Christmas Memory, Dan Lipscombe – Wielding The Buster Sword

It’s 1997. I’m 15 years old. I’ve been playing video games for around ten years, always a fan of platformers and arcade classics. I consider gaming my main hobby. Yet, in those pre-internet days, it was hard to lean into any fandoms or be swept along by hype. A couple of times per month, when magazines were released featuring previews and reviews, my passions were fed, but otherwise they starved.

Final Fantasy 7 kept featuring in Official PlayStation Magazine and GamesMaster; it hailed from Japan and could entirely reshape the gaming landscape. I’d never played a JRPG before, in fact, I’d never really played many RPGs, J or C or A or otherwise. Still, I begged my mum for a copy of the game. It was released in November of 1997, so I held out hope that it would be under the Christmas tree.

As I made my way through the presents that year, there were no chunky CD cases to be found. Of course, I got to the bottom of the pile, and mum pulled the whole “oh, I totally forgot to put this one on the pile” spiel. I tore through the paper, finding that chunky case I’d wanted to find all morning.

For a moment, I just stared at it. Then, after tearing through the cellophane, I opened the case and inspected each of the three discs that contained the game. I gave the manual a sniff – everyone did this, don’t lie to yourself – and couldn’t wait to play. Mum gets a quick hug, kiss, and a thank you before I sprint full-tilt into my bedroom to grab my PlayStation.

Dragging the console into the lounge, I set it up on the TV. That morning, before relatives bundled around for food, I played as much as I could. As that morning ran on, I watched in awe as a train barreled along a track to an up-tempo soundtrack; it pulled into the station, and Cloud leapt to the ground in all his polygonal glory. “Graphics could never get better than this,” I foolishly gasped.

Christmas day passed. I sat with my family eating lunch constantly side-eyeing the PlayStation. I’d never felt this pull before. All I wanted to do was play. Receiving the game as a gift was a lovely moment, but this memory stands out so starkly because of how it changed many things for me. Suddenly, gaming felt very different. It felt like a whole new world opened up to me.

I spent the next few days cross-legged in front of the TV, exploring every detail of Midgar. I soaked up the dialogue, met characters who would stick in my mind for years to come, and learned a whole new way to play. Naively, I didn’t realise that games could be this long, or feature this kind of depth. I learned the materia system, the turn-based combat, and I couldn’t get enough.

In the subsequent years, I began seeking out these epic JRPGs wherever I could. I told everyone that Final Fantasy 7 was my favourite game, not because it was a flawless game, but because it changed what an interactive experience could be. When the remake was released, I felt emotional because I was taken back to that Christmas, when my hobby became my passion.

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