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Posted on Sep 17th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under bury the hatchet, FF7, Final Fantasy VII, FFVII, Final Fantasy, nostalgia

Now that I'm forty, and being that it is the dog days of summer, it's about time I managed to accomplish something.  I'm sure I did something this year, but my summer list seems a little heavy.  Hmm.  Still haven't fixed the fence.  And all those branches in my backyard...  are still attached to that bush for some reason.  Well, I've managed to grow up some, I guess.  Maybe.  Gosh, this is really depressing.

Well, I did manage to do something this year; a certain thing that has dogged my steps for half my life now; a game I had a beef with from way back in 1997.  But I was ready and attacked it full force, summons and limit breaks a blazin', and after quite a few gaming sessions I finally finished Final Fantasy VII.

Happy Birthday to me.

September 1997

At some point, whilst deep in the drama of playing Final Fantasy VII, I came to the belief that the JRPG genre was my favorite of all the genres of video games.  No decision helped solidify that belief more than the happenings of late 1996, when I sold off my newly bought Nintendo 64 and copy of Super Mario 64 during the last week of 1996 before Christmas.  While I had loved the system and game, I felt the news that my beloved Final Fantasy would not be appearing on the newest Nintendo console forced my hand, so that the N64 lost out to my love of JRPG.  But now it is late 1997, I am playing through Final Fantasy VII, and the world is good.

Into my place of employment The Destroyer walked, bringing with him a memory card that would drastically change not only my enjoyment of
Final Fantasy VII, but the JRPG genre as a whole.

No matter how many times I see it, the whole "All Rights Reserved" thing puts me in stitches.  Wait, does it really say, "Squer Company"?

September 2017

When I begin the new year, I like to draw up a few fresh ideas for RFG articles, then drag whatever was left from last year that I didn't write about into the new year.  In general, I like to have more than twenty fully fleshed-out ideas on the table.  If I had been writing about video games and nostalgia since 1997, I would have carried over the idea for a Final Fantasy VII article for twenty years now, as I have tried every year, at least one, since that certain day when "The Curse" began. 

Final Fantasy VII has been on my "To Beat" list longer than any other game I've owned.  I've started and stopped playing it more times than I can count, so much that I can almost recite the beginning character dialog by heart.  Even after a rather extensive amount of research, note taking, and coming up with an outline for a new angle for the article, I still wasn't confident I could persevere.  Maybe I had tried this too many times already, or maybe I had done too much research on the different versions and killed the experience.  Maybe I need to chuck the idea in the bin and move on; You know, retire and call it a life.  The problem was that I had been down this same route many time, and something always drug me back in year after year, be it the graphics, music, or maybe even a new hardware solution to play the game on.  Well, this time everything was lining up almost too well, being the twentieth anniversary of the North American localization, as well as my fortieth birthday.  It seemed perfect, so I grabbed my notes and put everything I could in order, hopefully for the last time.  I guess I decided that if I fizzled out again this would be the end, and I would file the game under, "Played-Unfinished" on The List.

Despite my earlier thoughts, the hardest part of this journey turned out to be deciding on how I would play the game.  While there are a large number of ports released, there are really only three versions of the game:  The PlayStation original, the PC version, or the modified PC version.  The PSX original is only available (as far as I know) as a disc or in the PSN Store, and thus easily accessible.  The original PC version by itself is not desirable, mostly due to an inferior MIDI soundtrack and some game breaking bugs.  However it has some amazing graphic, sound, and gameplay mods, all of which really make it a real contender.  The modified PC port is the most widespread, and is basically the PC port with better graphics and sound, as well as a variety of gameplay "cheating" mods, which for example give you 99999 HP and MP, or unlimited Limit Breaks, though it seems certain cheats are specific to a version.  The Steam (and Square Enix) version only allows for unlimited HP and MP, while the Android and iOS ports allow for turning off enemy encounters and area maps, as well as giving you max stats.    The PS4 port features all of the above , as well as the ability to turn up the speed of the game by a much as three times, making certain animations and walking distances shorter.  Despite the PS4 version being the clear winner (as far as the modified PC ports are concerned), I ended up going with the Steam version.  With the cloud saves feature I could effectively play it anywhere I had a computer with my Steam account installed, I also had the fallback of using the Character Booster if I began to fizzle out or run out of time.  While I had wanted to play the original (utilizing either my PSP or my PSOne with attached LCD) the better screenshot-taking ability of Steam on my laptop edged out.  Plus, I can turn on classic graphics (though classic PC graphics) at any time with original aspect ratio.  And since I don't have a PS4 yet, I'll just mosh on.

So now everything is in place, and all I need is to set up my PS3 controller on my laptops and do my best to persevere.  After all, I have a deadline.

September 1997

I had no warning at all.  With no fanfare or announcement, The Destroyer (aka, Nick) proceeded to plug in his memory card into our "house" PlayStation (hooked up to an awesome Samsung GXE1395 "Gaming" CRT) and began playing the ending to Final Fantasy VII.

