How I Got Into RPGs

OK, so you’ve got your hobbies. But have you ever thought about why you enjoy them or how you got into them? Gaming is one of my “hobbies” in the sense that I enjoy spending time and money on it. Role-Playing is my favorite genre of video game. How or why did I become a fan? Read on.


Act I

My gaming started in the 80’s with Atari and Nintendo. It wasn’t until circa 1994 that I ever played an RPG.

I had a little money saved up and one day was at Walmart browsing the shelves in the Electronics Dept. The hunt: find my next Super Nintendo game to play. Being a teenager then, I didn’t come by money often. So my next game cartridge was a serious purchase; it had to count.

But I didn’t have the internet back then to tell me which game might be worth it. The best I could do was walk over to where the magazines in the store were and hope to find an article on whatever game I might want. I did have a subscription to Nintendo Power at the time, which was my only real guide.

So I was scanning the box art of each SNES game at Walmart. And there was one game that stood out from the rest due to its relatively simple design. It looked serious, refined, and mysterious. It said to me that it was special. That game was Final Fantasy III.

I mean, surely any game that uses roman numerals in the title had to be remarkable. Final Fantasy, The Third.

On top of that, I swear it was priced at a whopping $70. Even now, that’s a high cost for a top-tier video game. So the box art, title, and price convinced me that the game was going to “change my life” or at least make me happy for a while.

Final Fantasy III Box Art
Final Fantasy III Box Art

Act II

After I got home and first tried to play it, I was not happy. Instead, I was totally dismayed. What happened?

I recall the opening screen, the descending view over clouds sparked with lightning, and the ominous 16-bit organ music building up. Then the fancy game title rose, backlit by flames! What an impressive intro!

But then I tried the gameplay. It was like eating vegetables. Bitter. Yuck! This game was supposed to be good for me, but instead it seemed to be a major let-down. What is this thing? I felt robbed. And there was no getting my hard-earned money back.

Like I mentioned, I had never played an RPG before. FFIII (what was truly FFVI) is one of the best JRPGs ever, and it was a pretty hard-core one to start with.

And I just totally didn’t get it.

I was exploring a town with my sprite-based character who couldn’t jump like Mario or shoot like Samus in Super Metriod, and all I could do was talk to people. Boring.

But then, while walking around, sometimes I would suddenly be jolted into a “battle-screen” lined up with enemies. I had to wait my turn to pick an action…from a menu. The choices were weird. And if I won the fight, my sprite-person would dance and I’d get weird point things and money.

And the process would repeat. Random encounters were annoying interruptions. The classic gameplay that traditional JRPGs are known for was too foreign to me.

To make things more frustrating, all the gameplay weirdness was supposedly tied together by an epic unfolding story. But it just seemed out of reach, a story you must play out for hours and hours, sort of solving it like a puzzle.


Act III

Thankfully, I had something more valuable than the $70 dud of a game. I had a friend. He had already been into RPGs. So he told me to bring the game over and he would teach me how to play it. Sure, what did I have to lose?

This is a very fond memory of mine. I sat on the floor with my friend as he walked me through the first part of the game. He explained the basics while showing me how it all worked and was supposed to play out. I watched. I asked questions.

My friend encouraged me and was happy for me to have such a cool game to play. (Later, he let me borrow his copy of EarthBound. Wow! The box had scratch-n-sniff stickers. Such a fun and cool RPG.)

After a while, my understanding of the game grew. The basics were simple enough. You had to level up your character over time with experience. There were many stats you could affect! This wasn’t as simple as growing from small Mario to big Mario in an instant with a mushroom. This was realistic growth!

I also recall being particularly impressed by the freedom to choose a cool magic-based attack instead of a physical attack in battle mode. There were options!

The strategy of battle pulled me in. Not only could I choose magic over sword swinging. I could choose a type of magic, like fire versus ice. And the choice made a difference; it all depended. Then I learned of greater choices like Fire2 versus Fire1. I could do more damage at once, and the magic looked more awesome!

