Back to the future
A look at gaming’s never-ending stories
By Chris O'Neal 04/12/2012
After the war — the war of the wallet, in which dollars lie as casualties on the long-forged trail of new releases — there manifests a wasteland stretching as far as the eye can see. Strewn across it are what players call the “old school.” These are the OGs (original games) of the Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis era during which most of us formed our pixel addiction. When the end of the month comes around and the paycheck is dwindling, why not pull out a few of these relics of long ago, don your robe and wizard hat and take a step through time.
Nintendo has, since the beginning of time (year zero – 1985), been the forerunner of influential games. When rumors of the Final Fantasy series hit U.S. shores, impatient gamers twiddled their thumbs and could only hope that Nintendo would be so kind as to import it — which it did. Accompanied by Dragon Quest and Phantasy Star, Final Fantasy sparked the RPG movement in the West and was quickly followed up by a second and third installment in its native country for the NES.
While Japan was enjoying the series, Western fans would only be treated to the first Super Nintendo (SNES) Final Fantasy — the fourth installment renamed as the second. This is the version that I personally think of when the term RPG pops up (unless I’m speaking to a Marine). This is the edition that introduced us (the West) to pilot Cid, airships, the big ostrich-like chocobos and the idea that a story could be the most important part of a gaming experience.
In Final Fantasy IV, protagonist Cecil, unaware that his king has been corrupted, is sent on various missions to destroy villages and return with their elemental crystals. As with most witchery, there is a Wizard involved; Golbez, an imposing, shadowy figure who can only be defeated through the power of light, is a menacing evil.
Not only was the story innovative, but so was the battle system, which had a time-based attack allowing a party of up to five to take turns when the stamina bar filled. Things we take for granted in RPGs now can be seen in their infant stage here: a dynamic inventory system, various characters with wide ranges of abilities and jobs and spells with unique animations and effects.
If you don’t have your old SNES at the ready (you should be ashamed of yourself), worry not. Final Fantasy IV, along with the other pre-seventh installment editions of the series, is available for the Nintendo DS.
Remember when Mortal Kombat was turning our children into mass murderers? Your children can still be corrupted, thanks to the Xbox 360 Live Arcade and the longest-running show on television.
Back in “the day,” a time that may or may not have existed, waiting for my mom to finish up her laundry in the communal laundromat, only one arcade machine sat used and abused by the entrance; The Simpsons Arcade Game became my everlasting nightmare, the next-to-impossible punch, kick and jump battle of my young life.
Choosing between one of four characters — Homer, Marge, Bart or Lisa — The Simpsons played more like Battle Toads than what one would expect from a somewhat subtle harpooning of the American nuclear family. Homer punches, kicks and belches his way through various stages littered with zombies, Mafiosi and mutant rabbits; Bart rides his skateboard and whacks overweight clowns on bouncy balls.
Though the atmosphere has changed significantly (I no longer have to wrestle with neighborhood kids not to be Marge) I’m still overcome with nostalgia for every one-liner, and giddy with childish excitement after every successful stage. With three friends and a 64-ounce Slurpee at your side, who needs a time machine?
Final Fantasy I through VI are available for the Nintendo DS at varying costs, while The Simpsons Arcade Game can be acquired on the Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network for $9.99.
Chris O’Neal is the true King of the North. Follow him on Twitter @AgentONeal.