“The following is a contributor post by The Evergreen Sage Mage.”
Put your media analysis caps on and join Wakalapi (aka The Evergreen Sage Mage) for a brief tour down memory lane that centers Final Fantasy IV in a short discussion that casually challenges approaches to appreciating what we call “games”. Find me at wakalapi.wordpress.com.
Final Fantasy IV was a highly anticipated and unique addition to the growing Final Fantasy franchise. It not only introduced new and engaging mechanics, like Active Time Battles, but it had an engaging story filled with surprising plots twists, lovable characters and an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack. The game released in 1991 in North America to much fanfare and is regaled as one of the greatest games of the series.
I will now switch to discussing this game as ‘FFII’, because that’s what it was called
I’m not exactly sure when I got it. FFII and the SNES were released in 1991, but I know I didn’t get it as soon as it hit the shelves, as I remember having plenty of time to be jealous of my friends who had one. By my estimation, I got it in 1992 which would make me around 11-12 years old, in 6th grade elementary.
In 6th grade I was a lanky, nerdy, mixed-race boy who liked to draw. I was poor, relative to the other kids at my school, and didn’t really have a lot of friends. The ones I did have were pretty cool, at least in my eyes. The ‘evil wall’ of class, race, ethnicity and such, were only beginning to close in as I painfully pimple-popped my way through puberty. Alliteration! So yeah, it was that awkward transition time between childhood and growing up when I got this game.
My “tweens” in a nutshell
The experience of getting FFII is easily the most memorable shopping occasion of my childhood. Sparing you much of the gooey nostalgic details, I got a SNES, Super Mario World and Final Fantasy II on the same day. To say I was incredibly happy would be spectacular understatement. I remember trying to convince my mom in the store that FFII would be a good buy because there was so much gameplay time in it compared to other games. The truth is I had no idea what the game was even about. None of my friends had this game so it was pretty much a shot in the dark. All I knew was it was an RPG and they were long.
My gamble paid off as it was the most incredible fantasy journey I had ever gone on. It was so immersive that I could barely put it down. Some notable game designers and academics refer to the experience of playing a game as trying to understand a “black box”, where although you can’t see its inner workings you come to understand it from the outside-in by playing it. However, Final Fantasy II was more like Pandora’s box than simply a mechanical thingamajig to figure out. For me it was more than just a game; it was a world. The game world of Final Fantasy IV was just called “The Blue Planet”, but you also go to the Moon, so I had to include that in the title as well.
The “game” wasn’t difficult. If it ever did get a bit tough, all one really had to do was a bit of grinding. Apparently the developers (Square) had made the game easier for us Americans because they thought we wouldn’t take to the game if it provided much of a challenge. By not being hard, perhaps something unique happened: the “gaminess” of it got downplayed which allowed for the more experiential aspect of the game to stand out. This game, that became more like a world, provided access to a place where I could hold back the tide of growing up. It was a place, a sanctuary, albeit temporary, from the encroaching harsh realities that unfortunately came to dominate my teenage years.
|Tetris: High gaminess, low fictional world||Skyrim: Low gaminess, high fictional world|
I spent more hours in this one game than I had in any other game up until this point of my life. I guess I wasn’t quite ready to grow up. It was my Never-Never Land, and unlike the story of Peter Pan, I didn’t have to worry about this fantasy world presenting racist depictions of Indians back at me. I didn’t want to be in a world with Indians and cowboys. Yes, the characters did appear to be White, or Asian or whatever, but their fictional histories were almost completely different and disconnected from the real world.
I assume that if you played this game, you have had a completely different experience than me and might place it in your ranking of the Final Fantasy game series differently. Perhaps you didn’t encounter a wild FFII when it released, but instead found it much later in your life, or as Final Fantasy IV. Perhaps you came to it when you didn’t need a place of sanctuary, like I did. Maybe you weren’t even alive when the game first game out and have no idea what it was like to come of age in the 90’s. Surely this will lead you to have a different (yet no less valuable) experience of the game.
Alright, so what is a game? Also, a miserable pile of secrets? *dun dun chshhh* Are they merely content stuffed into a cartridge? What about the player and their situation, isn’t that part of the game experience too? Personally, I cannot separate the game from the experience and wouldn’t attempt to. The timing in my life and the fantasy world that FFII afforded made it an unforgettable experience. By accident, by design, by the stretch of a child’s imagination, it was place of safety to hold the anxieties and fears of growing up at bay.
When did you first play this game, and what did it mean to you?
This post is part of a larger project called Final Fantasy: A Crystal Compendium! Check it out!
The Evergreen Sage Mage is whispered among the forested glades by his other name, Wakalapi, and he’s a veritable cheesypuff of ludology, a teacher, instructor, and all-around excellent and personable fellow. If he can get his time-machine to function properly, his caffeinated work will stand the test of time at wakalapi.wordpress.com.
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