I can remember the day, clear as crystal.
It was a bright Sunday afternoon in September 1997, and I was idly sitting in the passenger seat of my mom’s car on the way to the mall. These Sunday shopping trips were a regular thing in my household.
When I was younger, my mom — like most Americanized Asian mothers I knew growing up — had a stash of purses in her closet that trumped the largest collections you could think of. At least twice a week, she’d dump out the contents of her purse onto her bed and stuff them into another of what seemed like thousands of purses in her closet. This wasn’t necessarily because it was a fashion-conscious decision as most women would find a need to do but more or less because she just wanted to get use out of all of them.
So these Sunday shopping trips were in an effort to buy more purses. “I’m just looking,” my mom would say.
I was a bright kid, however, and I knew that if I tagged along for the ride, there just might be something in it for me.
And I was right. This was the day I brought home Final Fantasy VII.
Before I get to that, here’s a brief synopsis on the impression that I had of Final Fantasy VII prior to this day:
NONE. ZERO. ZIP. ZILCH.
In the summer of ’96, I received a PlayStation for my birthday. While I had a handful of games like Jet Moto and Crash Bandicoot keeping me busy, I looked for ways to continue building my humble collection. My mom allowed me to have a subscription to GamePro magazine, so I’d always set aside an entire day once a month after school to rush to the mailbox and dive into the pages, reading it from front to back while jotting down games I wanted and what caught my attention.
For the life of me, I can’t seem to put my finger on why I constantly flipped past the pictures of “the guy with the spiky yellow hair,” but I did. For months, I paid no attention to what would soon be the game-changer for the role-playing game genre — one I had no experience with or even had heard of at the time. Final Fantasy VII didn’t stick out to me for whatever reason, and it honestly might be because I was so intent on finding out about the next Tekken or Tomb Raider or too busy seething with jealousy over the wealth of awesome games coming out for Nintendo 64, which was a system my best friend had and I didn’t.
It’s one thing to come across it in a magazine and skip over the page, but a commercial — now that’s a different story! Commercials interrupt your programming to throw products in your face for the sole purpose of getting you to buy those products (or these days, visit a website). Fabric softener, car insurance, kitchen appliances — these are things any normal 11-year-old wouldn’t bat an eye at, but when a game commercial comes on, you have my attention.
The commercial for Final Fantasy VII was flashy, to the point, and epic. Everything about it screamed, “This is the future of video games! This is what you’ve been waiting your whole life to play!” It was this reason and this reason alone that I had to have this game. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what kind of game it was. It was going to be mine — an impulse I generally try to avoid when it comes to games these days.
And so it was this day during that fateful trip to the mall that I walked into Electronics Boutique with my mom and picked out Final Fantasy VII. Now, because EB was closer to the front entrance to the mall, it was the first stop we made upon arriving. You can imagine my frustration with now having to spend the next couple of hours following my mom around while she looked at purses, clothes, makeup, and other womanly things while holding this monster of a game in my hands!
It was during this long, excruciatingly painful few hours that I spent the rest of the day poring over the instruction manual and case. I was trembling with excitement, and I had no idea why. The fact that the case was extra thick and held three CDs was especially awesome. I’d never seen anything like it before.
“Three CDs?! This game must be HUGE!”
By looking at the case itself, I still had no clue what kind of game it was. There were a few simple images on the back, and as gorgeous as they were, it told me nothing other than that the game was graphically the best thing I’d ever seen.
“Who’s this big yellow dude with the horns?”
“That’s a cool airship.”
“Ooh, this game has lions?!”
After a few unsuccessful attempts at whining to go home, we finally did, and the first thing I did was rush to my friend Kyle’s house. Kyle wasn’t what I would call a “gamer,” but he did appreciate a game or two, and I wasn’t about to just let my excitement go unannounced.
“What is this game even about?” Kyle said.
Of course, I had no clue, so referring once again to the game case: “I think you play as this guy here, and you have to make it to the top of that tower.”
Yeah, that sounded about right … I think.
And so we threw the first disc in, ready to see what Final Fantasy VII was all about. The intro cinematic was the most beautiful thing I ever laid eyes upon. The music rose to a climactic crescendo that oozed greatness. Something about the look in Aeris’s eyes instantly activated a heroic impulse I didn’t think I had — I felt like I had to save her. The quickly edited cuts of the train were something right out of a movie.
This was a caliber of quality I had never seen before.
Then I was thrust into the first battle. This being my first RPG ever, I didn’t quite know what I was doing, let alone what I was looking at.
It took a little while to get into the game and really understand how to play it, but when I did, Final Fantasy VII was my life. School days were spent talking about it.
My friends and I would spend the night at each other’s houses on the weekends and stay up all night plowing through the game, searching every nook and cranny and discovering every secret it had to offer. We became masters of the intricacies of the materia system and even came up with a mathematical formula for obtaining Lucky 7s over late night phone calls during our Emerald and Ruby strategizing.
When we got into Don Corneo’s mansion, I laughed. When Aeris died, I cried. When Sephiroth burned down Nibelheim, I was horrified.
Needless to say, Final Fantasy VII was the first game I ever truly fell in love with. Today, I’m able to pick up my old strategy guide and still see my 11-year-old self’s handwriting all over the pages, notes written and items circled. Seeing it brings me back to a time when there was a certain innocence to gaming, when new breakthroughs in games were almost a regular thing, not just a mere updated mechanic or two. Games were fresh, and occasionally, they redefined the scope of what they were capable of and set the bar for how games should be done.
Final Fantasy VII will forever be the epitome of nostalgia for me, and while it might have its shortcomings by today’s standards, the impact this game had on myself — and the Japanese-RPG genre — isn’t any less significant.
I’ve lost files on my Xbox 360 hard drive before, but losing them is as simple as that: they’re just files. However, we now have the ability to recover our gamertags, our profiles, our Achievements, our Avatars, etc. But the thought of losing that old FF VII save file would be so much more. That file is more than just data. It’s years of time, love, labor, and — most importantly — memories.
And those are things you can’t recover from the cloud.