Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” May the delicious brew in your favourite mug give you +1 in both your wakefulness and energy stats!
Today’s topic is a very special one for me: 20 years ago, on September 7, 1997, Final Fantasy VII was released in North America. I don’t need to explain how much of an influence this game had on its release; from graphics, to story, to cinematics and gameplay, you can argue that this installment revolutionized and popularized the RPG genre for years to come.
For me though, my love affair with this game and the series started roughly two months after its release. November, in the year 1997 was when I rented and first played Final Fantasy VII. I still remember it like it was yesterday…
(Oh, by the way, MAJOR spoilers for the plot of Final Fantasy VII)
The neighbourhood where I grew up in was still in development in 1997, with the suburban sprawl ever creeping up northward into the farmlands. In the year before, a brand new strip mall opened up, which was a ten minute walk from my home. It had the usual stuff, like a grocery store, a dollar store, some fast food joints and other small retailers, but what made it different was an independent video rental store called “Ambassador Video,” where an enormous selection of movies, music and video games were available to rent. Now, this video store was replaced by a sports bar sometime in the early-2000’s, but at the time, it was THE place to be at for a kid.
On a cold Friday night in November 1997, my parents let my brother and I rent a video game as a reward for doing well in school that week. The two of us argued for a few minutes about which game we were going to take home, before settling on Final Fantasy VII. The moment we got home, we booted it up and were blown away at how amazing it looked.
The first thing about FFVII that differentiated it from games that I played previously was how it started. No tutorial level, no sitting down with the King and him explaining your quest and no cheerful, happy environment. I was instead thrust into the action in a dark, gritty metropolis, my character jumping off of a train and beating down soldiers armed with machine guns with his giant sword. Following a man with a gun for an arm up the stairs leading to the surface, the spiky-haired individual spoke to a group of three people, huddled in front of a large metal door. The one in the headband asked for his name. His response, in a cool, collected tone:
And it was all it took for ten year old me to declare that he was the coolest dude in the universe.
Cloud was the kind of guy I wanted to grow up to be. He was strong, cool and calm under pressure. He was so confidant in himself, even when things were going downhill for him and the gang and he was also determined to find and defeat Sephiroth, his hero turned mortal enemy. There were days during the dark times I was being bullied and made fun of for being so different, that I thought, “Man, I wish I could be like Cloud… He wouldn’t have put up with this.” But my perception of the hero changed after I experienced, what I believed were, the two most pivotal points in the game.
Here’s a question to throw at you guys: Do you remember where you were when you played through Aerith’s death? I was sitting in the living room with my brother on a summer night, our parents were out at a party and he and I were going through the City of the Ancients, hunting down Aerith. When Cloud and the gang caught up with her, I thought “Yeah, this is good, everything is good!” I didn’t expect what happened next.
Suddenly, we saw Cloud draw his sword and I started to freak out a little bit. Here he was, spazzing out, slowly approaching the flower girl with sword in hand and no matter what I did with the controls, I couldn’t get Cloud to stop. The same thing happened at the Temple of the Ancients, but I thought it was a one-off (or two-off?) deal. It took a while to understand, but after Sephiroth murdered Aerith in cold blood, I realized the hero that I idolized wasn’t who I thought he was. He did nothing, couldn’t do anything because, like JENOVA said to him after the battle; he’s a puppet controlled by Sephiroth.
Fun fact: I died immediately at the hands of JENOVA: LIFE. I had the controller in my hand but couldn’t do a damn thing about anything; Aerith was gone, Cloud was no hero, Sephiroth was winning and I didn’t understand it. I actually stopped playing for a week until I mustered up the courage to redo that dreadful event, beat the boss, watch the impromptu funeral and continue on to the next bombshell: that Cloud really wasn’t “Cloud” after all; his memories of all of the defining moments of his past, including the incident five years ago and him being a SOLDIER, were are all screwed up.
