Game Changer…

I play Dungeons & Dragons.

In fact, I don’t just play, I’m actually the Dungeon Master.

For those who are unfamiliar, Dungeons and Dragons is a table-top roleplaying game, which is to say, it’s a cross between a very intricate board game and a cooperative storytelling game. that is the best way I can explain it. Odd thing is, the more you try to explain D&D to someone who has never played, the weirder and more abstract it sounds. It’s one of those things you really just have to experience to truly appreciate.

I am actually still rather new to Dungeons & Dragons, I begin to seriously get interested in the game a couple of years ago, and have only been a DM for the past three to four months. My only saving grace is, I have a very intimate and intricate knowledge of roleplaying games. Those I have been playing all my life.

The first RPG game I ever played was incidentally enough a Super Mario game. All through childhood me and my cousins were videogame crazy and we were always on the prowl for new and exotic games. All of my cousins were gamers, but it was me, Dj and Brian, who had a special knack for adventure games. Games with epic quest and boss fights, games with storylines. One day, during the 16-bit era of Super Nintendo, this is of course after the 8-bit era and right before the 32-bit era. It was 1996, Dj and I were about twelve years old, and Brian was eleven when the three of us, as if guided by fate, stumbled across this curious little game called “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars”.

Now, this was peculiar because we were all familiar with Super Mario. Super Mario 1-3 on the original Nintendo and, then Super Mario World on Super Nintendo, but we had never heard of  Super Mario RPG, we didn’t even know what RPG stood for, but we were dedicated gamers and were willing to give anything a try. So, we pop in this Mario RPG cartridge and it starts out like any other Mario game, the only difference is the character models are three dimensional, they look like they’re made of clay. We move forward with the game and a little baddie pops up and whichever of us is playing at the moment goes to stomp on the monster’s head and when the two characters touch the whole screen changes and suddenly we are fighting the bad guy in a whole new way. We’re taking turns. Our character chooses what he wants to do, attack, defend, or use an item, he does it, then the monster takes a turn of its own, and for the first time the game wasn’t about if you could press the right button fast enough, you had to employ a strategy, you had to outsmart your enemy.

We had never played anything like this before. It was completely new and in an instant, we were suddenly in a world of games that we didn’t even know existed. As the game continued we noticed our characters changed, the got new weapons that made their attacks stronger, they got to put on equipment and armor that made them tougher to beat, they learned new super moves that took up the whole screen and did massive damage and most amazing of all as the game advanced you met and encountered new characters that would join your party to travel and fight along with you.

It was a game of discovery, and there was something new to find around every corner.

I didn’t play an RPG again until about a year later when they released Final Fantasy VII. I saw a commercial for the game, the visuals, the graphics were like something I had never seen before. They were playing this opera like music with high pitched voices and string instruments and on-screen two characters faced off. One had blond spiky hair and a giant sword, and the other had long silver hair and a giant sword and things exploded every couple of seconds. It looked less like a game and more like a movie production. I didn’t even know what the game was about, didn’t know what it was, I just knew I wanted it.

When my cousins and I got our hands on Final Fantasy VII we were surprised to find out it played like Super Mario RPG. Our experience with Mario was a fleeting one, I think the game was a rental or perhaps borrowed from someone, whatever the case we didn’t have a lot of time with it. But Final Fantasy VII we owned. the game was massive, it spanned over three discs and when it was all said and done it took me more than fifty hours of playtime to complete. You gather together nine heroes, cross oceans and go to different continents, steal an airship, raise giant horse birds, fight monsters the size of buildings, have a full-blown identity crisis and before its all said and done, save the world.

It was the best game I’d ever played. It remains the best game I ever played. I am not ashamed to say… it changed my life. RPG’s became my favorite game genre. Every game I played thereafter I compared to Final Fantasy 7. I loved the graphics, I love the gameplay, but most of all I loved the story. It was a perfectly executed game and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

As time passed they released a Final Fantasy 8, and then Final Fantasy 9, I played and loved them both. Final Fantasy 10 was released on PlayStation 2, as opposed to the previous three which had been on the original PlayStation. Of course, I got that one too. Final Fantasy 11 was very different. By the time it was released I was in college and it didn’t come out on PlayStation at all, at least not at first. It released on PC and it was online. And for the first time, I had taken these games I had been playing at home alone, with the exception of my first two experiences when my cousins and I use to take turns, but aside from that I was taking this one player experience and now I was playing with people across the world. I was playing my first MMORPG, a Massive, Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.

