Me and Final Fantasy VII

Every RPG aficionado as well as any gamer born before 1985 has a story to tell about Final Fantasy VII, a.k.a. the game that single-handedly introduced the mainstream gaming scene of two continents to the joys of JRPG. As Square Enix is cooking up a remake of this beloved cult classic and we're about to come full circle twenty years after the original game's release, it's now time for me to unfold my personal story about FFVII. There will be hype, there will be hope, and there will be unrequited love grown cold. Make yourselves comfortable and grab some popcorn, dear fellow gamers: for what you're about to read is the bittersweet story of how I totally and utterly missed on FFVII 

Let's rewind all the way back to 1997. Summer 1997, to be more precise. To say that this was an underwhelming gaming summer for me would definitely be an understatement. At that point, I had milked my Game Gear library dry and squeezed every possible ounce of fun from the system; and since no new games were being released, I had nothing left to hope for on the Sega portable front. My Game Boy was long gone, sold to a second-hand store a couple of years before in order to get the necessary funds to purchase my Game Gear; as for my beloved second-hand Megadrive, it would only come into the picture a couple of months later. In a nutshell, I was stranded with no games to play and immediate gaming prospects looked pretty dire.

In a desperate attempt to stay connected to gaming, I decided to acquire the summer issue of a now long-defunct gaming magazine. This was definitely not an usual move for me at the time: far from being the avid game magazine reader I am nowadays, I carefully shied away from all these colourful tomes bristling with hype-inducing pictures and over-assuming titles that could best be described as the ancestors of today's clickbaits. There were two reasons for this avoidance: the first was that these magazines were quite expensive, and I hardly had enough pocket money to purchase games, let alone magazines about games. The second reason was that at the time, I was still dreaming of acquiring a home console and actively lobbying my parents to let me hook a machine to the home TV; and while the deed was not done, reading enthusiastic articles about the latest home console releases would only have poured salt in the wound. But these two very sound reasons to stay away from gaming magazines virtually evaporated that summer, wiped away by my overwhelming desire to indulge in somethinganythingrelated to gaming.

So I purchased this magazine, whose name I cannot remember for the life of me. Not that I cared at all about that at the time, mind you; the only thing I was craving and caring about were the contents. And boy, did I got more than I bargained for. For lo and behold, dear fellow gamers: somewhere in this holy magazine, between an El-Hazard poster and cheesy readers' letters, was nested a full-fledged feature about the upcoming Final Fantasy VII.

I remember that piece like I read it yesterday, dear fellow gamers. A complete survey of FFVII's storyline and cast of characters, replete with gorgeous full-colour pictures. Cloud, Barret, Tifa, Aerith, Rouge 13: they were all displayed there in all their official art glory, and they all looked impossibly cool and edgy. Like, cooler and edgier than any other videogame character created since the dawn of gaming. And gosh, how hard did I want to grab a controller and swing that impossibly huge sword around.

Of course, this wouldn't have been possible at all, since FFVII is a turn-based RPG; but that was not something you could infer from the article's content. The whole piece was solely focused on the narrative, with little to no mention of the type of gameplay involved. Even more revealing, there was not a single gameplay picture to be found in these FFVII-soaked pages: the many pictures that adorned the article were either the official art or screen captures lifted from cutscenes. Over the years, I've learnt to despise that gaming advertising angle that focuses on character fan-service and does away with gameplay footage; but during that summer '97, I was totally unfazed by this lack of gameplay information and lapped up the whole thing, all the more so as my anime obsession was at its peak at the time.

To say that I was enthralled by this article would once again be an jolly understatement. This was the first time ever I was hearing about that game, and what I read pretty much glued me to the magazine. To put it simply, this brand-new RPG looked like the most amazing, mind-blowing, breathtaking game of all times to my younger eyes. I was ferociously hyped up, and my level of hype climber higher with every reread of that FFVII feature that had become akin to a sacred text for the younger, game-starved little me. I wanted to play that game with every fibre of my being, and my body and soul ached at the thought that it would probably never happen.

Because indeed, things were pretty complicated between the Playstation and me at the time. For one thing, I had already grown to dislike Sony's first gaming piece of kit for its ugly blocky 3D and shitty shades of brown by the time I discovered that fateful FFVII feature, and it would take more than one appetizing game to make me change my opinion of the system. But the most damning reason I would not get to play FFVII in the near future was that there was no way I could own a Playstation in said near future. Even if my parents gave me the green light to purchase a home console the very next day, the Playstation was way beyond my financial means. It would have taken months and months of saving my pocket money to garner the funds required to purchase a Playstation and a copy of FFVII; and young little me had already been through that whole process with the Game Boy and was not in the mood to repeat the deed with the Playstation. Especially when there was no guarantee whatsoever that I would find any game to play beyond FFVII.

And so did FFVII pass me by at the time of its release. I could still have played it a couple of years later, mind you; I was a mere couple of years away from adulthood in 1997, and I could perfectly have gotten my paws on a second-hand Playstation and a copy of FFVII when I moved into my first flat. However, I rather choose to dabble in emulation and anime marathons at the time, and FFVII slowly but surely slipped out of my radar as years went by.