Cloud redeemed himself in my eyes after Tifa, his childhood friend, dug up the truth of the events that occurred five years ago, while she and Cloud were both in the Lifestream. The reason why Cloud wanted to be in SOLDIER, was to be noticed by others, particularly by her. He was always alone, had no friends growing up and was always picked on for being different. He thought himself weak, that he could never belong because he never liked his fellow peers and was always looking to prove himself both to the villagers, who looked down on him, and to Tifa, whom he harboured a major crush for. In essence, the true Cloud was exactly like me; I was also alone, had very little friends growing up, was weak, disliked the people around me and was picked on for being so weird and different. Because of that, I felt that I related to him more than any other character in any story I’ve read or video game I’ve played.
In truth, Cloud never made it into SOLDIER – he was just an infantryman, a weakling, in his own words. But that same “weakling” took on and fought off the greatest and most powerful swordsman the world had ever seen, was subjected to brutal experiments that included having alien matter injected into his body, suffered a major identity crisis thanks to said alien matter, was poisoned twice (the first during the experiments, the second after giving Sephiroth the Black Materia) AND through all of that, he regained his sanity, defeated his nemesis (for the second time, I might add) and saved the world with his companions. I realized then that Cloud Strife wasn’t cool because he was strong and tough, he was cool because he survived the ordeals of his past and rose above it. It showed that I could do the same; that I could rise above the teasing about how odd I was and my own weakness and be better.
When I first rented the game, consoles like the Playstation never had those fancy, internal hard drive storage to save our games on; we had to rely on old-school storage devices called “Memory Cards,” which were bought separately from the console. My parents wouldn’t have known that a Memory Card was required to save the games; they thought it would be saved directly on the console itself. So, during the course of the seven day rental period, I played the beginning part of Final Fantasy VII over and over again. When I died and got Game Over, I didn’t mind because I got to experience the awesomeness of Cloud and the gang once more from the very start. The farthest I ever got without a Memory Card was rescuing Aerith (Aeris?) and seeing the horror of a headless Jenova in the Shinra Building and it took me a whole day to get to that point, after dying and restarting several times.
My dad finally asked me on the last day before the rental period was up why I kept starting from the beginning after noticing the “Continue” option on the title screen and I told him I can’t save the game because I had no Memory Card!
And so my mom went to the store that very same day and bought me my very first Memory Card.
After several months of on and off renting, we finally got a copy of the game for ourselves, which we picked up at a flea market. Too bad though that we bought a lemon of a game; the third disc was so heavily scratched that the game would end up being unplayable at some points. To top it all off, my little brother was kind of an idiot and sold off our “Chocobo Lure” Materia by accident late in our adventure and saved the game, meaning no Gold Chocobo to pick up Knights of the Round and no easy way to defeat the Ruby and Emerald Weapons. I still pick on him to this day about it.
In fact, the music of Final Fantasy, particularly VII, was one of the main reasons my brother and I became close to one another. Back then, we were always at each other’s throats; he was the favourite and I was the oddball, so we didn’t get along well. Over time though, thanks to a growing love of RPG’s, the music behind them and both of us being exposed to band class (we’re both kind of musically inclined), we bonded. About five or six years ago, I took him to the Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds concert in downtown Toronto and it’s one of the my most cherished memories.
If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I’m writing a fanfic using the FF VII plot as its backbone, which I’ve been working on for the last ten plus years. It’s an ongoing love letter to the game, to be honest. On top of that, I picked up two collectible figures: one of Cloud with the hardy-Daytona bike, before he modified it to the Fenrir, and another of Cloud in his Advent Children outfit.
20 years later, the story of Final Fantasy VII, its complex cast of characters, its themes of life and overcoming your past and its music are still a reflection of who I am as a person. Despite playing the other games in the Final Fantasy series over the years, VII was still the game that had the most impact. I can count on both hands the number of times my wife has rolled her eyes at me whenever I talk about Cloud or Final Fantasy in general – she knows all too well about my obsession with the series. I definitely think that this game has been an incredibly positive influence on me, and with the upcoming remake being released soon, I can’t wait to dive back in and experience it all over again.
And that’s it for today’s edition! Any fond memories of Final Fantasy VII or any other installments of the series? Let me know in the comments below! Stay tuned for the next edition, where I’m back to Path of Exile, along with hardware and gaming reviews, just in time for the holidays!
With that, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!