Why I watched an 8 hour Final Fantasy VII speedrun – Reader’s Feature

A reader is impressed by the recent Games Done Quick speedrun and is surprised how emotional he got revisiting a classic game.

The Final Fantasy speedrun was mentioned in the Inbox recently and I’m really, really glad it was because to me it was an incredible achievement and unexpectedly captivating viewing. So much so that it has remained in my thoughts many days after I first saw it. It was part of an annual Twitch event called SGDG (Summer Games Done Quick) run for charity donations.

I don’t know much about them as an organisation, and this is honestly the first speedrun I’ve ever sat through, but boy it was epic. Just under eight hours long I watched it on YouTube in the background of my household chores, first out of curiosity and then with mounting compulsion. Why was this?

Reason 1

It was entertaining. The format included presenters Ben ‘Ajneb174’ Szewczyk who played the game, while David ‘Davesterio’ White and James ‘J2’ Weingartner did a number of things. They provided commentary, narrating what was going on in the game plot; they gave background to the technical aspects of the speedrun, explaining in simple terms exactly how Ben was doing what he was doing to achieve his frankly astounding results; and they provided trivia about Final Fantasy VII, most of which I knew but it was still interesting to hear titbits that I’d not previously known.

Reason 2

Final Fantasy VII holds a special place in gaming folklore, and for a lot of people was their introduction to either Final Fantasy or the Japanese role-playing genre.

I say this, because this was the case for me. I hadn’t played anything like Final Fantasy VII before, and didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. On a personal note, I was in a low place in my life at the time, I was working a dead-end job and I didn’t have much cash. I bought the game based on the hype and hearing it was quite a lengthy experience I thought it represented good value for money and I would play it for a few weeks, or a month at best.

What I bought became a full-time occupation. I ended up obsessively hovering up as much information as I could in order conquer the next section, or in some cases single enemies. Final Fantasy VII had a lot of memorable moments and the story was convoluted and complex for the time it was released. So many people cut their teeth on the weapon stats of Ultima Weapon or the finer points of chocobo breeding, to produce that elusive golden chocobo, that although it may not be considered by many to be the best in the series, it is undeniable the impact it had on a generation of gamers.

Reason 3

The length. Eight hours may sound like a big time commitment, but for anyone who loved or spent a lot of time with this game you don’t have to pay 100% attention and for a 70 hour game to be distilled down to eight hours is pretty amazing to me. I left the stream running in the background of whatever chores I was up to. I knew the game so well that I could visualise what was happening, I basically treated it like an audiobook or podcast looking at the parts that I knew would be dramatic or paying attention when the presenters told us there would be a technical part of the run coming up.

The length had an unintended effect of steeping my mind in the game, accessing age old memories – both the good and the bad – and because it was there in the background and lasted so long I had time to ruminate on that period of my life in a way that I can’t remember ever doing.

Reason 4

The technical aspects of the speedrun. Did you know that the random encounters in Final Fantasy VII were initiated by an in-game step counter? Or that in scenes with no Cloud present they can use this fact to skip cut scenes, thus saving time on the speedrun? And that the speedrun time is highly dependent on RNG [random number generator – GC] luck (the phrase ‘that’s some good RNG’ has become a bit of a meme to me).

This was an introduction to the weird world of speedrunning. The intentional and unintentional bugs left in the game are found an exploited, and the knowledge of the battle system was incredible. I know little about speedrunning, and less still about the psyche of the people who do it. This gave me an introduction, and hearing how complex I found myself rooting for the RNG to go our way during the run. Which is testament to the presenters’ ability to make the information interesting and understandable.

At the end of the broadcast I honestly felt weird because I hadn’t expected to have any opinion on this at all, I expected to turn it on then tune out. I ended up invested in the progress of this epic endeavour. I would say that most gamers would find some entertainment, but people who committed serious time to Final Fantasy VII will find that the speedrun will transport them back to 1997, for better or worse.

By reader Dieflemmy (gamertag)