We first met back in 1997 when I was just a kid, I would have never guessed the impact our relationship would have on me. This is not a review this is simply my story of how I grew up with Final Fantasy. While growing up my family never really had a whole lot of money. I came from a single parent home.
It was my Mother, Me, two brothers and my sister. My older brother was born with Cerebral Palsy and required full time care from my mother who thusly couldn’t work a normal job as well as care for her child. All of us kids survived via government assistance however despite that my mother always find a way to save up money all year from her small frugal government assistance to make sure we all had the same Christmas any other kid would get. Christmas Day 1997 I would unwrap a present that would quite literally change my life and mould me into the man I am today, A Sony PlayStation.
I still to this very day vividly remember riding my spiffy BMX bicycle all the way downtown to rent video games from our local video store called T&T Video. (Behold younglings, the 90s summed up in one sentence!)
so I could rent games. One day I went in and seen a cool promotional poster for a game called Final Fantasy 7. I had no idea what Final Fantasy was but it looked pretty interesting. A spiky haired dude with a gigantic sword about to fight a giant robot? The cover of the game was enough for me to give it a go. (Yeah I 100% thought the ShinRa building on the cover was a giant robot guy) We have all been told to never judge a book by its cover but I am definitely glad a I did this time.
Something a lot of us have probably forgotten about thanks to the innovation of modern gaming is the absolute agony of not having a memory card! I would leave my poor little PlayStation on overnight countless nights trying to beat Final Fantasy VII. Eventually I would have to return it only to have to start the entire game over again the following week when I would rent it again.
Over the course of about a year of renting this game I finally made it to the motorcycle chase scene and in a frenzied panic I made it to the end of the chase thinking I was about to beat the game. My 8 year old mind was then blown when I finally saw the world map and realised that there was a whole entire world outside of Midgar. Unfortunetly, it would be a few more years before I was able to explore this wonderful would any further.
It was around this time that the next few years got a little crazy for me as a kid. My mother got involved with a pretty bad dude. He was physically abusive towards her and eventually Child Protective Services got involved and sent all of us kids away to foster homes. I spent the next year or so bouncing from foster family to foster family. We weren’t allowed to bring any of our toys or belongings with us aside form our clothes so my PlayStation was left at home, my real home. During my stay in Foster Care I spent most of my time sitting around quietly trying my best to hold everything together for my siblings. I would constantly find myself daydreaming about what my school friends were up to, what was happening on this weeks episode of Pokemon, and of course what happened to Cloud, Berret, Tifa and Aeris. (Yes 1997 me called her Aeris not Aerith fight me.)
Weeks had eventually turned to months and months into over a year, and I at some point sort of came to accept that I would not ever get to go home to my real family. Then one day at the end of the school day instead of going to get on the School Bus for the ride home I was directed to the Carpool pickup area and low and behold my Mother came to pick us up from school! Sounds like a beautiful reunion right?
Well, it was but my family is fairly well known for being a bit eccentric. We were never actually released from the Foster Care System. My mum was fighting every day to the point of being driven mad to try to get all of us back. With the constant and continued harassment from her ex significant other the courts deemed it unsafe for her to receive custody of us back. She eventually decided to essentially pick us up from school one day before we got on the bus and run. Much like Avalanche escaped Midgar We escaped the State of Michigan.
Without any of us kids saying a word when we seen her it was like we knew what was happening. With a few held back tears and quick and simple nods we got into the car without a question. Once inside we noticed the car was packed to the brim with our toys, our childhood pets and luckily for me my Sony PlayStation but unfortunately I didn’t actually own a copy of Final Fantasy 7. My journey would have to continue another day.
My family would spend the next year or two living on the run. We hopped from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, when there wasn’t room there we would crash for a few weeks at random cheap motels. We would never stay in one town for too long. I remember spending countless hours daydreaming about what happened between to Cloud, Berret, Tifa and Aeris.