There was nowhere for me to run.  I was stuck with a lot of customers, and my daily percentage goals (and commission check) hung in the balance.  And the Samsung-armed PSX was right next to me  I tried not to look, I really did, but the speakers on the GXE1395 sound great, and even if they didn't Nick decided to actually narrate the ending as he understood it to be, as well as important events leading up to that moment.  I can't imagine what my customers must have thought as I tried to pretend everything was fine.  The look on my face couldn't have been pleasant.

The horror, the pain, the madness.  Even though not a person in the crowd of customers voiced complaint, I felt the scene was getting out of hand.  Almost without me noticing a Sega Saturn appeared in my right hand, as if beckoning for me to throw.  Was it a coincidence that his was the same Saturn that had been thrown at the guy that had tried to rob the store a few months ago, and was it also coincidence that Nick was also trying to rob me, though not of my money or possessions, but of my long sought enjoyment?  But I wasn't going to be that person.  I put the Saturn down, and sulked my way through the experience.  I kept wondering, wasn't anyone else going to stop him?  Wasn't anyone else playing this game as well?

After some time it was finally over, and Nick left the store.  I felt hollow.  I was in a severe state of game depression, though without the accomplishment of having actually beaten a game.  It was unnatural and all I could think of was my path up to that moment when Nick entered the store:  I had sold my Nintendo 64 and my place as a die hard Nintendo fanboy for my hope in seeing the ending of
Final Fantasy VII.  I had since played some great JRPGs since that moment, but I knew FF7 would blow them out of the water, just as the SNES FF games had done for me in the past.  Not now.  It was over; all of it was done.

Looking ahead, I knew something had changed in my life.  I was positive that there would be more JRPGs to play, but I just couldn't see where they fit into my life.  Was I going to keep playing through these titles, knowing the threat of some jerk randomly showing up and ruining it for me was real? 

"The Curse" began, keeping me from playing most JRPGs for any measure of time.  What was once my favorite genre now became nothing more than millstone around my neck, as I bought game after game to no avail.  I could only hope "The Curse" would only last as long as my employment at the game store.

September 2017

Playing through FF7 again was a heavy mixture of sweet and sour.  There was a great deal of nostalgia, mostly with the music and the massive amount of random encounters.  Okay, that part was a bit annoying, but I'll admit integral to the experience.  An old JRPG without random encounters is like watching a Sherlock Holmes film without Basil Rathbone: It's just not as fulfilling.  Then all it would have is a story, which is frankly not as appealing as I remember.  I think it was right around the fifteenth hour that I realized I was playing it on the wrong platform, and should have stuck with the PSX original, and that I should have written a fluff article for September and stretched out the experience over a couple of months instead of one, as I did with Ultima V.

Not all the backgrounds are this bad, but they really do look like they are floating

On this journey I had many false starts on several different platforms, but in the end it came down to the Steam port and the PSX original.  Initially I played on Steam, but it turns out portability really didn't really play a large role as I thought.  While I do enjoy the higher resolution graphics, Square Enix really didn't do much for the pre-rendered backgrounds, which due to them still being at the original 1998 PC resolution (640x480, I believe) sometimes makes it appear that the characters are floating over fuzzy pictures.  Also the sound was a bit wacky. While the old, crappy MIDI PC soundtrack (courtesy of a Yamaha software synth) is long gone, the mix is very strange, resulting in very uneven stereo separation and a strange hiss that sometimes inexplicably shows up.  Because of this, I highly recommend not playing it on Steam.  My primary reason for the Steam version was to make use of the Character Booster, but in the end I found it to be as much of a burden than a boon. 

Character Booster, while outlined as a benefit, I found to be a mixed bag.  See, while the Booster juices up your HP, MP, and Gil to ridiculous heights, it also pretty much guarantees that you won't be able to perform Limit Breaks, which slows down battles a lot.  This is great if you really want to check out the story, but really could have been better implemented. Wish I would have scrolled down the page a bit on the Final Fantasy Wiki and read that little caveat, and perhaps I would have saved myself fifteen hours of tooling around (and the $7 I paid for the game).  In the end playing the PSX original combined with the Game Shark provided a more satisfactory experience.  If you still want to cheat and have the means (money or console, that is), get the PS4 version.  It is basically the same as all the other ports of FF7, but it doesn't seem to want to punish you for cheating.

To let nostalgia seep in for a tick, I find that FF7 has a real simplicity about it.  While I feel that FF7 is one of the better PSX-era JRPGs, with the exception of the Materia system the game is mostly very basic, and in some ways would be a better introduction to the Final Fantasy series that some of the earlier titles.  In that way I find it easy to see why FF7 is still considered a landmark title, not just for its placement as a forerunner of JRPG cinematic experiences, but as a great jumping off point for new JRPG players wanted to plumb JRPG history, while still having enough depth to draw in the genre veterans, even those not interested in the art-style. 

