiroth did something to the party, he was doing it to me. I was more invested in this game because there was a real danger lurking that could take away any character that I cared about. I didn’t feel safe like I did with Link, or Mario – Ganon and Bowser were like bedtime story villains in comparison, and I knew that I could just beat them by following through with the game plan. Sephiroth was far more real; he had a story and a reputation. He did things that I was powerless to stop, because HE was in control. He needed to be stopped, and I was the one who needed to stop him. As I grew older, after my second play-through and beyond, I came to appreciate other aspects of the game, such as the battle system, the materia system, character customization, how to optimize my party with equipment and strategic materia combos, Chocobo breeding, and the importance of leveling up. Final Fantasy VII also caused me to re-evaluate how I gauged the goodness of a game. It set a new standard for what I expected from games in the avenue of graphics, music, cinematics, and story, and it made it okay and cool for me to play a game with lots of reading involved. To this day, it stands as a basis of comparison for any RPG I’ve played since.
I am grateful that the first role playing game I ever played was one of greatest RPGs of all time. Final Fantasy VII’s legacy is undeniable as it set a new bar for the RPG genre, and all games that strive to be epic. By today’s standards, its graphics are dated, but its story has endured. I hope that the upcoming remake of Final Fantasy VII will not only serve as a dream come true for my generation of gamers, but that it will show a new generation of gamers what a truly epic RPG can be, and the impact that an incredible story can have on our hearts.