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24 January 2011 @ 07:44 pm
A little history.  
I feel like it might be prudent to tell a little tale of how I became a gamer. It's not like how it was for many of you, and it's colored how I think about video games considerably.

To start, I was exposed to games long before I was able to play them and even longer before I had a console of my own to play them on. The memories of these exposures stand out starkly in my mind- trying to play Pokemon Red on a friend's Gameboy but not understanding how the controls worked or even how to input text, watching other kids play things like Paper Mario, Tomb Raider, Halo, and Spyro when I went along with my parents to parties or dinners, seeing the commercial for Kingdom Hearts on TV, playing a demo of Banjo-Kazooie at a Best Buy, catching the reviews of Final Fantasy X and .hack//Infection on Toonami back when it still existed and did game reviews. Even though my exposure was limited, I was fascinated by games, particularly Kingdom Hearts. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before- and then I got to witness it firsthand.

At the time, I was in elementary school, around fourth grade. My best friend was a boy in my neighborhood- and he had a PS2. Whenever I had the time, I'd go over to his house to see what video games he was playing on it. This way, I discovered several games that became integral parts of me: Kingdom Hearts, which I raptly watched as my friend took down Oogie Boogie as Sora, Jak and Daxter, whose aesthetic and gameplay inspired piles of drawings as I tried to come up with my own colorful platformer, and even Starcraft (I liked the Zerg best.) Even though I couldn't play video games at my own home, spending time at this friend's house thoroughly converted me to a fan.

Not too long afterwards, I made friends with another boy who lived down the street from the first. He was a year younger, but seemed really cool and similar to me. At the time, I recall that he had cats, ferrets, and a bearded dragon all in his house, cool parents who got along with mine, and awesome old Dungeons and Dragons books that I could browse through. Hell, we're still friends with one another. But the one thing that cemented our friendship was his PS2. Previously, he had introduced me to Spyro and Oddworld on the PS1, but it was in the PS2 era that my mind was opened even further to the possibilities of games. This friend showed me Monster Rancher and Beyond Good And Evil, Katamari Damacy and Final Fantasy X. With him, I got to play through Kingdom Hearts myself instead of just watching somebody else play bits of it before moving on to a new title. These last two games- FFX and KH- had the greatest influence on me of all. I'd never seen anything like them. They were beautiful, had more complex plots than I'd ever seen before, fun to play, and completely outside of my normal world. The Disney in KH was a connection to my childhood, but the anime-style original characters and the Final Fantasy cameos intrigued me. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy X was even more amazing than I could have guessed from the short little review Toonami ran on it. I was completely invested in Tidus, Yuna, and company and their journey through Spira, their battle against Sin, every little moment of the game. Even now, watching things like blitzball games and the battle against the Chocobo Eater, moments like the first time I saw Valefor and Ifrit summoned, each FMV scene still float in my mind vividly. I was hooked.

It was around this time that my sister and I were given a PS1 as a Christmas gift from our parents. I was 13 or so at the time, and it was well in the zenith of the console's lifespan, but we didn't care. Games were still games! However, the first four games that we got for it were disappointments. I had no love for the Ms. Pac-Man game or the terrible 3D Frogger that came with it, and even less for the execrable Harry Potter game and Powerpuff Girls game my aunt and uncle gave me shortly afterward. I knew games could be better than that. I'd seen it with my own eyes- and that's why I made sure to choose the next two myself.

I still remember sitting in my living room while my dad looked through a list of PS1 titles that were apparently good, telling me about them. As soon as he hit a Final Fantasy game (I think it was the package rerelease of FFV and FFVI, since I have a mental image of the Magitek armor walking through the snow towards Narshe from back then), I exclaimed that I knew those games. FFX had been amazing, and I was intrigued by the FF characters who showed up in Kingdom Hearts (more on this later). I dove right in to researching the games. Final Fantasy Online was my bible (it's been defunct for four years now, tragically) during that time. I read voraciously about FFVI, FFVII, FFVIII, and FFIX, wondered what was up with Tactics, and hoped dearly that I'd be able to find one of these amazing games the next time I went out shopping. I wanted to know more about Cloud, Cid, Aeris, Yuffie, and Sephiroth. What Selphie and "Leon"'s connection was. Who all of the characters who hadn't appeared in KH were.

