Never Has a Fantasy Been More Final, Part 2

…this is less a “conclusion,” or even an “argument,” than an apology.  I am no longer convinced that my literary-theory ideas about Final Fantasy hold any water.  In particular, it is not clear to me how much I’m seeing something real and how much I’m looking through the lens of my own personal memories and resonances.  I’m going to have to think about this some more before I have anything especially useful to contribute.

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As I said: as a kid, I was obsessed with Final Fantasy.  This is not any kind of distinctive or interesting.  Being obsessed with Final Fantasy was pretty close to a default, at least for geeks of a certain stripe, during the late-90s-to-early-aughts era when VII and VIII became unfathomably huge.

I can say that I was obsessed with the series before it became so huge, which is true, but still not super interesting.  Even the early games were pretty big.  There’s no hipster cred here, I assure you.

It may be a little bit more noteworthy to point out that I was obsessed with the series for many years before I ever once played a Final Fantasy game, and before I ever knew of a single other person who cared about Final Fantasy.

When I was very young (five? six?), there was a brief period when I was getting regularly left alone for a while in the public library after kindergarten.  I did some amount of the exploration and book-finding that you’d expect from a Bookish Kid in such a situation, but honestly I was kind of skittish and easily-spooked, so I spent a lot of time waiting around in the main well-lit common area and looking through whatever there was to be found right there.  Mostly there was a ragged collection of magazines.  Including several issues of Nintendo Power, notably this one, which contained a comprehensive rundown on Final Fantasy I.  I read it over and over and over.  It developed a grip on my soul comparable to the grip held by my very favorite stories and novels.

Or, in other words: a sufficiently-thorough description of FFI is enough to enthrall an imaginative child, even without any social or cultural support, even without the (dubious) joys of the actual game itself.  This is the phenomenon that I want to unpack.

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But of course this history makes it clear that my interest in the series is, at least to some extent, an Extremely Niche Special-Circumstances Thing.

It is true that it’s easy to fall in love with almost anything big and weird, when you’re sufficiently young, if you encounter it in an unsupervised way and get to make it part of your own private kingdom.

It is also true that, even within the population of people who are prepared to be obsessed by stories, only a few people are inclined to appreciate those stories by hoarding bits of story-related data like magpies.  Not all geeks get really excited by the appendices; not everyone finds a comforting warmth in fake maps and fake historical chronicles and so forth.  I am, to be sure, pretty much at the far end of that spectrum.  And of course it is mostly this magpie-like love of loremastery that can lead someone to find interest in a Nintendo Power strategy guide, without any access to the game itself.  I really liked knowing exactly what all the monsters were and what they looked like and what they could do, how strong all the weapons and spells were and where they could be found, etc.

If your artistic Stickiness involves appealing to that instinct, well, all I can say is that it’s not going to scale up very well and it’s not going to appeal to more than an  extremely-limited audience.

And yet.  There’s obviously something to the Final Fantasy phenomenon that transcends such idiosyncrasies.  Were it not so, the series wouldn’t have gotten so much traction.  And, as I said in my last post, it’s really not that the games are so pleasant and fun to play.  They are not.

(It must be admitted that FFI came out in the dark days of monotonous grind-tastic RPGs.  There was a definite market for games that weren’t pleasant or fun; for some people, in the absence of better options, filling bars and killing time was enough.  But Final Fantasy rose on eagle’s wings above all its many competitors in that genre, and did so for a reason…)

I dunno.  I shall ponder.

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Never Has a Fantasy Been More Final, Part 2

3 thoughts on “Never Has a Fantasy Been More Final, Part 2

  1. My reaction to the FF1 Nintendo Power Strategy Guide was basically the same as yours. The time I actually tried to play FF1, when I was like 9 or so, I bounced off it utterly because of how dull the gameplay was.

    (FF4 successfully hooked me, though—at least it had a suspenseful plot and actual characters.)

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    1. …ok, I actually did once get the chance to play FF1 before the emulating-everything phase in early college. I was in elementary school, borrowing someone’s SNES for the weekend. I was unable to figure out that you had to equip weapons as well as having them in your inventory, so I kept getting murdered by forest imps on the way to the Temple of Fiends, and eventually quit in the angry frustrated knowledge that these cool video games were Too Hard For Me.

      I imagine that FF1 is an unbearable slog if you have anything to which to compare it. In fact, it was exactly that thing, when I played it (after playing 6, 7, 4, 5, plus Chrono Trigger and some other JRPGs). I have no idea how it would feel as your first introduction to “you — yes, YOU — can run around a fantasy kingdom saving the world!”

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  2. S-252 says:

    Thank you for your insightful writings. I have been binge reading through your blog ever since I stumbled upon it (two hours ago), going through a chain of self realizations. Whoa.

    Anyways… I had a somewhat similar thing happening to me with Warhammer 40 000. I barely ever played the game – I only tried it once – but I became infatuated and obsessed with the settng, the world and the fantasy built around it. I read through the entire rulebook, and bought some additional guides just to dive into the details. The game is quite popular, but I still feel no appeal to actually play it. It involves a lot of stats, die-throwing, carefully planned moves and the sessions can total tens of hours before a battle is complete. None of that for me thank you. Just give me the world, its details and its aesthetics.

    With Warhammer Fantasy my obsession was even narrower. I only became obsessed with the details of one species in it: the skaven.

    Like you put it: I dunno. I shall ponder.

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