Afterward came 12, then 13, 14 was another MMO, and the latest installment has been Final Fantasy 15 which was released on PlayStation 4, it took me about 59 hours to complete it. All the others I played as well. Some of them I still own. I still have a copy of Final Fantasy 7 in my attic.

Between the Final Fantasy titles, I’ve also played a wide array of other RPG’s, the Wild Arms Series, the Star Ocean Franchise, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age are a few titles that come to mind. I turned my brother into an RPG Addict by introducing him to Final Fantasy as soon as he was old enough to read. In return, he discovered and shared with me one of the best RPG’s ever made outside of the Final Fantasy Series, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2. Dear God that was such an amazing game. A lot of people swear by the first game, by part one, but my first experience was with part two and I just wasn’t able to move backward and get into the first one after playing the second. As quiet as it’s kept, you can actually get KoTOR 2 on Mac from the apple app store for $10, this is my dedicated writing computer but, between you and me, I’m finna download that bih’ as soon as I get a chance.

After Final Fantasy 7 and sometime before Final Fantasy 10, Darryl, Dj and Brian’s older brother came across something he recognized but wasn’t too familiar with, he brought it home and threw it on the couch, coincidentally on a weekend that I happen to be there.

“I know ya’ll like this type shit so I saw it and I went ahead and grabbed it,” he said dismissively. The game was Final Fantasy Tactics, a spin-off of our favorite franchise and a classic in its own right. Around the same time, my cousins and I came across another game, Suikoden 2. This game was on the original PlayStation, and like most games in the genre we fell in love with it and the entire series of Suikoden games, they released a three more in the series, all of them great, with the exception of 4, Suikoden 4 really bothered me for some reason. but in Suikoden you didn’t recruit just seven, eight or even nine characters, we could recruit one hundred and eight. In every incarnation of Suikoden, there would 108 Stars of Destiny that would join your hero on his quest to save the world. You basically built an army. Ah who am I kidding, I’d kill you play Suikoden 4 just one more time. Old copies of games from that franchise, in particular, are extremely difficult to get a hold of for some reason. at one point in time a used copy of Suikoden 2, the same game that introduced us to the series, was selling for $389.00, I kid you not. $400 for an old PlayStation game. It was like a lost treasure.

That’s simply the power of RPG’s, once you’re exposed to one, it’s like the world transforms. Case in point, when I was in college, my freshman year roommate was a guy from India, his name was Bhavahara, but he went by Bops for short. He was a great guy, we became like brothers before the end of our first year. He introduced me to Douglas Adams. I told him I liked to read and he brought me this huge, and I mean a huge book, that turned out to be the complete series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This was the bigger book I had ever seen, and I read every page and enjoyed every minute of it.

In return, I introduced him to RPG’s. I had a PlayStation 2 in our dorm room and one day I rented Xenosaga: Episode 1, this was specifically a JRPG, Japanese RPG, so was Final Fantasy and Suikoden, they elevated these games to an art form. This ends up being his Super Mario RPG, one night he starts playing, I wake up the next day, he’s in the exact same spot, sitting in front of the TV still playing the game. That’s all it took, he was hooked. When Final Fantasy 11 was released, he loaned me a computer powerful enough to handle the game so I could play it, for a short while we shared an account. When I finally got a computer and an account of my own, he was at max level doing end game content, which means he was basically teaching me how to play, helping me get caught up. After our Sophmore year, I didn’t see him on campus as much, and he kind of slowly disappeared. He reaches out to me a few years later via Facebook and tells me the games I introduced him to changed his life. He changed his major to Japanese Studies and ended up moving to Japan to teach English.

So I spend my whole life playing these games, chasing this feeling of growth, camaraderie, choice, and most of all, story. And the whole time, the root, to my favorite video game genre, the institution that all of these games were based on, was sitting right there under my nose. All of these game trace their source back to Dungeons and Dragons.

So now everything has come full circle. I play D&D and I’m even the DM, all of my RPG experience gets to be put to the test while I engage in, what hands down has to be, the best storytelling exercise for a writer that there could be. Funny how things work themselves out like that. It’s almost as if someone wrote it.

 

P.S.

One last RPG that I have yet to mention which happens to be the 2nd best RPG of all time behind none other then Final Fantasy 7, and that is Skies of Arcadia. No argument, no debate, second best game ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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