The science behind entertainment has been studied and practiced for a great deal longer than video games have been around, yet there are few mediums with which the audience can be as actively engaged. They combine the richness of a classic novel, the dynamic visual appeal of a movie, and the discreet challenge of a puzzle into a single, fluid platform. Because of this, there is little mystery behind why the video game industry has boomed into one of the most lucrative in the world. My question is this: what is it that pushes an otherwise great game into that final, elusive frontier; the razor-thin stratum of legend?
I know that Final Fantasy Tactics has a rabid cult following already, so the thought of extolling such well-established virtues now seems tedious. It is, without question, one of the best games from the PSX era, and while it may not precisely fit the Squaresoft mold of role-playing games it belongs on the pantheon of all-time greatest. What sets it apart, and for me, above not only the games it sought to mimic but also its wider-ranging competitors in the genre was more than any of its constituent parts alone could provide. Moreover, it did the one thing that truly defines a legendary game. It inspired me.
How it achieved that feat was, at the time and for decades afterward, elusive to me. Why that particular game should have such a profound and enduring impact on not just the man I would one day become, but on my creative and imaginative process, seemed attributable to naught but the whimsy of fate. After many, and I mean altogether too many, failed attempts to recapture the fleeting magic of that first playthrough, it finally dawned on me. There was a common thread that ran through every book, movie, and game I considered a genuine masterpiece; cohesion.
As anyone who has ever done any kind of writing, be they hobbyist or accomplish author, can well attest one of the most grueling things to establish in a body of work is suspension of disbelief, and it is also one of the easiest things to shatter. A poorly scripted dialogue, an overly cliché response, or just a healthy dash of Deus ex Machina turns an otherwise outstanding piece into utter dogshit. Our reaction as an audience is immediate and visceral, and in many cases the easy solution is, not unlike dogshit, to deposit it in the nearest trashcan. Final Fantasy Tactics is not immune to any of the above, but the unified whole is so compelling that none of those faults matter. Every choice and every mistake seemed to occupy the same sphere of intentionality, as though the translation errors and A.I. hiccups were meant to be there all along.
This was something I knew even before I was even consciously aware of it, and became a standard I have always striven to meet. Every piece of writing is going to suffer the same burdens, but so long as it stays true to its internal logic and is framed in a cohesive, compelling fashion, the outcome will never be negative. I’m not saying this is a recipe for an overnight bestseller. There are countless other aspects that factor into commercial and monetary success, but if everything lines up just right it’s the cohesion of the work that will propel it over that last, great hurdle. In this regard, you can think of it as the first and last obstacle to overcome.
I myself still have a long way to go down that road, but the life-altering collision I had with Final Fantasy Tactics in my youth will forever serve a potent reminder of exactly what I want to create. Maybe in time I’ll reach my lofty goals, but until then, I’ll always have my memories of Ivalice to inspire me.