In the last five years, we’ve made it from Final Fantasy I all the way to Final Fantasy IV. Dang, they sure could churn those things out back in the day. In contrast… to the more recent development cycles.
Final Fantasy IV (or what we in the US knew as Final Fantasy II) was the first of the series on the SNES, a system that eased a ton of the limitations imposed on the previous games. Those black backgrounds during the battles that seemed so horrifying to me back then? Gone. More things could be going on in a scene, the colors were richer, the sprites more detailed. And the music; the music was mind-blowing!
And while all that was great, the more advanced hardware and bigger cartridge sizes meant another thing for the writers: it meant they could tell longer, richer, more detailed stories. At the time I encountered it, Final Fantasy IV was the most like a “real” story I had ever seen in videogames, complete with a three-act structure, plot twists, rising action, characters with genuine personality, even comic relief! I may not have known a single one of those terms, but I knew how the stories in books, TV, and movies felt, and FFIV was no different from those. For the first time, games were on the same level.
This game is the whole package. It’s a complete world to get lost in, and get lost I did. Years later, when I finally did beat the game on a new save file, my completion time on that run alone was around 25 hours. This one game, from start to finish, took me more than a whole day.
Trust me, that seemed like a lot at the time — and who knows how much time I spent wandering the world of FFIV before I was old enough to figure out how to really progress? Or how long I watched my older brothers play it? That was how Final Fantasy IV originally existed in my life: a bit like snuggling up to an adult while they read to you, masterfully pronouncing all the hard words you would have gotten hung up on; in this case it was my brothers making sense of the strange, complicated combat system and figuring out where in the world to go next — leaving me free to enjoy the story.
Thankfully, I was just old enough to understand most of the story, and what a story it was for an impressionable youngster. A story full of tragedy, betrayal, and sacrifice. A redemption story — of a man who’s done things he knew were wrong, but who can choose to set them right again. A story about the power of love, and how you never give up on the people you care about.
You can say a lot of things about me, certainly not all of them positive. But if I am anything, I’m a lover, and I’m a person who tries to do what’s right, and who holds to what he believes. Surely you can’t put the blame on any one videogame for how I turned out as an adult, but the mind of a child is not a hard thing to influence, to steer in a direction.
I could have had much, much worse teachers than I did. If Crystalis taught me to feel, Final Fantasy IV taught me to believe in something.