Post-game finish (and deep in gaming depression), I spent a couple nights just sitting around and pondering the whole experience, and my journey up to that point.  After "The Incident" I spend many years trying to get back to "square one" with my enjoyment of the JRPG genre, but failed to realize the true reason I failed so many times:  I had changed.  Back then the game ending was really the big payoff, but as time passed I came to enjoy the journey more, and when I found too many common elements in JRPGs for my tastes, I spread out beyond the (initially) tight confines of the genre, eventually landing myself here, where I have a very strong love of pre-PSX JRPGs, while also partaking in action-RPGs and CRPGs.  Heh.  So in the end, my inability to finish JRPGs of course had nothing to do with some ridiculous, nebulous curse and was really about justifying my dislike of Nick and his role in "The Incident."  Looking back I know I reacted badly, and never even tried to reconcile and move on, which is what I now scold my children for.  Hey, I think I might have grown up a bit.  I guess you can teach a (relatively) old dog new tricks. 

Well, this is the end (thankfully).  It is a mental load-off to look over my metaphorical shoulder and see FF7 behind me not as a frustration, but as a bonafide experience, even if it wasn't the exactly what I was hoping for (i.e., a magic serum to allow me to enjoy JRPGs the same as I did back then).  I did learn something, though, and that should count for something, even if it doesn't help me cut down/pick up branches in my backyard.

Thanks for reading!

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I think one of the biggest problems a lot of RPG gamers have is that they'll play a game and not finish it. Usually not because the ending was spoiled like what happened to you, but for some other reason. Taking a break that just keeps going, other life commitments, getting bored, not liking the game enough to finish it.

The topic of getting just outside the final dungeon only to quit playing a game comes up frequently and seems to be a big problem for a lot of gamers too. I think its because people want to finish up a side quest or get some rare treasure, and just ended up stopping after a few failed attempts. A lot of that behavior came about before people could easily make a million back up saves, so I doubt younger gamers will face those same problems.
This was a great and well-written article, my friend, and possibly the most interesting "post FF7" piece I've read.  Like so many, I have my own odd history with it, but your experience and reflection is both familiar and unfortunate.  Yet, your overall introspection and analysis likely mirrors many of us at or near the big four-oh, if not about FF7 then something that rides around in the back of our mind since youth until the eventual catharsis ends in a less and more moment.

Thanks for sharing ☺
@SirPsycho:  Yeah, I think this is a big thing as well, especially if the game doesn't keep momentum through the game (or attempts to fill gaps with grinding).  I accidentally did that with Dragon Quest VII on 3DS.  Played it for around thirty hours (knowing it was a hundred hour game) then had to do something else.  Fast forward many moths later and I have no idea where I am.  Fortunately for me the game comes equipped with a summary of events up to that point, as well as some hints.  This is in most CRPGs, so here is hoping to see them in most JRPGs.  Thanks for commenting!

@slackur:  Thanks a lot, Jes.  I've had this one wadded up in the corner for a while now, and it feels great to finally smooth out the wrinkles and put it out there.  I don't fancy myself a trendsetter, but I'd love to hear similar stories from others.
@bombatomba:My own FF7 story surrounded working third shift full time, going to college full time, and my home being the third point of a triangle for each location being over half an hour drive apiece, putting me on the road for close to two hours daily.  I would get around 4-5 hours of sleep a day and catch quick naps in the library.  If I weren't riding a motorcycle to get around, I'd have likely fallen asleep at the wheel and wrecked, but lemme tell you, it is pretty much impossible to doze on a 500CC on the highway (lol).

So I had an original PlayStation atop a 13" next to my bed, and on the rare weekend day off, I'd try to play but would fall asleep, and my in-game timer maxed into 999 territory since the game would be left on.  Can't believe that grey box never overcooked and died.  Despite all of this, I made it to the third disc after about half a year, but because I didn't have the stamina for the repetitive task of grinding given my circumstances, I couldn't survive the crater trek to the final confrontation and couldn't go back to level-up.  Stupid Tonberries.

Didn't see the ending until a few years later, when I went to a buddy's house and he had a maxed-party saved at the third disc, about where I was.  It was weird, both cathartic and deflating, to finally 'complete' said landmark after all that time.  I've started it over a few times since, but I'm not realistic about replaying it unless the remake is worthwhile.

That music though-  I had bought the 4-disc OST and still listen to it, truly a classic soundtrack.

@slackur:  Dude, thanks for sharing!  You were at least diligent in your effort, so well done.  I might try and finish it on Steam using some of the techniques I've read about online, but I also think I am primarily done playing FF7.  Now, what to do about FF8...

Agreed, the music is amazing.  I still listen to it on headphones a few times a year, and when it gets to the overworld theme I always get all nostalgic and stuff. 

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