Twenty Years In The Making
I beat Final Fantasy 1 with my dad this weekend while I was back home. That may not seem like an accomplishment to most experienced gamers, considering the prevalence of things like the Single Character Speed Run, or The Final Fantasy Challenge. But there’s a story to this one.
When I was a young boy of 8, I broke my arm in a BMX jumping accident. No gore, just a dislocated elbow that bent the wrong way. It’s a lot cooler to talk about than it was to go through, but having gone through it, I say it makes for a very fun thing to tell people. “I once bent my arm backwards at the elbow!” However, in my month-long recovery, I could do two things with my left hand: hold a piece of paper in place (no escaping homework!), and work the D-pad of my NES.
So, being the sympathetic (or addiction-enabling, I haven’t decided) parents they are, Mom and Dad bought me Final Fantasy. Having grown up already on a steady diet of Mario Bros, Zelda, Gauntlet, and River City Ransom, I was ready to devote my entire after-school life to this new game.
The one thing I hated about it was the battles. Too frequent, too boring. Somewhere along the way I lost that initial hatred of JRPGs’ core game mechanic long enough to enjoy the real classics like Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger, but at this young age, I was just a little too impatient. So I would run from every battle.
Now, I realize there are Low Level Challenges premised on this very idea, or even the Low Level Class Change Challenge that involves running from every battle until the Castle of Trials. However, this was my first play through and I had no idea what was in store for me or what I needed to prepare for. I had no handy walkthrough to tell me all the stuff I needed to successfully complete a low level challenge.
Therefore, my policy of running from every battle because battles were boring had three predictable consequences:
1) Eventually, I was so low level that running away took more rounds than fighting. (Did I stand and fight anyway? No.)
2) Boss battles took ages because I’d have to restart from my last save which meant doing the entire dungeon over again.
3) When I finally reached the Temple of Fiends Revisited, I had no chance in hell of beating Chaos.
All throughout this, my dad and I would take turns with the battles. Unlike me, he would actually fight through them, with me cheering him on to run so we could get back to the “interesting” stuff, which for me was exploring, buying new gear, getting the airship and getting the class change.
(I will admit: I am a sucker for upgraded sprites. If you tell me a game has a class change and the new class has an upgraded sprite, I will love it in spite of all other mechanics. Warsong, I am looking at you.)
By the time we beat Tiamat, my arm had healed and I was just playing to beat the game. I was in such a rush to the end that each day I would make another two or three attempts at beating Chaos. To explain for those who have not played (and kudos to you if you are still reading), to reach the final boss, you need to defeat all four previous bosses in order, and then fight the final boss, all in one dungeon. Which means no saving after each one. (This was changed in the DS and iPhone ports, thank god.) I would just play right through to Chaos, fight, lose, and try again. I know now that the much more profitable course of action would have been to fight through right up TO Chaos, cast Exit, save, and do it again a few more times. (In fact, this experience is probably what taught me that very fact.)
So, rather than watch me repeat this cycle of wasted hours and futile attempts at the final boss for another week, my dad stayed up all night leveling up our party. According to my mom, he got up somewhere “in the 80’s.” My dad wanted it to be a surprise for me, so he didn’t say anything before he left for work. Some of you can see where this is going.
That morning, I woke up and said, “I’ve had enough.” I started a new game, with a new party, and resolved to actually fight all the battles on the way to the end. I only had time to beat Garland, the first mini-boss, before school. So I went back to the Inn, saved my game, and hopped in the car.
To my dad’s credit, he didn’t say a word about his prior night’s work being destroyed. When I told him I started over so that I could be strong enough to beat Chaos, he just grinned and said, “Is that right?” It was years before my mom told me the real story of what happened that night, and being the gamer that I am, it haunted me ever since.
I have long since sold my original NES on eBay and swapped my collection for emulators. It’s easier, more convenient, and suits my PC lifestyle. But this year, SquareEnix released an updated iPhone port of the Dawn of Souls version of FFI, so I paid the $8.99 for it because I knew it was the only way I was going to beat this game. I knew I’d only play it during all those inconvenient times I didn’t have anything better to do: buses, subway, Amtrak. Luckily for me, this weekend I had just reached the Temple of Fiends while I was home.
Around 8PM on Monday evening, after four attempts (made so much easier by being able to save one step in front of Chaos), I beat Final Fantasy 1. I brought my phone downstairs to the living room and my dad and I crowded together to watch the end sequence play 20 years after he had deserved to see it. Looking at it now, I read the final text and think it is the cheesiest writing ever, and Dad agrees. But it was worth the painfully bad writing to be able to share it with him.