And all that hooked me. The depth, the options, the battle strategy. But then, what reeled me in was the grand story, the world building, the many characters you could play as. You played many roles!

Ah…click! A role-playing game.

I beat my first RPG, Final Fantasy III, many weeks later. It took that long to progress through the story – and what a story! To this day, it remains one of my favorites. Grinding and all.


Begin Final Act

Final Fantasy III was a big investment for me as a kid in several ways. A high purchase cost. Weeks devoted to playing. Pushing through its challenges. What was almost a total let-down turned out to be one of the best game pay-offs ever!

An RPG fan was born.

Final Fantasy was the only RPG franchise I knew back then. I went on to play FFVII, VIII, and IX on the PS1. I also played EarthBound and Super Mario RPG on SNES. DragonQuest wasn’t on my radar.

Over the years, I sought out other RPGs; it’s my favorite genre to this day. As an adult with kids and a full-time job, I don’t get to escape into video games quite like I did in my youth. But I do find time to role-play.

These days, I’m pursuing RPGs more like a hobby, collecting promising titles in my backlog and anticipating new ones as they’re released. At night after the kids are to bed, I like to immerse myself into whatever current RPG I’m playing. As of this writing, I’m 42 hours into Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on my Nintendo Switch. It’s a gem!

A good RPG might be more important to me now as an adult versus when I was a kid. Why? Because as one with a life full of adult responsibilities and stresses, video gaming is a helpful way to escape into some fun. And the immersive world-building and story-telling of an RPG is one of the best forms of escapism to enjoy.


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Final Fantasy VII Ever Crisis

Oh, wow! As if I didn’t have enough games to play, Square Enix just announced another must-play game coming to iOS and Android (and hopefully the Switch!). It’s called Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis. It has gaming content from every iteration of Final Fantasy VII, including the original game remastered (not a remake?) with modern HD graphics! I think this is better than the FFVII Remake that came out for the PS4 in 2020!


Based on videos and reviews online, the PS4 Remake of FFVII looks graphically spectacular and has expanded story content. So, yes, objectively the game is awesome (note: I haven’t played it). But a straight Remaster of FFVII with the original story and play-through intact looks better to me. Why? The magic word: nostalgia.

I replayed FFVII on the Switch last year, re-finishing it for the first time since circa 1997. The graphics are pretty much the same as what I recall on the PS1. Simple yet effective. But I would love to replay it again with modern HD graphics. And I’m talking not just up-rezzed textures but especially increased polygon count! And yeah, add in realistic lighting and volumetric effects. Expand and upgrade the cut-scenes too.

Otherwise, I’d like the game elements to remain as the original. Scale, locations, travel, hidden items, weapons, materia, all the same. I think it would be like the new remaster of Link’s Awakening. That game started life on the GameBoy. The Switch version is basically the same but with modern HD graphics. It looks superb, and it’s been great playing it as a traditional top-down 2D adventure game. It’s classic Zelda stuff, so that helps.

So with the upcoming remaster of FFVII Ever Crisis, I’m looking forward to definitely playing through it. Again! I’ve already added it to my wish-list on Grouvee. Until then, I’m eager for more info as it hits the internet.

PS – Let’s call games on our wishlist or not-yet-released our “Frontlog” because my Backlog is getting too big. I must divide it up.

What new games are you looking forward to!?


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Video Game Music Rabbit Hole

A few days ago, I was scrolling the home page on YouTube. I do that. Maybe too much. One of the videos that surfaced was of a composer’s reaction to the Final Fantasy VI song, “Dancing Mad.” Intrigued, I watched the whole video with glee! And a rabbit hole of Final Fantasy music swallowed me up.


When I was a teen, circa 1994, I played FFVI on Super Nintendo. It was called FFIII here in the west. And I recall the great final battle with Kefka and the music that played. Nobuo Uematsu’s score, “Dancing Mad,” was epic! The whole game and the ending were too, of course.