Eventually one day while staying in some town I can’t remember the name of I found a skateboard and headed downtown on a little adventure. I found a used media store and low and behold they had a copy of Final Fantasy 7 as well as Final Fantasy 8. I still remember the anxiety I felt when trying to choose between the two. I chose Final Fantasy 7 as I wanted so desperately to know what laid beyond Midgar. I quickly headed back to my temporary home to beg my mum for a few dollars to buy it. It was time to continue my journey.
While I pushed further and further into the game we eventually made it out of state, to my aunts house in northern Wisconsin. We stayed there for a weeks and prepared for our last move halfway across the country in order to escape a corrupt legal system and an evil man that ruined our lives. In a rush one cold winter morning we all packed up into our family car and hit the road. Distraught, I realised in the hurry I left behind my Sony PlayStation as well as my copy of Final Fantasy 7. My journey through the world of Gaia would have to go on hiatus one more time.
A few days later we finally made it to my grandmothers house all the way down in Arkansas. The sense of safety and freedom was unreal to all of us. I remember walking around my new hometown just exploring my surroundings. Deep down in the back of my mind questions and anticipation of playing Final Fantasy 7 would eventually creep back up. I remember going out into the woods and playing near abandoned buildings pretending I was Cloud and was fighting monsters while exploring a dungeon. Eventually about halfway through summer one morning I woke up to a big FedEx package with my name on it. I opened it curiously and inside was my Sony PlayStation, my controller, a memory card and my copy of Final Fantasy 7.
I would spend the rest of the summer staying up almost every night playing it for the duration of what was left of summer. I still remember the night Aeris bit the dust. It was 3am and I was playing in my grandmothers spare bedroom. I remember the horror and fear I felt during the moments in which cloud was unable to control himself leading up to her death. This was quickly followed by the moving score that played as you engaged Jenova life seeking revenge for what had happened. In those moments it felt as if the real world around me was no more and the only thing that mattered was what was happening in game.
During that fight was the first time I felt any anger or resentment for the mess that had been my childhood up until that point. Feeling empathy towards cloud for what he had lost followed by the anger he portrayed towards Sephiroth made me feel all the same emotions towards my life and everything that had gone on. Why did I have to lose all my childhood friends? Why did I have to go to so many different schools? Why didn’t we get to be normal like other families? I knew it was because someone took that away from me like how Sephiroth took Aeris away from Cloud.
So why am I telling you all this? Its because Final Fantasy 7 was my escape. It was my coping mechanism, and thanks to Final Fantasy 7 I had a place I could escape to until life had time to settle down. By the time I beat the game I was 12 years old. It took me almost 4 years and you better believe I enjoyed every minute of it. So thank you Final Fantasy VII for sticking by my side during some pretty crazy years and for always being my escape from Reality.
The summer came to pass and I was in a new place and had a new home, I was also about to start yet another new school. The academic year began and I didn’t think much of it because I had changed schools so many times it didn’t really down on me that I would be here to stay. So naturally I didn’t make much of a fuss over it nor did I really try to make any friends.
Eventually I ended up being befriended against my will by some neighbour kid that was a year or two younger than me.
Pretty quickly I realised his older brother was into video games and upon finding his stash of PlayStation games I happened across a copy of Final Fantasy 8. I quickly remembered that time I seen it in that used media store a few years ago and the excitement struck. I tried to befriend my friends older brother and anytime I could I would talk his ear off about Final Fantasy 7.
He probably found to to be rather annoying but man did I think he was cool. After everything I had been through as a kid I was always a little more mature than the kids my age. I suppose that’s what childhood trauma does to a person yeah? My friends older brother would eventually sell me his copy of Final Fantasy VIII probably just to get me to leave him alone.
Within the first few hours of playing Final Fantasy VIII I found so much solace in Squall Leonhart it was unreal. Needless to say the experience I had in real life during my journey through Final Fantasy VII influenced my teenage years like it would have done anyone. Even before playing Final Fantasy VIII I was a broody rebellious quit weird kid that didn’t really know how to make friends let alone want to.
Squall could not recall his past while I was trying to forget mine. He was trapped in Garden while I was trapped in Junior High. He played triple tried while was playing Pokemon TCG and Yu-Gi-Oh. He was stuck with Zell like I was stuck with my dumb neighbour kid friend. Garden students used their message boards like I used Myspace.
