ariad: (ff7 // premium heart)
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[livejournal.com profile] amioneofthem prompted me to "talk about one most important work of fiction in your entire life for you personally, what was a formative/life-changing experience without which you wouldn't be here as you are now regardless of your current feelings about the source material. About what kind of impact it had on you and why."

My immediate reaction to this prompt was, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer, duh!" But actually I've often thought that the period of time during which I started to develop interests and become a person was at age eight, thanks to Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII.

I played both of these games when I was eight years old, and I was head over heels in love. The immediate impact was overwhelming. I only talked about Final Fantasy. My friends were my sister, who played Final Fantasy, and a couple of boys, who played Final Fantasy. I downloaded midis of the soundtracks to play in Winamp. I snuck onto my brother's computer to rewatch cutscenes from the PC version of FFVII because I thought the early, blocky 3D graphics were super cool. (Please watch a typical FFVII cutscene here.)

In other words, Final Fantasy was my first fandom.

Those two games were the first to show me what stories could be. I make it sound like I didn't have a strong introduction to fiction before age eight, but actually I was already well-versed in Spielberg movies, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Sailor Moon, Disney movies, and more. I read a lot of books, I watched a lot of television and movies, I played a lot of games. My family has always been one that consumes a great deal of media. So when I say that Final Fantasy opened my eyes to what stories can be, I'm talking about that thing that doesn't happen to most other people until much later, when they read their first novel that leaves them breathless or when they watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time.

It's tough explaining how good the writing is in FFVII and FFVIII (especially the former) to someone who hasn't played them, but imagine movies that are 20+ hours long and therefore don't have to truncate any part of a character's growth or a relationship's development. Add to that an interactive element that forces the audience to identify with the protagonist instinctively.

Those are just the parts that come with the medium. These games also feature:

- Highly complex protagonists who undergo journeys of self-discovery and self-acceptance.
- Plots that start in close and become wider in scope until it becomes about the fate of the planet/time-space continuum, without losing the personal link to the protagonist.
- Ensemble cast members who all get their moments in the spotlight.
- Characters' whose moral alignment is not straightforward—not for unpredictability's sake nor drama's sake but because people have goals and the actions they take to reach those goals don't fit into neat compartments.

I'm gonna go ahead and pull a (mostly spoiler-free) excerpt from something I wrote about FFVII a while back:

The moral ambiguity of AVALANCHE is part of what makes FF7 so complex and interesting. The game is raising serious questions about energy corporations and ecoterrorism.

An example of this is the NPCs in Kalm, who offer very different opinions on Shin-Ra. One girl says that she thinks things must have been better before Shin-Ra started draining Mako from the planet and asks if you agree. This one is easy because you’re with AVALANCHE; of course you agree. Another woman says something about appreciating the comforts of life that Shin-Ra has provided, such as electric-powered lights and heating. She asks if you agree. Now you’re in a trickier position because just by playing the game, you’re forced to see her point of view. The game implicates the player, as well as the game’s creators, in the destruction of the planet.

Furthermore, the actions of AVALANCHE are repeatedly called into question. You’re told explicitly that AVALANCHE is a terrorist group. You see them scare the people on the train. You’re supposed to agree with them that the planet needs saving, yes, but they’re not heroes in any sense of the word, and although the game does cast them as such just by throwing you into the group (which, actually, it never does completely because Cloud makes it very clear from the onset that he is not a part of AVALANCHE; you as the player are therefore judging AVALANCHE as an outsider), it spends a lot of time showing you that Barret’s ideals are right but his methods are wrong.

At the end of the day, you’re still supposed to sympathize with AVALANCHE, but the game also asks you to sympathize with the Turks, various Shin-Ra employees, a man who talks about murdering his four-year-old daughter before trying to kill the man who raised her, and other morally questionable or straight-up corrupt characters. Just because you don’t agree with a person’s ethics doesn’t mean you can’t like them, and just because a person is a horrible human being doesn’t mean you can’t feel for them.


Obviously, I did not realize all of that about FFVII when I was eight years old, but I did get that it and FFVIII were different from the stories that spoonfeed you heroes and villains, that give you reliable protagonists you know you can stand behind, that recycle tropes for the drama they can dependably create rather than the accompanying expectations that can then be subverted. And they therefore set a high bar for all subsequent stories I read, watched, or played.

I don't know if Final Fantasy necessarily made me who I am now, but I still appreciate complex character-driven stories that mix humor, tragedy, and action and which link the fantastic and the mundane. I still have high standards for fiction and want it to challenge me and my expectations. And I still clutch my chest and sigh heavily when I think about Cloud Strife or Squall Leonhart.

Fun side note: In preparation for this post, I asked my long-time friend Meng about the qualities that she thinks defines me. She said:

1) Extreme passion/enthusiasm for fiction. (Obvious.)

2) Fixation with details, lists, data. (Less obvious because I try to keep it on the down low but actually super duper accurate.)

3) Dislike of leaving the house, or need for advance notice of any hangouts so that I can emotionally prepare myself. (Also called being an introvert.)

Ultimately, most of what defines me can't be traced to a fictional work. If it can be traced at all, then it can be traced to, say, my parents or to a moment of introspection. Possibly to visual kei tbh. But my taste in fiction owes a lot to Final Fantasy.
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