The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards I’ve devised in collaboration with the community to celebrate the sorts of things that never get celebrated in end-of-year roundups! Find out more here — and feel free to leave a suggestion on that post if you have any good ideas!
Today’s award comes from the fact that the PlayStation turned 25… err, yesterday, actually, but near enough.
It’s pretty fair to say that the original PlayStation was a defining influence on many gaming enthusiasts’ passion for the hobby, and for a wide variety of reasons. For those who had grown up with earlier systems, the PlayStation marked the moment gaming acquired real mainstream acceptance; for those new to the hobby, it was a platform that played host to a more diverse array of experiences than ever before.
With that in mind, today’s award celebrates a game from the original PlayStation era that I have incredibly fond memories of, not just of the game itself, but of everything going on surrounding it at the time I first experienced it.
And the winner is…
Final Fantasy VII
This is an incredibly “safe” choice, I know, but I have a lot of wonderful memories about Final Fantasy VII and how it shaped my gaming career. Let’s contemplate a few of them… those that I can remember, at least.
It marked the moment I “got” RPGs
I’d encountered role-playing games prior to Final Fantasy VII — mostly on home computers rather than consoles — but didn’t really understand the abstract mechanics they were built around. I was used to pressing a button to fire a gun or swing a sword, not flicking through menus and taking it in turns to do things.
It’s not like that stuff was offensive to me or anything, I just associated turn-based play with board games; to me, video games offered the possibility of real-time excitement that simply wasn’t possible in tabletop gaming, so I didn’t really understand why you’d want to play something so slow-paced.
Until I played Final Fantasy VII, and I understood that “turn-based” didn’t need to mean either “slow-paced” or “boring”. Final Fantasy VII showed me that “turn-based” could mean “cinematic” and “spectacular” — and, in fact, it allowed for things that couldn’t easily or practically be done in real-time gameplay, such as the game’s iconic Summon animations.
Once I got my head around that, I started to understand things like progression, equipment, party builds and all that sort of thing… and I’ve never looked back since. RPGs remain, to this day, my favourite type of game.
“It’s the first game I’ve seen that made someone cry.”
This was the actual reason I decided to pick up Final Fantasy VII without really knowing anything about it; I was talking to my brother about the game, and he commented that he’d never seen anyone get so emotionally invested in a game that they actually burst into tears at a particular scene. You know the one.
I’ve always had some sort of perverse fascination with emotional responses that are so powerful they have an uncontrollable physical effect on you, so I knew that I wanted to check this out. And, sure enough, when the end of Disc 1 rolled around… I cried like a baby. In the privacy of my own room, of course, because I was an emotionally repressed teenage boy who was terrified of showing emotions publicly lest he be called “gay” or something.
This was, of course, the days before social media spoiled the shit out of everything moments after its release, and well before people took to devaluing powerful moments with stupid memes. I miss that innocent time. Bring back crying.
It made me figure out how to play PAL games on a JP PlayStation
For quite a while, I was muddling along with a SCART-modified Japanese PlayStation that my brother had left behind at my parents’ house. I hadn’t bought any games for it, so I’d been pretty much stuck with the Japanese copies of Ridge Racer, Tekken and Raiden Project he’d got with it. Not bad games to be stuck with, admittedly, but I was becoming interested in the games that were getting released in the UK.
When Final Fantasy VII rolled around, I knew I wanted to play it… so I figured it was time to work out how I could do this, preferably without buying a new PlayStation. So I learned how to do “the pen lid trick”; an ancient piece of wisdom where you hold down the little button inside the PlayStation’s disc drive with a Bic biro lid to make it think the console’s lid is closed, boot up the console with a Japanese game in, watch the disc spinning carefully until it slows down having read the region code and copy protection, then whip out the disc and replace it with one from another region.
Doing this trick eventually knackered your CD drive lens, but it got me playing UK games for a long time before I finally ended up having to replace the unit with an actual UK one. I got that one chipped so it could play games from anywhere!
Thankfully, these days region locking is not really an issue for most of the modern platforms. It’s one thing I don’t miss from the good old days!
It made me start thinking of games as art
I’d played games with stories before — mostly text and graphic adventures — but they’d all felt like games first and foremost; the story tended to just be the structure around which they were built.
For me, Final Fantasy VII was the first time I’d played a game where the story and the accompanying spectacle was the main point of the experience, and where I came away from it feeling like it had something to actually say. While in retrospect I know there were plenty of other games to do this before Final Fantasy VII — even just within the Final Fantasy series! — this was my first encounter with a game quite like this. And it changed my life.
It reminds me of a time in my life where I was happy
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have… struggled a bit over the years. While there have been times since where I’ve felt genuinely happy, they’re always somewhat tempered by the knowledge that the ever-present spectres of anxiety and depression will be back before long.
For me, the time around Final Fantasy VII’s release — specifically, the time I spent at sixth form, studying the things I wanted to study, having lots of free time to spend with my friends and plenty of energy to indulge in the things I enjoyed — remains, I think, the time in my life when I feel like I was most consistently, unconditionally happy.
I wish I could go back. But at least those memories are still pretty vivid, and I can think back on them with fondness.
It brought me and my friends closer together
As part of that happy time, for one fine summer, Final Fantasy VII was pretty much all my friends and I played. We’d play it through to the end… then we’d start again and play it all over again. Games were somehow less “disposable” then; we wanted to well and truly get our money’s worth and, despite our playthroughs of Final Fantasy VII typically being around the 35-40 hour mark each time, we were happy to do it over and over again.
We’d meet at sixth form and discuss what we’d accomplished. We’d visit each other’s houses and mock each other’s custom names that we’d given to the characters — I was always particularly taken with my friend Woody’s misspelled “Mllissa” for Tifa and “Spik” for Red XIII — and we’d play together, loving every moment we got to spend with that game. Which brings me on to probably my weirdest memory with Final Fantasy VII.
“What’s an X-Walker?”
During that summer, my parents went away for a couple of weeks, leaving me home alone for the first time in my life. Naturally, as a hormonal teenager in this situation, I threw a house party, got found out after the fact (thanks to blowing my Dad’s speakers, breaking an ornament and mashing chocolate cake into the carpet) and got into a lot of trouble about it, but that was just one amusing memory of that summer I can look back on.
I spent most of the summer with my friends Woody and Ed, who would come over most days. We’d eat Pot Noodles from the village shop, bake Devil’s Food Cake and drink illicit alcohol that we were just slightly too young to purchase legally. (We all discovered that we did not like tequila very much.) Then we’d settle down to play a bit of Frogger on an early version of MAME, then Ed would usually go to bed and a drunken Woody and I would play Final Fantasy VII until the small hours.
On one such occasion, we decided to see if we could stay up all night in our drunken stupor. We’d pass off the controller to each other at regular intervals, and if we saw the other falling asleep, we’d pick up one of the substantial cushions from my parents’ couch and batter them over the head while bellowing “WAKE UP” in a vaguely Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels-inspired Cockney accent. And we would continue drinking, alternating booze and strong cups of coffee.
Ultimately I believe we managed 36 straight hours of gameplay (Ed went home and came back and we were still there) — including beating the game once and immediately starting again from the beginning. At some point towards the end of this extended play cycle, Woody finally succumbed to a brief sleep, and I didn’t have the energy to whack him over the head with a couch cushion any more. So I just carried on playing.
A short while later, I’d just finished the Shinra building, and the G-Bike sequence was starting. Suddenly, Woody awoke, sat bolt upright, turned to me and demanded, urgently:
“What’s an X-Walker?”
To this day, neither of us have any idea what the fuck he meant.
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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