Before the pandemic struck, we added an NES Classic to the household. This pint-sized replica of the original NES is pre-loaded with 30 vintage games. While I still have my original NES in a closet, along with many of the games I had back in the day, it was great to have them all right there in a single menu with absolutely no need to blow on the cartridge to get it to work.
You know what I’m talking about.
There are some games on there, like Balloon Fight and Kirby’s Adventure, that I never got to play when I was a kid simply because we never bought a copy. One of the games in it was one I did have as a kid, but lost along the way: Final Fantasy.
My first impressions of video game RPGs were shaped by Final Fantasy and the original Dragon Warrior. While I finished Dragon Warrior within a few months of its release (that green dragon in the tunnel still haunts me), I never got the chance to see Final Fantasy through to the end. At least, not with my own characters. I was present when a friend beat the game at his house.
Incoming explanation, Captain…
My parents divorced when I was 11. Less than two years later, my mother had remarried, and her new husband was…not the most stable of sorts. When she split with him, it was spectacular. A lot of my stuff disappeared into the ethers, including all the games I wasn’t able to retrieve before everything went down. I lost a pretty cool compound bow in the deal, too.
At that point, I had tried (and failed) numerous times to finish the game and defeat the final boss, Chaos. My characters weren’t quite high enough level to get it done, however. I also didn’t know the importance of Ribbons in granting massive elemental protection.
For those reading this who may not know about the game, here’s a brief summation: You put together a party of four adventurers. These “Light Warriors” are tasked with defeating the Four Fiends, which correspond to the four classic elements. Here’s the rogues gallery:
Each time you defeat one of the Fiends, you bring light back to one of the four elemental orbs. Once all four orbs are relit, you travel back 2,000 years into the past and have to face the Four Fiends again (where they are much stronger). After you fight your way through the past-incarnations of these four bosses, only then can you square off against Chaos.
In my previous attempts, I got to Chaos. This resulted in a TPK (total party kill). I was in the process of leveling up my characters to try again when the split happened, and I lost the game cartridge, and with it all my characters and progress. That was that.
Since the character names were limited to just four letters, I remember them well. Allow me to introduce you:
With the NES Classic up and running, the party was remade and once again on their way. It’s remarkable how much I remembered about my original playthrough. A few of the details were worn with time, but for the most part, I was right back at it. This time, however, my young son was right there with me. He was intrigued by the idea of elemental bosses. Soon he began brainstorming stories of his own where both the villains and heroes had elemental powers.
When I defeated one of the Four Fiends, I found that I had my own adorable cheering section that would jump up and down, yelling “We did it! We did it!” His enthusiasm and curiosity about the game world turned what was a fun trip down nostalgia lane into something greater: a memory we made together. Folks, it did my gamer heart good.
He stayed with me through all the tedium that happens in a game like this. Final Fantasy notoriously lacked healing magic and restorative items. The only thing you can do to augment your White Mage’s healing is to buy heal potions.
Unfortunately, there’s just one such healing item the game, and there’s no way to buy more than one at a time. So, you’re left with spamming the ‘A’ button at a potion shop until you hit your capacity at 99.
At last, we had defeated each of the Four Fiends both in the present and then in the past. Only a few screens later, we faced Chaos himself, who is actually the first boss you fight in the game, Garland, caught in a time-loop. Chaos fills up the entire enemy portion of the combat screen.
Though it was a tough battle, our Light Warriors prevailed on the first attempt. This time I had access to online playthroughs and game guides to help me choose the best weapons, armor and spells to equip my characters. (I had no idea back in the day that some spells and protections simply didn’t work because of bugs that had never been addressed.) Also, our characters were beyond 30th level, where I think I had barely hit 23rd back in the day.
But most importantly, my son and I were in this together. He was right there with me the whole time, offering suggestions and strategies. I built my defenses, made sure everyone stayed healed up, and made liberal use of FAST to supercharge my fighters.
When Chaos finally went down, the screen rumbled as he slowly disappeared. Then we got the epilogue talking about how the time-loop has been broken. No one but the Light Warriors can remember anything about the whole affair since the Four Fiends were never able to assert their power in the present. Garland is somehow back and never turns to evil.
The important thing is this: Chaos is gone, and the land is at peace.
And, you know, that got me to thinking. There are many who question the validity of fantasy as a genre, some even in my own family. They don’t see how fictional narratives add anything substantive to our lives since they aren’t ‘real.’
I heartily disagree. Big surprise, right? This quote by Neil Gaiman sums up my thoughts on the subject quite nicely:
Well, folks, there’s an awful lot of chaos in the world today. It seems more than we can bear at times. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed, saddened, or hollow as events unfold around you. Believe me when I say that I’m right there with you. But even through adversity, we can prevail.
So, keep your loved ones by your side, and always remember: No matter what, chaos can be defeated.
May the ORBS always shine.
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My latest book, STRANGE REPORTS FROM SECTOR M, is available on Amazon in both hard copy and e-book format.