What intrigued me about the YouTube video were two things: the guy who reacted to it is a music composer. And he had never played the game, so he did not know the context of the song! His reaction would be purely based on the quality of the composed score itself, even in its SNES form. Nice!

Good news: I liked his reaction.

This led to me wanting to hear full symphony orchestrated renditions of Final Fantasy songs from the SNES and PS1 days, back when audio quality was still poor and video game music sounded only slightly better than the blips and beeps of 80’s gaming with Atari and the NES.

I discovered several YouTube renditions and covers and orchestrated pieces of FF music – lots to enjoy! Best of all, I also found some of these on Apple Music!

My favorite so far is the album, A Place To Call Home featuring orchestral tributes to Final Fantasy IX. One of my fave songs is Freya’s Theme! This song has so much emotion in it; you have to feel it, like ineffable earnest heartache with a twinkle of hope. Hultgren’s tribute captures the spirit of the song.

So after more than an hour, I was saturated in compelling symphonies of Final Fantasy video game music. What a time it was. Sonic serendipity.


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I Beat Final Fantasy X!

Hey blog friends, I’ve not posted lately because I’ve been focused elsewhere – perish the thought! True though. The whole Presidential election was kind of a distraction, go figure. But my gaze has really been offline and inside escapist role-playing games! And finally, I beat Final Fantasy X!


So back in the very beginning of September – technically the Summer! – I started playing Final Fantasy X for the first time ever, on Nintendo Switch. I averaged about an hour a night, skipping a few here and there.

In the end, about 2 months or 65 hours later, I “beat the game!” So I finished the main story; I didn’t 100% the game with all its extras. Maybe I would if I didn’t have a game backlog.

JRPG Game Hiview (Not Review)

What a game! Square-Enix, in their line of FF games, did not disappoint. I really don’t know where I’d rank number ten among its siblings. For comparison, I’ve played through four other games in the franchise: FFVI, VII, and most of VIII and IX.

Story

It was a little complex or convoluted – no surprise there. The game is very linear, the worldbuilding is nice, the settings are beautiful, the characters are very likeable and believable.

I thought it was a strange choice to have a story with such strong tones of religion, but I think that’s a nice break from ones all about politics. The main character, Tidus, I liked him a lot! He was such a breath of fresh air compared to the quirky, jaded, or sulky male protagonists of yore.

Gameplay

Fantastic battle system! It was a departure from the active time battle system of the past, being fully turned based. You could take your sweet time on your turn, think about your strategy, the best move, and execute.

I loved that you could finally swap out party members on the fly during battle and even swap out their weapons or armor too! There was more emphasis on status effects than previous games, if you ask me, and I loved this too. Even summoned monsters were more like playable characters.

Leveling system – it was cool, fresh. I liked the Sphere Grid used to level up party members because it gave a sense of control and direction. You had a choice in exactly what skills or traits your characters upgraded, unlike previous games. Yet there’s still something I like about the simplicity of stats automatically increasing at level-ups.

Graphics

This game is almost 20 years old, PS2 level graphics. But being the HD remaster, it looked great overall. I have not played many modern games, and I had just re-finished FFVII right before FFX, so there was a giant leap in stunning visual design. Loved it.

What I didn’t like, though: No overworld map! No free 360 camera control. Almost zero exploration. The trials (temple puzzles) were okay.

Music

Excellent scores and tracks for the most part. Nobuo Uematsu made great music again, but so did new-to-me artists too. I have several favorites I listen to on my phone now.

Overall

The game was a really great experience and challenge. I had to level-grind in some areas, especially at the end of the game. But I like grinding in a JRPG, I’m used to it. It makes me feel like I’m working towards a goal and earning my level-ups. The rewards are thus more enjoyed.

The cinematic presentation was top-notch, which was expected but no less appreciated!

Will I play FFX-2 or FFXII on Switch? What about FFXIII on PS3..? Maybe I’ll play FFX-2 since I already own it, but it’ll be a while.