And I was lucky! Soon enough, I came home with two more PS1 games for me and my sister- Final Fantasy VII and the original Spyro the Dragon. We launched into both of them with enthusiasm, and came out a little worse for the wear. At first, we couldn't even figure out that we needed to get Jessie's foot unstuck in order to get out of the mako reactor at all, and failed at the mission, so we gave up on FFVII for the time being and played Spyro instead. It was fun, but eventually the siren song of Final Fantasy called us back. Now armed with the mini-walkthrough included in the game's instruction manual*, we made it out of Reactor No. 1 and into the world of Final Fantasy VII. It was magic. Even though we were awful at the game and got stuck many, many times**, we always came back to it and always adored it. The characters, the world, everything about the game meant so much to us, and over the course of nearly two years we struggled our way through the game's story. For the first time, I drew fanart, such was my inspiration. I found my first ship there (Cid/Vincent, for reasons I still cannot fully explain), and my second fictional character crush*** (Aeris). For the first time, I found myself both terrified and fascinated by a villain instead of just feeling apathy or vague dislike towards them. This sense of dread is one major reason why it took me so long to beat FFVII, truth be told.

Of all the characters, Sephiroth played the most significant part to me. I hadn't met him originally in FFVII- no, I had seen him long before, in Kingdom Hearts. It was one of those things that plays out in my mind flawlessly even now.

This scene. I saw it so many times. I learned to love it and dread it. Even back in middle school, I was a completionist, and found myself trying to beat every boss I could in Kingdom Hearts when I played it at my friend's house. The titans went down easily enough. The many stages of Ansem were no great challenge. I could even handle the Phantom in the clock tower, and beat it before any of my friends could. But Sephiroth was That One Boss. I couldn't hope to beat him. None of my friends had done it either. As far as any of us could tell, the man was invincible, and therefore fascinating. The man with the ten-foot sword, black cloak, silver hair and enigmatic smile. He appeared in a summoning sequence that reminded me of those in FFX, and without a word mowed poor Sora down like it was nothing. Every time I tried, it was the same thing- Sephiroth appeared, One-Winged Angel started playing and sent chills down my spine, and I struggled for a minute at most before being defeated. To me, he was the ultimate obstacle. If I could beat Sephiroth, I could beat anything.

This was the backdrop against which I played FFVII. I still hadn't beaten Sephiroth, but I knew his legendary strength. So his reputation in-game made sense to me- after all, if he was so nigh-invincible in Kingdom Hearts, wouldn't he be even more terrifying on his home turf? The first time I even saw his name in a text box, I got chills. Sephiroth. A legendary SOLDIER. That enigmatic boss who had defeated me so many times already. I was just as awe-struck and intimidated as Cloud and his friends, and as the game went on it progressed. I saw the carnage he left in the Shinra building- a trail of blood and massive damage upwards to where the now-ex-Big Bad President Shinra was impaled on that very same Masamune that Sephiroth had effortlessly slain Sora with so many times already- and trembled. Sephiroth was serious business.

And yet, I couldn't get enough of it. I found myself wondering when I'd hear about Sephiroth next, when I'd see him for real. This was a chance to learn about my foe... and thankfully, Kalm paid off. For the first time, I got to see Sephiroth in action, through Cloud's**** own eyes (I became like a second Cloud, an awestruck newbie tagging along and watching as Sephiroth patently Did His Own Thing.) I got to see that ass-kicking incarnate was a human being, an effortlessly cool one who killed dragons without batting an eye and professionally dealing with the mission at hand. I was smitten. It was chilling to see him fall from grace, discovering the sordid history of his birth and losing himself in research, finally destroying Nibelheim in a stunning FMV before taking back his "mother" and then vanishing, though clearly not for good. It cemented my belief that Sephiroth was utterly amazing.

