The first line I ever waited in to buy a game was at a midnight event much like the one I attended last night for the PS2 launch. Now, this first line I was in wasn’t for anything like Street Fighter (I convinced an employee at the Good Guys to break street date and sell me a copy a day early — hehe), but was instead for the much more recent release of Final Fantasy VII. What makes the story funny (maybe not funny haha, but what can you do?) is that it wasn’t really supposed to be a midnight vigil for the game, but was instead just a story of the hardcore that got way out of hand. You see, Final Fantasy VII was due out, yet the EB by my house had not gotten it yet (I was still a halfway broke college graduate at the time). So, like any dedicated gamer I called routinely every hour, and then — just because miracles could happen — I decided to show up every 3 or 4 hours to see if maybe the guy on the phone was mistaken.
Unfortunately, by nine o’clock when the mall closed the store had still not gotten the game (despite their claims that it would be there) and there was a rather large crowd of anxious gamers gathered waiting. At this point, the EB manager decided that he would stay open until the game arrived, since the Santa Monica store had reported that it had just gotten its shipment and the games would be on their way soon. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly the crowd of 10 or so gamers morphed into a horde of over 100 people anxious to get their hands on what Sony promised as the greatest thing ever. Unfortunately, time passed and the game still didn’t arrive, and now the mall was closed and the security guards couldn’t let people stand in the walkways.
The EB manager did the only thing he could do at that point — he had everybody come into his very, very small store (it was one of those hole-in-the-wall sized ones). It was over two hours from that point before the game actually did show up, and by that time the entire crowd had bonded. Despite the fact that we were too hot, tired and generally frustrated, our love of games gave us all the common ground we needed. We talked Goldeneye, we talked game magazines — and some dumb sap was even trying to describe the Japanese version of the game he had muddled through (we didn’t want to hear anything about it though). The strangest thing I saw was a mother who was actually waiting in line to get the game for her son who was at home sleeping. (Note: while I think that’s cool, I know in my heart that I will never be that kind of parent — or, if I am, the game will be for me and my child will have to play something else until I’m done.)
So, while some people here at work think I’m crazy for standing in line 18 hours for a PS2, I’m kinda into hanging out with similarly minded hard-core fans and getting my new system. Of course, now I have one, so the moral of this story is that if you really want something, waiting is the best answer. Anyway, I guess I should do something on this week’s game, which, no surprise, is Final Fantasy VII. While I obviously didn’t pick this one up in the bargain bin, I’ve seen it around a lot and the price is just right.
Sometimes a game comes along that redefines your perception of a genre. For the PSX, FFVII was that game because it took the standard 16-bit RPG and finally updated it to the 32-bit era. Now, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t already some excellent RPG’s (Suikoden being one of them), but that FFVII was such a radical departure (technology-wise at least) from the norm that it changed the face of RPGs forever.
How did it change things? Mostly, it was in presentation. The cinematics in the game were a notch above anything else at the time, with a majesty and beauty to them that stood way above the pack. When combined with the impressive (at the time) 3D backdrops and characters and spectacular spell effects it was a tour de force that blew everything else away. The graphics may not be as state-of-the-art today, but they still hold up surprisingly well, since they’re quite cartoony and the pre-rendered backgrounds (as in RE) cover up most of the polygon deficiencies in the original PlayStation. Pop this sucker into your PS2 with the texture smoothing on and you should still be happy with the way this game looks. What blew most of us away at the time were the huge summoning spell effects that you earn throughout the game. Unfortunately, while they looked great, the reality of these “guardian forces” was that they were non-interruptible, so you had to watch through the entire thing every time you cast one. And, trust me, some of them are really, really long.
Of course, storyline is the most key element in the RPG experience, and FFVII holds up here too. As Cloud, you join a member of a terrorist organization trying to save the planet from an evil corporation. Of course, what starts as a single mission soon becomes more and more involving, until you’re fighting it out for the fate of the planet. Along the way you’ll meet and join up with some great characters (and one badly translated one named Barret), view some incredible spectacles and take part in some amazing story twists. While there’s not a whole lot here that hasn’t been done before in one way or another, it’s all blended together beautifully into an exciting and highly playable adventure.
So, if you just blew all you cash on a PS2 or you’re just looking for a way to kill 30 to 40 hours, spend the $10-$15 to check out a timeless classic. Now, I need to sleep. Badly.