I’m currently playing a new JRPG called Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. And I’ve got Tales of Vesperia Definitive Edition lined up after that!

Till next time, have fun!


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Final Fantasy Role Play

Hey fellow web denizens, are you ready for Summer to end, anticipating Autumn and cooler temps? I am! Halloween stuff and pumpkin spice is already popping up in stores!

Summer found me reading several books until recently. I’ve been finding my stories in another medium: video games. I decided to dive into one of my old faves, Final Fantasy. A good ol’ JRPG!

This post is kind of a response to a couple posts I published last year about Final Fantasy here and here.

I was impressed last October with the new Final Fantasy VII Remake coming for PlayStation 4. I wondered then, would I buy the console just to play the game!? And if so, would I play through the whole game like I first did back around 1997. Answer: no and yes.

Final Fantasy VII

Instead of a PS4, I bought a Nintendo Switch last Christmas! And I’ve now played through Final Fantasy VII (the re-release version) after many years and many attempts at replay. Since first finishing the game in the late 90’s, I restarted it several times but was never able to get through it. Until now!

There are several plot points and events in the story of the game that I didn’t remember, so I relived it both afresh and with nostalgia – it was fun! Yes, the graphics are dated, but the nostalgia factor for me made it enjoyable. When it first came out, the game was impressive on the PlayStation (PS1)!

What made FFVII so impactful circa 1997 was its over-the-top visual storytelling in a video game. It blended full-motion CGI video with pre-rendered backgrounds and 3D polygonal characters in a seamless way, within the tech limits of the time.

While the storytelling was spectacular, the story itself was, dare I say, epic!

You literally must save the entire planet with all its inhabitants from total destruction and utter ruin. No big deal though, right?

Squaresoft (Square-Enix) had a knack for huge stories with existential overtones. They’re full of drama, tragedy, betrayal, love, camaradiere, danger – all the stuff of relationships. There are plot twists and turns. And like the JRPG genre Final Fantasy is in, there are often well developed character story-arcs. And of course, lots of magic and action. (Summons!)


This Summer, finishing FFVII for the second time was more than a mere fun replay. For me, it became a stepping stone on a path I never finished. I went back a little before I would go forward.

The path started in the 90’s with FFVI on SNES, then jumped to FFVII on PS1. Next, I played FFVIII and FFIX, also on the PS1.

The next FF installment, number ten, debuted in 2001 on the PS2, a console I didn’t own. So I never played Final Fantasy X but have always wanted to.

And now I’m finally playing Final Fantasy X for the first time!


Final Fantasy X

FFX is nearly 20 years old, but to me it is brand new! I read some reviews (no spoilers!) about it and was pretty stoked. It’s one of the best in the long running FF franchise. Here’s a salient quote I found:

“Whereas many of the previous Final Fantasy games were games with story elements, this is a story with gaming elements.”

Hear that? FFX is big on story – like reading a book!? Sounds good. Although it might be more like an audiobook since the dialogue is full of voice acting, a first for FF games back in the day.

The only real downside I’ve read about FFX is that the game, driven by a great story, is more linear than previous FF games. But I think that straightforward approach will help me play through the game. So bring it on.

In the Final Fantasy franchise, there’s always been a steady progression in Square-Enix’s ability to cinematically showcase the story with advancements in graphical quality. I enjoyed the visual experience starting in the 16-bit era with FFVI (FFIII SNES). It got remarkably better with FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX (PS1).

Now that I’ve started FFX, I’m super impressed with how much Square-Enix has improved everything. And I’m lucky, since waiting almost 20 years to play FFX means I not only jumped from PS1 to PS2 level pizzazz, I jumped to the high-quality version with the FFX HD Remaster!


So that’s what I’ve been up to lately, geeking out on gaming. Overall, I’m consuming more content than creating it. That happens. The scales tip from one side of the balance to another.

For now, I’ve got to save the world again from crazy-bad destructive forces. Wish me luck!


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