When I was in elementary school two of my best friends, Jeff and Nick, lived within easy biking distance, just three houses away from each other. Nick was a latchkey kid and had the run of his house for a few hours each day after school. Obviously, that was where we always went to hang out. During the summer break, this translated into even more unsupervised time which naturally made his house the home base for all our youthful shenanigans. We built elaborate water parks in his backyard, watched movies were weren’t supposed to, and fought a secret war in the neighboring woods against a pack of rival kids from a nearby cul-de-sac. It was an ideal, free-range childhood.
We also played a lot of video games, mostly the NES titles all nine-year-olds were into at the time: Mario, Metroid, Contra, Mega Man. We played crappier games, too, like Battle Toads or Silver Surfer, games that had us beating our heads against a wall each time the difficulty spiked and passing the controller around until we prevailed. Our tastes were simple and we usually just played whatever had the coolest box art at the local rental shop.
But then we met Chad.
After the jump, my introduction to true nerditry.
Chad was a couple years older than us, making him a worldly twelve. He had cool things we’d never see before and was kind enough to invite us in to see them from time to time. Nick and I both had a Nintendo, but Chad had more exotic fare, like an Amiga computer and a TurboGrafx-16 in his room. His shelves were filled with pen and paper role-playing source books for Dungeons and Dragons, Rifts, Robotech, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Chad was a true nerd like I’d never met before.
We were young enough that these things didn’t seem potentially dangerous to our social status. Books filled with weapons and monsters and lore weren’t for geeks, they just seemed awesome. The crazy Japanese video games he had blew our minds. Chad taught us how to fill out a character sheet and started DMing for us on a regular basis. Unfortunately, less than a year later Chad moved to the other side of town. The last time we saw him was at a sleepover party he had on his birthday. We ate pizza and cake, opened presents, and ran through a short campaign with some of his new friends. Then most people went to sleep. But Jeff, Nick and I were more interested in a new game Chad’s mother had given him: Final Fantasy.
I have a very clear memory of my two friends and I hunched in front of Chad’s monitor for hours playing the game without any clear understanding of how it worked. Most of the night we wandered around the same small island fighting random battles against an apparently limitless Imp population. It was hours before we even discovered how to equip the weapons we had bought in the first town. Sometime around four in the morning we finally collapsed from exhaustion.
It was the first Japanese role-playing game I had ever seen. Character creation had been one of my favorite parts of the pen and paper RPGs we’d been playing, and here was this video game that let me create my whole four-man party of “Light Warriors” from six different classes. When I finally saved up enough for a copy of the game I had each of my best friends pick a character type to have named for them. As I played through the story we had great fun debating who was the most powerful, keeping close track of which of us had inflicted the most damage with a single attack. Jeff and Nick both foolishly picked fighters. I named a black mage for myself and, in the end, easily won that competition with my high level magic attacks. Brains before brawn, always.
But this was only the beginning of a love affair between myself and the Final Fantasy games, one that spans more than two decades. Last week Square-Enix released Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection for the PlayStation Portable, the most recent in a long line of remakes based on the SNES game originally released as Final Fantasy II in America. Few consider it to be the best entry in the long running series, and yet, you would have trouble finding a true Final Fantasy fan who does not hold IV among their sentimental favorites. In this, I am no different.
Up next: Guess where all those JRPG cliches come from…
Brad Grenz lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. He writes fake biographies about real bands, blind reviews of games he hasn’t played, and makes good use of his degree in Philosophy eking out a living in web design.