So I Heard You Like FFVII?
In December 1997, at the age of 14 I played Final Fantasy VII for the first time.
14 years later I'm writing a blog to finally try and put to rest why this game has had such an impact on me and so many others, and why to this day I still hold everything that it achieved as a shining example of what interactive media can be. For years I have been waiting for someone to discuss at length why this game is so celebrated, and their thoughts as to what made it so good - I've been waiting literally half my life! I've reached the point where I've decided I need to do it myself!
I intend to take on the task of breaking down and considering every single aspect of the game - from the visuals, mechanics, music, story - even the the broken little quirks like the bad translation. Every article I will try and talk about something new and try and do it in an interesting way, hopefully providing new angles. I want it to be a fun and sentimental exploration into something I'm very passionate about, and hopefully provide some entertainment from it, both for other fans and for myself!
But before I do that, I'll indulge a little history about my own experiences with it, and how it is gotten to this point after all this time.
Final Fantasy ... what?
Going back through the mists of time my first recollection of hearing of Final Fantasy VII was in the November 1997 issue of Playstation Plus (I still have the very same copy!). I had only just bought my Playstation two months previous after having worked the entire 6 week holiday to save up for it, and was naturally very excited to see what I might be able to get myself for Christmas. When I flicked through the magazine I stumbled across the review, taken aback by the 97% score. To my understanding (back in the day when percentages seemed to make sense) this made it 'the best game on the Playstation'. I delved deeper, sat on the floor in my grandparents living room, reading every word, astounded by the visuals and the heaps of praise thrown on the game by the writer. I remember being confused as to where the other 6 games were but it didn't matter -
I had to get it.
The same month I picked up the December issue of Official Playstation Magazine and on the front was a black-bottomed demo CD with an 'exclusive' video of the game in actio. (If you havent played the game and intend on doing it 1) dont watch the vid and 2) sorting your life out and playing it. If you dont intend on playing the game, watch the vid, and you should want to)
(Pretty amazing that someone uploaded the identical video, from that exact disc! More on that later ...) ...
And even now, that video blows me away. But as a teenager, who had never before even heard of an RPG, and only 2 months previous had graduated from the SNES, I was basically throwing up. My mind couldnt take what I was seeing. This was ... a game?
Luckily, it was my birthday that very month. I went on the bus all the way to the rotting pizza of Lincoln and put notes on the table - and bought Time Crisis! When it came down to it, the temptation of a gun game was too much: I loved that game in the arcades - I was top of the table on every machine in Skegness. However, the Playstation version was terrible so 2 weeks later I took it back and with the cash made the proper purchase - £44.99 brand new 3 disc Final Fantasy VII (apparently I also bought Parappa the Rapper and Resident Evil: Director's Cut on the same day - I still have the receipt!)
I got it home and stuck it straight in. I was about to leave for a band practice that very evening so my look was very brief , but I was blown away. I had a quick tinker around the reactor before it became quickly apparent that I needed a memory card, and I'd just spent all my money. (the idea of having a console with no way of saving these days is laughable, but the Playstation was still quite frequently using passwords, and I was only JUST weening myself off the SNES).
So i resigned to getting a 1MB memory card for Christmas. Only a few weeks to wait right?
On the weeks leading up to Christmas, I played the first part at least 3 times - 2 of them just to show other people how great the game was. Don't get me wrong - I wasn't totally in love with the game at this point, I was just showing people to demonstrate how amazing it looked. When the time finally came to being able to play it on Christmas day, I sat at my great grandparents house (now deceased, more on that later) and got all the way up to where I had previously - and was now able to save.
And then it started. And before I knew it, it had ended. But all along the way, in the blur of excitement and confusion I remember very strong emotions that I had. I've had 14 years to think about the emotions since, analyse them and I'm also dubious as to how many of them are real memories, and others just constructed, but I do remember some key points:
I remember first leaving Midgar at 2am, getting to Kalm, going for a leak, knowing I should go to bed but continuing for another 2 hours. I remember standing at the toilet muttering to myself how amazing the game was.
I remember walking home from the local family pub with my dad at 1am, telling him about the scene at Cosmo Canyon in the obersvatory, and thinking at length for the first real time what happens when you die (the following 2 months saw me get into Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead ...)
