“The following is a contributor column by The Infernal Accountant Mage.”
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not exactly the sporty type. Thanks to a birth defect my vision is lacking, to say the least, so throwing and catching are out of the question. I struggled with my weight throughout most of my childhood as well, only really getting a handle on it as an adult through a combination of a ketogenic diet and the classic YouTube/treadmill cardio plan. You can guess how that contributed to my school years, by the way. Combine all of this with a bad case of Not Really Understanding Socializing and it’s no surprise that I ended up as the Dweeb.
You know The Dweeb. You’re reading this site, so you might even be The Dweeb, though I strongly resent the implication that being a Dweeb is a bad thing (outside of the mistreatment common to being a Dweeb) or that playing video games is what makes one a Dweeb. Anyway, the Dweeb doesn’t know when to keep their mouth shut. The Dweeb has a vast wealth of “book smarts” without the “street smarts” to know when it’s wiser to keep that wealth under lock and key. The Dweeb has trouble relating to others who aren’t Dweebs, and Dweebs aren’t even necessarily all that kind to one another. Being the Dweeb is a lonely and sad existence and the Dweeb’s one hope is to learn how to fake regular social interaction well enough to placate non-Dweebs.
Know what a Dweeb does have? They’re smart. Supposedly, anyway. If you can’t Do Sports and you’re not Popular then you’re probably Smart, right? They’ve got their friends and their after-school activities, you’ve got your grades and your NES. Such is the way of things as presented by the media and society at large, and certainly no non-Dweebs were especially eager to shift this dynamic. One of the best parts of not being a Dweeb is, after all, not being a Dweeb.
Speaking as a Dweeb, then, early Japanese RPGs were a good Dweeby sort of game. They involved a lot of reading, some simple mathematics, a little problem-solving here and there; they made you feel smart even if in retrospect they weren’t especially complex, and feeling smart is often all a Dweeb has. That goes double for a young Dweeb with few means of changing their situation, so Dweeby young me found a lifelong RPG companion in the Final Fantasy series beginning with the original game on the NES.
Final Fantasy had a lot of little touches that made you feel smart. You could create a party of four characters out of a selection of six classes, for instance, and what’s more smart than choosing just the right party to deal with any situation? This was a somewhat more plot-heavy game than Dragon Quest, so you’d have to read a lot and work out where to go based on what you read, which is a very smart feeling indeed. Combat was turn-based, and while modern me realizes the many flaws inherent to turn-based combat, young me loved (and still loves) the feeling of using just the right abilities to take out a group of foes. The game would even punish you for not planning ahead by causing your attacks to fail against enemies that had already been defeated! Only Einstein could handle this kind of brain-twisting.
Of course, by modern standards Final Fantasy is a cumbersome, awkward beast of a game that drags on a bit too long for its own good. The plot is present but simultaneously too simple and too convoluted, eventually somehow managing to work in time travel paradoxes in a game from 1987. Saving is fairly limited for a game with such extensive dungeons to crawl through and such a propensity for random party-killing ambushes. Interface issues abound, with inventory management standing out as especially awkward. Without a guide ready it’s possible to be misled by clues and end up wandering around aimlessly. The game’s localization was phenomenally poor by contemporary standards; this is a theme that will persist for years and we’ll touch on it time and time again. None of that mattered, because young me had a guide (thanks to Nintendo Power), plenty of free time and a pressing need to do some simple math and feel smart about it.
Dweeby young me didn’t have the easiest time growing up. Dweeby old me has learned when to keep his mouth shut and when to feign interest; these are valuable tools that can take you a surprisingly long way all by themselves. That doesn’t mean that I’ve given up my Dweeby love for the Japanese RPG. For me, it was never about the character designs or the engrossing plotlines, though as I’ve grown older the importance of these things has become more clear. I’ve always thought the best part of a Japanese RPG was being able to spend sixty hours feeling smart because I’ve beaten a difficult boss or come up with a clever combination of abilities. Like I said, sometimes that’s all a Dweeb has.
As for Final Fantasy, we’ll be coming back to the series in future entries and will discuss it in more depth then.
The Infernal Accountant Mage believes the pen is mightier than the sword…well, depending on how sharp the pen and sword are. A child of the ’90s and a prolific writer, he strews his work about like Legos made of words, just waiting for your brain to step on them. He enjoys a devilish challenge, so when it comes to talking about some of the more difficult games out there, you might just run into the Infernal Accountant Mage. Some advice: hold on to your soul around this guy, and don’t sign anything. Read more at popzara.com
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Categories: Wednesday Column