Monday, July 28, 2008

A New Fan Has Joined Your Party!

My significant other has begun playing Final Fantasy IV for the first time, thanks to Square-Enix’s recent port to the Nintendo DS. We learned of this port about a year ago, a few months after she had discovered the DS and fallen in love with its intuitive interface and pick-up playability. I immediately expressed the hopeful opinion that the FF4DS release would be her introduction to the world of video roleplaying games, and she agreed that she would have to try it out, if only on my fervent recommendation.

I have always held that FF4 is my favorite among Square-Enix’s many offerings. The WonderSwan port is the only version of the game of which I do not own a copy – I even have translated and untranslated ROMs of the Japanese Super Famicom original. I begrudgingly admit that it is not the best of Square-Enix’s games – that honor still belongs to Final Fantasy VI, which essentially took a moderately upgraded version of FF4’s engine and blew the doors off of fans’ expectations for a VRPG in a fashion that has yet to be repeated. I enjoy FF4 more for a number of reasons, most notably the characters, story, and music. All three speak to me in a way that FF6 is hard pressed to match.

I bought FF4DS on release day mostly on blind faith. My significant other and I stay together largely on strength of personality and sincere mutual affection; we have few interests in common, and as I mentioned before, VRPGs are not one of them. She had frequently expressed distaste for games involving combat, and had responded to my argument that turn-based VRPG combat was puzzle-like by saying that it sounded boring. I had every expectation that I would the only person in our household to play FF4DS, but the possibility of sharing this story that I care about so much with my significant other made it worth buying one more version of the game.

I was nervous. I’d heard that the game’s difficulty had been ramped up from the Japanese original, and I thought for certain that, on top of her other concerns, would put her off the game. And she didn’t play it that first night, although she did open the game and read the book (she always reads the book, which I find adorable). But in the early evening on Wednesday, I heard the dulcet tones of Nobuo Uematsu’s Prologue wafting out of the bedroom, and I dared to hope. On Thursday night, she came into the front room with a troubled look on her face. I asked her what was wrong.

“Well, I got through the first dungeon. And the ring burned down the town, and we found a little girl. And something… bad happened. Now I can’t seem to go back the way I came, and I keep getting attacked by monsters! I found the entrance to another dungeon, but if I go inside I pretty much die instantly, and there’s nowhere else to go!”

I smiled and explained that she needed to find the desert town of Kaipo. I expressed my sympathies that it was proving so difficult, and her without a healer in the party.

“There’s a town? There’s no town on my map,” she despaired. “I get potions sometimes, and I had these tent things that I could spend the night in and restore my health, but the tent things are gone now, and the occasional potion just isn’t cutting it anymore! There’s this worm thing that shows up and does 200 damage to me, and that’s more than I have hit points!”

I promised her that Kaipo was there, having visited it a number of times myself. I discovered in doing so that I’d been waiting my entire life to give someone directions to Kaipo. I don’t remember the last time I felt so warm inside. Clearly I’m in the wrong business – I should move to the Sahara and become a burlap-cloaked, bestaved wanderer, pointing strangers in the direction of the nearest oasis.

Later that evening, my significant other had finally discovered Kaipo and moved on to the next stage of her journey, the Underground Waterway. She met Tellah the sage, and expressed great relief and wonder at how much easier his spellcasting abilities made her quest. I explained to her what his Recall ability does.

“Oh, like that wizard from Dragonlance, who was always trying to remember how to cast Fireball!”

I smiled. On my first playthrough of Final Fantasy IV, back in 1991, I renamed Tellah ‘Fizban.’ I asked her if the combat was giving her trouble, and she looked embarrassed.

“I kind of like it.”

Later that evening, as I was climbing into bed, I expressed an interest in trying the new version of the game myself, and I was admonished:

“Just don’t pick it up without telling me. You’ll overwrite my quicksave.”

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