The Video Game Memoirs #2 — Final Fantasy VI (SNES)
I often wonder whether I actually should go back and play old games. I worry if it is actually the idea of a game I enjoyed years ago, which is better than the real thing.
Cutting edge video games bring us immersive experiences with a myriad of options and ways to play. Surely more recent games are better than old ones just by the definition of the evolution of video games? Yet when we look at the usual suspects in countdowns of the best video games ever, usually the top spots are occupied by games 20 years old or more. Super Mario 64, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past often occupy the top 5 in some order. Does this mean we have already had the Golden Age of video games?
Many of these lists are compiled by senior members of the gaming press who occupy the cohort of gamers who grew up playing these games in the late 80’s and 90’s. But what do younger gamers think of these games? Are they still even playable? Is there an interest in going back and playing older games. For a teenager a game like A Link to the Past may have come out a decade before they were even born!
This post was sparked by this article by Alana Hagues, who is in their early 20’s and played Final Fantasy VI for the first time recently and loved it. I was that little bit too young to catch FFVI the first time round too and I only got into Final Fantasy, and RPG’s more generally, through Final Fantasy VII. After loving it (a story for another blog post!) I hotly anticipated Final Fantasy’s VIII and IX. Following those and close to the end of the first Sony PlayStation’s life, Square Enix (just Square at the time) released Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy Origins (FFI and FFII) and Final Fantasy Anthology (FFIV and FFV) to PAL territories. This was probably my first experience of video game re-releases or remasters. This also marked what was likely the beginning of my backlog, and owning more games than I could probably ever play!
I never actually finished FFVIII and FFIX (although I plan to go back to them…) and at a time when everyone else was moving on to PlayStation 2, I was playing FFVI. It is generally accepted that the PlayStation version of FFVI is a terrible port of the SNES original, mainly due to loading times. Loading times when moving between areas, loading times when starting a battle, loading times when opening the menu, and terrible loading times when attempting to save. All of this (I believe) is linked to the movement from a cartridge based system, to a CD based one, and the save system moving from a cartridge and battery combination, to a external memory card (ah proprietary memory, Sony will never let it go!).
At the time it felt like I was slogging through the game. It was long (40 hours plus), a clunky port, and it was dated. I remember desperately wanting to finish and move on to something more cutting edge! However as soon as I did finish, I found that I now couldn’t wait to go back to it! It became my gateway into learning about where all the systems and mechanics had come from in more modern Final Fantasy games! But in addition to that it was good. Really good.
Even though I didn’t experience FFVI the first time around, I feel I have gained access to that cohort of players who played through it with it’s first release back in 1994. I see their articles, blogs and videos and feel that same love and nostalgia for the game as if I had been there back in the day.
I have since gone on to play the back catalogue of other video game series I joined much later, like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Metal Gear. Playing these games is not just an education, like watching Citizen Kane and seeing where Hollywood movie making was born, but they are also (generally) very good games in their own right.
As has been seen recently with the revival of 2D platforming games like Sonic Mania and Shovel Knight, there is space in the market for games that rely on an older, more classic style of gameplay. The story of video games is less a strict evolutionary progression, older styles of games replaced with new ones, but instead, to coin a biological term, a radiation, whereby instead of game styles and mechanics being replaced, they proliferate, so that there are more and more available. It is a survival of the fittest, in that what is popular will sell and be successful, but there are still niches available out there for specialists.