A short while after the launch of the Playstation I sold my machine, having wrung all the entertainment I was ever going to get out of Tekken and Ridge Racer and having given up on anything appealing turning up anytime soon. I dropped out of gaming completely for a year or so until Final Fantasy VII turned up.
I don't even know what compelled me to buy another machine for it. I wasn't familiar with the series, I hadn't been reading game magazines so hadn't been exposed to the preview hype, but for some reason when it hit I just had to have it. Maybe Square put something in the water.
It seems I was ready to dive back into gaming, as I spent the next few months utterly obsessed and engrossed in the game. It remains one of only two 'traditional' Final Fantasies that I can happily go back and play (the other being in this list already). Whatever magic formula Square hit upon here, it worked. Technical limitations aside the story, characters, magic system, visuals and soundtrack were as perfect as could possibly be. The game had buckets of depth: time spent idling at the Gold Saucer, the convoluted and obsessional quest for a Gold Chocobo, defeating the optional Weapons, mastering Materia, and last but not least levelling your party above and way beyond the call of duty. I've still got a save file with characters that can win the game just by counterattacking.
I love the world of Final Fantasy VII. I used to play it every night then go to work the next day and tell a friend everything I'd done and the new places I'd seen. The game is so dear to me that even the random encounters don't bother me in the slightest. I think that first play through took me somewhere around 70 hours - much, much more than any game I'd previously played.
And that death? I didn't cry, but I was very surprised and impressed, and found a whole new level of respect for the game - that it would be willing to do that. I know SEGA had done it years before in Phantasy Star 2, but I never felt it as strongly as I did here. I had spent a significant amount of time levelling the character and following her story. I should have been angry at what might have felt like wasted time, but Square pitched that moment and its aftermath so surely that it became essential to the game, and I remember feeling nothing afterwards other than an intense desire to see it through to the end.
And the first thing I did after completing it? I started over again.