I don't remember crying when Aeris died, but I do remember very clearly wondering if I could have prevented it if i'd said different things to her (which i recently read in an article was the deliberate effect they were after). I found the scene unbearably emotional on my 2nd playthrough.
And I remember, when the game ends and the starfield appears, just staring at it for at least 20 minutes, just thinking ... thinking 'what the hell do i do now?'
And strangely, it wasnt until the game had ended did it really start to get its claws into me. Reflecting on what i'd seen, experienced, and most importanly been encouraged and allowed to THINK about along the way without doubt made a massive change in my core aesthetics and expectations at such an impressionable age, and therefore me as a person.
500 Years Later ...
With varying degrees of success I persuaded some of my friends to give it a go - one of them is as an indirect result, 12 years later, still my best friend. 2 years later, Final Fantasy VIII was coming out and for my art GCSE studied the artwork meticulously for that. For my A Level, I studied Final Fantasy VII - and that was when I started to realise I wanted to do THAT (whatever THAT was) for a living. So I created a website on angelfire, joined ffnet.net, created the online name 'Omnislashed', studied every picture from it (downloaded at terrible resolution from the internet), drew everything at A2. We had to carry our art around the school in a see through wallet, and the latest picture I was working on would often get a lot of questions! My art teacher encouraged me to do what I was interested in (and to this day, I owe him more than I can put into words). One picture in particular that I copied was this:
I spent 60 hours copying that in coloured pencils! (I might also add, I had to make a lot of the details up myself as the image I was drawing from was only about 100 pixels high!).
In 2001 I joined an online forum called Fantasy Fighters, the first place I was welcomed where people were actually fully into Final Fantasy! Until that point, it was only im magazines and a few people at school who knoew about it. Suddenly the whole thing opened out. With those amazing people I was encouraged through projects to develop my own style - to compete and cooperate artisticly, all the while FF7 remaining a firm favourite.
In 2002 me and my best friend, inspired by Magic the Gathering and other trading card games, decided to begin work on a card game version of the game (which we still havent finished, but ... we'll ignore that part)
Cloud soon became a character I would draw over and over to explore new styles in without having to also come up with new designs at the same time! (good practice!). In 2004 I spent 10 hours on a picture and shared it on deviantART, receiving a Daily Deviation award (a big thing for me at the time).
In 2005 I joined Teesside University as a result of someone from the aforementioned forum suggesting the course to study Computer Games Art. And only 2 weeks before starting the course, I eagerly watched Advent Children - which blew me away and renewed my love for the game all over again!
In 2007 I started a Placement Course at computer Games company Blitz Games, and went out for drinks with some housemates from the place I was staying at. Whilst at the bar I got chatting to a girl from the house, and she asked me what I did - I said computer games art (thinking i'd be laughed at for being a geek), she asked me if I knew Tetsuya Nomura (character designer on Final Fantasy VII), I said of course, and then we couldnt stop talking about Final Fantasy for the whole evening ...
And the last 4 years we've been happily in love!
In 2011 I revisited FFVII for the first time in a long time so as to go through it with a mate who hadnt played it. We played it over the course of 6 months, grabbing free evenings where possible, and wrapped it up at the end of October. Revisiting it again has only confirmed to me, largely through the fresh eyes of a friend, that the game is still everyting it was in 1997.
And in November 2011, with my girlfriend of 4 years and my best friend I made with no small part through introducing to FFVII, we went to the Royal Albert Hall in London to see Nobuo Uematsu himself and the music from Final Fantasy.
And I still love it, more than ever in fact. It is my favourite game of all time, my most (aesthetically) influential thing of all time - and I think it is an astounding achievement.
Is it an obsession? Is it blind fanboy loyalty? Is it a link to my youth? Or is it actually so good, so well crafted, so full of character, emotion, humour and creativity that it genuinely does put other things to shame?
Well thats the point of this blog - to find out. And if nothing else, it should prove for a great exercise cataloguing and retrospecting about all my feelings on the matter - to the point where hopefully I can stop boring people's ears by talking about it all the time! :D
If youve gotten to the end of this, then thanks for reading. And well done! Heres a Chocobo!