Looking back at …

The Japanese game series Final Fantasy has been a love of mine since the age of 12, when I was first introduced to the series. One of my birthday presents was Final Fantasy VII, a game that I couldn’t get into at first – overwhelmed by the random battles, levelling up and huge scope – but soon grew to love. Not just love, but adore with all my heart. That game inspired every drawing and project I worked on for my Art coursework, and the later instalments in the series would inspire my GCSE and A-Level work. It also inspired me to start writing short stories, just as much as the books I read. With the impending release of FFXIII (a game I won’t get to play right now, as I have yet to own a PS3 *sob*) I thought it a good time to revisit the older titles, and where better a place to start than with the game that started it all for me, FFVII?

 

The story opens with a panoramic, Bladerunner-style shot of the city of Midgar, a kind of Fritz Lang-industrial cityscape drenched in smog, twinkling lights and crumbling theatres. The only play showing at the theatre is called Loveless; a lonely flower girl carries her basket through the dimly-lit streets, and on the other side of town a train pulls into the station. Enter Cloud, a tough-talking mercenary freshly recruited to AVALANCHE, a rebel group out to stop the evil doings of Shinra, a giant corporation which has most of the city underfoot.

What begins as a simple mission soon spirals into an epic journey that will see our ragtag bunch of rebels journey the entire globe, from the peaks of snow-capped mountains to the depths of the ocean, and finally to the very core of the earth. Along the way, friendships are won and lost, allies become enemies, and all manner of dark, twisted secrets are unearthed from each of the main characters’ histories.

 

There are so many reasons why I fell in love with this game, why it had me hooked, rushing home after school to play it, for almost six months. Even though the characters are blocky, oddly-proportioned little clusters of pixels, they are as fully rounded and as real as any character you would find in a novel. They have passions and doubts and fears, crises of conscience, moral dilemmas,; they love and hate and are tortured by their demons. As with any story, it’s the characters that ultimately decide how far we follow, how interested we are, and it so happens to be the case that Cloud, Tifa, Aries, Barrett and co. pack enough emotional clout to keep us gripped to the very end.  

There’s also the sheer depth and range of magic spells to uncover, but more importantly, the Summon monsters. These mythical beasts can be called upon in times of trouble to aid you in your fight against the enemies. At the time, I don’t think I’d ever seen anything more stunning happen in a game than when the Knights of the Round swarm about the enemy, dealing blows in spectacularly acrobatic fashion, wielding swords, maces, axes and hammers in a cacophony of colour, sound and magic.

Then you have the set pieces, the parts that really stand out. For me, these involved the idea of the earth forming weapons to defend itself in times of great need, these weapons taking on the forms of giant lumbering organic cyborg juggernauts and attacking all they viewed as a threat to mother nature. Secondly, the bizarre creature Jenova, an interstellar being that crash landed on the planet thousands of years before, and takes on a disturbing mother role for the main bad guy, Sephiroth. There’s the moment when Sephiroth slaughters Aries just as she is about to save the planet, and the heartrending scene when Cloud lets her body go to drift lifelessly to the bottom of the lake (tears, real tears). I could go on and on, but essentially every moment of this game is an enthralling masterpiece.

Finally, the music. The music of the FF is probably 70% of why I love them so much. Nobuo Uematsu is a genius composer who spins out stunning piece after stunning piece of gorgeous, gorgeous music. His songs are imbued with all that makes Japanese art beautiful: the fleeting sense of life, nostalgia, pathos, and the marrying together of man and nature. The world map theme alone is a rousing epic of six minutes that dips, soars and clutches at your heart, perfectly conveying the sense of the journey taken by the game’s central characters. There are cosy, heart-warming little pieces, such as the music playing when you visit the sleepy town of Kalm, and orchestrations fully designed to bring tears to your eyes, such as the theme for Aries. Truly, the music of this game has stayed with me more than ten years later.

So then, my first entry point into the series, and a great place to start from if you’re a FF virgin (if you are, you could do worse than to spend some time getting acquainted with this game). I think it’s important, especially for people who want to create, to look further than their back garden for inspiration. That is, I’ve never been happy to believe that all the ideas and inspiration I need to write poems lay in other poetry books, or novels. Of course, they’re valuable and wonderful too, but a huge source of inspiration can come from unlikely places. Music is a great stimulator for ideas that work in a more abstract way, ideas you feel. And then there are games, and the FF series is packed with emotion, originality, beautiful music, and whole worlds to get lost in.

Next to come: Final Fantasy VIII

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