Final Fantasy X
(2001, PlayStation 2)
When I played Final Fantasy X, the earth moved. I mean that literally.
In the spring of 2002, I was itching for a new game. I'd played Grand Theft Auto III to completion, had maxed out my Tony Hawk skills, and, after three agonizing months of one brief and unsatisfying play session after another, I'd finally beaten Metal Gear Solid 2. Being broke at the time, it was important to me to buy something that I could sink some serious hours into, and get my money's worth. FFX seemed to fit the bill, but I was hesitant.
I'd tried and failed to get into some Final Fantasy games in the past. When we were kids, my brother and I had made it as far as the Earth Fiend in the original game before giving up. I sailed right through the SNES era. In high school, I borrowed Final Fantasy VII from a friend and made it as far as the world map before declaring the game boring and dumb. A breakthrough came during my sophomore year of college when, in an attempt to avoid doing anything productive, I downloaded an NES emulator and a Final Fantasy ROM. With the emulator running in one window, and a walkthrough open in another, I breezed my way through the game, gradually learning the systems and tactics that had eluded me in previous attempts. This led to some all-night play sessions, after which I would arrive to class, bleary-eyed, and try to follow along with some lecture about Jane Austen.
So Final Fantasy X was a bit of a gamble, but when you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose. From the unexpectedly sad piano overture, I was hooked. This game wore its heart on its sleeve, and while that seems silly now, at the time I could relate to Tidus's feelings of alienation and angst. Even his whiny voice didn't bother me.
And while I've read plenty of complaints about this game from RPG purists, I loved all the things they hated. I was glad that most of the game was on rails, or close to it, so that it kept me moving. The sphere grid was a simple way to seem like I had control over my character builds, without really giving me too many options. And the storyline, in all its silly and melodramatic glory, connected with me.
One Friday night, I settled in for a long play session starting around 10 o'clock. At almost 7 the next morning, the bed shifted beneath me. From somewhere in my dorm, an old building in Boston's Back Bay, I heard a loud crack. For a few seconds, everything was wobbling ever so slightly. I was so tired from a nine-hour play session that I thought I must have been hallucinating. Next to my TV was a tall and rickety CD tower. I rubbed my eyes. It was swaying back and forth like a drunk person.
Sometimes you play the right game at the right time. If not for Final Fantasy X, I never would have been awake at the time. That's not all I have to thank it for. Although I never became a full-bore RPG guy, that was the springboard to successful playthroughs of Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, and Chrono Trigger -- all great games in their own rights. And it reminded me that games do have the capacity to make you feel something, even if it's a 5.1 magnitude earthquake.