Final Fantasy & Harry Potter: How Two Franchises Changed My Life

In 1999, when I was the grand ol’ age of 13, my mother and I were at Target. Remember when the electronics sections of stores would have the TV jutting out above you with the console controller right under it so you would have to give yourself a crick in your neck to play? Well, that’s where I was. I started playing a game demo. I had never seen anything like it. I played for a while, running down the streets as some soldiers attacked me. Then I chose a summoning option and brought out who I later learned was Leviathan (and totally not available in that part of the actual game). Between the graphics and the gameplay, I thought it was the coolest thing: a giant water serpent appearing in a tidal wave to attack the bad guys.

For Christmas that year, I debated between asking for a Nintendo 64 and a PlayStation. Banjo-Kazooie was the hot game for the 64 at the time, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that game demo I had played. I had made pro and con lists and, ultimately, I couldn’t pass on the PlayStation. And the game?

The game that changed me

However, I got stuck in the game, and I didn’t own a strategy guide (because those used to be things). So I went onto that thing called the Internet and looked one up. On February 12, 2000, I stumbled across a website that–no hyperbole–changed me forever. There was an online forum (and eventually chat) where so much happened. I made friends, enemies, memories… so much fun, way too much drama (you know, aka the Internet). I learned some HTML, practiced with my own website skills, and eventually got into the dark, seedy world of chat-based role playing (like pencil/paper D&D stuff, but online). I never left my room. Over the years I delved into more RPGs–all the Final Fantasies, Legend of Dragoon, Xenogears, Chrono Trigger, etc. I was either gaming or on the computer almost 24/7, and this became even more rampant once Harry Potter came into the equation.

Let’s back up a bit. I was never into reading all that much growing up. I guessed at Accelerated Reader (it wasn’t all that hard) and never really read the books I checked out at our school library. I did read the occasional Goosebumps, as well as the occasional epic Pokemon fan-fiction, but I didn’t read a lengthy, full-on novel until 5th grade when I became entranced by The Hobbit. But even then, I didn’t transition into a “reader.”

I still have yet to get through Lord of the Rings (the books).

Back in the those days, video games didn’t really have voice actors–or, at the very least, were just starting to introduce the idea. So when something like Final Fantasy comes along and entices me, I suddenly found myself reading way more than I used to. I wanted to read more, and my parents were, of course, on board with that, but we didn’t know where to begin.

My mom was a nurse and had mentioned that one of the nurses she worked with had praised a book series called Harry Potter. This was interesting–my mom was a devout Catholic and would have otherwise fallen squarely in the Harry Potter is Satanic crowd, but the recommendation from a co-worker was good enough.

After church one day, we went to Waldenbooks (as that was still a thing in the year 2000) and got me a copy of Sorcerer’s Stone. We lived out in the country, and I read the entire drive home–even staying in the car to continue reading after we got there. I couldn’t put it down. Over the next month or so, my parents surprised me with the next 3 books, as Goblet of Fire was the newest available at the time, having just come out that year. I devoured all of them.

The book that started it all.

I was all into movie news for the upcoming Sorcerer’s Stone adaptation, to the point the teacher’s aid from my Latin class would give me newspaper articles and magazines that featured or discussed the film. We went opening night, and it was absolutely magical. Over the next 10 years, I went to all the midnight releases for the next three books and saw all of the following 7 movies on opening day–including while on a family vacation to Hawaii with my (now ex-) girlfriend for the final film. I dissected every bit of information, image, and trailer for every book and film. I also, sadly, had the infamous Half-Blood Prince death spoiled for me days before the book’s release due to an online leak.

But I read all the books more than once and saw the films multiple times, as well. I played Potter-world chat-based RPGs. I listened to podcasts, jammed out to Wizard Rock (and had two separate documentary DVDs on the subject), read interviews, knew all the spells, had the supplemental books, watched all 3 (yes, 3) Harry Potter Musicals (which are still so brilliant), and so much more.

If you haven’t seen the musicals, do so. Now. And yes, that is Darren Criss as Harry.

My reading during this time bounced around to include quite a bit of Dean Koontz but also to a variety of other books and authors. I started becoming a stronger writer (I had always been into writing, but that’s another story). I ended up becoming a writing tutor, getting my undergrad degree in English, taught that a few years, transitioned into some ESL, and am currently an elementary school librarian.

But Harry Potter has always stayed close to my heart, even as I’ve moved on to other things. I still collect the illustrated editions being put out. I still keep up with what connected people are doing (I do love Daniel Radcliffe’s career post-Potter). I defended JK Rowling for a long time with her franchise tidbits; for example, I never once thought Dumbledore being gay was a post-franchise retcon. The subtext is there, and I thought it was kind of obvious while reading the final book. It made sense, so people getting upset at that was nonsense to me. But Rowling has gone too far with her online opinions, particularly her baffling thoughts on trans people (which I’ve discussed here). Still, I don’t like Potter any less than I did, so much so that I even have a related tattoo.

As for Final Fantasy, that is a franchise that did not age well–I never beat 13, never played the online ones (11 and 14), and I didn’t play 15 or any of the various spin-offs (except X-2). I don’t much have time anymore for the long, epic, 60+ hour RPGs. I do game on occasion (anything Naughty Dog puts out, for example, or the PS4 Spider-Man). I played and loved the first two Kingdom Hearts games and have yet to play the third (and I can’t wait for the rumored Disney+ Kingdom Hearts TV series). I’m also excited about the FF7 Remakes, though bummed it’s being split up so much, and I might not play them until they’re all out.

Still, though I’ve moved on from those early franchise fandoms, they haven’t left me. Both franchises have a special place in my heart and my life, both guiding me to become the person I am today in so many ways, and nothing will take that away.

So what out there changed you? Do you have something in the entertainment or arts sector that altered your life? Let me know in the comments below!

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