The year was 2012. It was Thanksgiving Week. I was in my dorm room at the University of Connecticut. Something was on my mind. It wasn’t Finals that were 2 weeks away. It wasn’t even the impending end of the world, either. All of us were holding our breath about that, I’m sure you remember.

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No, I had a video game on my mind. And not just any video game, but Final Fantasy VII. Two years earlier, I learned about video game emulation and ROM files through websites like CoolRom. Initially, I played the old Pokemon stuff on an online Gameboy. The more sophisticated games like FFVII needed different programs and more computer muscle to emulate. I figured it out eventually, obviously. And am I glad I did (the original FFVII, on Amazon, was about $150).

Anyway, I first played FFVII about 15 years after it was released. See, I was a Nintendo kid. I played Zelda and covered every inch of the land of Hyrule. I can’t even tell you how many times I beat Ocarina. The words Playstation and Final Fantasy weren’t heard in our household until my brother got a PS2 and FFX in 2002. At that point, VII was just a memory. The gaming world had moved on.

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Flash-forward 15 years later, and I was a college student picking up what I missed out on. From the moment I first saw the intro of the starry night sky, to the flower girl in the slums, to the roaring train with Cloud Strife jumping off the roof, I was immersed.

I was completely, totally immersed, folks.

8 years later, I have yet to get an out-of-body experience that matched what I felt during Thanksgiving Week 2012. Dragon Quest VIII did a good job at that, too. But it was still a distant second.

Back to VII: everything about the game was simply perfect. The story, soundtrack, characters, gameplay, lore, everything was worked on passionately by the developers. Even Ocarina of Time can’t hold a candle to this, hate to say. I have the game’s entire soundtrack on my phone, and still listen to it every now and then (Cid’s Theme is my favorite, by far).

I remember the moment I first did the famous motorcycle chase on the highway (where Cloud slashes at pursuing security forces) to be the moment I said to myself, “Yup, this definitely lives up to the hype.” Years prior to that, a buddy of mine in the Boy Scouts told me about it and asserted that VII was, hands down, the best entry in the series.

Final Fantasy VII. Square Enix. 1997.

By Jove, he was right!

It’s not even the immersive experience that makes FFVII tower over every video game that has come out. It’s the story. Okay, then again, you do need a good story to provide a sense of escapism, no? What I liked about Final Fantasy, since I was a kid, was that these games aren’t about the gameplay, they’re about the characters. They’re about their stories and how they develop as the game progresses.

Barrett Wallace strives to take an evil corporation down after vouching for them in the past, with devastating consequences for those he loved. Cid Highwind is a grizzled aging man who fears his best days are behind him and his chances at realizing his dreams. Red XIII has father issues because of the latter’s perceived cowardice. Tifa Lockhart has secrets she’s keeping from Cloud, the main character, and they’re not only about her feelings for him.

Final Fantasy VII. SquareEnix. 1997.

And Cloud…Cloud freaking Strife. If I was seeing the stories of all the supporting characters unfold, and it this was a Final Fantasy game, I knew Cloud’s story had to be something incredibly special. And it was. Cloud was basically an insecure kid who essentially pretended to be somebody else in order to get respect from the people around him. I could relate. I went through a period of insecurity and pretending to be something I’m not. We all have.

Cloud Strife. SquareEnix.

But it isn’t necessary. Just be who you are. Who you are is even better than who you’re trying to be. It’s one of the more important lessons of life. I was a gangly college student and taking lessons from a friggin’ video game. Imagine that crap.

Final Fantasy VII was the greatest story, of any medium, that I ever experienced. It was the story that made me love stories. It made me want to become a storyteller in the first place. Currently, I’m writing the Heather Zlamanowski saga (first book can be purchased in the ‘Books’ page of this website). I don’t know if the world I’m building will be as epic as the one in FFVII, but I sure hope it comes close.

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There’s a timelessness in storytelling. There’s a potentially-lifesaving quality to it, as well. Final Fantasy VII is a story that dazzles while it tells its tale. It occupies your senses from beginning to end. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and fight battles with vengeance on your mind. It’s a story that anyone can fall in love with. Any aspiring storyteller needs to give this game a chance if they want to see what the storytelling practice is all about.

To put this in perspective, you know how great this game is? It’s so great that this blog doesn’t do it any justice. There’s a crap ton to this I haven’t covered. The Remake, fortunately, is coming out in a couple months. Mark your calendars! 😀

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