1987: Final Fantasy (RPGs and Feeling Smart)

InfernalMage “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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13 thoughts on “1987: Final Fantasy (RPGs and Feeling Smart)

  1. I almost feel like The Dweeb (or rather Dweebs) should be like Smurfs. Replace random words with Dweeb. That would be so Dweeb.
    I Dweebed Final Fantasy first on the PS1, and I do love how much effort Square has put over the years into keeping the game from becoming overly dated. I like it more than FFII.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you on FFII, though I’m a huge fan of the SaGa series that it would eventually spawn. I also think later releases of FFI are much more palatable than the original NES version; the PSP release is a pretty solid RPG even by modern standards thanks to a new coat of paint and plenty of gameplay revisions that bring it in line with contemporary expectations.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I might be an oddity. I was certainly not in the in crowd in grade school or high school, I had/still have anxiety issues and was super socially awkward. But I also played sports, soccer for 13 years and hockey for 17, with a smattering of baseball and tennis thrown in. I was good enough at sports to make my high school teams but I didn’t feel comfortable enough with the players on the team, and my social awkwardness and anxiety didn’t endear me to them either, that I ended up quitting and rejoining my club teams where I at least was comfortable around some of the others. Anyway, I had my grades, my books, and my games until the end of high school where I became more assertive and formulated a core group of friends with similar interests.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, Final Fantasy! My love! My life! The one for which I have forsaken all others! I rented it from a local movie/game rental place back in the day and I haven’t looked back since. Prior to having found it I was an avid reader of fantasy/scifi and a lover of movies of the same genre, so to me it was beyond amazing, and has been since, for all its ups and downs. Long live the Fantasy!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wonder if anyone else has had this experience with Dweebery… When I was young and in high school and middle school, I was extremely socially awkward and shy. People called me quiet. I couldn’t look folks in the face and I was very bad at communication, lived in constant anxiety, so on and so forth. When I hit college, my first semester was the same but then I came out of my shell and ended up delivering some speeches, hosting a massive event, getting into writing with the intent of others reading my work, and actually enjoying being around people. I’ve been called an extrovert by some people now with a AAA personality which makes me laugh because I don’t know who I really am. I like communication and conversation now and that’s what I fight for. Where this ties in here is that I have enjoyed video games when I was both an obvious Dweeb and now that I’m less superficially Dweebish.

    I’m guessing you may be similar, since I heard you confidently speaking on that tech broadcast once.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I went to school for journalism; that’s a career path that necessitates no small amount of extroversion. Covering a story could very well mean calling people on the phone, interrupting them as they go about their day and so on, and these are things that not everyone is necessarily going to be pleased with. Doesn’t matter, the job’s still got to get done. When you get back to the newsroom, the editor’s not going to take “but they seemed busy!” as an excuse.

      Suffice to say, I quickly learned that I needed a new perspective – that my presence and needs weren’t annoyances, that there is a baseline level of respect that I can expect from humanity at large and that nobody really has a right to tell me what I am and am not allowed to do. These are lessons that I’ve carried over since my time in school. Am I still a Dweeb? Sure, probably! I’ve just gotten a lot better at faking it until I make it, so to speak. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds to me like the necessities of adult life and our chosen career and hobby paths trimmed away the superficialities of Dweebery, which I guess is a good thing in terms of functioning in society as an adult, though I still get called a Nerd from time to time.

        Like

  5. This brings up such a wide range of good points, both about Dweebdom and the appeal of games like Final Fantasy in those cases. 🙂

    Just recently, I had a conversation about how video games can help with self-esteem by providing small victories and working through intellectual puzzles and problems and the accomplishment therein, so this struck some familiar chords today.

    Very nice!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think a lot of us reading will be able to relate to the Dweeb stuff.

    Interestingly, I learned last year that a lot of things I chalked up to being The Dweeb (particularly the social anxiety/awkwardness side of things) were actually down to Asperger’s. Learning that I had a “label” I could put on my insecurities and difficulties actually made them easier to accept and deal with, and while I haven’t had any “treatment” as such, just that knowledge has helped me understand and accept myself a bit better.

    That was a bit of a tangent, huh. Um, Final Fantasy? I got into the series with VII. (Yes, I’m That Guy.) Prior to that, I didn’t really understand what an RPG was or how it worked. It’s not that I hadn’t encountered them before — I’d come across a few on the Atari computers I’d had in the 8- and 16-bit eras — but it was FFVII that saw me truly come to understand them and ultimately love them, for many of the reasons you describe above. I’ve since gone back and played most of the old ones, including the first one, albeit in its (excellent) PSP incarnation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s actually an idea I’ve entertained now and then. I’ve never actually been tested for anything like that and, naturally, I wouldn’t want to fall into the tar pit of self-diagnosis, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it. I’ve kind of come to terms with a level of anxiety and awkwardness as a part of who I am; there are certain situations that will be more or less difficult for me and sometimes I’ll have to take the more difficult ones in stride for the sake of a brighter future. As an adult I’ve had people comment on my confidence and stability under pressure, which is hilarious to me – it sure doesn’t feel that way, I’m just great at pretending and accustomed to the necessity of getting things done even when I’m not particularly happy about the circumstances 🙂

      Oh, and there’s no “that guy” about beginning with Final Fantasy VII! I plan on discussing this a little more in a future column, but that’s a game that suffers greatly from the fact that the video game community is fantastic at pointing out flaws and much less fantastic at celebrating the positive aspects of media. I’d chalk that up to the medium and the criticism associated with it still being in their infancy; “here are some reasons that you didn’t consider why this popular thing is bad!” is broadly viewed as the height of games analysis, which is obviously a little shallow no matter how many words are used to make the point.

      Liked by 1 person

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