Just the Way You Remember It

Though I haven’t finished Secret of Evermore since starting it last May (not even close), I did enjoy my time revisiting it. And hell, someday I probably will again. And it will probably be nostalgic and lovely. Again. And that’s fine. It was a net positive. Despite this unfinished experience, I recently decided to dive in and revisit another game from my past.

I was inspired by the journey of a podcast personality taking his first venture into Final Fantasy. He’s jumped in with one of the most highly acclaimed games of the series, Final Fantasy VI, (known initially as Final Fantasy III in the US when it came to the Super Nintendo and later re-released as Final Fantasy VI Advance for the Game Boy Advance). I envy his ability to be playing on an authentic Game Boy Micro, but I’m taking on the quest on a DS Lite which is almost as good as it gets for Nintendo handhelds.

I couldn’t deal with reading text on this screen anyway… I couldn’t deal with reading text on this screen anyway…

I first picked up Final Fantasy VI in that particular prolonged era in my life where I was attracted to video games of all types, but for whatever reason I didn’t understand them. I remember going to the local video store, which I can’t even remember the name of now, and picking up this box for no reason I can recall. This store did put actual game boxes on the shelves, but what attracted me to the abstract purple background and dagger through the title I’m not sure. It must have been the half of a Moogle in the corner. Kids love koalas.

His legs! What did you do to his legs??? For God’s sake, he’s a dancer! His legs! What did you do to his legs??? For God’s sake, he’s a dancer!

After renting the game, I jumped into whatever partial save file was already on the cart and began wandering. I wandered around in a town, wandered outside, wandered into a fight, didn’t know what to do, and gave up, calling it a loss. No koalas ANYWHERE.

I gloss over this experience because it will probably be the general point of many game-revisit articles. I didn’t understand video games. I liked them in concept. I continue to like them in concept. And the fact  remains that I am bad at them, but, at least, nowhere near as bad as I once was.

Let me hold you. And feed you a leaf. Let me hold you. And feed you a leaf.

It was probably a few years later (or maybe months, or who knows, maybe days, I haven’t a clue), after a friend showed me the game and informed me of how great it was (he couldn’t understand my bouncing off of it in such a manner), that a comprehension of the traditional JRPG was suddenly unlocked in my brain and I went to revisit the game for the first time.

I played a portion of the game, this time from the beginning, on a cart I owned now, and made fair headway for someone with only a base comprehension of the genre. I didn’t understand maps (still don’t) or directions or leveling or balancing parties, so it’s remarkable I made any progress at all. But I did get a feel for the characters and the general plot, pushed against all skill and sense, and carved out a fair chunk of the game, though I fell back on observing a friend’s play–through late in the game to complete my experience.

I’ve continued to revisit this game several times, always returning with a significantly increased comprehension of games, RPGs, and absorbed general knowledge from the gaming world compared with the previous attempt. On my most recent revisit, I would be willing to consider myself at a level where I actually ‘get’ the game: its mechanics, its story, and its direction.

While I don’t get out much, it is also nice to be able to have once-unprecedented flexibility in playing this game. No longer tethered to a CRT and a Super NES, I am able to play a version for the Game Boy Advance on my aforementioned DS Lite. But, thanks to the GameCube with the GameBoy Player attachment, when I’m at home and my eyes are crossing from looking at the letterboxed GBA format on the little DS Lite screen for too long, I can go back to the comfort of a 24 inch CRT and the venerable GameCube controller. Granted, a GameCube controller is not quite a faithful recreation of the original controller, but I’m willing to sacrifice a little authenticity in favor of gameplay options.

I’m not, however, willing to sacrifice any quality on the game’s outstanding soundtrack, and in my internet travels searching for the GameBoy Advance version of the game, I stumbled upon something unexpected. While Final Fantasy VI Advance was known for having heavily compressed audio (ruined audio, many would argue) and blown-out, overexposed graphics (to compensate for the certain “is this thing even on” screen problems of the original GameBoy Advance), intrepid fans had created a version with a restored color palate and original SNES soundtrack – appropriately entitling their project Final Fantasy VI [Restored]. And I’m all for both of those tweaks.

Upon starting a new file, things are familiar; I know where to go and the dialog seems the same, but I’ve forgotten enough of the game that it’s enjoyable to read again. It’s nice to know (so far ) exactly where to go next and playing is actually pleasant in two ways. One is the satisfaction of remembering important beats and how to progress. The other is the fun of actually reading all of the dialogue and realizing the game is not hiding your destination from you, it’s really helping you along, and I can’t imagine why I couldn’t get that as a child. My familiarity was such that I felt like I was on some kind of speed run (although comparisons to actual speed runs of this game and others like it prove handily my run is NOT a speed run by any stretch).

By the time I’m writing this, I’ve completed the first visit to the slum towers of Zozo, still in the first half of the game. This must be a place where I’ve given up the entire game several times, because my knowledge suddenly becomes very lean and I’ve briefly had to refer to a guide (gasp, I know, I know) to make sure I’m still on my way. This is also where I consider the first real grind to begin, since now I have the first Magicite crystals and, being brutally compulsive, of course everyone must learn every spell. I may slack on that, as I usually do when that many battles become dreadfully tedious. I remember my Game Genie-assisted run both fondly, in that it expedited learning of magic, and not-so-fondly, in that it corrupted the game.

I think I stand a much greater chance of actually following through with this game, as opposed to Secret of Evermore. There’s no judgment on the quality of the games compared to each other, it’s merely inexplicable personal preference. It may just be familiarity. I just find myself more invested in this playthrough of this game. Terra and Locke actually make my list of some of my favorite characters in games I’ve played.

For all of the things I can’t remember, I do remember a particular interest in Gogo, and I do remember that there was never an actual reason for that. Maybe I’m really into scarves. But I doubt it. I don’t even actually have any.

Oh sure. Totally. Oh sure. Totally.

I don’t look forward to grinding in any game for any reason, but I do think I’ll be back to Final Fantasy VI sooner than later, continuing my quest, in spite of Final Fantasy XV and a tremendous backlog weighing upon me. We play games to enjoy them and I intend to play for enjoyment. If that calls for Final Fantasy VI while shiny new games wait, well, why not?

Matt Mutch

Image Acquisition Specialist and Computer Enthusiast. I like Sad Anime.

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