I remember when I first got a Super Nintendo for my eighth birthday. My parents let me have in my bedroom. Do you know how excited I was for that?
There were two games I got for it. I don’t remember if they were shipped with it or if they bought them for me as well. Super Mario World and The Legend Of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Both hold a pretty special place in my heart. Mostly because I spent countless hours playing both of them.
There was something magical about Mario. It was the first video game where there were real secrets to it. Sure, the first Mario had the hidden pipes that you’d have to take a secret route to get to, but this one had hidden stages, stages that changed based on conditions/triggers activated, and a real set of individual worlds that had each theme.
I’m pretty sure this topic itself outs my age fairly well, but I’ll have you know I’m right on the cusp of the Millennials, so I’m practically like some kind of revered expert in that generation.
Then there was Zelda. That game was interesting because of how deep it went; there was somewhat of a story to the game and it had the feelings of an RPG. The game was full of puzzles and secrets, and it taught me to enjoy using logic and creativeness to overcome obstacles.
As I began to embrace my love for video games, I was introduced to something new for Christmas that year. It was a game called Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. At the time, I’d never played a JRPG, and this one was a good place to start at since it was designed for Americans to get into that genre. The game wasn’t particularly long, but it was unlike anything I’d ever played before.
JRPGs are based more on the Dungeons and Dragons model than platform games like Mario and Zelda. Story driven, strategic battles, sprawling dungeons, unique monsters, an ensemble cast of characters… it was something that I fell in love with. After beating that game, I had a hunger for more.
Along came Final Fantasy III (well, technically Final Fantasy VI, and I’ll refer to it in this post as such, but in the U.S. it was III for some reason). That created a lust for a franchise that still continues to this day. This is the game I really wanted to talk about in this post.
For those of you don’t know, I’m open about the fact that I have Bipolar 1. My genetics were lucky enough to cause it to manifest in my early childhood. There were a lot of unhealthy behaviors and dangerous things that I’d done as far as I could remember. My parents didn’t believe in mental health, so I didn’t know quite what was wrong with me until I was almost 30 years old. Quick PSA: Mental Health is something that should NEVER be ignored. If you worry that something might be wrong, consult with a doctor and/or a therapist and see if you need help in the form of medication or talk therapy.
Anyway, back to Final Fantasy VI. If you ask most lifetime Final Fantasy players what they’re favorite game is you’re often going to hear VII. I liked VII. But not as much as I liked VI. The themes in it were so deep and so meaningful to a 10-year old me. It had plots and story lines that mirrored that of my own life.
If you haven’t played it, there will be some spoilers here. I’ll do my best to briefly describe character’s personas and the bold text should be safe to read. Skip the rest.
Without going into a 5000 word article about the actual story of the game, let me touch on the important characters that I remember clearly to this day.
First you have a girl, unsure of what she truly was. The game was a discovery of not just her heritage but also who she was as a person. A girl who had to find herself.
Then, you had a benevolent thief that rescues her from the bad guys, and takes her under her wing. A man who was much more deep than his surface.
There was a pair of brothers. One wanted to inherit his birthright as the oldest child, the younger brother resented him for that and left to forge his own path. Ultimately, the characters showed they did love each other, despite their earlier grievances. Two siblings with their rivalry and trials.
A lone man survived the massacre of his people. He lost everyone he held dear, including his wife and child. He came close to taking his own life so that he could join his family in the afterlife. A lonely man dealing with grief and suicide.
A lost boy, not unlike Mowgli from the Jungle Book who is afraid of the rest of the cast, but ultimately learns to trust and rely upon them. A child who grew up alone and too fast.
Several of these and other smaller NPCs made up a resistance team to fight the evil empire that was threatening to take over the whole world. These people courageously fought back and did their best to sabotage the bad guys. A group of patriots.
Then there were the bad guys. Mario had Bowser and Zelda had Gannon — both were Lawful Evil.
But in this game, the bad guy introduced at the beginning was more of a Lawful Neutral. He wanted to take over the world, but he didn’t see it as a bad thing. A man exerting power over those weaker.
Then there was a valiant general who led troops. He believed the wars he fought in were for the good, and that his side wasn’t the bad guys. He was against anything that was cruel or bad. A soldier for the enemy, but actually a “good man” in his heart.
There was another commander and she was a good person as well. She ultimately saw her side as the bad guys and tried to leave. For that she was beaten, and even 10-year-old me got the impression she was raped as well. A survivor of abuse who lived to tell her tale.
And, finally, the true Lawful Evil man pulling the strings to destroy the world. Here’s the thing, he did things not only to the good guys, but trashed the bad guys as well. He wanted to become a God. He wanted to dominate the world with an iron fist. He didn’t care about anyone other than himself. A person with the utmost greed and lust for power.
If you played this game and read this list, I’m glad. I hope it brought back some good memories from your childhood. I learned about so many types of people and that the world around me was so dynamic and not just black and white. It taught me a lot of things.
I resonated most with the suicidal loneliness. This game made me feel like it wasn’t just me who struggled with these thoughts. It taught me by trusting in those around me, I could feel safe. It taught me that life was worth living, no matter how bad it seemed. I am being literal in saying this: this game saved my life.
Games are powerful tools to teach people about the world around them. Sure, people will argue that FPS shoot-em-up games teach people dangerous things, and I won’t get into that, but I can see even those teach strategy, prioritization, and cooperation.
At some point in the future I’ll probably talk about my current game I’m playing, Persona 5, which I really like. But until then, leave me your comments below, and if you’ve played the game I’d love to hear how it affected you. I’d be surprised if this game didn’t have an emotional effect on any young person who played it.