My gaming started in the 80’s with Atari and Nintendo. It wasn’t until circa 1994 that I ever played an RPG.
I had a little money saved up and one day was at Walmart browsing the shelves in the Electronics Dept. The hunt: find my next Super Nintendo game to play. Being a teenager then, I didn’t come by money often. So my next game cartridge was a serious purchase; it had to count.
But I didn’t have the internet back then to tell me which game might be worth it. The best I could do was walk over to where the magazines in the store were and hope to find an article on whatever game I might want. I did have a subscription to Nintendo Power at the time, which was my only real guide.
So I was scanning the box art of each SNES game at Walmart. And there was one game that stood out from the rest due to its relatively simple design. It looked serious, refined, and mysterious. It said to me that it was special. That game was Final Fantasy III.
I mean, surely any game that uses roman numerals in the title had to be remarkable. Final Fantasy, The Third.
On top of that, I swear it was priced at a whopping $70. Even now, that’s a high cost for a top-tier video game. So the box art, title, and price convinced me that the game was going to “change my life” or at least make me happy for a while.
After I got home and first tried to play it, I was not happy. Instead, I was totally dismayed. What happened?
I recall the opening screen, the descending view over clouds sparked with lightning, and the ominous 16-bit organ music building up. Then the fancy game title rose, backlit by flames! What an impressive intro!
But then I tried the gameplay. It was like eating vegetables. Bitter. Yuck! This game was supposed to be good for me, but instead it seemed to be a major let-down. What is this thing? I felt robbed. And there was no getting my hard-earned money back.
Like I mentioned, I had never played an RPG before. FFIII (what was truly FFVI) is one of the best JRPGs ever, and it was a pretty hard-core one to start with.
And I just totally didn’t get it.
I was exploring a town with my sprite-based character who couldn’t jump like Mario or shoot like Samus in Super Metriod, and all I could do was talk to people. Boring.
But then, while walking around, sometimes I would suddenly be jolted into a “battle-screen” lined up with enemies. I had to wait my turn to pick an action…from a menu. The choices were weird. And if I won the fight, my sprite-person would dance and I’d get weird point things and money.
And the process would repeat. Random encounters were annoying interruptions. The classic gameplay that traditional JRPGs are known for was too foreign to me.
To make things more frustrating, all the gameplay weirdness was supposedly tied together by an epic unfolding story. But it just seemed out of reach, a story you must play out for hours and hours, sort of solving it like a puzzle.
Thankfully, I had something more valuable than the $70 dud of a game. I had a friend. He had already been into RPGs. So he told me to bring the game over and he would teach me how to play it. Sure, what did I have to lose?
This is a very fond memory of mine. I sat on the floor with my friend as he walked me through the first part of the game. He explained the basics while showing me how it all worked and was supposed to play out. I watched. I asked questions.
My friend encouraged me and was happy for me to have such a cool game to play. (Later, he let me borrow his copy of EarthBound. Wow! The box had scratch-n-sniff stickers. Such a fun and cool RPG.)
After a while, my understanding of the game grew. The basics were simple enough. You had to level up your character over time with experience. There were many stats you could affect! This wasn’t as simple as growing from small Mario to big Mario in an instant with a mushroom. This was realistic growth!
I also recall being particularly impressed by the freedom to choose a cool magic-based attack instead of a physical attack in battle mode. There were options!
The strategy of battle pulled me in. Not only could I choose magic over sword swinging. I could choose a type of magic, like fire versus ice. And the choice made a difference; it all depended. Then I learned of greater choices like Fire2 versus Fire1. I could do more damage at once, and the magic looked more awesome!
And all that hooked me. The depth, the options, the battle strategy. But then, what reeled me in was the grand story, the world building, the many characters you could play as. You played many roles!
Ah…click! A role-playing game.
I beat my first RPG, Final Fantasy III, many weeks later. It took that long to progress through the story – and what a story! To this day, it remains one of my favorites. Grinding and all.
Begin Final Act
Final Fantasy III was a big investment for me as a kid in several ways. A high purchase cost. Weeks devoted to playing. Pushing through its challenges. What was almost a total let-down turned out to be one of the best game pay-offs ever!
An RPG fan was born.
Final Fantasy was the only RPG franchise I knew back then. I went on to play FFVII, VIII, and IX on the PS1. I also played EarthBound and Super Mario RPG on SNES. DragonQuest wasn’t on my radar.
Over the years, I sought out other RPGs; it’s my favorite genre to this day. As an adult with kids and a full-time job, I don’t get to escape into video games quite like I did in my youth. But I do find time to role-play.
These days, I’m pursuing RPGs more like a hobby, collecting promising titles in my backlog and anticipating new ones as they’re released. At night after the kids are to bed, I like to immerse myself into whatever current RPG I’m playing. As of this writing, I’m 42 hours into Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on my Nintendo Switch. It’s a gem!
A good RPG might be more important to me now as an adult versus when I was a kid. Why? Because as one with a life full of adult responsibilities and stresses, video gaming is a helpful way to escape into some fun. And the immersive world-building and story-telling of an RPG is one of the best forms of escapism to enjoy.