Okay, little disclaimer. I have never played Final Fantasy V (FFV) – butz* – I do feel some kind of affinity to it, as it was released some 10 months before the blessing (the ghoul?) that is I came into this world, so in a way, it’s kind of like my senpai. If they decide to remake it for the Switch, I will definitely be giving it a spin. At the moment, I am ploughing my way through Final Fantasy X, which has gorgeously been rendered in HD for the Switch; it’s a great game, but there are so many cutscenes that I simply cannot just run around and kill monsters all day like I want to. I will write a post of FFX when the time comes, so I’ll save my comments for then.
I think it was reading Kathryn Hemmann’s post about this book that encouraged me to check it out. Reading non-fiction for fun – especially non-fiction that has nothing to do with my own lived experiences or interests – is rarely something I pursue, but recently, I have been making a concerted effort to explore a wider variety of things, with the very limited free time I have. It’s not totally true that this book doesn’t align with my interests though, I did grow up playing my brother’s Final Fantasy game (maybe VIII?) on PC and also, to this day, Final Fantasy Tactics on Gameboy Advance is one of my favourite games of all time. Something about tactics and strategizing gets me fired me up like nothing else (because action combat gives me literal anxiety). Anyway, I trust Kathryn and I also trust in the vibes of the universe that drew me into selecting that post on their blog in particular (one of very many) in the first place, so I went with it. It helped that the cover – a strikingly tyrannical, somewhat phallic, but mysteriously cloudy azure coloured crystal, pasted onto a white backdrop – was designed to absolute sleek perfection – god, it’s so crisp. I later checked out the rest of Boss Fight Book’s collection, and they all have very interesting, minimalist covers that are comprised of someone on the team’s off-kilter creative interpretation of that game (Super Mario Bros 3 is just a photo of a real tanuki l o l)
I also know that what drew me to this book was a feeling of nostalgia for something that is probably lost forever: the protracted struggle that was communication, that is, before broadband started tooting its trumpet through the early years of the noughties. Of course, I love the fact that these days, I can connect with people from all across the globe in the time it takes for me to wipe the sleep out of my eyes (it’s incredible and makes no sense!) but there was something special and exciting about the old days of landlines, dial up, shitty graphics and Habbo Hotel (omg). I was a toddler during the years Kohler writes about, so I can’t exactly say I relate to this specific kind of nostalgia, but I still feel nostalgic, nevertheless. It seems like it was such an exciting time to be growing up, when the internet and various forms of technology that we now take for granted were just burgeoning. Kohler talks about how initially FFV was not released in the US, so he (in Connecticut) had to mail order ~via the telephone~ the Japanese version from a shop in California. In the acknowledgments, he thanks his ‘long-suffering family’, saying ‘thanks to my parents for letting me give out their credit card number over the phone,’ reminding us just how dodgy it really was. The trial did not end there, however. The Famicom was made so that players could only play games from their own country; Kohler details how he had to trust in the suggestions of random folk on the internet (of 1995?), that in order to play Japanese games, all one had to do was rip some plastic out of the cartridge slot. The question is, do you trust these people who could quite easily be some of the internet’s first trolls, or do you take a deep breath, YOLO, enact a teary-eyed fragment of a dab (or whatever the 90’s equivalent of that was) and go forth? Kohler opts to go forth, and succeeds. But the trial did not end there either, for the entire game was in Japanese, and Kohler was a white boy from Connecticut (he later goes onto study Japanese, and becomes jouzu, but it’s so cute that the first kanji he learns is potion). Kohler goes on to connect with likeminded FF fans on the internet, and together, they create a Final Fantasy V FAQ guide, which aimed to help other non-Japanese speaking fans play the game. This is what the internet was made to do, democratise information!!!
In some ways, this book reads as Kohler’s love letter to Final Fantasy, to the teams that developed these games and to the gaming subcultures that must have been very fun to be a part of in that decade. Although I am aware that a wide variety of gaming communities exist today, communication and translation is so easy that I don’t think it is possible to treasure it as deeply, in the same way that you would treasure a cake if you only had one and had to work hard for it, but not if there were hundreds of cakes at your disposal that you could easily access whenever you wanted to. Mmmm… cake. I initially gave the book a 3 on Goodreads, but having written this post, I changed it to a 4. It’s no Anna Karenina, but it actually gave me so much joy and natsukashi in my heart, and it was just a real pleasure to read.
* There is a character in FFV called Butz, I was making a funny. They rename him Bartz in the Western version because… well… ass.