As those of you who read these pages may have come to know, I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for fantasy. A lifelong love affair with a genre that has rooted itself deep into the very core of my being. An appreciation that reaches deeper than a darkspawn dallying with the dwarves in the Deep Roads of Thedas – here’s to thematically appropriate references folks!
From reading about it, gaming it, watching it and weaving my own world of fantasy as I write about it, this broad genre has opened my eyes to a lifetime of memorable stories, characters, concepts, ideas and worlds. So far, I’ve enjoyed almost every bit of it that I have encountered, with few exceptions. I’ve cited many examples here of what a great fantasy experience entails and I have enjoyed a great many of them in my life thus far, but before I became captivated with the likes of Game of Thrones, Dragon Age, Skyrim and even well before I discovered Lord of the Rings for the first time, there was a 12-year-old boy sitting in his room with a brand-new Sony PlayStation and a copy of Final Fantasy VII.
Up until this point I hadn’t bothered with the genre, at least not that I can remember. I have no poignant, childhood defining memories about anything fantasy related until a chance happening upon a market game store with my grandmother. Amongst the potential selection, I happened to notice a game that I knew nothing about but I was drawn to anyway. Not because of fate, destiny or any of that superficial bollocks. I had read countless gaming publications during my youth, usually PlayStation and gaming magazines, and they all told me the same thing. That this plastic little case I held in my hands was one of gaming’s all time era defining titles. Every one of them rated it incredibly well and so, despite my lack of solid research bar a few reviews and scores, I asked my dear old nan if I could have this one. And by the mighty machinations of all things bright and beautiful, my life changed that Saturday afternoon.
There will be mild spoilers regarding the game from this point on.
It took a couple of hours for me to get to grips with it, the concept of a role-playing game of any sort, especially that of a JRPG, was completely new to me but once I started to understand what I was doing – I was enraptured. The style, the sounds, the detail, all of it. It was a veritable cornucopia of quality storytelling and atmospheric music combined with satisfying gameplay set in a massive and magnificent world that combined elements of steampunk, science fiction, science fantasy and dark fantasy. I loved it so much that I didn’t even let the fact that I couldn’t save my progress stop me from playing the opening few hours over and over. I would eventually acquire a memory card shortly thereafter, thankfully. There was no way I was ever going to be able to complete an 80 hour playthrough in one sitting. Not that I wouldn’t have given it a damned good go if given half a chance. Bloody childhood and the need for food, sleep and schooling!
‘Look always to the eternal flow of time which is far greater than the span of a human life.’ – Bugenhagen
Some folks may scoff at this turn of events. As a writer of fantasy, there may be those who question how and why I should be able to cite any game as a contributing factor to my intent to craft my own stories.
‘How can a mere game inspire anyone to write anything?’ they may ask derisively.
Wait folks, don’t throw your plush moogles at them yet! To an extent, I can understand the question. It’s only recently that the games industry is finally starting to get the respect and recognition it deserves as a medium that provides some excellent storytelling experiences. Some still consider games to be nothing more than children’s play things that should be the sole domain of dark room dwelling, anti-social miscreants with too much free time. It is an ignorant perspective, to be honest. It shows those folks to have an inherent lack of understanding toward something they have little interest in knowing anything about and yet feel comfortable enough to judge our beloved pastime as an immature and unworthy newcomer to the spectrum of all entertainment. I pity whoever feels this way. To choose to be blind toward the potential of a great story just because you don’t like the way that it is portrayed, well such a stance is sheer idiocy in my opinion.
Would you fall out of love with your favourite story if you one day learned that it existed in another format, especially one that you do not approve of, first? Would you shun what the majority may consider a great fantasy experience just because it is happens to be a game rather than a film, a play or a novel? To play a game is to interact and to interact is to become a part of something in such a manner that you, the player, have the chance to craft your own personal experience for yourself. One that speaks only to you.
Gaming has long been an avenue for writers to showcase their literary talents. This was the case two decades ago when this behemoth of a game was released and it is still a prominent aspect of many games released today. Before voice acting became so widespread and a more realistic proposition in the industry, the only way to absorb the dialogue in any game was to do exactly what people have been doing in books and novels for centuries – to read it. Final Fantasy VII contains more than 600,000 words in its entirety, from start to finish. To give you a rough comparison in literary terms, this is more than War and Peace, Gone with the Wind and Moby Dick. It even surpasses all three parts of the Lord of the Rings in sheer word count. Yes, there is no guarantee that you will discover every possible line in the game but this is still more than many books, and so this was an experience that I not only played and watched, I had to read it too.
It wasn’t until I fully dove into Final Fantasy VII that I began to appreciate certain aspects of setting and storytelling. The story-line is complex, very complex for what started out as something so traditionally black and white. It wasn’t simply a journey to defeat the ‘big bad’ of Shinra and Sephiroth.
‘These days, all it takes for your dreams to come true is money and power.’ – President Shinra
This adventure became infused with so much ‘grey’ that I started to doubt whether I could even trust some of those I was travelling with. My suspicions were confirmed when the traitor amongst allies finally revealed themselves. Even the supposed villains of the game had moments that led me to think beyond the facades they were portraying. After countless journeys through the lands of FFVII, there are only two entities in the game that I am convinced were absolutely selfish and completely malicious in their intent. Character depth was something I began to truly comprehend for the first time after I had finished this game.
The history of the world came to the fore from the backstories and circumstances surrounding Aeris, Last of the Ancients, and Jenova, the Calamity from the Sky. Each new location that I visited was riddled with detail, lovingly crafted to showcase different cultures and creeds. From bleak Midgar to industrial Junon, spiritual Cosmo Canyon to unsettling Nibelheim, traditional Wutai to the long-lost and tragic City of the Ancients. No two places were alike and I began to understand how a world could be crafted to be connected by common themes and yet so diverse and varied in its implementation of culture. Much like our own world.
Forged From Reverie.