To this day, I still have to play FFVII. But you know what? I really don't want to. Not only did I lose every last shred of interest for the game over the years, but I'm pretty sure that I would be sorely disappointed if I tried my hand at Square's most famous RPG ever. For one thing, it didn't exactly age gracefully: I encountered some actual gameplay footage for the first time a couple of years ago and was appaled by the sheer ugliness of what I sawnot that cutscenes are any better, mind you. But most importantly, FFVII has become such a perennial and absolute cult classic over time that even while gradually losing interest in the game, I've absorbed all the praise about it and unconsciously developed expectations. And without nostalgia to make the heart grow fonder, those expectations are bound to not be met and I'm bound to be disappointed by FFVII.

So, I'd rather let gaming legends rest undisturbed. There is a time for everything, and there's no time but the right time; and the right time to play FFVII is over as far as I'm concerned. And since it's also highly unlikely that I'll ever play the remake, FFVII will forever remain my main teenage years gaming fantasy and The Cult Classic RPG That Passed Me By. I've been passionate about that game, desperately greedy for it and bitter not to get to play it; but nowadays, FFVII is nothing more than a bittersweet memory of those years when I was starved of games and a reminder that I have it really freakin' good nowadays when it comes to gaming abundance. And now that I've unrolled my own private FFVII story for you, dear fellow gamers, I fervently encourage you to humour my insatiable gaming curiosity by doing the same in the comments. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon White 2: The Flareon Solo Run

Here it comes at last! My long-awaited Eevee solo run, which I kept delaying to have fun and experiment with the Unova Starters. After I got this out of my system, I was able to focus on the cute little fox at last and put it to the solo run test. I've been curious about Eevee's performance on the battlefield for the longest time, ever since I discovered him in my aborted Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team playthrough; but alas, that versatile creature is not exactly ubiquitous in Pokemon entries. Not only can I count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I stumbled upon a wild Eevee in my Pokemon runs, but the adorable fox also has a way of appearing really late in the games, making him a somewhat unfit candidate for solo endeavours. After a lot of research and an inspired suggestion from faithful reader Kumiko, it appeared that the Black 2/White 2 pair offered the best setting for an Eevee solo run, with Eevee himself being available for recruitment right after the second Gym and various Stones being ready for the taking not too far after that. And thus I started my long-awaited Eevee solo run in bucolic automnal Unova, eager to see what magic the kawaii creature could work on the battlefield.

I'll be blunt: my lovely female Eevee, affectionately renamed Eeveeta (I usually suck at choosing 'Mons' nicknames, but I'm quite proud of that one), blew away virtually all my expectations. I never thought a mere Normal 'Mon could pack that much punch — which shows once again that my relative inexperience in all things Pokemon generates plenty of big fat stereotypes that only beg to be quashed through multiple playthroughs. I feared I would have a hard time with Eevee's Normal form, but my worries were unwarranted: my Eeveeta's fighting performances were so stellar that I delayed her Stone-triggered evolution and cruised with her base form much longer than I initially planned. When I finally decided to make her evolve after leaving Driftveil City, I was confronted with the torturous question that probably plagues every Eevee Trainer before that important milestone: which form do I want? I only owned a Fire Stone and Thunder Stone at that point, which gave me access to two forms on top of Eevee's two "natural" evolutions; a bit of testing showed quickly that Flareon was the form best fitted for solo endeavours in general and for my run in particular. The fiery fox boasts massive amounts of HP that can compensate his relatively low Defense and Sp.Defense by allowing him to be a damage sponge; as for its Attack, it's so impossibly high that I gave me good hopes I could blaze (indeedy) through the rest of Unova without a single scratch.

The Attack stat was the key there, because my whole Move pool was on the Physical side. And my, what a kick-ass Move pool it was. Three Normal Moves (Return, Quick Attack and Covet) and a Dark Move (Bite) to take care of the occasional Ghost type, and I was set for pretty much the whole game. Upon entering Victory Road, I switched Quick Attack and Covet for Dig (Ground) and Firethrower (Fire) to give me a wider array of fighting options during the Elite Four showdown; and armed with this awesome Move quatuor, I proceeded to blast the whole Elite Four crew. It was mostly piece of cake, apart from Fighting Trainer Marshal, who forced me to use a battery of Battle Items for the first and only time in the whole game. The Champion's Dragon 'Mons, on the other hand, couldn't sustain the combined assault of my overpowered Moves, which happened to target their weaknesses to a T in what I can only describe as a giant stroke of luck. And so was I crowned Champion after 17 delighful hours of cruising Unova with my irresistible — in every sense of the word — Eevee-turned-Flareon.

