As a child I was extremely fastidious about large purchases, or even when deliberating over what large gifts to ask for before Christmas and my birthday. I never liked surprises on such occasions and for my sanity, and their own, my parents made sure I understood the gifting parameters and I made sure I knew what I wanted. When it came time to upgrade from my NES to a 16-bit system, this dynamic led to an extraordinary level of research on my part.
In the year leading up to my eleventh birthday I did my due diligence reading every game magazine I could get my hands on. I went so far as to repeatedly check out an issues of the Consumer Reports published magazine Zillions, targeted at children, from my school library. The issue in question featured an in depth analysis which compared the relative benefits of the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and NEC’s TurboGrafx-16. I also, in turn, rented each 16-bit console and a few different games for a weekend test drive. When I rented a Super Nintendo for the first time I also brought home Final Fantasy II, properly known as Final Fantasy IV.
After the jump, Square sells hardware.
What began with the SNES has persisted as a trend in all my subsequent console purchases. I’ve never really had the money or the desire to buy every console each generation, so the choice of which platform to invest in has always been an important one. By simply following Final Fantasy I’ve essentially, in every generation since the original NES, left it up to Squaresoft to steer the ship.
In the last days of the SNES Nintendo began experimenting with the Silicon Graphics 3D hardware that would later become the Nintendo 64. In 1995 Nintendo Power published screenshots from a demo that showed a number of the characters from Final Fantasy VI rendered as 3D models. For the time it was incredibly impressive and I assumed that was that. My next system would be whatever Nintendo released next, at the time codenamed “Ultra 64”. But within a couple years Square’s relationship with Nintendo soured. Final Fantasy VII was announced as a PlayStation exclusive and the mysterious demo often referred to as Final Fantasy 64 was never seen from again.
The week before Final Fantasy VII was released I preordered the game at Babbages and walked out of the store with a new PlayStation and a copy of the first issue of PSM with Cloud, Aerith and Barret on the cover under my arm. I didn’t buy any games that day, though, but I passed the time with the included demo disc until I picked up my copy of Final Fantasy VII a week later. This pattern repeated itself in the next generation. I waited until I knew where the next Final Fantasy was about to be released and bought a PS2 specifically to play Final Fantasy X.
For three generations this proved to be a sensible strategy. As Squaresoft went, so went the industry at large with myself close behind. Cleaving myself to the Final Fantasy series for so many years also gave me access to the broadest spectrum of console games I was interested in. As I mentioned in a previous entry, the presence of Final Fantasy games also influenced my handheld purchases. I bought a GameBoy Advance SP to play Final Fantasy remakes and I bought a PlayStation Portable for games like Final Fantasy Tactic: War of the Lion, Final Fantasy: Crisis Core and of course Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection.
I always assumed that, when the time came, I would buy a PS3 to play Final Fantasy XIII. I had good reason. In 2006 it was announced as a PS3 exclusive and as I’d been so happy with my past Sony consoles, going PS3 was the obvious next step. But the PS3 was very expensive and I was a poor college student in 2006. Final Fantasy XIII also took forever to be released and then, at E3 2008, Square-Enix announced the game would also be coming to the Xbox 360. Last December I finally gave up my aspirations of saving for a PS3 and settled for a second hand Xbox 360 from craigslist. I actually bought a copy of Final Fantasy XIII more than a week before I could find a used one with a hard drive and HDMI in my price range.
Having played almost 30 hours of the game now, it’s clear how much the 360 version of Final Fantasy XIII was compromised by the porting process from the PlayStation 3. The visuals are muddy, the full motion video looks awful and the crappy D-pad on the 360’s controller makes driving the menus frustrating. This, and the lingering uncertainty around Final Fantasy XIII Versus which, supposedly, remains a PS3 exclusive, still strikes me with the occasional pang of regret. I have an overriding sense that the next time I have $300 to spend I’ll be bringing home a PS3 I really shouldn’t need.
I had such a good thing going. For most of my life choosing a console was a black and white proposition, but business realities for Square-Enix have left me groping for answers in a world gone gray. Square’s decision to go multi-platform completely invalidated my normal methodology. Now I’m stuck evaluating things like the available library of games, online services, hardware reliability and the relative quality of the game in question. Whether it means I’ve grown up or the industry has, ironically I’m left back where I started: fastidiously researching new hardware purchases. Once again I’m comparing specifications, examining software support and comparing value propositions. The only thing I forgot was the all important gut-check of serious hands on time.
Up next, design devolution
Click here for the previous Final Fantasy IV entry.
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.