RPGs! My Love of Final Fantasy and Discovering Dragon Quest!

 

First post in a looooong time. As always, life gets in the way of being able to keep up on here. Today I’m just going to babble about video games for a bit. Don’t expect this to be a review or anything, it’s more of an acknowledgment than a review of a specific game.

Once upon a time, I didn’t know what role playing video games were. And I’m not sure I would have wanted to. I wanted games that required no strategy, just requiring me to ‘pew-pew’ my way through levels with little thought.

Despite this, as a five year old I’d scour car boot sales and charity shops in the hope of discovering pen and paper Fighting Fantasy or Endless Quest books, even though I didn’t ever figure out how to play any of them properly (without cheating). I also loved the HeroQuest board game and spent hours playing with the accompanying Orc and Goblin figures, so my love of fantasy games was solidified at an early age.

My first introduction to  role playing video games was at a friends house as I watched him play Final Fantasy VII. I distinctly recall him catching a giant feathered bird called a chocobo, and saw him battling numerous enemies with a character called ‘Cloud’. But during the battles, his characters just ran forward, attacked and then ran back to where they were previously stood. It seemed senseless to me. Why didn’t his characters just stand over the enemies, wailing on them until they met their demise? It was just weird.

A year later, I discovered a  little video game called Pokemon Red. Pokemon was my gateway to RPG games, and with it I learned about battle mechanics, and how turn based combat worked. I completely fell in love Pokemon as a franchise (like most kids) but didn’t realise just how much the Game Boy game would shape my tastes in video games to come.

 

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A few years later, on a sunny Saturday morning in Wales, I was  a grumpy fourteen year old who hadn’t managed to find anything interesting to spend my money on at a car boot sale. Then I discovered a seller with a table full of Playstation games. I picked up a game called Final Fantasy IX and asked how much it was, as it was the only game I didn’t own. They responded £5 which seemed like a ludicrous price considering I wasn’t overly impressed by my last encounter with a Final Fantasy game. But as I was desperate to come away with something, I haggled them down to £4, and left with my begrudgingly acquired game. Back at the site we were staying that evening, I connected the Playstation up and popped the disc in. I was instantly blown by the opening animation. A stormy sea tosses a small boat around like a toy, whilst the boat’s two occupants cling on for dear life. Then all of a sudden a beautiful princess opens her eyes and it’s apparent that it was all a dream. Sunlight pours in through the open window, and birds soar through the air, above a stunning fantasy castle with a city beneath it. A few seconds later a gigantic steam punk airship fills the skies.

 

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I was barely moments into the game and I was already invested in the world. The visuals had made me want to see more of the stunning locations. Who was the princess? What was the reason for the dream she was having? Was the airship arriving a good thing or  a bad thing? I needed to know and see more!

 

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Over the following few weeks, I poured hundreds of hours into Final Fantasy IX. I fell truly in love with the characters, the creatures, the villains, the locations, the battles and the story. No game had ever made such an impact on me up to that point, and when the experience was over, I needed more! I went to school and asked everyone I knew if they had copes of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII I could borrow, the two games in the series prior to IX. I finally managed to get them for my birthday, and despite neither of them quite living up to IX (in my opinion), I still adored them and played through them numerous times. I watched the ill-received Final Fantasy: Spirits Within movie repeatedly, along with the strange Final Fantasy: Unlimited Japanese animated series. I managed to persuade my mother to buy me Final Fantasy collectibles of eBay, and I repeatedly scoured the internet for news on the upcoming Final Fantasy VII movie. I consumed Final Fantasy like Quina Quen, the ravenous creature who joins your party in Final Fantasy IX. Like Quina, my hunger for Final Fantasy could never quite be satiated.

Eventually I did end up losing some passion for the series. Final Fantasy X-2 was the first game that put me off the series a little, feeling too drenched in Japanese pop culture or influenced by Charlies Angels to be a “true” Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy XII didn’t do much for me either, with most of the characters seeming bland and uninspiring the first time I played it. The game was also the first core game in the series to do away with random battles, another decision I felt was a poor one back then. And that was my love affair with Final Fantasy over. I didn’t even attempt XIII which seemed to have terrible reviews. I still went back and played every previous title in the series that I had missed, but my enthusiasm had certainly diminished. Video games became less important to me for a while, whilst playing and performing music becoming much more of a priority to me.

Eventually I did rediscover my passion for gaming (and even appreciated Final Fantasy X-2 and XII on second playthroughs), but nothing ever gripped me like Final Fantasy IX originally had. It wasn’t that I wasn’t discovering new games that blew me away or games that awed me, but sometimes you just get a little taster of something, like a track from an interesting sounding band, or a movie from a visionary director, and you just need to see or hear the rest of their stuff. That was what Final Fantasy was like to me.

In 2016 Final Fantasy XV was released and reignited my love of Japanese RPGs. XV was undeniably a bit of a half finished mess and appeared nothing like the Final Fantasy games I first discovered more than a decade before, but nonetheless I adored my journey with Prince Noctis and his friends, Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus, and by the end of the journey, these characters felt like my friends. I had a real emotional connection with these characters, and was more than a little sad when the journey was concluded.

Always on the lookout for new RPG gems, I recently played through Octopath Traveler for the Nintendo Switch.

 

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OT was very much an RPG of the old-school variety, a solid title with a cast of memorable characters and often infuriatingly difficult. I loved it and it made me want to go and discover old RPGs that had clearly influenced this title. Whereas many JRPGs were released in NTSC territories back in the ’80s and ’90s, most never saw a release in PAL regions. So there was quite a few games for me to go forth and discover.

 

Of all the series to not get a release in Europe, the one I really wanted to try was Dragon Quest. I had heard so much about the series from Johnny Millennium on his YouTube channel, and with the adorable artwork from Dragon Ball artist and creator Akira Toriyama, the series appealed to me heavily. Also with my love Final Fantasy, originally created by Squaresoft, I wanted to see what their rivals Enix had produced before the two companies merged in 2003.

I began with the first game in the series, Dragon Warrior.

 

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Unlike Final Fantasy, early Dragon Quest games are a total grindfest. You have to fight lots of enemies to level up enough to be in with a chance of beating bosses. But grinding has always been a part of the fun for me, ever since I discovered Pokemon all those years ago. In the past few months I’ve finished Dragon Warrior I-III, the Dragon Quest IV port for the Nintendo DS, and I’m about halfway through Dragon Quest V, which is without a doubt my favourite title out of the few games I’ve played in the series so far.

Like Final Fantasy, I’ve dove headfirst into this series. Which is undoubtedly for the best. Dragon Quest is huge in Japan, to the point that series creator Yuji Horii is regarded as the Japanese Steven Spielberg, with some Tokyo restaurants even serving Dragon Quest themed meals. With a visit to Japan in the works for April next year, having a few Dragon Quest titles under my belt feels like mandatory homework before I go!

Despite being one of my favourite genres of video games, I do resent that RPGS are so damn long. I’m halfway through Ni No Kuni II (PS4), and keep finding more older titles that passed me by to add to the stack of titles I’ve yet to get through. And then there’s remasters of Final Fantasy games, as well as the long awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake to be released in March next year. My RPG journey has been a helluva long one. But there’s no sign of it ending any time soon.

 

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