The Allure of Final Fantasy - Part 1: Moogles & Memories


Finishing the last big game of the summer - InFamous 2 - and still a couple of weeks away from the next release of interest - Resistance 3 - I have found myself struggling for something to play. In an effort to get my nightly gaming fix, I started looking back over my PS3 library to see if anything jumped out. Aside from some trophying, nothing really appealed, so I looked a little further back and, for the briefest of moments, rediscovered my once voracious appetite for all things Final Fantasy.

I decided that now was the perfect time to re-live some of the glory days of Square-Enix's world famous RPGs. I quickly loaded up FFVII from the XMB, sat back and sabotaged the Midgar Mako Reactor for the umpteenth time. The next day I stumbled upon a £5 copy of Mirror's Edge, a game I’ve been meaning to catch-up with for some time, and downloaded Outland; thus my brief return to vintage Final Fantasy was shelved.

I have been a fan of the series since first discovering Final Fantasy VIII 11+ years ago. I continue to enjoy it, though my enthusiasm has lessened in recent years. I no longer count down the days to release, replay them multiple times, spend ungodly sums on soundtrack collections nor hang-out in dedicated FF forums. Unfulfilled plans for a (tasteful) FF themed tattoo are now thankfully no more than a cringe-worthy memory, and in my wisdom I have come to realise that Tokyo, much to my initial disappointment, is not Midgar.

My tastes may have changed, but FF still has it's hooks in me. As long as there is a worthwhile numerical entry, I will most likely keep playing. The reasons why it still appeals are as numerous as the plot-holes littered across its 24 year history. Here are two of them, with more to follow in a future, second post.

Memories

Above all else, memories play their part in my enduring fondness for Final Fantasy. I love to reminisce about it, preferring to get all teary eyed over a past moment than actually enjoying one in the present. I have vivid memories of playing most entries for the first time, and associate each with different stages and events in my life. I can still recall arguing with my brother about the qualities of Metal Gear Solid, in comparison to FFVIII, before I had come to appreciate Square's series. After a week of watching him play, and easing off on my MGS propaganda, I was converted and jumped into FF for the first time.

I will forever associate Final Fantasy VI with July - September 2001. I spent much of that summer, the last before leaving the family nest for university, engrossed in this retro classic. Between getting prepared for the move, I'd spend hours at a time levelling-up on the world map to the sounds of NERD "In Search of....", an album which still conjures up memories of Shadow, Locke, Edgar and Terra.

Final Fantasy XI reminds me of a wasted year, when I was unsure of what I was going to do with my life (I'm still not entirely clear!). Having finished my History degree, I decided to convert to a law course with a view to pursuing a career as a corporate lawyer - a plan which I wasn't entirely convinced of. I took a shitty local job to fill the time until my course began, and poured copious amounts of time into FFXI, trying to avoid the decisions I knew had to be made. Come the end of my mind-numbing job, and a few months before starting law school, I embarked upon a second trip to Japan in as many summers. I was so enamoured with the country, and Tokyo in particular, that I committed to returning long-term and did-away entirely with the idea of practicing law; one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The rest is history and I will always associate FFXI, and hours spent mining precious ores, with this difficult transitional period.

Final Fantasy XII and XIII would book-end my time living in Tokyo, and are stacked with great memories. XII was released within weeks of my arrival and I remember setting like-minded students the task of explaining story details and reviewing it in English. It took over a year before I finally got my hands on a PAL copy. FFXIII marked the end of my time in Japan, being released a month before my final departure. I decided to pre-order a copy, and join the throngs of FF fans in Akihabara for a 7 am launch, which I documented through my blogs. By mid-morning, I had posted my impressions on the opening two hours - well in advance of any of the major, western gaming websites.

Akihabara on the FFXIII launch day

I have had a long relationship with FF - one that I'll never replicate with any other series. When I replay, or merely think about FF games, I am tapping into memories - not just of the games, but of life in general. Thanks to their staggered release dates, they have come to represent very different stages in my life, and have enabled me to tie-in memories to something more tangible.

Playing the PS1 FF's today, I'm unable to separate their current worth from the recollection of playing them. Am I enjoying revisiting a moment in time or the game itself, stripped of any sentimental attachment? The realist in me knows that Final Fantasy VII is now fuck-ugly, and has the most ludicrous of plots - one of the main reasons why a remake would be a terrible idea -, but it won’t stop me from waxing lyrical about one of my all-time favourite games.

Moogles

I am a decidedly masculine man. My hobbies include growing beards, shooting things, chopping wood and drinking pints of whiskey. I routinely visit pubs to discuss football and/or rugby with other manly specimens, all the while flexing my biceps and thinking about tits. My fondness for cute, fluffy, pink nosed and pom-pommed mogs runs counter to this otherwise manly disposition.

I don’t know what it is about mogs, but I love ‘em.  Whether they are wielding spears or delivering mail, no Final Fantasy is complete without a diminutive mole-bat (moguri: apparently a portmanteau of mole - mogura - and bat - komori - in Japanese). They have rarely had more than a supporting or cameo role, yet the names Mog, Stiltskin and Artemicion still bring a smile to my face. The recent XIII-2 screenshots, depicting a lively mog, upped my interest in the spin-off ten-fold, though I'm still pretty non-plussed about a return to Pulse.

A FFXIII-2 Moogle

I felt quite sick when I discovered that, according to Final Fantasy Tactics lore (discounting the Advance cannon), moogles are extinct, having been wiped out by the Cataclysm. Fortunately, mogs still prosper in our house as it has become a tradition of sorts for me to buy a new stuffed mog from Tokyo Game Show each and every year. They line my DVD shelves, along with a couple of moogle key chains dotted here and there; the remnants of a larger set of FF collectibles, the majority of which was discarded when we moved back to England.

Much like chocobos and tonberries, they are a part of the continuing FF universe. Though it may share themes, each new, full entry in the main series starts with a fresh story and planet, so its important to have some consistent elements to keep them related. For me, mogs are the most important, as its not until I hear a kupo! that I feel I'm playing a Final Fantasy.

*****

There is far more to the appeal of Final Fantasy than just memories and moogles. My intention here was to share a much larger collection of my favourite things about FF, but my extended ramblings have put an end to that. So as to avoid a 3000 word mega-post, I'm splitting this over two discs. From side quests to world maps, next week I shall share some of the other elements which make Final Fantasy great, so be sure to check back.

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