The most impactful part was Squall dichotomy with Seifer. At this point I was nearly about to enter high school. Naturally as much of a loner that I was I attracted the attention of a few preppy abercrombie and fitch wearing bullies. There was one kid in particular that developed a bit of an unhealthy rivalry with. He was the king of the preppy kids and we were always at eachothers throats. This relationship led me to view Squall as not only a role model but almost as an older brother type of figure.
Most importantly as cool as I thought Squall was knowing he he dealt with the same problems I did was probably the biggest saving grace for me during my school years. Final Fantasy VIII would go on to influence me more than anything in this world. My father was never around and my mother was the shell of her former self after everything we had went through. Much like squall I was alone and had to fend for myself growing up as a kid.
Squalls drive to become a SeeD was what eventually led me to go to college. Squalls transformation from Loner to Leader inspired me both in my social life as well as professional life. There is a tendency for kids from broken homes to not succeed in life as much as other kids. Broken kids also have a higher risk of developing addictions and mental health issues. Squall inspired me to fight against all of those things and not let my past determine my future.
More importantly Squall opening up finally making friends showed me that I could and should do the same. If it were not for Final Fantasy VIII I would not be the man I am today. So thank you Final Fantasy VII and thank you Squall for being a friend when I secretly needed one and for showing me that my past does not determine my future. I can allow it to make me weaker or stronger its just up to me to decide which.
Last but not least there was Final Fantasy IX. I had a pretty cool first experience with it. It was my sophomore year of high school and I was established in my new school and finally made some friends. My life had settled down and times were good. Thankfully all the chaos in my life had subsided and I got to have a normal High School experience.
One of my friends in High School was also friends with this one popular preppy dude that was on my High School’s basketball team. Due to my Squallish teenage angst I didn’t really like this guy, he never really did anything to me he was just part of the crowd that kinda crowd. Well one day I went over to my friends house and this dude was there and low and behold they were playing Final Fantasy IX.
The reason this as well as finding out my neighbour kids older brother played Final Fantasy VIII is so impactful is because the area I lived in was pretty rural and very very few people played video games. Let alone Japanese RPGs. Normally I would have told my friend I would catch him later because he was hanging out with his preppy popular friend but this time I stuck around and the three of us bonded over the game. Eventually Mr. Preppy dude ended up letting me borrow it. Unfortunately I never finished the game but nonetheless it was kinda mind blowing that even Mr. Preppy dude payed Final Fantasy. Maybe I wasn’t so weird after all?
One of my goals since I was a kid was to finally beat Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX. It was a goal that would be put off over and over again as I grew older and life got in the the way. Jobs, Girlfriends, College, etc. Finally in December of 2018 I accomplished that goal after starting 20 years ago. My journey began as a scared kid struggling to keep his head above water with Final Fantasy VII.
My journey continued as an angsty teen with Final Fantasy VIII. Years later my journey would come to a close with Final Fantasy IX. As I finished Final Fantasy IX and pulled the disc out for the final time I couldn’t help but feel a strong connection to my childhood self and smile knowing how proud he would be of me for becoming the man that I am today. To the broken kid I was when I started down this journey I just want to say ‘’This train we on don’t make no stops.’’ -Barret Wallace.
An entire generation of gamers were inspired, influenced and impacted by the Playstation Final Fantasy trilogy. They were squaresofts magnum opus. They can do all of the remasters and remakes they want but nothing, and I mean nothing will ever be as good as our first impressions and our first experiences. These games were my life. Anything they do as far as i’m concerned will just tarnish these three pieces of history.
Final Fantasy unites people from across the globe despite race, creed and political ideology and that’s something we need more of today. Always remember, find a reason to carry on even when you’ve lost everything like cloud. Embrace change, open up and learn to live a little like squall, and no matter what your origins are you are capable of great things like Zidane.
“Dear Final Fantasy, I just want to say thank you for being you. My journey is finally over.”
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