When the thought of a videogame can bring you back to a specific time and place, you can say that it’s been saved to your “Memory Card”. In this column, we take a look at these saved states and the games that take us back.
My grandmother’s house was tiny. The yard was even smaller. In a suburb of Buffalo, NY only a mile from the airport, planes regularly flew overhead and interfered with the two or three TV channels that came in over the antenna. It was only local stations or PBS anyway, so there wasn’t much to watch on a summer weekday other than soap operas or Barney & Friends. I was seven years old, so I wasn’t about to sit through any of that. Given my limited options, I generally ended up reading Choose Your Own Adventure books, or looking at Calvin and Hobbes comics, or playing Game Boy games.
One summer in particular sticks out to me. We had just gone to a yard sale where we picked up Street Cop, Terminator 2, Fall of the Foot Clan, and The Final Fantasy Legend. Most of the games were completely unplayable nightmares, but as a fan of the Final Fantasy series, I pressed on with that one in particular. I sat myself down on the stiff, floral-print couch at the end of the living room/dining room area, opened up my official Nintendo Game Boy Player’s Guide on the tiny coffee table, and prepared myself for my Final Fantasy adventure.
I mean, not Final Fantasy Adventure. That’s a different game that I’ve actually never played. But, the adventure that was playing Final Fantasy Legend. THE Final Fantasy Legend.
The game is a bit odd from the get-go. You start off by recruiting characters into your party, and you can choose humans, mutants, or monsters. Monsters can’t use equipment, but they have skills that work very similarly to abilities in Pokémon. Each skill has a limited number of uses that are replenished when you rest at the inn. Weapons and shields also generally have a limited number of uses, meaning that you constantly need to buy more weapons if you have any humans or mutants in your party. This leads to a simultaneous need to grind and aversion to battle. Do you fight extra battles so you can afford a new weapon, or do you avoid needlessly wasting your current weapon? These were difficult decisions for a youngster raised on Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy II.
The characters also don’t level up. This was one point that my seven-year-old self could never quite grasp. I somehow made it to the very end of the game with a mutant, two monsters, and a human character that barely had more than his base stats. Mutants get random stat increases as you play, and monsters can eat the meat of defeated enemies to change into more powerful forms. Humans can only increase if you spend inordinate amounts of money on stat-increasing items. To this day, I’m still not sure how I survived with a character who could die in one hit in any battle.
I did make good use of my official Game Boy Player’s Guide, however. There was an entire section about Final Fantasy Legend, and it included a detailed chart explaining how eating meat would affect your monsters. I never had to worry about transforming into a weaker monster, and could exploit the system by seeking out the enemies that would make me more powerful. This is probably the only reason I made any progress in the game at all.
I mentioned that I got to the end of the game. And, I did. I fought the final boss many times. Try all I might, however, I never won. Maybe it was the fact that one of my characters died instantly at the start of the battle. Maybe it was the fact that I had saved in front of the final boss and had no way of going back to power up. Maybe it was the fact that I had sold the most powerful weapon in the game for 1 gold.
Or, maybe it was simply destiny. My time at my grandmother’s house was over. It was time to go home and move on to other games. I would try from the beginning every now and again throughout the years, but I could somehow never get as far as I did on that initial playthrough.
Recently, I looked up the ending on YouTube. Honestly, I’m glad I never beat it originally. I’m not sure if I could have trusted another game again.