That’s, like, so 1996…
I’m T.J. “Nerdboy Himself” Condon, and I’m insane. Or so I’m lead to believe.
But first, an introduction. I’ve been gaming for about 20 years now (Or roughly 83% of my time on this moist rock), and tend to do a bit of writing on the topic. I hold a degree in Film Studies, which I primarily use to dissect video games on an artistic level, just to action a personal vendetta against Roger Ebert. (Besides, anyone who gives Borat four stars can’t have his head on straight.) Also, upon receiving a copy of Star Ocean for the Super Famicom from a friend who had recently visited Japan, I proceeded to import-mod my Super NES with a $.25 paring knife and a pair of hedge clippers. I call it “devotion.”
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Well, I’m a Pirates fan, so perhaps this applies more so than I expected it to. This is an RPG site, however, so I’ll limit my vitriol for now. Instead, I have a little tradition that I’d neglected recently, so I’m going to try to jam it in while I still have time.
I make it a point to play through Final Fantasy VII every year. Not because I’m some deranged fanboy, not because I think it’s teh gratezt gaem evar!!1!one, not because I’m lacking other games to play. (No, I still haven’t finished Yggdra Union yet, thank you for asking.) I play it every year because every year, the circumstances of my life and my own insights into the game – both mechanics and narrative – present me with a new experience.
Allow me to explain. Last year, my friend Chris and I actually played Final Fantasy VII as a competitive event. We rigged two Playstations and two televisions in the living room, stocked ourselves with rations (he chose chips and Cherry Coke; I was running on Dr. Pepper with Twizzler straws), and started at 7PM one fateful night. The winner would be the last one awake or the first one to knock Sephiroth off. (Ok, we were getting a bit ahead of ourselves.) My worthy opponent conceded defeat (and collapsed in a heap) after 14 hours, which saw me with a slim lead. (We’d both just finished Disc 1.)
The year before, I wanted to see if I could beat the game in one sitting. Answer: Yes, for very large values of “Sitting.” Aiding the cause were a couple boxes of egg rolls and a case of Dr. Pepper, and 35 hours later, I’d accomplished my task. Some may call it stupid, some may call it silly, but I call it a personal achievement. Year before that, I paid specific attention to the use of flashback, as I was writing a paper comparing and contrasting it to Tony Kaye’s American History X. It’s like an expensive paint job: it changes depending on the angle you view it from.
This playthrough, I’ll be paying closer attention to the “anti-”cinematic qualities of the game. (Finishing one’s degree will do such a thing.) The game is full of moments that feel a little jarring to the player, but which leave the cinephile absolutely befuddled, confused, scared, and nervous. Sure, there’s a climactic incident in the Forgotten Capital (is the statute of limitations lapsed on this spoiler yet?), and it hits people fairly hard; I’m interested in the hard, unnatural cuts and timings around that incident that increase the tension in ways that most people can’t put their fingers on.
This leads me to a question: Which of these elements are produced by flaws and inconsistencies in load times, and which are conscious decisions of style? One issue I’ve had with the academic study of literature and art has been overattribution of intent. That being said, there’s no denying what works and what doesn’t, regardless of whether it was supposed to be there…
My opinion is that events occur, and -then- we go back and try to make sense of them in the context of a narrative, or using further academic reasoning. There’s a famous tracking shot in Citizen Kane where you can see a top hat wiggling on a table. To audiences, it’s an almost unnoticeable detail about an otherwise powerful scene; to film students, it’s a telling effect of the shot itself. Back in those days, zoom lenses didn’t exist, so the only way to create such an effect was to physically move the camera, which required sliding the table into the shot after the camera had passed. Thus, a minor detail can become a significant matter to those who have the right kinds of background knowledge.
There are several things in Final Fantasy VII that just seem… odd, to say the least. Why is there a “ghost” image of Aeris in the church? Why is there a jumping Cait Sith in the Honeybee Inn? The entire flashback sequence in Kalm is filled with cinematic choices that would never occur to a film director, but which make sense (and dramatic effect) in the context of this game. There’s a lot to cover, and I’ve got… twelve days, I think.