Not only was my Eevee solo run pure glee from beginning to end, but it also gave me ideas for future solo runs. On one hand, experimenting with the Thunder Stone on Eevee made me realize that I yet have to attempt a solo run with a Electric 'Mon. I have two valid candidates for the job, whose identities I will keep under wraps until I do tackle solo runs with them. On the other hand, I stumbled upon a 'Mon that delighted my retinas so much that I nearly gave up my Eevee solo run on the spot to cruise Unova with that new recrue. I managed to restrain myself and stick to the original plan, but a solo run with that newly encountered creature that fits my Pokemon tastes to a T is definitely in order; and once again, I will keep the identity of my new crush hidden for the time being. At any rate, the Black 2/White 2 pair has inspired me beyond my wildest expectations. A mere couple of months ago, I was ready to swear these games off after discovering that they sported the same starters as Black/White; and here I am now, cruising them like there's no tomorrow and loving them more by the solo run. There will definitely be more 5th generation action on that blog, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon Black 2: The Serperior Solo Run

After my delightful Tepig solo run, I decided to put the 5th generation Grass starter to the test. I would lie if I said I had great hopes about Snivy's performance on the battlefield: from what I've read and heard, this is a 'Mon that doesn't pack a lot of punch and lacks a bit on the Stats side. However, I liked the looks of the serpentine starter, and I wanted to see for myself how it fared in a solo run setting.

I can say right away that the rumours were indeed true: Snivy is far from being a stellar fighter. He has low HP as well as low Attack and Sp. Attack, and his Defense and Sp. Defense stats can be described as average at best. On the other hand, he boasts sky-high Speed; but this was useless as far as my solo run was concerned, since over-leveling is usually enough to give my One and Only the upper hand — and thus the opportunity to strike first — in nearly all solo run battles. Snivy also suffers from an affliction I've come to hate, i.e. Ridiculously Restricted Move Pool. The poor snake can only learn Grass and Normal offensive Moves by leveling up; and since TMs are a bit of a pain to uncover in the 5th generation entries, I spent my whole run spamming the same moves — namely Leaf Blade (Grass), Return (Normal), Slam (Normal) and Giga Drain (Grass). Mind you, that Move diet wouldn't have been an issue at all had the Moves in question been stellar; but unfortunately, that Move quatuor was far from being satisfactory. Not only had most of these moves low PP and poor accuracy (except for my beloved Return, which never fails me in solo runs), but because of Snivy's pathetic Attack and Sp. Attack, they failed more often than not to one-shoot opponents, even with the benefit of over-leveling. As a result, battles dragged on and I routinely found myself out of PP for my moves, which forced me to backtrack to Pokemon centers way to often for my taste.

After roughly eight hours spent plodding through the estival version of Unova, one thing suddenly dawned on me: I was not enjoying myself. That Snivy solo run was not downright impossible or even torturous, but it was tedious enough to eradicate most of the fun I usually derive from playing Pokemon entries as a lone ranger. Given the size of my precious game collection and the sheer number of Pokemon solo runs I still want to polish off, I had absolutely no time to lose in a playthrough I was not fully relishing; and thus I gave up on my Snivy solo run, leaving my Lv. 59 Serperior to rest in Lacunosa Town. Guess he'll stay there for all eternity, because I'm not planning to resume that run and burden myself with the serpentine Grass starter again any time soon.

Since I don't have much more to say about my aborted Snivy solo run, I'll use the opportunity to point out a couple of details that routinely irritate me in my Pokemon runs. The time is ripe to mention them; because the more entries I play, the more these details irk me. Low and behold, here are the joy-killers:

  • Not having my 'Mons' HP refilled when they gain a level. Every single RPG under the gaming sun does that, so why not Pokemon? This makes even less sense given the overall forgiving and player-friendly vibe of the series. So I can restore my 'Mons' health for free as many times as I want, but the usual complimentary HP refill after leveling up is off limits? That's really stingy, GameFreak. 
  • Stat-raising items having no effect after my 'Mons' Stats rise beyond a given limit. Now, this really infuriates me, because it's completely unfair and uncalled for. Isn't it my right to lavish all the Zincs, Carbos and Proteins I uncover on a single 'Mon if I want to? This is all the more stupid as there are other ways to raise Stats independently from leveling up, such as IV and EV training. Good thing Rare Candies keep working no matter how high your 'Mons' levels are — that's the silver lining on this cloud of skewed limitations. 
  • Not being able to sell TMs. I understand that this was implemented to protect players from themselves and to make sure that they wouldn't go on a TM selling spree only to regret it afterwards; but to be honest, I find this a bit patronizing. Unused TMs have a way of cluttering one's inventory, and I wish there were a way to get rid of them for good. There should be other ways to prevent players from selling TMs by mistake or to address second thoughts, such as double-checking is the player is sure during the selling process or implementing a shop in which all sold TMs can be purchased again. 

Now that this is out of the way, I can wrap up this post. I'm glad I gave the 5th generation resident Grass starter a chance; and although he ultimately failed to enrapture me, we still had some pleasant hours cruising Unova together. And now I can enthusiastically move on to other Pokemon solo runs; I still have my long-awaited Eevee solo run to tackle, and I sure hope that the adorable versatile fox won't disappoint me. Stay tuned for more Black 2 and White 2 goodness, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!