I continued to gleefully anticipate when Sephiroth would appear next, full of fear but also fanaticism. I recall the dead Midgar Zolom, the first time he sent Jenova after me, the creepy black-cloaked men in Nibelheim, the Temple of the Ancients, and of course Aeris' death. The game went on, and I loved every minute of it, but there was one thing I couldn't even begin to think about.

The end. Hell, I got up to the Northern Crater, and found myself backing off. I went on sidequests to obtain Limit Breaks and ultimate weapons. I went through the trouble of breeding a Gold Chocobo and exploring the entire Sunken Gelnika***** just so I could get every last summon materia down to Knights of the Round. And at the mouth of the Northern Crater, I hesitated. I couldn't imagine being strong enough to beat Sephiroth without every precaution possible- after all, I had yet to even beat him in KH!

Not too long after this, I found out that my best friend/rival had managed to somehow win against Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts. I remain skeptical******, but that galvanized my efforts. In no time at all, I'd rushed ahead and fused the Ultima Weapon, leveled Sora even more, and pitched myself in battle against Sephiroth. Now I was a better gamer (at this point, I even had my own PS2), and I knew all about the man I was fighting. His history with Cloud, his origins, his plans for the planet. Although he was just as frightening as ever, I now knew that his fire attacks harked back to the destruction of Nibelheim, the meteor he summoned came from the black materia (and thus scared me even more shitless), and the things he said about "us" winning and about the Promised Land made sense. He still knocked me around, but I was determined, and one night I finally won. With frayed nerves, sore fingers, wide eyes, and the sense of my legs turning to jelly I sat back and watched as Sephiroth departed as mysteriously as he had arrived. I had done it. Overcame Sephiroth, my nemesis.

After that, I descended into the Northern Crater and saw for the first time the beginning of the end. That strange and surreal world that would lead me ever deeper, closer to Sephiroth's defeat. And yet I stopped once again. I was nervous. This was still Sephiroth, after all. The man in the black cloak, Shinra's former golden boy and Jenova's son, slayer of Aeris and summoner of Meteor. I hung back because I doubted I could do it.

I recall that I made the final push on the night I found out that the local anime goods store had bootlegged copies of Advent Children on DVD. At the time, I was still very excited for the movie- but I knew I had to beat FFVII before I could let myself watch it. So I did- I rushed to the end, and went to the final confrontation with Sephiroth. Even though I had every advantage I could muster, my nerves were just as frayed as the time I beat the man in Kingdom Hearts. Through Jenova one last time, to Bizarro Sephiroth, and finally to Safer Sephiroth. With Limit Breaks and summons I whittled down his HP, and somehow, I won. I still remember Vincent delivering the final blow, a shot to the heart for the man who wasn't his son. I couldn't stand up. By beating Sephiroth, I'd finally proven myself as a gamer, instead of some kid who watched his friends play games. I'd conquered my fear, my obsession. Sephiroth wasn't so scary anymore.

And the next day I watched Advent Children...

*An item I have since lost, and have never stopped regretting the loss of. How is it that I still have FFVIII's manual but not this one?

**While trying to find Aeris's house, getting through the Train Graveyard, trying to beat Gi Nattack in Cosmo Canyon (we didn't know about the X-Potion trick), trying to get Vincent in Nibelheim (to this day the safe's code is hard-wired into my brain), and almost interminably in Wutai thanks to the amount of level grinding I needed to make up for losing my materia crutch.

***The first was Lorelei from Pokemon. Now you know.

****Actually Zack's, obviously.

*****Running and screaming the entire time, I might add. Some things are scarier than Sephiroth. Said things are these:

******He lied about beating FFVII to me, as I found out later. It's not out of the question.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
0x: P4 - rise (heart)0x on January 25th, 2011 05:02 pm (UTC)