I never played the original Final Fantasy on the NES. I had a friend who was into it, and I saw him play it a couple of times. It was interesting to note the differences between it and the original Dragon Warrior: multi-character parties, animations during battles, being able to fly around on an airship. But as intriguing as the genre was to me at first, I guess Dragon Warrior had satisfied me enough.
It wasn’t until I saw what was branded as “Final Fantasy II” covered in Nintendo Power that I thought maybe I was ready to play another RPG. The graphics looked great, the variety of characters was really appealing, and the story seemed huge. However, it actually did not end up being my first Final Fantasy game. That turned out to be Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. (Stop groaning, it was only a rental!) Perhaps that’s just as well, since Mystic Quest was intended to be a beginner’s RPG anyway, but I definitely saw where it was going. The presentation was amazing, the gameplay was far more streamlined than Dragon Warrior, and it really served to whet my appetite for a true, grand Final Fantasy game.
I eventually bought Final Fantasy II, and what can I say? I was blown away. I loved the characters, the story kept me hooked, and the gameplay alleviated a lot of the tedium I remembered from Dragon Warrior. I rarely had to level-grind, and many details were streamlined. A few things nagged me, however. All of the characters were predefined, and thus none of them really represented me as the player. This seemed to betray the idea of a role-playing game as I understood it. Furthermore, the flow of the game was so much a slave to the story that I rarely had an opportunity to do my own exploring or have my own adventure. But the overall experience was so compelling that these were minor quibbles.
I was a bit quicker to grab the game that was then known as “Final Fantasy III” when it eventually came along, and it really sealed the RPG deal for me. I think it had a similar impact on me as Final Fantasy VII did for many other people a few years later. It was just this huge, epic game that did so many things, and did them well. It reached a level of drama and involvement that I had never experienced in a game before. I think it was only the second game I had played that really stirred deep emotions in me, and made feel genuinely sad about certain events. (The first was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.) Even after turning the game off, it seemed strange to me that I would feel that way about a video game.
And also, as Final Fantasy VII later accomplished with other people, it made me want to play more RPGs. I was all too willing to fork over $80 for Chrono Trigger when it first came out. I even considered devoting myself to RPGs and adventure games exclusively, due in part to Nintendo Power‘s excellent coverage in its “Epic Center” section (though, ultimately, I couldn’t deny my action game cravings). Considering how many RPGs on the SNES made it to North America, how high quality many of them were, and how hard Nintendo Power tried to promote them, it’s strange to realize that the genre never grew beyond a small yet extremely loyal niche. But SqaureSoft definitely had me, and I was ready to follow them off a cliff.
I was not, however, ready to follow them to a different platform. SquareSoft eventually devoted themselves to developing exclusively for Sony’s PlayStation, and I, being a Nintendo guy, owned an N64. I admit this was partially due to being a bit of a fanboy, but Nintendo had served me extremely well for two generations, and I stuck with them. Unfortunately, their choice to go with cartridges meant not only losing SquareSoft, but also losing the RPG genre at large, and very few were ever released for the console. Thus came to an end my personal golden age of RPGs.
Yet, even with the lack of Japanese console RPGs, I would go on to briefly dabble in a different style of role-playing game….