RPGs were not something I had great familiarity with early on in my life. At one point my parents rented Super Mario RPG for the SNES when I was eight or nine. I expected your usual Mario game of jumping for power-ups, using warp tubes to find secret levels and just platforming (not that I knew what that was at the time) in general. Finding a turn based RPG with leveling mechanics just felt weird to me, so I barely played it. Would love to now though.
At that stage in my life my video-games never got much more advanced and in depth than Zelda. At least on the console. On the PC I loved games like Privateer, Warcraft, Civilization (I have played many, many hours on Civ 2, a lot of them creating maps and scenarios. Even did one for Middle-Earth at one point) Wing Commander, the Crusader series and even Aliens Vs Predator, the first game that forced me to install one of those newfangled GPUs everyone was talking about at that time.
Nothing got you more pumped to smite Retros than hearing that stupid “Die by the very weapons you adore!” line a hundred times per dogfight. God I miss the innocence of youth, playing Privateer and being awed at its pixel art and fully voiced cast as if these were the holy grail of gaming.
So in general, except for some RPG-esque elements from game to game, I came late to the genre. It didn’t help that I was a solitary boy who had no friends for quite some time. I filled my days building and mapping and fighting my battles on computer screens (One childhood dream of mine was to be a soldier, unfulfilled for different reasons, but one that kept me coming back to strategy games).
And here’s where I start getting emotional (a trait my mother and the subject of this segue both possessed in abundance). This is my grandma Patty,
She lived an hour from our house growing up, and when her last husband passed my mother and I would visit her more often (the whole family come thanksgiving, and always a day I cry remembering just how much I miss her on it). Now being a young shit-for-brains, I often got bored not having my usual creative outlets at hand, not knowing this loving, sweet and giving woman wasn’t going to be with us forever. I regret that, but I’ll never forget her being the one responsible for giving me a glimpse of one of my most beloved franchises and art forms.
One hot day at Grandma Patty’s house, we went out to the local Blockbuster (we still had those at the time, before you young-uns with your Netflix and Hulu), where she let me rent a Playstation 1 and a game. Seeing Final Fantasy VIII on the rack, I had heard of it and seen trailers here and there, decided to give it a shot.
I didn’t sleep for the next three days. I was hooked. The art. The combat. Those amazing GF summons (still great looking to this day), the story, the characters (brooding youth with aspirations to serve in a military gets to play brooding youth serving in an elite unit—perfect fit for me at the time) and to appease the burgeoning romantic in me following my discovery of girls, a love story that still brings tears to my eyes.
And the Card Game….oh my god, the Card Game. I could play for hours, and did…and suddenly discovered I could pretty much make my characters into walking death machines well before the end of the first disc thanks to it. Triple Triad, you rule.
Grandma never complained about the noise, never pestered me to go outside and get some sun. She let me have my fun, and all she needed was a hug and to tell me she loved me.
To this day I tear up missing her. The little mobile home in a retirement park. The smell of something cooking, free reign to watch MST3K with her last husband whenever I came over (he loved me for always adding my vote to which channel we watched). And gifts—big and small. Love can’t be measured in material exchange, but these gifts changed and enriched me as a person, and what greater expression of love can you find than that?
I was reading Dune from about age 9 much to my teacher’s chagrin (some racy content in the Dune series, particularly later), and Grandma Patty got me a copy of the new Dune prequel book House Harkonnen. She wrote a message in the jacket and signed it—and this book will never be forgotten, never be lost, never be sold or passed on—except to my children.
Back on topic, Grandma Patty was reponsible for my second foray into the Final Fantasy universe—-and to this day, the game from which I derive the most simple and palpable joy playing—-Final Fantasy IX. Like House Harkonnen I will never not have this game, never lose or trade or sell it. These two, I shall pass on.
I can’t remember the last time I physically saw my Grandma Patty. But I remember vividly the night of her death. It was dark, I was sitting in my beanbag chair playing on the PS1. My sister told me with tears in her eyes that Grandma Patty had passed away in the hospital, complications from a blood clot or infection…I can’t remember.
I was shell-shocked, speechless. I don’t recall saying anything but “She’s gone?” to my sister. It didn’t seem possible, a world without Grandma Patty in it. We’d recently even quarreled over a stupid comment I made in exhaustion during a family trip. God how I wished I’d know better then. Known better not to fight, just to cherish the time I got with her.
My sister left and I sat there, controller in hand. And you know what I was playing?
I don’t go looking for miracles, signs, portents or anomalies. I believe in a God. I’m agnostic about the details.
If anyone could merit the definition of a decent human being, it was my Grandma Patty in spades. And in that moment, playing that game, I didn’t feel empty. I felt love pass inside me, felt memory and sensation merging with feeling.
I was playing a living record of a grandmother trying to alleviate the boredom of a young boy. When I read House Harkonnen or replay Final Fantasy IX, still as joyous an experience as the day I first played it, she’s alive in my heart. And even if I cry come Thanksgiving, for 364 days a year I’m blessed.
I get to play two of the greatest games ever made, read an excellent prequel and relive cherished memories of a lost loved one.
And in her honor, I’ve decided to review the series from my perspective, in the order I played it.
With the love of a grandson tempered by age and regret, the love a mother burning bright as the sun in the sky and the love of a family who might not be whole, but—even as agnostic about details as I am—I firmly believe will be made whole once again, I dedicate these to you.