“On The Blue Planet (and the Moon) of FFIV”

ff3-nes-sage2 “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.

ff2box.jpg

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.

wall.jpgMy “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.jpgTetris: High gaminess, low fictional world Skyrim_World.jpgSkyrim: 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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19 thoughts on ““On The Blue Planet (and the Moon) of FFIV”

  1. Interesting! I played FFIV in my early 20s via an emulator. I wanted to play all the FF games…I finished #1 and #4.

    More interesting to me though is that my equivalent to FF4 in my teenage years was pen & paper RPG’s. Fantasy worlds hold a great attraction to unhappy teenagers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right, so fantasy worlds afford that, but games like Tetris don’t. I mean, Tetris was fun for a bit, I played it, but it didn’t feel like much of an escape.

      What’s even better about D&D and Pen & Paper RPGs compared to playing a single player fantasy game on a computer/console is that you aren’t actually alone. You’re hanging with friends, alleviating (at least partially) any lonesome anxious emo teen’s craving to fit in with at least someone.

      I had one friend who had interest in Pen&Paper stuff, but we didn’t really get it, so we sorta made up out own way of doing it. It didn’t work, but for those hours of drawing characters and talking about things, on certain afternoons, it was pretty darn great. “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a cyber punk [insert silly idea], with a grappling hook ability?” “YEAH!” 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have… still not played this game. Now I’m thinking I should (that said, I’m reading all the Crystal Compendium posts and they’re all making a pretty good case that I ought to just go and play every one of these games).

    ‘Gaminess’ is a great term, by the way – I might have to start using that one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for the comment. It’s a great game for its time, but I’m sure there are others right now in this age of gaming that are just as compelling. Perhaps in the future there will be some way to play all these really long games in a shorter amount of time without really doing damage to their original feel. I mean someone’s gotta be clever enough to figure this out, right?

      Like

  3. I just played and beat FFIV for the first time last year (it was the PSP version). I really enjoyed it, but the retro mechanics were a bit frustrating to this modernized gamer, haha. Cecil is a very cool protagonist. His path to redemption was quite inspiring.

    I’m also glad FFIV is a special game to you! This entire project has shown me a lot of people connect with different Final Fantasy games for various reasons. The Final Fantasy Feelz are for realz! 💗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, thanks for sharing your thought. I’m just curious as it’s been noted a couple times that the gameplay/mechanics are frustrating… I’m curious about what made it frustrating for you?Genuinely curious here because I didn’t anticipate anybody would say that!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think for me, it was just a lack of experience with retro RPG mechanics (I think this was the first classic RPG I beat). Some of the random encounters destroyed me, boss weaknesses were tough to figure out, and certain parts needed Rosa to know Float but the game never tells the player that. I’ve become too modernized, I think 😛

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ahh yeah, a lot of the game was being lost and not knowing what to do. I remember now the first time discovering you can push l1 to apply a spell to the party or all the enemies. Yup, nothing in the game taught the player to do some pretty important stuff! I needed that reminder. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I first played this on PS1, and I got my rear kicked. I was wayyyy underleveled for the final boss, as Rydia hadn’t even learned Flare yet. I had to go back and grind, which wasn’t easy since, again, I was so underleveled. Zeromus’ Theme still creeps me out since I have flashbacks of hoping all my Cure4s would land.

    I think the hard thing about FFIV now is that there isn’t a definitive version. Is it the PS1 (JP NES) version with its high difficulty? The PSP version with swappable party members and Interlude? FFIV DS with Auguments? (The GBA port was awful though.) It’s the same story but very different gameplay and challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the comment 🙂

      And props for managing to get to Zeromus without flare! That should be a feat in itself. 🙂

      For me, the SNES US-version is definitive, but I can also see how the Japanese version would be a stronger choice overall. I mean, it was the original version. The others I consider modified versions of the original, although they might actually be funner to play with those new bells and whistles you mentioned.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish I had played FFIV when it was still FFII, but I didn’t come across it until either the 90s or 00s long after its debut. It’s in my top 4 Final Fantasies (I can’t decide whether I like it or VI better), and (Paladin) Cecil is my favorite male main character…but then again I have a thing for beautiful, part alien boys with silvery hair :p I loved the complexity of the story and also how Golbez was more than just the villain. I’ve used that fact many times in metas of other games, so it’s one I always remember. Also kudos to Squeenix for putting the other planet in between Mars and Jupiter, since there’s some real world connection to that. Cecil’s transformation from dark to light is one of the best moments in Final Fantasy history, and the brief melody that plays at the moment always gives me chills. So moving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the twist with Golbez was great. This game set my bar pretty high when it comes to standards in narrative for my coming years. It’s my #1, and 6 is #2… the others were alright for me, but didn’t seem to me as having the same heart as the SNES classics. And yeah, I think the transformation moment was actually mechanically and narratively superb, wayyy before its time where gameplay ideas like this (non violent options for winning) hit their stride in games like Undertale.

      ‘Squeenix’, haha. Of course, back then Enix was a totally different game dev company, right? Their Soul Blazer is underrated. Its a game I came back to in my 30’s just for the fun of it and I was suprised about how much the game still stands out.

      Anyhow,… anyhow,… thanks for stopping by my little post 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I played VI first, so I had no idea IV was so involved until like 20 years later. I’m still not sure if I like IV or VI better, but I might have some bias with VI since it was the first I played. Final Fantasy has always been revolutionary though, and it took me looking up a tip to figure out what the hell to do at that part.

        Lol, I’ve been calling them that for years :p I played Illusion of Gaia, the sequel to Soul Blazer before I knew there’d been a first!

        Of course! I feel so lucky to have been a part of this great collaboration ♥

        Like

  6. This is a beautiful post. We all have those games, the ones that really made a mark. For me it was Link to the Past – I remember that shopping trip vividly – I had played the original LoZ on NES with my Uncle, and when the new one came out I was beyond excited. I also have the games that helped me get through my awkward years – I played Super Mario Bros. 3 and Chrono Trigger more times than I can count.

    FFIV really is a classic, though I didn’t play it till after both VI and VII, so perhaps it didn’t make quite the same impression. Regardless, it’s the game where Square found its narrative stride and figured out how to build an emotional story and deep characters into a video game – there are probably examples that predate this, but I feel like this was the first to do it well.

    Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jay, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yeah, I don’t know really is Square had much of a narrative to their games before this one. I played FF1 and wasn’t too impressed. I was more of Dragon Warrior kid myself up until this time in my life. I will say FF4 is the first game narrative that I can recall having any impact on me.

      I absolutely loved A Link to the Past. I played it ritualistically, beating the first world, then sequence breaking the game to get the golden sword and taking it through the second world bosses like a hot knife through butter. 😉 Definitely a masterpiece.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The timing of when you play a game is definitely an important part of the experience. I’ve had experiences like this one where a certain game really resonated with me at the time I played it, and others where I wasn’t in a good headspace at the time and needed to revisit the title later to really appreciate it.
    I personally am not a huge fan of the gameplay of this particular Final Fantasy but it definitely has a cool world and story. I particularly enjoy Cecil’s journey from dark knight to paladin and everything that goes along with his transformation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for checkin out my article. The Mr. Ordeals bit (where Cecil becomes a paladin) is still one of my most memorable gaming moments. The gameplay seemed pretty solid to me, but I didn’t have much to compare it to other than NES RPG’s.

      Liked by 1 person

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